Health And Wellness

Getting Pregnant Spiraled Me Into An Eating Disorder

Photo: Olena Yakobchuk / Shutterstock
woman's pregnant belly

I used to eat and then throw up my food

But that was way back in my 20s. A time of huge change: I moved countries, moved cities, broke up with my boyfriend, and started a new job. I was in a new town, trying to settle into the high-paced work-hard-and-then-play-hard routine. So really, the bulimia was how I coped — my only coping mechanism was to binge and then purge.

Thankfully I settled into a slower pace and the need to cope with using food lessened. Along with some therapy, the bulimia appeared short-lived, or so I thought.

RELATED: 10 Critical Lessons I Learned From Binge Eating Disorder Treatment And Recovery

As it turns out, the pregnancies I had in my 30s triggered a new eating disorder. Only this time it was more insidious because I had no idea that what I was doing could be disordered.

I was looking for a way to lose the baby weight and bounce back. I knew dieting was not for me because it had spiraled out of control into that restrict-and-then-binge cycle I had previously recovered from.

No, this time I was going to get healthy, which meant, of course, giving up sugar, gluten, dairy, and sometimes if I was feeling particularly martyr-ish, coffee.

It was a miserable existence, but I wore it with an air of superiority. Feeling very smug about my Insta-worthy sugar-free baking (even though it tasted like cardboard).

So here I was, clean eating, avoiding toxins, and trying to be virtuous; yet my mental health was suffering and I was avoiding social events, especially those that involved food.

In hindsight, I now realize that my getting healthy had spiraled into orthorexia: AKA an unhealthy obsession with eating clean that negatively impacts your mental health and well-being.

The thing is, it was very alluring to bounce back and reclaim my pre-baby weight. I received so many compliments and people congratulated me on my dedication to health and my healthy eating habits. Often remarking that they could never be as devoted as I was. 

Thankfully, I finally discovered food freedom, an approach to eating that has no restrictions and doesn’t label food as either good or bad. It’s been a bumpy journey to get where I am today. :

Looking back there are four bitter truths I’ve learned:

1. I probably never fully recovered from the first eating disorder.

I was in quasi-recovery. This was the part of my journey where although I wasn’t engaging in any bulimic behaviors, my eating disorder voice was still pretty loud. I still had rules and restrictions in place, albeit mostly invisible to those around me. Mentally, I had some work to do. 

My post-pregnancy relapse was probably inevitable and it showed me that I was still a way off full recovery.

RELATED: Recovering From An Eating Disorder In A Society That Praises Weight Loss

2. Pregnancy weigh-ins can be triggering.

My body changed so much, and in different ways for each pregnancy. For someone who had body image issues, this was hard.

Throughout each pregnancy, I had to step on the scales and agonize over the numbers creeping up (and up and up). I panicked when I realized that I was gaining more than 'normal', especially when I was told about the dangers of excessive weight gain.

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It never crossed my mind to tell the midwives about my eating disorder history and I didn’t realize I had the right to ask for a blind weight (where they cover the number) or to refuse being weighed altogether. 

I wish I’d known that the number on the scale was only one tiny data point and I wish it had occurred to me to work with a body image therapist. 

Needless to say, the intense focus on weight during pregnancy was not helpful. Now I realize that there’s no 'one size fits all' and that all pregnancies (and bodies) are different, and importantly, that’s OK.

RELATED: 6 Painfully True Facts About Eating Disorders No One Ever Told You

3. Bounce-back culture is harmful.

Nine months up, nine months down.

Don’t worry: you’ll bounce back and soon be back to normal.

You’ll lose the weight — my friend Jane was back into her pre-pregnancy jeans in just one month!

Just be careful of abdominal separation…

This culture is so harmful. I felt such enormous pressure to start exercising as soon as possible. I wanted to 'get my body back' — although, I still had my body. It had just changed. We marvel and fawn over pregnancy tummies, but once you’ve given birth? Disgusting!

Diet culture is alive and strong during those post-pregnancy days - whispering to women that their appearance and their shape are 100% more important than their mental health and well-being. 

We see headlines in the newspaper about celebrities in bikinis just a few weeks post birth. So we attend boot camps to lose the baby belly and obsess over our pre-pregnancy wardrobe, wondering how we can also tap into the celebrity mum-bod secrets.

4. There’s a fine line between a health kick and disordered eating.

The further I leave my disordered relationship with food behind me, the more I realize just how messed up most diets and healthy eating plans can be. Of course, it’s great to eat nutrient-rich food, there’s no denying that. But to restrict and deny constantly and excessively? Your health drive can easily become an obsession.

Eating the cookie is nowhere near as bad as fretting about the grams of sugar inside. Better to eat and enjoy the cookie than become stressed and anxious about it.

Finding food freedom — eventually — was a revelation. It presents a new way of thinking about food, eating, and body image, and allows you to enjoy life.

RELATED: What They Don't Tell You About Battling An Eating Disorder

Dr. Lara Zibarras is the food freedom psychologist, helping women create a healthy and happy relationship with food, without guilt or stress-eating.

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