In order to raise awareness for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, we've partnered with NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) to combat stigmas associated with eating disorders while providing a platform for those suffering. For more information, resources, and support, check out the NEDA website here.
I’m four months pregnant and already can’t bear the sight of my growing stomach. My partner continues to tell me I’m beautiful, but I can’t see it these days. Can you help me believe him? I feel like I may be so conscious of my food intake that it might not be so healthy. I'm worried I'm preventing myself from gaining the appropriate amount of weight, and that scares me.
— Hungry Mama To Be
Dear Hungry Mama,
Mamma mia! You poor thing. We say this not to be patronizing or as a metaphysical pat-on-the-head, but as a genuine cry of emphatic sorrow. How awful to feel as though your body is slipping away from you along with your self-worth and feelings of sexuality. How painful to be growing a tiny blissful being in your belly, but hate the shape it's taking. How exhausting to tackle motherhood and a battering on your body image.
Mamma mia indeed!
This should come as no surprise, but surely there is solace in numbers and shared experience; every pregnancy is accompanied by dramatic changes in a woman’s bodies, which trigger a boatload of complicated emotions. (Which is to say nothing of the hormonal shifts.)
Statistics suggest that approximately 30% of women do not gain enough weight while pregnant. This does not mean, of course, that the same percentage of women are dealing with difficulty accepting the weight gain (and further, potentially limiting their food intake to mitigate these feelings), but it might feel helpful to know that you’re not alone in your struggle. Insecurity and dissatisfaction surrounding body image run rampant for women in our looks-focused, celebrity culture filled society, and any ideas we have about our ideal bodies do not disappear with pregnancy.
Sadly, whatever baggage you already possess—join the damn club!—is only going to be exacerbated in pregnancy. Find me a woman with child and I'll find you a host of body-related neuroses. And not so surprisingly, pregnant women who perceive their shifting forms as alarming and unattractive (read: fat) are more likely to restrict their food intake. (Pregnant women may also overeat as a way to cope with heightened emotions and anxiety, although that doesn’t seem to be an issue for you).
The good news is that it seems like you are more-than-aware of your situation, you're anticipating issues prior to it becoming a full-blown problem, and you're actively seeking help. That's a powerful trifecta that you should be proud of.
However, your cognitive struggle needs to stay that way; it's critical it doesn't become a more serious issue.
Warning signs to look for include restricting your food intake despite feeling hungry, exercising beyond the limits your physician recommends, a lack of acceptance surrounding the changes your body is undergoing, and an intense focus on yourself instead of your child and motherhood,. Have you struggled with disordered eating, or potentially even an eating disorder, in the past? Women who have histories of eating disorders are significantly more likely to suffer from eating disorders while pregnant. Past or present sufferers of eating disorders often find that their eating disorder pathology is triggered by weight gain with pregnancy, which can jeopardize the health of the mom and baby.
Girl, the bottom line is, you've got to keep yourself in check; if the food monitoring and negative feelings connected to weight gain continue and/or worsen, get thee to some professional help. (Your physician and the National Eating Disorders Association are excellent resources and they can offer appropriate referrals for therapists, too.)
While we urge you to utilize these resources to assess the severity of your body struggle (for your sake and your baby’s), we’ll also offer some strategies you can implement which might help boost your confidence and enable you to focus on what’s more important. You're having a baby! Let's try and nix some anxiety and get excited:
1. Alter your mindset. Make an effort (you can do it!) to accept the miraculous if lumpy changes your body is undergoing and relinquish control to the extent you are able to. Remind yourself of the incredible archetypal journey you are participating in, and of what this extra weight is enabling you to do . . . create life!
2. Focus on health and fitness instead of weight and the size of your stomach. Put high quality food that makes you feel good into your body, and exercise in a way that is appropriate for you at whatever stage of pregnancy you are in at the time. You’ll be doing good things for yourself and your baby.
3. Pay attention to the beauty that your husband seems to be noticing. Maybe you’re freaked out by your expanding stomach, but can you appreciate the new fullness of your breasts? The freshness in your face?
4. Find ways to enhance your self-esteem that aren’t directly connected to the physical changes you are undergoing. What makes you feel good about yourself? Dancing? Singing karaoke with friends? Getting your hair done? Knitting? Writing? Do more of these things!