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Body Image Issues Don’t Disappear During Pregnancy

To say there is a lot going on in a woman’s body and mind during pregnancy is an understatement. You’re immediately hit with a barrage of emotions, excitement, happiness, fear, and anxiety. You worry about being a good mom and how this new addition will turn your world upside down, but most of all, you just want to do whatever you can to bring a healthy baby into the world. 

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Besides all the natural worries that accompany pregnancy, imagine having another layer on top of that: fear about your changing body and ongoing resentment at the new shape your body is taking. You’d think I could easily let all of that go. After all, creating another human being is a miracle. What the human body is capable of is nothing short of amazing, and I’m not naive enough to forget that getting pregnant and delivering a healthy baby is an absolute privilege that not everyone is fortunate enough to experience. Despite this wherewithal, old habits die hard. When you have a long history of eating disorders and body image issues, they can show up at the most inopportune times; like in the middle of your pregnancy.

Recovering from an eating disorder never ends

I am a grateful recovering compulsive overeater and exercise addict. I say recovering vs. recovered because, in my experience, this is a disease of the mind that never truly goes away, like alcoholism and other addictions. It’s often said that while an addict is working on his or her recovery, their disease is in the corner doing push-ups, getting stronger, and just waiting for a moment of weakness or vulnerability. My recovery was rooted in the 12 Steps. I know this type of program may not work for everyone. If it doesn’t, I urge you to keep looking for something that does and don’t give up until you find it. 

Before I got help for my eating disorder, I would go through the vicious cycle of binging, starving myself, and overexercising to punish my body for not being “good enough.” When I was unable to lose weight, I would repeat these behaviors over and over again, and I developed a disdain and resentment for anyone who was thinner than me. I spent a lot of time hating people I didn’t even know. 

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Pregnancy and Body Image

When my husband and I decided to start trying for our first baby, I told him, “I don’t know how I’m going to respond mentally and emotionally to all of the changes.” I was fortunate that I had enough recovery to not only want to have a baby, but that I hadn’t done too much irreparable damage that I was still able to get pregnant. I told my doctor at my very first prenatal appointment, “I’ve struggled with eating disorders and body image issues. Please don’t tell me what the scale says, and only talk to me about my weight if you’re worried that it will be unhealthy for the pregnancy.” 

While I had enough self-awareness to tell the doctor this, it didn’t stop me from obsessing about my weight during my pregnancy. During a time where I should be celebrating my body for the miracle that is happening inside, I found myself wanting to hide my growing belly and expanding frame. Of course, I compared myself to friends and family members who are slim and slender. You know the type, they don’t look pregnant at all from behind, and keep their chic figure with just the tiniest, cutest little baby bump. I’m 5’1 and I am not naturally slim, I was all belly, there was no hiding it. Yet instead of buying cute maternity clothes, I had the constant desire to hide my body in my husband’s oversized sweatshirts. 

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We went to Hawaii for our babymoon and I remember trying to hide my bump. My husband stopped me and said “we don’t know anyone here besides family, why are you trying to hide? You’re growing a baby; you’re strong and you’re beautiful.” The ironic thing is that when I was in the throes of my eating disorder, I remember making a comment to my mom that I wished I was pregnant because at least then I’d have a reason to be so big. Yet here I was, five months pregnant and still feeling ashamed of my body. 

There aren’t very many full-body pictures or bump photos of me from my pregnancy. In fact, I don’t think I took a “bump picture,” until two amazing friends made me feel comfortable and confident enough to take some maternity-like photos on an apple orchard. I actually got up the courage to post those photos on social media and guess what happened? I received an overwhelming amount of positive responses and compliments. But even the kind comments couldn’t rewire the deeply-rooted body image issues in my brain.

When it comes to body image issues and pregnancy, I am more fortunate than most. Some people experience much worse feelings, and some avoid trying to get pregnant because they fear their eating disorder may come back with a vengeance. I’m grateful my disease didn’t stand in the way of wanting to start a family. If I didn’t have some recovery, it very well could have. In November of 2018, we welcomed our firstborn, a healthy baby boy named Logan.

Learning from my first pregnancy

I am now 36 weeks pregnant with another baby boy. When we found out we were pregnant, I told my husband, “this time, it will be different. I know any changes to my body only lead to something special and wonderful, and I bounced back the first time, I can do it again.” Even with this insight, I was wrong. My husband begrudgingly gave me back his oversized sweatshirts, I have repeatedly asked the doctor if I’m gaining too much weight, and I constantly fight the urge to weigh myself or try to control my food.

Again, thank God I have enough recovery to not let my disease run rampant during this time and not act out on any of my inclinations to binge or restrict my food. I’ve exercised throughout both my pregnancies, but in a healthy, loving way. 

My story isn’t rare or uncommon, while I haven’t seen any pregnancy-specific statistics, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), at least 30 million people of all ages suffer from an eating disorder in the United States. I know other people experience similar thoughts and feelings, and in some cases, their experience maybe even worse than mine. Sometimes I get angry at my eating disorder for robbing me of the joy I should experience during this time, but I’m also grateful for my recovery because I wouldn’t have any of this if I hadn’t found help and managed to get healthy enough to be able to have children. 

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How Do You Deal With Body Image Issues in Pregnancy?

If there’s one thing this blog post is not, it’s a how-to article. The truth is, the answer to the question, how do you deal with body image issues in pregnancy is one day at a time, imperfectly, and with love and support. Just like recovering from an eating disorder, get a supportive squad around you and don’t try to go it alone. I think some of the things I mentioned above have definitely helped: let the doctor know your history and try not to weigh yourself obsessively. Be open and honest with your partner, you will need their support now, more than ever. Is there a definitive, end-all-be-all solution to body image issues during pregnancy? If there is, I certainly haven’t found it!

Related article: How the Heck Do You Start Loving Your Mom Bod?

I will probably always obsess about my weight and my body in some capacity, but I’m so grateful that the volume has been turned down significantly so that I can enjoy a normal life and experience the joy of having a baby and being a mother. For anyone who needs to hear this, because I know I do, remember this: when you hold your baby for the first time, you will instantly forget all of the negativity; from hating your pregnant body to the pain of contractions and pushing. 

Keeping perspective on what matters most in my life

Between the self-judgment and body shaming, let’s try to remember that the human body is amazing and childbirth is an absolute miracle. Although my eating disorder may try to convince me otherwise, I am so grateful to my body and everything it’s capable of. And baby boy, even though I may not always want to show off my bump, I already love you and I cannot wait to meet you.