It's not a topic many women talk about—but it's time we start.
I know that writing this is going to anger many people. I will likely be called selfish, narcissistic, and perhaps even a few worse things. I haven't discussed the fact that I had an eating disorder during my pregnancy. But I want to talk about it now, because quite honestly, I'm tired of seeing moms compare themselves to others and always believe they're coming up short. I feel so strongly about this that I started MINIMODE, a site that speaks to this "new" kind of mom who perhaps is still very much into her appearance, who works countless hours, who doesn't identify solely as a mother and who is... well, imperfect. As my children get older, I'm actually learning to embrace all these imperfections and forgive myself for them because the truth is, we're all doing the best we can, and we all have different demons to fight and challenges to overcome. Let me share my biggest demon.
How My Eating Disorder Began
As with many people who suffer from eating disorders, I have forever been a perfectionist and grew up having an all-or-nothing mentality about things. I was always tall and relatively thin, but in my late teenage years, an incident over a boy made me decide that I was going to be really thin—model thin. And so, being the overachiever that I was, I attained that goal pretty quickly. In truth, I couldn't believe how easy it was—I just limited my food intake, exercised a little, and—voilà—I lost weight! But the goal kept changing; it kept getting lighter. Losing weight was empowering in a strange way, almost like a drug. The thinner I became, the more compliments and attention I received. I was hooked. By the time I entered college, I had full-blown anorexia.
Recovery and Relapse
With the help of my parents, I eventually "got better." Though in truth, my eating disorder just became something that I learned to live with and manage. I was still very thin—and for the most part, I kept that physique through a healthy diet and regular exercise. I remained somewhat obsessive about food, and during stressful periods in my life, I relapsed. Unfortunately, my pregnancy with my first daughter was one of those stressful periods. I wish I can say I was one of those people who adored those nine months, who felt radiant and glowy. But in fact, I panicked. It shocked me how much my changing body affected me mentally—suddenly, I was no longer in control of my body, and remember, eating disorders are often about control. It took my husband and me nearly two years to get pregnant, so I naively thought that I'd be so ecstatically happy when it finally happened that my food and body image problems would not rear their ugly heads once again. I was wrong.
It started with the morning sickness, which was nearly unbearable during my first trimester. I felt extreme nausea morning, noon, and night (clearly, a man must have named it "morning sickness"). But as horrible as my morning sickness was, it woke up that addictive voice in my head that said "This is good. This will keep you thin." It did—and that scared me, so I immediately told my doctor, breaking down in tears in her office, feeling all the guilt of an unfit mother—a mother who hasn't even met her baby yet. I was so afraid that I would hurt this little miracle inside me and not be able to give her the nutrients she needed. I didn't trust myself because when this inner demon comes out, it overtakes everything. All my best intentions go out the window and like an addict, I feel powerless against those impulses. (Related: What It's Like to Have Exercise Bulimia)
I restricted what I ate and obsessed about not gaining too much weight. I was vomiting from the morning sickness, but then the lines started blurring. I'd purge after a large meal, justifying it as "morning sickness." My poor husband tried to understand, but he didn't get it. "Just stop," he would say. I wanted to. I couldn't. I hated myself for it.
The saddest part in all this, perhaps, is the amount of praise I got from the outside world who paid endless homage to my "hot pregnancy bod." "You're so tiny!" they'd say, and I'd be lying if I didn't say I enjoyed hearing those compliments. From the outside, it looked like I was slaying this whole pregnancy thing. But the inside was a dark, lonely place.
Thankfully, I had an outstanding doctor who stayed by my side every step of the way and monitored me obsessively. She encouraged me to eat more of the good fats that would greatly benefit the baby. Her big concern was the vomiting, as it could dehydrate me and take valuable nutrients away from the baby, so she advised me to start seeing a therapist on a weekly basis. I took up meditation that got me through some tough times.
Raising Healthy Women
Little Kaia Isabel was born a healthy, happy baby, weighing in at over 7 pounds. To say it was love at first sight is an understatement—she was (and is) my everything. It's not lost on me that I'm now raising two girls (Kaia's sister Elin Mae was born 18 months later) and that I owe it to them to raise them with healthy body images. I'm trying and believe I'm successful so far, because to me there are few things worse than living with that constant insecurity, especially as a girl. When I see how confident they are in their physical abilities and their strength (they are ridiculously strong little suckers!), my heart feels as if it could burst.
The guilt of not being able to overcome my eating disorder for them has never really disappeared. So I guess this story is a way for me to make up for it in a sense—to help someone else who is falling into a dark place during a time when everyone thinks you're only supposed to be happy. Society tells you that you have to throw all those "selfish" and "vain" feelings aside. That you're not supposed to care that your body is no longer just yours, that you're suddenly more hungry, your hips are getting wider, and you can't exercise at the intensity as you once did. For the moms who can relate to this struggle, I'm here to say you're not alone.