The Center for Eating Disorders is honored to be able to feature Claire Mysko and Magali Amadei as guest bloggers in our Nuture series for moms and mothers-to-be. Their book, Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby, offers a refreshingly realistic and healthy perspective on body image during pregnancy. Recently, we asked Claire and Magali to offer their best advice to women, especially those who have struggled with eating disorders or disordered eating, on how to navigate the adventures of pregnancy without over-focusing on weight and size.
This is what they had to say…
Pregnancy is a time of great anticipation. It’s also a time that is measured meticulously from start to finish—in weeks on the calendar, milestones on the sonograms, and numbers on the scale. And for those with histories of disordered eating, all that counting can be dangerous territory. Here are five tips to help every expectant mother get beyond the numbers game.
Tip # 1:
Take weight out of the equation. This might seem like a radical suggestion considering that pregnancy weight gain and post-baby weight loss are such hot topics of conversation among mothers-to-be and new moms. To add fuel to the fire, weigh-ins are often the center of every visit to the doctor. But truthfully, there really isn’t any reason you need to keep track of your weight. If you know that it could become an unhealthy fixation, tell your OB or midwife that you prefer not to discuss the number unless it becomes a medical issue. Step on the scale backwards and remind the physician’s assistant that you don’t want to be told your weight. Then enjoy the looks on people’s faces when they ask you how much you’ve gained and you respond, “I don’t know.” As a bonus, you’ll soon discover that there are plenty of other interesting—and more substantive–things about becoming a mother that you can talk about.
Tip # 2:
Choose a health care provider who is sensitive to food, weight and body image issues. Women who have struggled with poor body image and/or disordered eating need to find prenatal healthcare providers who are knowledgeable and compassionate when it comes to these issues. We’ve heard from many women who ended up in the examination room—and sometimes even the delivery room—feeling belittled and unsupported by their own doctors. The best way to avoid this scenario is to push through whatever shame you might be feeling and be upfront with your OB or midwife about your history and your pregnancy-related body image fears. If you’re met with criticism or any other reaction that makes you feel uncomfortable, remember that you are well within your rights to walk out that door and find another doctor who will treat you with more respect. Of those we surveyed, 73% of pregnant women with body image issues and histories of eating disorders and disordered eating said they had not discussed this history with their OBs or midwives. It’s time to break that dangerous silence.
Clean out your closet. One of the kindest things you can do for yourself is to pack up anything in your wardrobe that would qualify as “form-fitting” as soon as you see that plus sign on the pregnancy test. You will start gaining weight before you start showing, so this is a surefire way to avoid the agony of trying to squeeze into something that’s too small. And we’re not kidding about packing it up. Put those clothes in a box, and seal it up tight. Personally, we advise you not to open it again until a year after you’ve given birth. You know what they say about nine months to gain the weight, nine months to take it off? Well, we’re adding a few extra months for good measure. That’s a lot of seasons in fashion-speak, so chances are good that you won’t even be interested in some of those clothes once you dig that box out again. For sanity’s sake, pregnancy is a time when you must let go of your attachment to a specific clothing size. As someone who is about to become a mother, your sense of self-worth cannot hinge on whether you can fit into whatever size you think is “ideal” for you. Is that a belief you would want your child to absorb? What’s really ideal is to find clothes that are flattering, comfortable, and versatile. Sizes vary from store to store, so don’t have a heart attack if you end up wearing sizes that seem beyond what you imagined you would wear. That goes for pregnancy and it applies for after delivery, too. The number on the scale doesn’t define any of us, and neither does the number on the tags of our clothes. If it’s making you that miserable, take a pair of scissors and cut those labels out of sight and out of mind.
Be aware of the triggers of pregnancy. The incessant counting, comparing, and measuring that happens during those nine months and beyond can tap into some of the very vulnerabilities that are linked to eating disorders and food and weight obsessions. Perfectionism, loss of control, feelings of isolation, and memories of childhood often bubble right to the surface. But if you’re getting the support you need, you’ll have a better chance of weathering those storms without resorting to self-destructive habits. Resist the urge to shut down or close off. Remember that there is nothing shameful about asking for help. It’s the most courageous thing you can do for yourself and your baby. Look at your recovery as an ongoing process that will help you reach your full potential as an individual and as a mother.
Break the cycle of body hatred. Allow yourself to celebrate the fact that your body is working some serious magic right now. Before you get stymied by stretch marks or focused on flabby skin, take time to reflect on how you will teach your child—in your words and in your actions—that you appreciate your body because it brought them into the world. We have the power to help future generations grow up placing a higher value on good health than on weight and physical appearance. But before we can pass along those positive attitudes, we must first embrace them for ourselves.
Make your commitment now by signing the Healthy Beauty Pledge for Mothers and Mothers-to-Be.
Visit Claire Mysko’s website for more empowering and encouraging blogs about body image.
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Adapted from Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby by Claire Mysko and Magali Amadei