Eating Disorders During Pregnancy

Real life stories about dealing with food issues.


"I finally wanted something more than I wanted to be thin—I wanted a baby." -Amanda Swartfager, Valrico, Fla.

I was in college and working nearly full time when my problems with eating became the worst. I would go weeks barely eating anything and exercising off every calorie I consumed.

Eventually, I would break down and eat until I was about to explode. Then I'd vomit, which at first made me feel relieved. But as soon as the rush wore off, the compulsions and obsessions returned.

My healing began once I stopped thinking that I had to please everyone else and started living for myself. But I was still struggling with disordered eating when my husband and I decided we wanted to have a baby. After two years of trying, my OB-GYN told me I'd have to put on 5 pounds and exercise less.

I stopped weighing myself and even threw away the scale (after digging it out of the garbage twice). When I found out I was pregnant, I worried I might miscarry due to my history with disordered eating. But for the first time since childhood, I was eating nor- mally. I remember the day I ate two pieces of pizza and expected to have a panic attack because I wasn't exercising or puking the calories away. Instead, I felt happy.

I was thrilled when I had a healthy baby girl. Now that I have this beautiful little person who trusts me to keep her safe, I no longer have time for my eating disorder.

"I wanted a baby more than I wanted to be thin" >>

"I was hesitant to share my story. But I hope that by doing so, other women coping with pregnancy and a troubled relationship with food will feel less isolated." -Courtney Hoover Kelly, Wallingford, Pa.

My eating disorder started taking hold when I was 16. My symptomatic behaviors have always been restricting calories and over-exercising, things that seemed easier to control when life seemed otherwise out of control.

When I found out I was pregnant at age 30, I knew I had to get a handle on my disorder in order for me to have the family I had always dreamed of having.

An expectant mother is supposed to feel glorious, glowing and excited. But for someone with such a long history of body image concerns, food obsessions and exercise fixations, the 40 weeks of pregnancy are filled with anxieties that interfere with those happy "storybook" pregnancy moments.

Thankfully, just knowing I was pregnant and having a life form inside of me really helped me make progress. I learned to strive for a healthy balance—neither over-exercising nor restricting calories in an unhealthy way. The more open conversations I had with my doctors, the better I felt about changing and relaxing the "rules" I had placed upon myself. I realized it was no longer just about me and my rules—there was another person in the picture now. I had to give up some control to my developing baby.

I was blessed with a healthy baby boy, but even today, I struggle to quiet my disordered thinking.

My daughter should never hear me say 'I look fat today.'" >>

"I never want my daughter, Maya, to see me stepping on the scale and bemoaning my appearance or telling my husband, 'I look fat today.'" -Melissa Henriquez, Portage, Mich.

After losing 35 pounds, I was elated with my new thin body. But the happiness soon devolved into an obsession with my weight.

In June 2008, I wrote in my blog, "Let There Be Light" (formerly titled "Tales of a [Recovering] Disordered Eater"): "I was ravaged by feelings of guilt, like this body was on loan and if I didn't exercise one day or didn't eat well, I'd get fat overnight."

One of my first blog posts was about fear- ing pregnancy; I feared giving birth, sure, but even more than that I feared getting fat after working so hard to get thin. But by the time I found out I was pregnant in May 2010, I had been recovered from disordered eating well over a year and had a healthy relationship with my body. It was my dream to be a mom and to start a family with my husband.

Even though I had overcome my unhealthy relationship with food, I felt it was important to blog about being pregnant with a history of disordered eating, which so many women struggle with. One entry detailed how I felt surprisingly OK the first time my jeans were too tight to button. It was freeing, in a way, to know that my jeans weren't fitting for the best reason: A life was growing inside of me.

I told my OB-GYN that I had a history of disordered eating and he thought journaling—a habit of mine since I began Weight Watchers in 2004—was an excellent idea, not for the calorie-counting aspect but to keep track of nutrients. This helped me gain exactly the weight he recommended.

I loved watching my belly grow. In spite of all my body image issues, I loved the physical changes—I had never felt so womanly. To be honest, it was important to me to keep my weight in check when I was pregnant, but I refused to obsess over it.

Now that I'm a mom, I want to set a positive example for my daughter, Maya, and that means being the healthiest I can be.