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Staying in Eating Disorder Recovery While Pregnant

Staying in Eating Disorder Recovery While Pregnant

When my husband and I were diagnosed with dual infertility and told
that the only way we would conceive was through medical procedures, I
was devastated. In that moment, and the weeks that followed, I felt that
I would give anything to have a baby, and no sacrifice could be too big.

A short time later we began the process of fertility treatments.
However, the drug I was put on to achieve ovulation caused such
incapacitating headaches that we did not continue with the treatments.
More devastation resulted.

Three months after stopping everything, we got our miracle. I was
pregnant. Despite the hyperemesis that quickly set in, I rode a wave of
ecstasy. How little did I know, though, that this longed-for miracle of
pregnancy would revive old thoughts and struggles regarding my weight.

In my longing for a baby and feeling that I would give anything to
have one, I had no comprehension that being given the very thing I
longed for would result in yet another layer of my eating disorder
recovery — a layer that went deeper and was more painful than any layer I
had yet worked through. The painfulness of the layer came because this
time it was coupled with the guilt that my coming miracle baby would
even cause me to freak out about my weight.

It quickly became apparent that I was going to be very ill, at least
through the first trimester. It also quickly became apparent that this
miracle baby was at risk for being miscarried; shortly before eight
weeks, I began to bleed. After the heartbeat was still able to be found
on the ultrasound, I was ordered to bed rest until the second trimester.

This is when the battle began. Up until this point I had been a woman
that worked out faithfully and ate properly. Now, I was put on
restrictions so that I couldn’t even do a load of laundry, much less
power walk four miles or do an intense pilates workout. The panic began
to set in.

It got even worse. I would have these wonderful bouts of time in my
day, usually in the afternoon , when the nausea and throwing up would
cease. It was during these times that I ate. And ate. And ate again.

The food I craved was fattening food: chips with dip, Oreos,
Pop-Tarts. . . I reasoned to myself that, since I was throwing up the
rest of the time, even though the food was fattening I should be ok.

How wrong I was. When I weighed in at my 16 week appointment I was
told that I had packed on seventeen pounds in my first trimester. I was
crushed beyond words.

Crushed, and then completely panic-stricken.

All during the years of my recovery I had avoided the scale, focusing
instead on healthy eating and exercise.

While I vaguely knew what my
weight was, as a general rule I would stand on the scale backwards at
any doctor’s appointments in an attempt to deliberately avoid the
temptation to be obsessed with the numbers on the scale.

That day in my OB’s office, the nurse, not knowing my eating disorder
history and habit of avoiding the numbers on the scale, told me my
weight as she wrote in my chart. ”Well, you started out at this weight,
and now you’re at this weight,” she reported matter-of-factly. “That’s a
total weight gain of seventeen lbs. You may want to slow it down a
bit.” The number was staggering, and her words — humiliating. I began
crying right then and there. The nurse was dumbfounded and quickly went
to get my OB.

As I talked with my OB, she actually contradicted her nurses’ words
and tried to reassure me that the weight gain was a good thing since I
was “on the thin side before pregnancy anyway.” Her reminder that I was
pregnant did not sink in. I was back in full-blown anorexic,
I-am-fat-and-I-must-get-it-off-now mode. There was no consoling me.
There was no reasoning with me. I cried through the rest of my

At the end of the appointment, my gentle and wise OB urged me to go
back and revisit all the things that helped me with my eating disorder
recovery in the years previous, and to begin implementing them into my
life once again. Her calm advice helped me go from emotional back into
my normally logical state of mind. On the hour trip home, I began to
rehearse what it was I once did to overcome my anorexia with occasional
bouts of bulimia.

For the previous five years, recovery had become such a way of life
for me that it was an automatic process stay in it every day. Now, once
again, I was going to have to purposefully think through on a daily
basis, sometimes hourly, the steps of recovery and act upon them. I
devised my plan, and once I got home I wrote it down in my journal –-
which I then referenced every day for the remainder of my pregnancy.

First, I gathered up a support system. This is probably better
described as a regathering of the old support system. I contacted my two
best friends and my mentor and shared with them what had happened in
the doctor’s office earlier that day. I shared that I felt both panic at
my weight and an obsessive thought pattern to get it off, as well as
the horrible guilt that I just wasn’t feeling in tune with my baby as a
result of the panic.

I asked them to pray for me and hold me accountable
as I worked through old issues once again.
By then end of the day, their non-judgmental and encouraging
responses further buoyed my spirits as I thought about facing the
journey ahead.

Later that night, when my husband got home, I was just as painfully
honest with him as I had been with my friends. He too promised his
support and accountability.

I revisited the old technique that I had originally adopted five
years previous in my eating disorder recovery, the one epiphany that had
finally helped me find the road to freedom after almost 12 years of
anorexia and bulimia: eat when hungry, stop when full.

This technique employed the habit of eating when my body told me to
eat, not denying my hunger, and also not denying my full stomach once I
had eaten. It is what had kept me at a healthy slender weight all
through my recovery and I knew it would be what helped me gain
appropriately throughout my pregnancy.

I also revisited the old “truth versus lies” technique. I wrote down
all the lies that had swarmed my thinking like, “You’ll never be thin
again,” and “You have no self-control because of the weight you have
gained.” I replaced those lies with truths like, “After the baby is born
I can lose the weight at a healthy pace and regain my original weight,”
and “The weight gain is not because of a lack of self control but
because of pregnancy and a body that needs extra fat to carry the baby
safely.” I put this all on paper for easy reference for those times when
my emotions had once again spiraled out of control, and I rehearsed it
daily. I also added to it as I needed to.

I left sticky notes throughout my house, containing the truths I had
recorded in my journal. They were on my mirrors, my dresser, my cupboard
doors, and on books I was reading. The notes had everything from the
reminder to eat when hungry and stop when full; to the truth that
pregnancy was making me bigger, not lack of discipline; to prayers to
God, asking for help in focusing on the precious life developing within
me instead of my weight gain.

Once I was let off bed rest and put on minor restrictions, I worked
out minimally as approved by my OB. I was not allowed to do heavy
workouts such as four miles in one hour or accelerated pilates workouts,
but she did ok daily walks at a more regulated pace and
pregnancy-based, low-impact pilates.

I worked out gently, not for the purpose of losing weight or getting
fit, but for the purpose of staying healthy and being prepared for

In addition to eating when hungry and stopping when full, I monitored
what I consumed. Although I continued to indulge my pregnancy cravings
on occasion, I attempted to do what one of my best friends suggested:
“Eat whatever you want, but try to find the healthy alternative first.”

One of my regular cravings was for salty foods, which, more
specifically, read “Lay’s Potato Chips of any flavor.” When craving
those I would reach for low fat flavored pretzels instead. If, after
eating those, I still craved the potato chips, I would wait until I was
truly stomach hungry again, and then allow myself the higher fat potato
chips the next time I ate, eating with control and stopping as soon as I
was comfortably full.

Lastly, I developed my after-birth fitness plan. Doing this gave me a
sense of hope that I would be able to do something about the weight
gain in a healthy way after the baby was born and kept me from feeling
out of control at the weight I had to gain in the meantime.

All told, I gained a total of 58 lbs during my pregnancy. Although
this was more than pregnancy journals and books recommend, my OB said
based on the plan I had made for myself which included eating when
hungry and stopping when full, it seemed to be what my body needed to
gain to have a healthy pregnancy.

Nine months postpartum, at the writing of this article, I have lost
48 lbs, with 10 to go. The postpartum weight loss has been just as much
of a journey in eating disorder recovery as the pregnancy weight gain

I have continued to employ my recovery techniques in a way that has
helped me lose the weight at a healthy and expected rate for a
breast-feeding mother, and stay in control of the thought patterns that
once drove unhealthy behavior. My support system and journaling have
proven invaluable during this time.

I pray for a second miracle, and if I am given it, I will again be
ecstatic. However, I will not be so naïve this time around and I won’t
be blindsided when the old stuff rears its ugly head at me. The next
time, I will be aware of the potential to be revisited by old fears and
obsessions and I will be more emotionally prepared and logically ready.

And if “next time” ever happens, I will have a beautiful little girl
in my sight all day long, reminding me as my body expands that the
weight gain is completely worth it. This, perhaps, is the greatest
eating disorder recovery technique I could possibly have during

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