Guest post: "Pregnancy triggered my eating disorder"
After years of maintaining a healthy relationship with food, MN blogger This Mama Life struggled to cope with cravings and a loss of control over her body
This Mama Life
Posted on: Tue 04-Oct-16 16:17:09
(5 comments )
Six weeks into my second pregnancy, my old eating disorder started to rear its head.
All I wanted to eat was baked potatoes, or chips with salt and ketchup - miles from the 'healthy' food I craved with my first baby. Then, I'd been happy with what I was eating. Because I felt in control of the situation, I managed to keep my eating disorder at bay.
I'm now in the third trimester of my second pregnancy, and this time I wasn't so lucky. In the first months I suffered badly from morning sickness and I couldn't control my cravings. It was difficult, frustrating - I worried constantly about completely ballooning. I felt like I'd been too lucky during my first pregnancy and would end up uncomfortable and miserable in my own skin this time round.
The cravings made me scared that I would lose all self-control. I worried that this in turn would mean I was a bad mother, a bad wife, a bad friend, a disgusting person. It's scary how quickly the thoughts escalated. I thought I wasn't cutting it as a mother; I was sure my toddler and unborn baby would be better off with someone else as their mum.
In addition to this, at the beginning my body changed a lot faster than it did in my first pregnancy. It wasn't following the pattern I expected, and I couldn't do anything to change that - except control what I was eating.
Some days all I could focus on was my relationship with food. Whether or not I would eat that day - and what the consequences would be. I felt like I couldn't win. If I gave in and ate what my body wanted, I'd be upset about it all night. And if I didn't, I'd spend the whole night feeling guilty about not feeding my baby properly.
All I could focus on was my relationship with food. I felt like I couldn't win. If I gave in and ate what my body wanted, I'd be upset about it all night. And if I didn't, I'd spend the whole night feeling guilty about not feeding my baby properly.
Discussions about mothers' mental health have opened up in recent years; we're starting to see the breaking down of stigma around pre- and postnatal depression. However, when it comes to eating disorders, we have a long way to go. Anorexia and bulimia are still often seen as the preserve of adolescent girls. But these teenagers grow into adults, start families, without necessarily leaving their eating disorder behind them.
I was 12 when I first started to struggle with eating. I remember being at a friend's birthday party, I had eaten more than I wanted to and I made myself sick. I don't know where I got the idea from, but I do remember the feeling of pure relief and almost euphoria afterwards.
It was a pretty slippery (and steep) slope into the world of eating disorders after that. Between the ages of 13 and 16 I was never happy with my weight. I was never bigger than a size 10, but I wanted to be smaller. I clung to the idea that thinner meant better, more successful. It wasn't about looks as much as it was about control.
When I was 16, something snapped. Until that point, I'd been a typically active, healthy teenager, but soon I was I was severely suffering from anorexia nervosa.
I cut out one food group, then another, and then another until I was barely left with a handful of 'safe' foods. It got to the point where all I would eat in a day was a Quorn burger salad.
One Quorn burger. A handful of sweetcorn. Two cherry tomatoes. And a pile of iceberg lettuce (to make it look substantial).
I became obsessed with numbers. I tracked everything: food, exercise, going to the toilet. It took over my whole life - and my family's.
In time, medical help allowed me to get back to a healthy place, in both body and mind. I saw two different types of therapists, a dietician and attended a group.
Until my second pregnancy, I managed to maintain a healthy relationship with food. It's unsurprising that pregnancy is a trigger, for me and for many other women. Pregnancy, labour, birth and motherhood are all situations where you can feel that you're losing control - and this control is the crux of most eating disorders. It's crucial that pregnant women are adequately supported if they are experiencing mental health problems, and this must include eating disorders.
Luckily, I received the help I needed. Now in my third trimester, I am in a much better place. However, I feel like I missed out on bonding with my baby in the early months of my pregnancy. I was so obsessed with controlling my food that I couldn't concentrate on anything positive.
In the end, my unborn baby was the one to keep me going, to make me eat each day. The voice of my eating disorder could be loud and all-consuming, but ultimately my instinct to care for my baby won out.
And well done for being so strong , don t worry too much about bonding with your baby you ll have plenty of occasions to do that , having a baby is the most beautiful experience in life .
Take care you are doing so well
don't worry now about bonding,that type of niggle will fuel any residing eating disorder left in there trying to grab you back in.you cant chnge what happened so just go forward making the future the best ever!!you got through a horrific time.that is to be celebrated not what if or what you didn't do but the amazing strength you have got.
go forward.it will chuck things in your face to make you doubt every last thing unti it gets you.its how it works.it feeds on lack of worth so kick its ass you've got your life and your little ones to fullfill how amazing is that.
Thank you for sharing this- it's a very difficult subject that people often don't speak about as it makes others feel uncomfortable. The judgement I received from family and friends surrounding my ED whilst pregnant made it harder to seek help when I did need it.
I have an eating disorder that troubled me through adolescence and then reappeared after my first marriage broke down. When I become pregnant, I found it very difficult- and even more so in the months after "losing my baby weight". I managed it, went on to have another baby, struggled again, but always put the baby first. There is something basic and instinctive that overrides those negative thoughts. Now on my third pregnancy and reaching the difficult third trimester. Hopefully I'll find this one easier- but I'm prepared to return to therapy and seek help. Ultimately now, I need to be a good role model for my children.
Thank you Sarah for sharing this. There is so much stigma and taboo about ED and mental illness it makes it very hard to talk about without fear of being judged and misunderstood.
I am in similar situation. Antenatal checks involve a lot of weighing and the dreaded measuring. It is difficult to explain the irrational contradictory feelings around weight gain during pregnancy, especially if like me your ED is related to low mood.
I have to say I've been very lucky with the level of support available from nhs with a specialised perinatal psych team but it's still a tough time. The guilt about not looking after your baby properly is awful. They did some exta scans for me to check baby's growth as I was not gaining weight or eating properly. Actually babys growth is normal so that at least took away some of the guilt factor. I do advise this for anyone in same situation (you have enough to deal with without feeling like you're harming fir your baby with your ED) .
Hope the rest of pregnancy and new baby goes well. X
Thank you for such a brave post. It must have been hard to write. You're so right about teenagers with anorexia growing up and people forgetting about them and their condition. I'm glad that you're getting help and getting a handle on things again. It must be hard to feel it's impacted on your bond with your baby. Hopefully that will be able to happen naturally now but you'll be aware that there is support if those feelings take some time to develop. I wish you a happy third trimester and a wonderful future. I hope that you feel more comfortable in your skin again. I understand those feelings you harbour and I'm sure many others do too. You're not alone in them. Much love 💕