Iskra Lawrence Shares How Pregnancy Impacted Her Eating Disorder Recovery
By 2019, British model and self-love advocate Iskra Lawrence felt confident about the strides she'd made in her eating disorder recovery. Then she got pregnant.
"I was like, 'how am I gonna handle this? What might come back up?'" she tells Shape. "One of the hardest things for me during recovery was how I dealt with control — and I knew that with pregnancy, there would be zero control."
While Lawrence, a brand ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), was dealing with anxiety about the journey to motherhood, she also felt pressure to act like nothing was amiss. "You're meant to be super grateful you got pregnant — and you are!" she says. "What terrified me most was sharing anything that seemed like I was complaining because there are women who would do anything to be able to be pregnant. It's tricky getting that balance of like, 'hey, should we talk about some of the challenges or the potential negative side effects to your mental health?' People just don't really wanna go there because it can be uncomfortable."
Now that Lawrence is on the other side of pregnancy (her son, with partner Philip Payne, was born in April 2020), she wants to bring attention to a lack of resources available for those with eating disorders who may be contemplating motherhood. (Related: The Pregnancy and Postpartum Mental Health Issues No One Is Talking About)
"Recovery is not the end of the journey with your eating disorder — It's purely a choice that you've made that you continue to try and follow," she says. "So you never know what season of your life could be triggering for you or could bring up past trauma or just feel like a new challenge that you haven't experienced before. I was definitely anxious and I looked to read as much as I could and see if there was any information out there, which I didn't feel there was. The duality is really tricky: people don't want to seem like they're fearmongering because there are already enough fears during pregnancy."
While navigating pregnancy in recovery, Lawrence leaned on her loved ones for support. "What I knew was that regardless of anything, I had to be very honest with the people around me about how this could be triggering for me," she says. "And I used all the tools that I had from recovery, like always checking in with my gratitude list. I'm sure people think like, 'oh, what does that do?' But it really can help because if I feel any kind of dark cloud about to come over, remembering why I'm grateful for everything my body can do is really, really helpful."
Lawrence was also surprised to find that the pregnancy motivated her to care for her body in an unprecedented way. "I was very excited to know that I had someone literally inside me, part of my body, that needed me to nourish myself really, really well," she says. "So I had to eat. And it's tricky because toxic diet culture can be so extreme in talking about calories and micronutrients — but you do need to eat and fuel your body with high-quality nutrients. So I found it easier in a sense, having a baby inside of me — it was like a selfless dedication. I wanted to eat these fresh, nutrient-filled foods to nourish my baby. And I moved a lot during pregnancy because I knew I was doing a home birth and it was going to be unmedicated — I did a lot of research and found exercise really helps you to be strong during your birth."
Once her son was born, however, Lawrence quickly learned how hard self care can be as a new mom. "Then I had my baby and it was obviously all about him and nourishing him," she says. "So then I got completely left behind. I definitely was not thinking about what nourishing foods I was eating. I was eating whatever was quick and convenient, which sometimes happened to be foods that weren't very nutrient-rich and stuff that probably wasn't doing the best thing for my body. And then I didn't move consistently, because I felt like I didn't have time and I was constantly choosing sleep over everything." (Related: Iskra Lawrence Opened Up About "Feeling Super Protective" After Welcoming Her First Child)
Lawrence is starting to get to a point where she longed for the nourishment and nurturing she'd given her body during pregnancy. "I try to communicate everything with Philip, and I was like, 'when I had our baby inside me, I was treating myself like I was so deserving of movement and wonderful food — and I want to get that back even though I'm not pregnant anymore," she says. "And that's something I'm still figuring out and still working on."
One part of her postpartum wellness journey is collaborating with fitness company OxeFit as an ambassador for their at-home connected fitness platform, XS1. The partnership took some careful thought, considering Lawrence's experience with an eating disorder and history of overexercising (a common symptom of EDs). "I used to see exercise as a punishment and as just a pure means to burn more calories than I ate," she says. "It was not enjoyable, I dreaded it — it was just like, 'ugh, I gotta do this thing.' I'm very lucky that I moved in with a friend who was discovering her fitness journey and we started doing Insanity workouts, which you think would be intense for someone who was coming out of recovery, but honestly Shaun T. is so bubbly and motivating. I found it very empowering because it was like, 'look what my body can do."
When Lawrence walked into a friend's gym and met OxeFit founder, Mohammed "Rab" Shanableh, she saw an opportunity to help an overlooked demographic of people discover and fall in love with fitness. "I spoke to him and I said, for me, one of the biggest challenges is that the fitness industry is still very exclusive — it could be very triggering for people who've gone through an eating disorder," she says. "There's a lot of toxic diet culture surrounding it. And he was like, 'I would love your help with that — I want this to be for everybody.' I said, 'if I'm gonna come on board, we get the chance to appeal to such a broader audience — there are people out there who don't even want to put on a pair of leggings, let alone walk into a gym because of the fitness industry expectation. We really need to help the people who feel like they're not welcome or not deserving of moving to know that they are." (Related: Iskra Lawrence Opened Up About Struggling to Work Out During Her Pregnancy)
As Lawrence continues to help bring home fitness to the masses (and work on her new beauty line, Saltair), she's also hoping to offer encouragement to other eating disorder survivors who may find themselves struggling during pregnancy. "There's no '1, 2, 3-step plan,'" she says. "I think it's a day-by-day challenge, just the way recovery is — you have to choose it every day. I think if you can prepare yourself by just being very factual — we call it 'body neutrality.' Like [saying] 'my body's going to grow. I'm grateful it's going to grow because it's going to make space for my baby.' If you keep it very neutral like that, that might be an easier place to start than like, 'wow, I adore my stretch marks, they're these beautiful pieces of art!' If you can't get to that, just state the facts — be really neutral about your body, and build from there. And you can't help but realize that your body is an incredible resource — it's incredible what it achieves and what it does for you every single day."
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Helpline toll-free at (800)-931-2237, chat with someone at myneda.org/helpline-chat, or text NEDA to 741-741 for 24/7 crisis support.