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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Body Image and Pregnancy: Surviving Comments and Weight Gain {Guest Post}

February 28, 2011 24 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul


{Image Credit :: Gabi + Jeremy Photography}

“Your legs are getting big,” my co-worker said as she eyed my stocking-clad gams. I was wearing a skirt as opposed to expandable-waist pants, and, at 8 months pregnant, was large and soft in unexpected places. Like my legs.

Those movies where the protagonist dons a modest prosthetic bump and declares herself knocked up? Not accurate, as it turns out. No, there are countless body parts that swell and stretch and slump during pregnancy.

And countless people to comment on the expansion of such parts. If you’ve never been pregnant, you may fail to appreciate the extent to which women in this “condition” are subject to scrutiny and judgment and evaluation. From the size and shape of their bellies, to the decision to wear high heels, drink an occasional glass of wine, eat chocolate cake (which contains caffeine, as a well-meaning but nosey colleague reminded me), or even partake in exercise, pregnant women receive more advice than they know what to do with.

People seem to assume two things about the condition of pregnancy: 1. It renders women stupid and unable to think for themselves, and 2. It makes them interested in what you think. Particularly in your thoughts about whether their weight gain is sufficient or, conversely, exorbitant.

I’ve written before about my history with Anorexia, that mind- and soul-consuming state in which the sufferer believes that weight and food are twin forces of evil–forces that can only be defeated by the virtues of discipline, self-sufficiency and unyielding control. Luckily, my eating disorder occurred many years before my first pregnancy (nearly 15 years, in fact), so I had ample time to make peace with food and weight. I had come to enjoy eating and inhabiting my body in a way I could not previously have imagined.

Yet even with that much recovery under my belt (or the elasticized panel on my skirt), I was unprepared for pregnancy and its effects. The weight gain was mostly tolerable, but at times I felt panic, due to the unpredictability of growth; I couldn’t say whether my body would increase by 15 pounds or 50. And this scared me. More than a little.

But it was a diagnosis of gestational diabetes that really tested my recovery. Not just the lancets and blood, which had me all kinds of anxious, but the requirement that I monitor—closely—what I put in my body: the carbs, fat and protein. I had to immerse myself in a world I’d long ago deserted through self-imposed exile. I had to revisit charts and lists that contained information I’d necessarily wiped from my mind, because it served as the scaffolding of my eating disorder, the architectural plans of Anorexia.

I had long divorced myself from the idea that foods are “good” or “bad,” and instead adopted the attitude that everything is appropriate in moderation. And yet here was the diabetes educator, telling me that pasta and bagels were indeed bad, even dangerous.

Thoughts about restriction and weight danced in my head. Some were based in the present, in the desire to ensure my own well-being and that of my unborn child. And some were ghosts from the past, seductively lingering and making false promises. My job was to differentiate them, to decipher friend from foe.

In the end, I was able to do this, not just for the sake of my baby, but because I didn’t want to go back to that degrading, lonely and terrified existence. There was too much at stake, and I knew that carbs weren’t the real enemy (at least after I had given birth and learned that the diabetes was resolved). Through luck, intention, and lots of pushing, I was able to deliver a healthy baby and then return to my customary mix of varied foods and unplanned eating–some of this and that, in the morning or darkest hour of night.

And I was able to return to chocolate chip cookies. My mother delivered some to the hospital, and I ate them in bed while holding my sweet, sleepy child. A delicious delivery, indeed.

Dr. Dana Udall-Weiner is a clinical psychologist, mother of two, and Nourishing Body Image Award nominee. She blogs at The Body and the Brood, offering action-oriented advice and musings on food, family, culture. You can also find her on twitter. You can learn more about eating disorders and pregnancy here, or by contacting the National Association of Eating Disorders.

How was your body image affected by pregnancy?  Did you get lots of comments from friends or strangers? And if you’ve ever had an eating disorder, did you find it difficult to deal with changes in your weight and your shape?

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22 Comments

  1. Gabi
    4 years ago

    Nice article and very true even if you don’t have an eating disorder. Your body image is totally effected, especially the last couple months! And boy do people offer up information that frankly you just don’t want to hear or you don’t care about, as if your pregnancy and delivery is going to be just like theirs…thanks for letting me vent that:) Nice picture too:)

    Reply

  2. Courtney
    4 years ago

    I really didn’t get any comments about my weight while I was pregnant. At my very fist prenatal appointment, I told my NP that I had a history of ED and she told me that I might gain 25-35 pounds, and that might tip me over the 150 mark on the scale. She asked if I would be okay with that, and I said no way, so we agreed that I would face away from the scale at each visit and that they wouldn’t tell me my weight unless it became a health issue. As luck would have it, I got morning sickness that lasted 24 hours a day for all nine months of my pregnancy, and I reached a point where I would happily eat any food that I could that didn’t make me feel sick, and that often included cinnamon buns, pizza and ice cream. I still don’t know how much weight I gained, and I really don’t care. I won’t lie and say that I was okay with getting wider in general, because I wasn’t at all; I hated women that told me that they felt like some beautiful goddess while pregnant. However, I lost all the weight in a reasonable amount of time and looking back on it, I wish I hadn’t spent so much time worrying about such a trivial thing. I had a healthy, happy baby boy, and that is all that matters.

    Reply

    • Dana Udall-Weiner
      4 years ago

      I’m so glad to hear that your NP considered your history and your needs. I’ve heard too many stories of medical professionals disempowering women by telling them what they must do, rather than working in a collaborative and mutual way.
      Dana Udall-Weiner recently posted..Are You Pregnant or Just Fat

      Reply

      • Sarah
        4 years ago

        I stumbled here via Twitter. I am 6 years at a happy weight. Not sure that being morbidly obese is considered an ED but I have been successful keeping off 185 pounds. My relationship with food is one where I am at peace and I have no fear of what it is required of me. Learning to live with food is the best gift that I have ever given myself.

        MY fear comes with the physicality of being pregnant. I remember how difficult it was to live in that body and carry around the extra weight. I have knee issues that I am worried will be exacerbated by the extra pounds but it is what it is. I am currently at the end of my first trimester and I am sure the weight will start to come on. I have my first appointment with the NP this week where I will have ultrasound and my weight will be checked against what I weighed a few weeks ago. I have NO INTEREST in that number. I fear that I will want to contrast and compare and these are two totally different conditions. While I am interested in knowing how much I have gained, I am not interested in my actual weight on their scale. I plan on asking not to be told that number. This post is a reminder that is my right.

        Thanks.

        Reply

        • Courtney
          4 years ago

          It’s absolutely your right! My NP even put a big note on the front of my chart that said, “DO NOT TELL HER HER WEIGHT” so that if I had to see a different practitioner at some point, they wouldn’t accidentally slip up. I was so glad not to have to worry about it, and even friends of mine that have no history of ED but worry about pregnancy weight ask not to be told their weight because it alleviates such a silly source of stress.

          Reply

  3. Lori Lieberman
    4 years ago

    As a Certified Diabetes Educator and RD specializing in EDz, I am well aware of your conflict! It’s worsened by the prevailing culture which tells us that you’ll just get fat after you have your child, that it’s tough to lose the pregnancy weight, etc.

    For those considering pregnancy: For the record, if you gain according to plan (as much as 35-40 pounds if you are underweight), that gain is justified and will be lost after pregnancy. Self monitoring your weight weekly while pregnant may add reassurance (as well as working with an RD to stay on track).

    As for diabetes and EDz, the approach to management of blood sugars has changed significantly over the years, focusing on a flexible intake, while adjusting insulin (if insulin-requiring) vs limiting eating to match insulin. But most who get gestational diabetes are not insulin requiring, and for the short term, usually 10-12 weeks, do need to focus on carbohydrate intake in pregnancy. It helps to remember it’s only short term though!
    Lori Lieberman recently posted..Calories Count But I Prefer Not To

    Reply

  4. Peyton Q
    4 years ago

    I am currently in my 8th month of my first pregnancy, and my body image has definitely been affected by it. I have always been more or less comfortable in my body, but I have also always been fairly slim- so all of the quick body changes that bring the aching and discomfort of pregnancy have been kind of a shock. All of a sudden I can’t sit up without rolling over onto my side first. Can only reach my feet to put on my socks and shoes with difficulty. Can’t twist my torso independently of my lower half- I have to turn my entire body. Have this large bubble in the way of lifting my feet to go up stairs. However, what has shocked me the most (and hurt) are comments I’ve gotten from family and friends- comparing me to cows, whales and making fun of the way I waddle. I’ve actually only gotten good and supportive comments from strangers- mostly in regards to how cute I look (which lately I have to hold back my reply of “yeah, right” and thank them politely, because I know that a significant portion of my self image is also tied into how darn uncomfortable I am right now physically). Being this kind of uncomfortable in my body is very hard to swallow, especially after *just* getting my ability to move freely back from the fibromyalgia. (I have fibromyalgia that had me swollen badly enough and in enough pain before I put it into remission that I consider my ability to walk and use my hands for anything that requires finer motor control a blessing)

    This post happens to hit home for me, because I have been having more and more difficulty letting the comments about how much weight I’ve gained roll off my back lately. I don’t have a history of ED, but I was underweight (accidentally- I was just beginning to realize that I was too skinny) when I got pregnant, and have consequently gained the upper range of what medical advice tells you to gain- 40 pounds and counting. I am even starting to get varying opinions from my midwives about whether or not I need to try and stop gaining weight (one says I need to exercise more so I burn more calories, others say “you were underweight. You can gain a little more than normal. It’s fine.”)- this is also wreaking havoc with my body image. The unsolicited advice from all corners is annoying, but I try to keep in mind that in most cases it is well-intentioned. I also happen to be blessed in the form of coworkers- many of them have expressed only curiosity and positive thoughts. So it’s a mixed bag, really. But I have to say that there’s a large part of me that wants everyone to stop freaking commenting, already!

    Reply

    • Dana Udall-Weiner
      4 years ago

      The conflicting advice is so hard to manage, particularly if it comes from people in the medical or birthing profession (e.g., midwives). I remember hearing that weight gain during pregnancy is often the first experience of mothering, in that the mom’s needs or wants (to avoid unnecessary weight gain) might conflict with the baby’s. So it seems like it’s about being able to navigate this dilemma and trying to strike a balance between taking care (physically and emotionally) of ourselves and of our baby. Good luck with the rest of your pregnancy and your delivery!
      Dana Udall-Weiner recently posted..Are You Pregnant or Just Fat

      Reply

  5. Limor
    4 years ago

    This is so spot on. I struggled with disordered eating for most of my life (restricting, binging, exercising excessively), and pregnancy actually helped me to be more accepting of my body. I was so scared of being diagnosed with GD, during both of my pregnancies, because I thought that going back on a “diet” would send me back into disordered eating. Luckily I avoided GD, but I can totally understand how you felt.

    It’s so important to have supportive people around you, especially when you’re pregnant. That includes a supportive health care provider.
    Limor recently posted..My Scrawny Monkey

    Reply

  6. HeatherKC
    4 years ago

    I had gestational diabetes, and I was able to stick to the diet. I was just happy not to feel so sick all the time, and I had plenty of weight to loose, so the doctor told me she was happy when I actually lost weight in my third trimester.

    I do not have a history of ED, but I do have a family member who monitors her weight, and keeps herself very, very thin. She became pregnant and kept running the whole time, and she stayed very thin, except for her belly. She didn’t even wear maternity pants (well – she used that band thing) or maternity underwear (my maternity underwear were the size of China I think). Well, she ended up delivering a month early – and the baby was fine, thank goodness. But the doctor did explain to her that her placenta was too small for the baby because she was not providing her body with the nutrients it needed. The baby had to “press the eject button” to find more food someplace else. I guess I was sad for the baby – he was tiny, and he would have preferred a longer stay in the womb where he can have all his needs met in peace.

    I know my family member will have another baby, and hopefully she will “let” herself pack on some more pounds. I know I will make an effort to stop complimenting women who are skinny and pregnant (we were all in awe of her and told her how great she looked all the time).

    Reply

  7. sharyn rohlfsen
    4 years ago

    Another courageous post, Dr. U-W. Seems an overwhelming set of concerns–an embryo’s needs layered over longstanding issues about weight, health, etc. My admiration and respect to all of you going through it these days, when you know so much more, for better or worse!

    Reply

  8. charlotte
    4 years ago

    What a beautiful post! Should be required reading for every woman with a disordered eating history who’s planning on getting pregnant. You articulated the internal tug-of-war perfectly. Thankfully I never had gestational diabetes but even so pregnancy is always pretty fraught with anxiety over my weight.
    charlotte recently posted..Marchs Great Yoga Experiment &amp Giveaway! Sandbag results are in!

    Reply

  9. Margarita @ Weightless
    4 years ago

    Hi Dana! Just wanted to say that this is such an eloquent and thoughtful post! Thank you for always providing such sane and valuable insight into topics like body image and eating. I can’t even imagine what pregnant women go through with all the comments they receive – one of the biggest culprits being the media. Congrats on your healthy baby! :)
    Margarita @ Weightless recently posted..My Beef With Health Magazines

    Reply

  10. Rachel
    4 years ago

    Thank you for this post.

    I have never had an ED but was raised by a loving mother who is still struggling with anorexia. I have had major issues with body image my whole life. It kills me to never know whether I am too big, or just fine, or too small. I can’t tell. My husband is extremely underweight and can’t sympathize or understand why people would have fat on their bodies. I was in a good place with my body image until I got pregnant. Now all people can say is “wow, are you sure you’re not having twins or triplets” or “are you due soon- you look like you need ot be done.” And I am gaining weight fast, but do not feel like I am eating too much. I just don’t know what to think and am feeling like I am MASSIVE. I cried and cried over the weekend and my husband didn’t know what to do with me.
    So reading this post was helpful in that A. I’m not alone B. people are rude and C. this is something for me to breathe through and accept.

    Reply

  11. Ghena
    3 years ago

    Image can re-shape again. Don’t worry about your body. be sure that you follow medication, eat properly, and exercise. Discipline your food carving and balance diet.
    Ghena recently posted..puffy eyes from crying

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2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] To end the week on a feel-good note: I seem to be swimming in pregnant or potentially pregnant friends at the moment, so I also wanted to link to an awesome project called The Shape of a Mother, where real women post photos of their pregnant or post-pregnancy bodies. Take that, Hollywood Bump Watch addicts. No, you don’t have to be back to your pre-pregnancy weight fifteen minutes after giving birth. Cut yourself some slack! See also: Dr. Dana Udall-Weiner’s wonderful take on pregnancy and body image over at Nourishing The Soul. [...]

  2. [...] “Surviving Comments and Weight Gain” [...]

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