3 Basic Recovery Tips for Moms & Moms-to-be with Eating Disorders

Pregnancy and motherhood can be extremely daunting. The “what-ifs?”, “can I manage it all?” and “what will my body do?” internal dialogue often begins quite early in the process of parenthood, even among women without eating disorders.  When a woman struggles with body dissatisfaction and disordered eating, normal concerns throughout pregnancy and parenting can escalate into major anxiety. They may also fuel a new or renewed focus on weight and shape that can lead to harmful behaviors like restriction, purging, bingeing or obsessive exercise. Co-occurring depression – or postpartum depression – can also be risk factors for disordered eating.

According to data from the CDC, the average age at which women have their first child is 28 and this has been steadily rising for decades. As of 2016 however, the demographic with the highest birth rates are actually women in their early thirties (ages 30-34).1 This holds true across all fifty states as well as all racial and ethnic groups.

Interestingly, women between the ages of 30 and 40 are also increasingly seeking treatment for eating disorders. Eating disorders affect about 10% of women during their reproductive years and this number may be growing.  With this in mind, it has become exceedingly apparent that there is a need to tailor treatment to mothers and mothers-to-be in order to effectively assist women during this stage of life.

Pregnancy-related body image concerns combined with the extra stressors of parenting – and feeding – young children can complicate eating disorder recovery efforts. But there are also opportunities and strengths in this new role and certain things moms-to-be can do to stay recovery-focused during the adventures of pregnancy and parenthood. Below are three very basic tips to help provide a starting point for a healthy transition.

 

1. BE HONEST.

If you’re currently pregnant, tell your OB or midwife that you have a history of an eating disorder and about your current or past symptoms.

Some women say they feel shame or guilt in expressing feelings of body-dissatisfaction or disclosing ED symptoms to their medical providers, especially during pregnancy and post-partum. If you find yourself battling these thoughts, it’s helpful to remember that eating disorders thrive on silence and secrecy. Keeping symptoms a secret usually means things get worse, not better. Being open with your OB or midwife allows them to better care for you and more accurately monitor the health of your baby. When your providers know about the eating disorder they can also do more to support your recovery efforts; this could include connecting you with a local support group or tailoring discussions about food and exercise appropriately. Remember, eating disorders are serious illnesses – not simply a choice or lifestyle. It’s okay to let go of the guilt and shame so you can move forward with help.

 

2. EMBRACE IMPERFECTIONS.

You can’t do it all perfectly—nobody can (even if it looks like they do on social media).

More mothers than ever are raising their children while managing full-time careers outside of the home and trying to keep up with ever-increasing expectations for the always perfect outfit, an exquisitely clean house and an expertly planned family vacation.On top of it all, posting finely tuned photos on social media to prove it all happened can almost feel mandatory.Moms who internalize this pressure are understandably overwhelmed because perfection is a race that no one wins. Remember, even the people who look like they have it all together online, are only sharing what they want people to see. It’s essentially a person’s curated highlight reel; the behind-the-scenes shots may not be so picture perfect.

Given that the trait of perfectionism is an established genetic risk factor for the development of eating disorders, it’s easy to see how these increasing expectations and media pressures can create extra challenges for pregnant and parenting moms working on eating disorder recovery. If you find yourself constantly comparing your house, your body, your parenting or your life in general to people you see on TV or friends on social media it’s important to discuss these influences with a therapist or treatment team. You can also do a self-audit of your feed and make some changes to ensure you are cultivating a body positive presence across your social media platforms.

 

3. PRIORITIZE RECOVERY

Self-care isn’t selfish.

There’s a reason why the flight crew on every plane instructs parents flying with children to put on their own oxygen masks in an emergency before putting one on their child.  It might feel counterintuitive or even selfish to do so but we know it’s not. Why? Because it’s much harder to take care of other people – especially infants and toddlers – if you’re not caring for yourself.  When it comes to mental health and eating disorders, you may need to prioritize your recovery efforts now so that you have the physical ability and mental clarity to prioritize your family in the long-term. Seeking therapy, keeping up with appointments and staying connected to other moms who talk openly and authentically about the challenges of motherhood are integral to recovery.

 


At The Center for Eating Disorders, we recently launched an outpatient therapy group to help pregnant and parenting moms with eating disorders do the hard Kristen Norris, LCPCwork of prioritizing recovery while caring for their families. The group, which meets weekly, focuses on skills for balancing recovery and motherhood, addressing body image concerns and strategies for feeding the family. In addition to building recovery skills, this group can also be a way to help moms recharge and gain support. It is open to pregnant women and parenting moms of any age and stage.

The Moms’ group is held on Thursdays at 10 a.m. at outpatient department in Physician’s Pavilion North, Suite 300. Please contact Kristen Norris for additional information or to enroll in the group. She can also be reached by phone at 410-427-3904.


References:

  1. Mathews TJ, Hamilton BE. (2016). Mean age of mothers is on the rise: United States, 2000–2014. NCHS data brief, no 232. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.

Self-Care Resources & Coping with Mass Tragedy


Daily self-care is extremely important for individuals with existing physical and mental health diagnoses including eating disorders, depression, anxiety, PTSD and bipolar disorder. It can be even more crucial during times of high stress, uncertainty or exposure to traumatic events. Even indirect, or secondhand exposure, to violence or disasters can have detrimental effects on one’s mental health. Research conducted by Dr. Pam Ramsden in 2015 found that “viewing violent news events via social media can cause people to experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

In the wake of several national and international acts of violence over the past month, most recently the attack in Nice, France, it’s important to assess your own self-care practices and media use and to seek additional help when needed.

Below is a list of resources we’ve compiled that may help you and your loved ones cope in the aftermath of such tragedies.

 

RESOURCES FOR ADULTS:

RESOURCES TO HELP CHILDREN:

If you are experiencing intense or prolonged stress in the wake of violence you’ve experienced firsthand or via exposure through news outlets and social media please do not hesitate to seek help. Speak with a therapist if you have one. You can also seek more immediate assistance via the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990. 

A more comprehensive list of hotlines and articles is available in this article by Skyler Jackson, MS of The University of Maryland: 100+ Resources for the Aftermath of the Orlando Mass Shooting Tragedy.


 

"Look for the helpers." - Fred Rogers

 

 

 

 

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Body Positive Summer STEP 1: Stop critiquing your body. Start critiquing the thin ideal.


The myth that the size or shape of your body determines what kind of swimsuit you can wear or how much fun you’re allowed to have is entrenched in a culture that profits off of our insecurities. These insecurities may be related to weight or size but also extend to just about every aspect of our bodies – skin, body hair, nails and refuse to miss out on this season of lifemore.  Businesses know that anxious, sad or insecure individuals are better consumers.1  In other words, a person who feels badly about herself is likely to pay more for products she thinks may help her feel, look or be better. The farther she experiences herself to be from the culture’s thin ideal, the greater risk for body dissatisfaction.

The reality is that the answer to all of life’s struggles are not solved by dropping a pant size and cannot be found inside a tanning bed or by embarking on a juice cleanse. Marketers know that the key to their success lies not in creating a product that actually “works” but by keeping people dissatisfied and, thus, poised to keep paying for each new product or weight loss gimmick that comes along next.

Sadly, a focus on weight and appearance is introduced and reinforced quite early.  Recently, Discovery Girls Magazine, aimed at 8-12 year old kids, ran an article suggesting girls choose bathing suits based on “body type” and how they might look in their suit (as opposed to, perhaps, the child’s color and pattern preferences or simply, how comfortable the suit is while playing). Its unfortunate foreshadowing in a culture that tells adults a “bikini body” is something we must attain before engaging in life at the pool on a hot summer day. This is a culture that wants us to prioritize how we appear to others above our own need for comfort or functionality, and in many cases above health or well-being.

So what can we do?

  • Begin to pay conscious attention to the advertisements you are exposed to as the summer heats up. This includes ads on social media, magazine headlines and commercials during your favorite TV show.  But it also includes messages you might hear directly from friends, coaches or via favorite brands on Instagram. Take note of fat talk and body shaming messages that might usually seep into your self-evaluation without you even noticing.  For example, some television shows or swimsuit catalogs simply erase the natural diversity of bodies by choosing models or actors who all look quite similar (or have been photoshopped to appear that way).  As you create an awareness of this flow of information you can begin to consciously object to it AND celebrate the organizations and companies who actually do a good job of representing real and diverse bodies.
  • Each time you find yourself directing negative attention to your body, flip the switch and look outward. Pay attention to whether there are images and messages surrounding you that might be contributing to your feeling badly about yourself or your body. If you notice them, take some sort of opposite action. Remove them (unsubscribe, physically thrown them away, etc.) or challenge them. It could be as simple as blocking a particular kind of ad on your Facebook newsfeed, writing a letter to a magazine editor, or just venting to a friend about a misleading diet advertisement.

Even small acts can be empowering. Once your start, you may be surprised to see who responds or joins you in your efforts.  Self-acceptance and body acceptance may not be profitable for the beauty industries but you and your summer stand to benefit a great deal from these acts.

 

 

Need a little inspiration? Check out this great video from MTV’s Laci Green about the bikini body. Then, let others know how you are removing or challenging the negative or body shaming messages in your life using the #bodypositivesummer hashtag on Twitter or Instagram

Read more #bodypositivesummer posts here:

 

References

1. Cryder CE1, Lerner JS, Gross JJ, Dahl RE. (2008) Misery is not miserly: sad and self-focused individuals spend more. Psychol Sci. Jun;19(6):525-30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18578840

 

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Welcome to a #bodypositivesummer


How will YOU create a #bodypositivesummerBy now you may have already considered whether you are “beach body ready,” but the seasonal push to pressure individuals into body conformity hasn’t even peaked yet, as it does each summer.  In hopes of increasing revenue, the diet companies, tanning salons and hair removal industries have created a standard bikini body goal they’d like us all to strive for. Typically for women this involves being smaller, thinner, toned, hairless and voluptuous in all the right places.  The same cultural undertow usually promotes height, muscularity, definition, and, increasingly body hair removal for men as well.  Both sexes will be bombarded with advertisements encouraging them to have skin that is “golden” or “bronzed”, or as one indoor tanning company so directly put it in their recent ads, “be a better shade of you”.

In the words of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey on SNL, “Really!?”

Help us set a new standard for summer bodies, one that is inclusive and enjoyable. Striving for a #bodypositivesummer is an ideal that involves using your body and brain to enjoy your summer instead of spending your summer and your brainpower trying to change your body. This is an opportunity to encourage yourself and your friends to stop skipping, missing out on, or postponing summer fun due to body dissatisfaction.  It’s also an opportunity to focus on well-being and self-care instead of putting your health at risk to meet narrow and arbitrary goals that include futile weight loss, unsafe tanning or even expensive hair removal procedures.

We hope you’ll join us in celebrating a #bodypositivesummer. There are no prerequisites for joining in. Despite what the advertisements depict, bodies of all shapes, sizes, shades and abilities can engage in summer fun.  Being body positive doesn’t mean you absolutely love your body right now.  In this case, being body positive just means you’re interested in helping to override negative body image norms that might otherwise hold you, or your friends, back from fun, important or beneficial moments in your life.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring tips and strategies for establishing a summer Body Dissatisfaction INFOGRAPHICremoved from socially constructed beauty ideals that reinforce body dissatisfaction, self-hatred and disordered eating . We’ve invited some of our body positive friends and colleagues to share what they’re doing to override body anxiety and make the most of summer so you’ll be hearing from them along the way too.

You can help encourage your friends and family to embrace body positivity too by educating them about the widespread impacts of body dissatisfaction. This infographic is an easy shareable way to get the message across. Feeling badly about your body is not just an inconvenience. It can have serious repercussions for a person’s quality of life at any age.

(Download Infographic as a PDF here).

If you are one of the many people who dread summer because of heightened body anxiety or you find yourself getting sucked in to the massive marketing campaigns telling you that your body isn’t good enough, stick around and follow the hashtag #bodypositivesummer on Twitter and Facebook for tips, strategies and stories from people who’ve risen above body shame in order to re-engage with life – even during the summer months!

These are just a few ways to get involved:

  • Educate friends and colleagues about the real scope and impact of body dissatisfaction.
  • Read and comment along with us as we share tips and ideas for maintaining a body positive summer, including upcoming guest posts from Erin Mandras, Dianne Bondy and others!
  • Share about your own summer adventures with the hashtag #bodypositivesummer.  We’ll be sharing helpful prompts along the way to get people thinking about their summer narratives in ways that don’t include body shape/size prerequisites.  At summer’s end we’ll be compiling all of the wonderful body acceptance stories and photos we come across to help keep the body positivity going long after summer is gone.
  • If you see or hear a body acceptance story or idea you think others could benefit from, send it our way. Send via email to kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org or tweet us @CEDSheppPratt.

Not sure what it all means?  Find a glossary of body image terms here.


Please note: we manage all of our social media sites from a recovery-focused perspective and try very hard to keep these spaces free from triggering content. When sharing your  posts, pictures, comments or tweets, we ask that you do so in a way that does not include before/after pics, specific weights, clothing sizes or descriptions of eating disorder symptoms. THANK YOU.

 

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