Baby Steps: Recovery From an Eating Disorder... and Pregnancy

Pregnancy has added a whole other level to recovery. So far, it's been amazing, challenging, exhausting, surprising, and a little terrifying all at once. The human body can do pretty spectacular things.
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"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Recovery from an eating disorder is no easy feat. It's never really "over," and some people never really feel they are "all-the-way-recovered." For me, it's just a state of being. I am "in" recovery. I choose to remain in this space. It's something in present tense. I seem to be doing pretty darn well with this whole recovery thing. So far.

Pregnancy has added a whole other level to recovery. So far, it's been amazing, challenging, exhausting, surprising, and a little terrifying all at once.

The human body can do pretty spectacular things. When you give it the chance to really breathe again, it comes to life in ways that are totally unexpected. Once I was able to get pregnant (the journey to pregnancy is a whole other topic that warrants its own chapter), I was elated, and in the same breath, admittedly terrified. Pregnancy is a time when you -- and everyone around you -- suddenly becomes preoccupied with your body, how much weight you've gained, how big you look, and how much you're eating. For a woman who hasn't battled an eating disorder, pregnancy puts a lot on your plate.

For the woman who has fought that battle before, it's like Recovery 101 all over again.

And like the early days of recovery, there's no way to get out of it if you're planning to have a healthy pregnancy. You can play around with all the different food combinations and calorie counts. You are going to -- and have to -- gain weight. Your body will change its shape to accommodate the little life (or lives) inside of it. If your pregnancy is marked by extreme fatigue (let's be honest, what pregnant woman isn't constantly exhausted?), chances are your normal exercise routine may go through some adjustments. You'll be out of breath faster, become tired sooner, and a nap (9 times out of 10) is going to sound so much better than a 3.1-mile run. Back in the old days, I'd simply power through the fatigue and go for a run anyway. This time, it's different. Your reserve is not what it used to be.

Your sense of control goes out the window, and the fallback -- the "sure thing" (aka your eating disorder crutch) -- may come out of the closet again to ask if you want some company. It's oh-so-tempting to try to skip the food you need. But it's not just about you anymore. I think the guilt of robbing my babies of the nutrients they need is the thing that keeps the meanness of the eating disorder at bay. Sometimes I say to myself, "You can always go back once the pregnancy is over. You can always lose weight again." While gaining a significant amount of weight and a changing body scare me like an anxiety attack, those words, "You can always go back," scare me more. Because, even after the babies are born, it's still not just about me anymore.

Our children are going to want a mommy who has energy to play with them, and cuddle them, and chase them around the back yard. Our children will need me -- especially if they are girls -- to show them how to treat their bodies with respect and love. They will look at me to learn how to relate to food and exercise. I want that relationship to be one that is absent of the angst and confusion that I muddled through for so long. And my husband deserves a wife with life in her eyes and a strong hand to hold. From what I gather, parenting is one of the hardest things in the world to do, and we'll need to hang onto each other.

I think pregnancy may be an opportunity... an opportunity to eat the foods that were scary before (but now necessary to sustain the life inside you), to realize that being uncomfortable is tolerable, and to push yourself to places that seemed far and distant in pre-pregnancy years. I think that parenting, in general, must be quite uncomfortable a lot of the time. Perhaps this is good preparation.

It's also an opportunity to take care of yourself. When I go to my doctor appointments, I ask the medical assistant to weigh me backwards. That -- the "not-knowing-of-the-number" -- is something that takes care of me. I am learning not to be ashamed of saying, "I'm too tired to do X." Or, "I just can't do Y this time." It's okay to ask for help and let your guard down a little bit. Admitting you are struggling is hard for the perfection-addict, but it's a helpful step in keeping the disorder in its place.

I know, at some point, I'll recover the body I used to have, and get back to the longer runs I used to love. And, I'll have two little people to keep me company on the run... and a husband who is now the father of our children.


If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.