Motherhood is a huge adjustment, and just like in eating disorder recovery, it requires a shift in identity — moving towards a larger and more dimensional sense of self. For all mothers, especially those new mothers who are dealing with pregnancy and eating disorder recovery, maintaining a healthy body image can be challenging.
Here are four tips to help develop and maintain a healthy body image during pregnancy:
1. De-emphasize weight. A hot topic on social media and amongst new moms tends to be post-baby weight loss and returning to pre-pregnancy weight. It’s important to be a critical consumer of these messages. Besides, who profits from you feeling bad about your body?
Don’t buy into the falsehood that weight has anything to do with health or happiness. The fact is, it doesn’t.
Side-bar: Know that when visiting your healthcare provider’s office, you have the right to decline being weighed. A common example is when the provider or nurse stating insurance will need to know your current weight. If the provider presses you on the issue, you can let them know that they can document “patient refused” (this also meets insurance requirements).
When taking weight is necessary, for example, for medication dosing or anesthesiology purposes, you can step on the scale backward and remind the provider that you don’t want to be given your weight.
2. Understand that your body is meant to change with pregnancy — and it will. Allow yourself to celebrate the fact that your body is working some serious magic as it grows and births a human.
Body changes like stretch marks, flabby skin, acne-prone skin, hair growth and loss, added fat deposits, and even a change in body odor are a natural part of pregnancy and postpartum. Like puberty, pregnancy and post-pregnancy are other stages of your body’s development.
Why would we expect it to stay the same as it was pre-baby? Take time to reflect on how you will respect and appreciate your body.
It can be helpful to keep a list of things you appreciate about your body and refer to it often. To take this idea further, it’s this very respect and appreciation for your own body that will nurture a healthy body image in your child.
Remember that you have the awesome power to help future generations understand that valuing good health is more important than emphasizing weight and physical appearance. This can be particularly helpful if struggling with a sense of loss of control.
3. Practice caring for your body, not changing it. In the pregnancy and postpartum periods, it’s an important time to practice focusing on caring for your body rather than changing it. Your body is doing miraculous things, and it needs good nurturing to stay healthy.
This means eating and exercising for well-being — that is flexible eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, and moving your body in a way that brings you joy — rather than for weight loss.
Caring for your body also means tending to social, spiritual, and emotional needs — tending to these needs means strengthening your “recovery voice,” and it’s this voice that will encourage accepting and caring for your body rather than changing it.
4. Recovery is a journey, and motherhood is a part of this journey. Remember, there is nothing shameful about asking for help. In fact, it’s the most courageous thing you can do for yourself and your baby.
Recovery is an ongoing process, one that continues in motherhood and beyond. For many in eating disorder recovery, the pregnancy and postpartum time periods are dense with disordered eating triggers.
Some examples of these triggers include the constant weight monitoring and tummy measuring, feeling a loss of control over one’s body, feeling isolated, childhood memories, and perfectionism to name a few.
You don’t have to sit with these triggers and cope with them alone. It’s important to get support around them and allow yourself a safe space to process them in order to stay on the path of recovery.
Sources: Mysko, C. & Amadei, M. (2009). Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby. Health Communications, Inc.: Deerfield Beach, FL.  McCabe, L.S (2019). The Recovery Mama Guide to Your Eating Disorder Recovery in Pregnancy and Postpartum. Jessica Kingsley Publishers: London.  Bacon, L. & Aphramor, L. (2014). Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.  Bacon, L. (2008). Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. Dallas, TX: BonBella Books.
About the Author:
Chelsea Fielder-Jenks is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Austin, Texas. Chelsea works with individuals, families, and groups primarily from a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) framework.
She has extensive experience working with adolescents, families, and adults who struggle with eating, substance use, and various co-occurring mental health disorders. You can learn more about Chelsea and her private practice at ThriveCounselingAustin.com.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published February 19, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on February 19, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC