My History of Eating Disorders Impacted My Pregnancies

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a woman sitting at a table with a plate that has one lettuce leaf on it, as she uses her fork and knife to cut itI didn’t realize how my struggles with an eating disorder and disordered eating would impact my pregnancies. It took a long time before I realized that not everyone knows the calorie count of a medium apple, a spoonful of peanut butter, or an entire box of yellow cake. I didn’t realize that most people didn’t know how many calories a HIIT workout would burn. I didn’t think twice when I cried in the dressing room buying new pants. I kept a running clock in my head, counting how long it had been since I ate last, always hoping to beat my last best time. It upset me when my now-husband questioned me when I went on an all-fruit diet while we were dating. I remember feeling so offended when he finally confronted me about my dangerous struggle with my eating disorder. 

 

Slowly but surely, I began to overcome the layers of shame, doubt, restriction, judgment, pain, and sadness that I allowed to consume me for over ten years of my life. 

 

It wasn’t until I was closing in on my 30th birthday that I really began healing. I was in the healthiest relationship I have ever been in, and for the first time in my life, I had the feeling that motherhood might be something I would want to experience. Motherhood was not something I had ever considered before, and quite frankly, it was just as frightening as it was exciting. 

 

I can’t be a Mom and have an eating disorder. 
I can’t allow my child(ren) to hear my negative self-talk.
I can’t allow my child(ren) to hear me purging. 
I can’t allow my child(ren) to watch me pass on meals. 
I can’t be a Mom and have an eating disorder. 
 

So I took the steps to heal. Anyone who has ever experienced something like this knows that it is an active practice. Conquering an eating disorder, disordered eating, and/or body dysmorphia takes time, patience, a lot of vulnerability, and support. 

 

I was feeling strong, confident, and in control. I really loved myself. The summer before I turned 30, I saw two pink lines on the pregnancy test. I was going to be a Mom. 

 

At my second prenatal appointment, I stepped on the scale and noticed a change. Suddenly, the calculator in my head that had been put away for some time came right back on. Five pounds. I started using My Fitness Pal and told myself that it was because I wanted to make sure I was eating a wide variety of foods and consuming a balanced diet— but that was a lie. My checks and balance system was slowly but surely starting to come back into my life. 

 

a pregnant woman standing on a scale, representing a struggle with eating disorders impacting pregnancies

 

I started to have anxiety about going into my prenatal visits. I would try to schedule them in the morning, so I could eat breakfast after the appointment and go on an empty stomach. At my next visit, the medical assistant took my weight, showed me to my room, and checked my blood pressure. My doctor stepped in and simply said, “how are things going?” and I immediately started crying. I confided in her about my eating disorder during my first visit. 

 

Shame.

Judgment.

Sadness.

Old feelings brought to the surface with new light. 

 

Shame, judgment, and sadness that I was gaining weight. 

 

Shame, judgment, and sadness that I was being superficial about my body when I was so fortunate to be carrying a healthy pregnancy. 

 

I knew I had to implement a plan to get this spiral of feelings and habits under control. It was imperative that I was open with my doctor and my husband. I stopped looking at the scale during my visits and trusted my doctor would make sure I was maintaining a healthy pregnancy. I didn’t try to suppress the emotions I had about my changing body—I gave them a voice, let my husband listen, allowed myself to feel them, and reminded myself of the purpose of the changes. I never got used to the weight gain and body changes during my first pregnancy. Now being pregnant for a second time, I still wouldn’t say I am totally accepting of it – and that is not to say I am not also in awe of the powerful abilities of my body. 

 

Pregnancy and motherhood are amazing gifts that I have been fortunate enough to experience. It is a world where you can speculate how you’ll handle it, but you never know until the transition starts. Pregnancy is marked by dramatic body changes that happen in a short period of time and are totally out of your control. The fourth trimester brings more dramatic body changes— both physically and mentally. Simultaneously, the journey of motherhood is a roller coaster ride of never-ending learning, giving, and decision-making. 

 

If you have or have had an eating disorder and struggle during pregnancy, you are not selfish or ungrateful. It doesn’t mean you aren’t worthy of the gift of pregnancy or motherhood. You don’t have to love every minute, but you deserve to take care of yourself. You are worthy of a plan to stay healthy. Your body and mind are in need of love and support. And not because you fear the effect it might have on your child, but because you and you alone are worthy and deserving. 

 

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Mandi is originally from a small town and moved to Saint Louis in 2015 for a new job and new love. She has lived in a few areas of Saint Louis including the Central West End/De Baliviere and Lindenwood Park areas but has found a place to call home in Webster Groves. She has been married to her husband Seth since 2017 and they had their first son, Walter in March 2020. She is being inducted into the “two under two” club in January 2022! Mandi works full time as a Nurse Practitioner. When she is not working, you can find her park hopping and trying to wrangle her son, brainstorming freezer meal ideas, mourning the loss of “The Office” from Netflix, or at Katie’s Pizza and Pasta in Rock Hill. Mandi is passionate about making Motherhood feel less lonely and encouraging community through vulnerability.

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