You’ve a history of disordered eating, or low self-esteem. And now you find yourself pregnant. There’s a running commentary from friends, family, colleagues, those you meet in the supermarket about your appearance, your growing size, the bump, the glow, or lack of glow…and so you start to recoil into yourself and stick to your comforter of choice. Food.
When you’re already struggling with body image, and engaging in disordered eating prior to pregnancy, getting through pregnancy and then the navigating through being the ‘new mum’ is another layer of pressure. It’s scary.
One of the one hand you ‘know better’ and have read all the books and know you shouldn’t be damaging yourself in this way, you know you want to find food freedom; but you’re still at odds with yourself, still rely on old favourite tactics and habits and now the prospect of your body changing drastically and quickly, as well as the hanging out with other mums and the constant comparison is terrifying you. Yet you’re supposed to be telling everyone how excited you are, whilst walking around cupping your bump? But you don’t recognise yourself. You’ve tried being invisible and now as the bump grows, that’s impossible.
Recovering from disordered eating and journeying into new motherhood is possible, but like everything in health, it takes time, self-compassion & kindness, and a support network.
When it comes to pre & post-natal ladies the pressure is on.
- Pressure from within, a history of difficulties with self image resurrects itself
- Pressure from doctors and midwives checking weight.
- Pressure from peers comparing size when they were pregnant
- Pressure from social media, seeing other pregnant ladies at same week as you & the list continues.
As mentioned at the beginning, there’s a running commentary on the size and development and even though it’s coming from a place of love and kindness, if you’re struggling with your self esteem and body image, you won’t be able to see that it comes from kindness. On top of that, there’s a constant comparison to other mums, with the language around how mums are doing focused on size, figures, and food. Fear of getting bigger, not being able to stay in control, fear of everything changing is scary, and is more likely to further than negative relationship with food.
NOTE: the severity of behaviours around food can be a vast spectrum, and it’s crucial you speak with your health practitioner if you’re noticing an eating disorder developing or reoccurring.
A common trait alongside the disordered eating is a disordered relationship with exercise. (Although one can exist without the other)
At a time when your body is changing and everything feels so much out of your control, the two areas you can control are eating and exercise. Prior to pregnancy you knew how to manage your weight with exercise, hiding food, being secret. Being pregnant now makes you feel very exposed and vulnerable.
Working with a professional over time you can work through the healing process. In time finding pleasure in movement and food again. Learning how they can support you. Learning strategies to combat this difficult period.
Why do you exercise?
The women that I work with whether pregnant or not, very often exercise because they think they SHOULD.
- They’ve lost sight of exercising for enjoyment.
- They don’t understand what would be good or feel good for them. Everything is a chore
- Or they exercise to burn calories, undo the ‘damage’ of what they’ve eaten.
But I thought exercise was good for me?
Whether you chose to exercise or not, we all know it’s good for us. If you love it you’ll know it feels good, makes you feel alive, happy, strong? If you don’t exercise, you probably know deep down you should, but something is holding you back.
What makes exercise a concern in this context, is our ‘attitude’ around it.
Even without a history of eating disorders or disordered eating, women tend to fall into a few categories….
- Those who were exercising before getting pregnant and like to think of themselves as healthy and fit and so will seek to continue.
- Those are using the pregnancy as an ‘excuse’ / opportunity to get fit
- Those who are using the pregnancy to excuse their lifestyle choices and continue to not eat and live healthily
During pregnancy and after, all 3 will require understanding how to adapt exercise to suit their needs, level to be safe and healthy.
But when we’re talking about the excessive exercise & emotional eaters, then negative approaches like these are often present:
- Obsessively completing same exercise regime almost like a ritual.
- Exercising becomes the sole priority over all other activities whether it’s friends, families etc
- Exercising out of guilt or punishment over the food choices made that day.
- Exercise and identity being the key component
We all need to exercise but when exercise gets in the way of normal life engagement, we can see that a problem has been identified.
And unlike with binge eating that is often done in secrecy; obsessive exercise, if spotted, is still so often praised. Others look on with admiration of your abundance in energy, admire that you always seem to have time to exercise. But comments like these can still trigger shame for the individual as they know why’re they’re truly exercising, whether it’s to run away from something, ‘burn it off’, or fill a void. Whilst this cycle continues, you’ll never truly be able to explore more about who you are, and the recovery process will of course be slower.
Exercise during pregnancy as well as after is essential, just as it is when not pregnant, but adopting the right positive mindset and approach, that exercise is for long term health, for you and the baby is paramount.
Of course, this is hard to foster and not something that happens overnight. But it can be done. It’s crucial to work with a professional and learn to move safely for you.
So what can you do?
If you find yourself in this situation then well done for acknowledging it in the first place. The process takes time. There is no overnight ‘cure’, or 5 step solution, but there’s plenty that can be done.
- Please speak to your midwife and GP first.
- Ensure you have spoken to your partner or close friend/family member, find a way to share how you feel as early as you can in the process.
- Putting a support network together as soon as you can is vital. Don’t suffer alone.
The healing process will start by accepting that you’re ready to put your health first. With help you’ll take a period of time to observe and acknowledge what is going on. You’ll learn to document your thoughts and feelings & observations You’ll work through one behaviour at a time, so it’s not overwhelming, moving you from a place of hurt to a place of living for health. You’ll learn how to find and understand acceptance. You’ll learn in time to find JOY.
Read on to find out more about joy and acceptance. But contact me for advice and coaching.
What do you mean FIND JOY?!!
I work over a period of time with clients to help them FIND JOY!!!! Joy In movement, joy in food, joy in knowing you’re looking after your health. Find JOY in YOU.
When you find joy in moving your body. It ends there. The cycle doesn’t finish with a period of guilt, and it wasn’t movement created through trying to punish yourself. You’re finally working with your body and not against it.
I work with clients to help them differentiate the difference of moving your body for happiness and moving to change their bodies. Exercise is great. Great for anxiety and stress. Perfect in the right forms, during pregnancy and during your post-natal recovery. But maybe your exercise needs to just be tweaked?
Ask yourself this:
- What movement do you enjoy?
- What movement fits into my current schedule? And what will be sustainable?
- Am I willing to fuel my body to be able to exercise?
It’s important to understand your current relationship with food and exercise & your history in these areas in order to be able to sustain recovery.
The sooner we can address this relationship before pregnancy the better. But of course, we can start the process at any point.
During pregnancy there’s going to be a lot of acceptance to be learnt.
Acceptance about the lack of control over the body changing shape. Accepting there will be different emotions throwing you off kilter. Accepting that others around you may say something, do something, that normally would trigger you.
When it comes to exercise there’s an acceptance that our exercise regime will change. There’s so much we can do still! So for active people do not panic! Being active is an amazing gift and we can still move our bodies daily. But again, comes down to that approach and mindset.
- For those with a history of excessive exercise, a period of not exercising potentially be beneficial
- Or simply reinventing the exercise from that constant running to a long walk through nature.
- Others might switch or include more breath controlled relaxing states like yoga and meditation.
- And living by the sea I’ve recommended sea swimming to all of my clients.
Breaking free from a cycle of over exercising and disordered eating is possible, but help must be sought. *Although I talk about joy and acceptance, the process can be a long one and the individual strategies are not listed. It would potentially over-simplify the process, a process that is personal to the individual, and it’s key that professional help is always sought. Everything starts though with understanding what the problem is though. Taking a period of time to observe and reflect, write it down, without judgement. Getting to grips with the current problem in hand. To get from self-sabotage, to eating and moving for health, is not going to be an over-night success. This article is by no means a replacement for you speaking with your midwife, GP and support network. Everyone is different and at different stages and it’s important to work with a professional to give you the help you need, that’s right for you.*