I have already written about my early pregnancy experience in my post “Pregnancy and Body Dysmorphia”, this post is a sort of continuation of the first. Much of what I am feeling is the same, pregnancy doesn’t automatically make an eating disorder easier to cope with, for me it just adds an extra layer of pressure, guilt and personal expectations.
I am hyper aware at all times that I have a tiny human growing in me, she wriggles and kicks to let me know that she is there. And I can never forget for a minute that I have to look after myself for her. The external reminders are constant too. While pregnant you can’t:
- Lie on your back for more than a few minutes or risk reducing the blood supply to you and baby among other problems.
- Lie on your front, this one is obvious, your belly gets in the way and it’s uncomfortable to the extreme.
- Drink alcohol. Well you can in moderation but it makes me nauseous so that’s a nope.
- Eat cheese that isn’t hard and fully cured, including goats cheese due to the risk of listeria.
- Limit caffeine intake, I’m British, I drink tea a LOT and yes I have switched to decaf but it just isn’t quite the same.
I could go on and on, but it is exhausting having to constantly think whether you can do or eat something that you have done without thinking for years, or done with excessive evaluation due to an eating disorder and are trying to break the habit. I am getting pissed off at being told I can’t do things while simultaneously finding that I am physically limited at times too, and I am so frustrated.
I desperately want to start running again but nope, not allowed. Yes I can swim, but the pools are all closed due to corona virus (for those reading this in the future we all had to spend months limiting live human contact so EVERYTHING is shut) and the sea is bloody cold. Also some lovely local people take pictures of people out and about exercising or playing with their kids on the beach (at a safe distance I might add) and I just don’t want to deal with that.
I struggle to bend down without getting out of breath, feeling dizzy, getting a mouthful of vomit due to reflux or some unholy combination of the three. I can’t do a sit up from lying down, and I struggle to see my private parts when I am in the shower (TMI but i don’t care, we all have them). I get out of breath walking up a hill or playing too enthusiastically with Nala, from someone that used to run half marathons this is just depressing. And on top of this disordered behaviour is starting to creep back in.
Most of the guidance I could find simply says, let your midwife know if you suffer from an eating disorder. I was completely up front and honest about my depression, because at the time that was the only real constant issue that I had. Since then my eating and relationship with my own body has slowly declined and I am too scared to say anything. I am scared of judgement, scared of having hurt my child, scared of SOMETHING.
My eating disorder experience at 26 weeks.
I either eat super early, like lunch at 11, or avoiding eating a meal for as long as possible, skipping lunch/dinner in favour of snack, or chocolate milk like a toddler. I eat most meals watching something on Netflix, browsing the internet or working on blog stuff so I don’t have to think too much about the fact that I am eating. I’m also avoiding using plates or bowls in favour of Tupperware, which is a new one for me and I have absolutely no idea where this has come from, I am usually a strict “use a decent plate” kinda person. It isn’t excessive and to some this may even be how they eat on a regular basis, but for me this is like the beginning of a slow slide into worse behaviour if I am not careful. I also can’t rely on the scales any more, it is one of my worst fears come to life, no matter what I do or don’t do the number on the scales keeps going up and my stomach gets bigger and bigger. My rational normal person brain knows this is what happens during pregnancy, but the eating disorder part is screaming, crying, activating air raid sirens, the full works. I have stretch marks appearing on my boobs, the single bit of skin that was free from self harm scars or stretch marks from puberty and rapid weight gain during the beginnings of bulimia. Normally I wouldn’t be that fussed, I have scars etc already and it’s just skin, I know they fade with time. But right now it is like the dark purple cherry on top of the eating disorder cake and I am finding it difficult to look at myself. I dress in the dark most mornings before walking Nala, and can only bring myself to shower once every 2/3 days because I don’t know my own body any more and that is terrifying.
Anecdotally, many women report that their pregnancies seemed to invite increased comments from other people about their bodies.Everyone means well, they are excited to see a bump beginning, the prospect of a new life. But when you are already hyper aware and mostly uncomfortable this only really makes it worse. And the only advise I can find is “talk to friends and family members about how this makes you feel”… Could you tell your incredibly excited in-laws and parents that you don’t want them to talk about it because it makes you feel strange? I certainly can’t. So now what?
Scientific articles on pregnancy and eating disorders
I am not going to bore you with a load of articles don’t worry! I just found it so frustrating that there was so little out there that focused on eating disorders while pregnant.
Yes I am fully aware that this is not an issue that effects a huge number of people, but with “at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S.” (anad.org), there should really be more out there. Especially as it has the ability to impact the unborn child too, and not just in utero.
Research has found that genetics are responsible for 40-50% of the risk of developing an eating disorder. More specifically, a woman with a mother or sister who has anorexia nervosa is 12 times more likely to develop the disease and 4 times more likely to develop bulimia nervosa compared with the general population (eatingdisorderrecoverycenter.com).
To me it makes sense that there should be more information and specific support for pregnant women so that they are in the best place themselves to support their children as they grow. And it just isn’t there.
All the sites I read said the same thing “Professionals recommend that disordered thoughts and behaviors are addressed before attempting to get pregnant. Eating healthy, well-balanced meals and maintaining a healthy weight for several months before conceiving and throughout pregnancy is important to protecting the health of yourself and your baby.” (neda.org)
This is wonderful advice, and yes I fully agree that if you are planning to conceive then absolutely do the right thing and prioritise your mental health first. But this doesn’t help all those who got pregnant without meaning to. Where does this leave those that were recovered/recovering, those who haven’t had a period for months or years and were no longer using contraception?
I scrolled through page after page looking for something more, something that wasn’t focused on eating well for the sake of your child, or a page that didn’t throw increased risk of miscarriage, or low birth weight in your face. I didn’t need to be scared or worried more than I already am, I wanted a safe space to talk to others going through the same thing without needing to talk to a counsellor.
I am at a stage in my life where I have all the tools and support network I need, all I am looking for is a group that know what I am going through and who, at the very least can sympathise. People that I can turn to and say “I need advice on coping with suddenly being unable to eat” without having to explain why, tell a stranger my life story (again) or read through 4 different websites to find the answer.
Below are some books that are well reviewed as being helpful, I haven’t read them myself because I am currently unable to concentrate on books at all and I know for some reading doesn’t help at all.