Eating Disorders and Pregnancy

Well, that’s a cheery little title, isn’t it?

This is what most people think of when they think of pregnancy. A happy family, thrilled with joy at the life that’s growing inside. Look closer. You’ll see me forcing a smile so that nobody knows I’m trying really hard to not hate myself. Photo credit to: Photo by Joy, my amazing sister in law.

This is what most people think of when they think of pregnancy. A happy family, thrilled with joy at the life that’s growing inside. Look closer. You’ll see me forcing a smile so that nobody knows I’m trying really hard to not hate myself. Photo credit to: Photo by Joy, my amazing sister in law.

It isn’t. But it’s a very real issue that isn’t frequently addressed in our culture.

Those of you who follow me regularly are aware that I have spent a large chunk of my past (too large) grappling with disordered eating. I’m very open about that piece of myself, and I’m so glad that I am!

The other day, a friend of mine reached out to me for advice on how to support her friend who was pregnant, and on the recovery end* of the eating disorder battle. It occurred to me that she was probably not the only one looking for the ‘right’ way to be there for someone going through a pregnancy after a history of eating disorders, so here are my thoughts on the matter.

Disclaimer: this is purely speaking from MY experience. You or your loved ones may have a completely different point of view, or a different set of needs in regard to reconciling themselves to their changing body. That’s ok. Own your experience. It’s yours. This is mine.

  1. Do not try and reassure your friend right away that it’s ok that her body will be different, and DEFINITELY don’t sent her articles on how magical post-baby bodies can be. She knows. The guilt that she is feeling from the fact that the joy of getting to be a mother isn’t overshadowing that voice in her head that tells her she has to control her body? It’s intense, and pushing the “it’s ok, you’ll be a mom!” message really only amplifies the already overwhelming guilt.

  2. When she is ready to hear the “it’s ok that your body has changed” message, she’ll let you know. Once she’s there, by all means, send the article. Maybe. Utilize the emotional intelligence I know you have, and really ask yourself if it will help your friend where she is right now.

  3. Take care to check on her, not just the baby. Babies are amazing, and wonderful, and cute, and have you SEEN the ridiculous assortment of fluff I’ve been dressing my daughter in? Have you noticed how few images of myself I’ve been sharing lately? Yeah. I’m trying to redirect focus because I don’t feel that great about me just now. Chances are, she doesn’t either. The friends who take care to ask after me and don’t buy it when I wave my cute tiny humans in their face have been my lifeline. Check on her. Not just the baby. She may not admit it in the moment, but I promise that in the long run she’s grateful.

  4. Many women do get their bodies ‘back’. By no means should it be her first priority after expelling a baby from her uterus, but it does happen. It may not look exactly the way it did before she had her baby, but pregnancy isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the female form. Be the friend who doesn’t mind holding a fussy 6-week-old while she goes for a walk alone to begin reclaiming her body for herself. She will really need that friend.

  5. Do not comment on her weight/size. If you are aware that your friend struggles with eating disorders, chances are that you already adhere to this principle. That goes double when she’s pregnant. She is going to get enough commentary from total strangers (and well-meaning older relatives who just don’t have a clue) on her size during and after the pregnancy. Yours doesn’t need to be one of the voices adding to the noise in her head that is reminding her that she has no control of her body now.

I’m sure there’s more to be said on the matter, but those are my top tips on how to actively love your friend during an incredibly vulnerable time. If you have more to add to this list, feel free to drop your tips in the comments.

*Important note: recovery never ends. Unfortunately eating disorders aren’t like catching a cold, where once you’re over it, you’re over it. Your life will forever be affected, even if you aren’t currently dealing with the more dangerous symptoms.