Did you know that 1 in 21 or 5% of pregnant women will experience an eating disorder (Watson et al., 2014)?
It is no secret that pregnancy is life-changing! Discovering that you are expecting can be an exciting, hopeful, and joyful moment! What people rarely talk about, however, is that it can also feel terrifying, stressful, and overwhelming. During pregnancy, not only are you creating a human (boom, superpower!), you are likely also feeling exhausted, scared, excited, lonely, out of control and disconnected – this is all on top of experiencing less-than-comfortable pregnancy side effects including pain, morning sickness, swelling, and heartburn. Aaaahhhhhhhh!
During pregnancy, the way you and the rest of the world experience your body also changes. While there is often much excitement over having a baby bump, living in a body that feels unrecognizable to you can also feel uncomfortable. When every appointment becomes all about measuring, counting, and comparing your body, and your body starts to become the topic of conversation – even amongst complete strangers – it can feel as though your body is no longer yours. You may feel vulnerable, exposed and unable to escape body comparisons and critique.
To top it all off, there is social media. While most of us like to think that we are only using social media to connect with others – it is inevitable that while browsing the exciting lives of others, that we will compare our appearances and experiences to those of our friends on social. As if real-life pregnancy wasn’t hard enough, with social media we now have to see other people experiencing their pregnancies in ways that may feel different from ours. Looking at other people’s social media pages you might see pregnancy portrayed as glowing (what does that even mean?!), happy, and energetic. I can assure you that they are feeling similar emotions and preoccupations. Comparing our darkness and struggle to everyone else’s highlight reel only increases our experience of loneliness and decreases our self-worth. Moral of the story: PREGNANCY IS REALLY HARD!
That’s why it makes sense that many pregnant women look to find ways to feel more in control, powerful, and worthy. Sometimes, people manipulate their food intake to find control and relief over their changing bodies. To have the “perfect” baby bump, to feel less judged by others. Sometimes women may find ways to get food out of their systems in order to control their weight and feel less guilty. This is especially true since pregnancy can already bring nausea and stomach discomfort! Food (or lack of food) can also be used as a way to disconnect and feel numb to increased amounts of stress and uncertainty.
YES, pregnant women get eating disorders.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
This is totally understandable because pregnancy is stressful, terrifying, painful, out of control, and joyous all at the same time
If you or someone you love are pregnant and experiencing disordered eating patterns or behaviors, you are not alone. You deserve to feel powerful and worthy can do so through self-care and self-compassion. We are here to support you during these exhausting and challenging moments!
Watson, H. J., Torgersen, L., Zerwas, S., Reichborn-Kjennerud, T., Knoph, C., Stoltenberg, C., & Bulik, C. M. (2014). Eating disorders, pregnancy, and the postpartum period: Findings from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). Norsk epidemiologi, 24(1-2).
Amy Allison is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and an adult clinician for the Amherst partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Colorado State University, and her Master’s degree in Community Counseling from Eastern Illinois University. Before joining the team here at Walden, Amy worked as a clinician for The Renfrew Center and at the counseling center at Washington State University. Amy has been with Walden for almost 2 years and is passionate about supporting individuals with eating disorders on their path towards healing.