Dealing With Pregnancy and Body Image Issues with a History of Disordered Eating: My Struggles and How I Am Coping (So Far)

October 28, 2022

Trigger Warning: Content Related to Eating Disorders 

Shock and panic were the first initial feelings that I experienced when I read that I was pregnant. Shock, because it was an unplanned pregnancy, and panic because I wasn’t sure that I was ready to see my body change. You see, as someone who has been dealing with body image issues and eating disorders (ED) throughout much of my adult life, the idea of going through a rapid body transformation like pregnancy is a big fear. 

My experience with body image issues and ED has been consumed by the constant control and manipulation of my body to fit societal standards of traditional beauty. As a woman, I was conditioned to believe that the ultimate beauty standard for femininity was petiteness. Having to accept my height at a young age left me with one way to achieve the “ultimate beauty standard”: by controlling my weight. While I have recovered from the majority of my destructive eating habits that were detrimental to my health before getting pregnant, I still struggled with a healthy relationship to exercise. Once the news of the pregnancy set in, I spiraled and allowed myself to open the door to intrusive thoughts and listen to their desperate cries begging me to pay attention and hyper-fixate on finding control in this particular situation.  

As I made my way through my first trimester, I was in awe at the resilience of my body and how its changes seemed to be less drastic than I thought. In hindsight, these minimal changes point to my desire and refusal to change my daily routine. In addition to the activities of planning a wedding, finding out we were having twins, traveling to see families, and constant food aversions, my body felt as if the pregnancy had never even begun (aside from nausea, of course). This feeling surprised me, but I was quick to remember eating disorders and their intrusive thoughts are masters of manipulation and reward you for that false sense of being in control. 

That false sense of control came to a halt at the end of my first trimester/beginning of the second trimester. At week 11, I hit peak pregnancy fatigue and I couldn’t keep up with those workouts and felt my body tired from trying to maintain a pre-pregnancy routine. This was the first lifestyle change that I experienced during pregnancy that challenged my relationship with my body. Despite moving less, I found my hunger growing increasingly and craving carbs like never before.  Then, at around week 14, I hit a peak in my anxiety. I found myself in a panic seeing my bump grow in addition to the waist of my baggiest jeans no longer fitting. My anxiety-related disordered eating thoughts were creeping up on me which led me to do one of the worst things for most individuals with a history of an ED: get on a scale.

The scale has always been a huge challenge for me, no matter my mental state, because my deeply ingrained ideals of femininity and beauty have always left me feeling inadequate when stepping on a scale. No matter how much restricting I was doing or how many dress sizes I was down during the peak of my ED, I never weighed what my shorter, petite friends did. So the idea of that gap widening, even more, filled me with anxiety and fear.     

I felt that peak anxiety at that moment, seeing a higher number than I had in years, feeling unable to keep up with my old routine all while knowing I still had so far to go in my pregnancy and feeling frustrated that I wasn’t at a point in my life or recovery where a number didn’t send me spiraling. Shortly after weighing myself, those intrusive ED thoughts came creeping back in and I found myself preoccupied with what I was eating. For the first time since the peak of my ED, I was having food-related nightmares, which if you have suffered from an ED you may understand that special kind of hell when you can’t even escape those thoughts in your sleep. 

I tried to keep this to myself, which was the worst thing to do because that led me to engage in the ultimate act of self-loathing and self-sabotage: comparing myself to others with the help of social media. I was subconsciously seeking the content that would further fuel my anxiety: seeing reels on living a “balanced lifestyle”, friends at workout classes, and influencers’ updates on how they managed to squeeze in a workout even on their busiest of days to celebrate their bodies, meanwhile I was waking up from an afternoon pregnancy nap barely able to muster up the energy for a walk.  

I broke down last week and confided in my husband about all that was going on. He validated me and quickly reminded me that in no way shape or form should I be comparing myself to others on social media and especially my current lifestyle as a pregnant woman, with twins, to someone who is in a totally different situation. As I heard him say it, I was reminded of the obviousness of how toxic my behaviors were becoming and the ways that those ED-related intrusive thoughts were sneaking their way back into my mind. Of course, this didn’t instantly cure my struggles (hello, I’ve been dealing with these issues for much of my adulthood, if only it were that simple to cure), but it was a talk that I needed to have and gave me a few reminders of how to take better care of myself during what was proving to be far more of a challenge than I ever expected. 

I was reminded that weight gain meant healthy growing babies and while my husband will never fully understand that struggle of knowing that those numbers are shifting upwards, his encouragement and support helped remind me of the bigger picture: I am bringing life into this world and that in order to do so, weight gain is a necessity. This also served as a good intervention as he asked me to STOP using the scale because the only concern I should be entertaining regarding my body was fueling it and giving it the proper much-needed energy to allow it to keep working hard to create two little humans.  

I was also reminded of the power of support. Not only do I have support from my husband, but I was shocked to hear from other moms when I posted on social media about this struggle with body image and pregnancy. Letting your support network know what you need, check-ins, encouragement, words of affirmation, and most importantly not keeping to yourself is very important. It was a reminder that support is always necessary, especially for those of us with a history of body image issues and ED, going through a life-changing event like pregnancy. 

For moms-to-be, I hope that my opening up and sharing helps you know that you are not alone and you have support in this extremely challenging time. This may be one of the hardest times of your life and it may push you in ways that you can’t imagine, but you will get through it day by day. Your body is working extremely hard and deserves to be fueled and taken special care of throughout this process: for you, your mental and physical health, and your babies. And please, please, please, do yourself a favor and mute any content that leads you to compare or feel bad in this particularly challenging time. Try to ditch the scale, if you already have, then YAY, congratulations, you are doing excellent and should be proud of yourself. If you struggle knowing that the doctor will weigh you, turn to the side (like I will be doing from now on) and ask them to not read the number to you. Sending support, love, and healing energy your way 🙂