One of the biggest challenges an eating disordered woman can face, is motherhood. The inevitable loss of complete control over your body is terrifying, and eating more to sustain a pregnancy goes against everything your disordered mind has taught you. Once your baby arrives there are even more triggers thrown at you. Suddenly people are commenting on your postpartum body and engaging her in conversations about the bodies of others. These are just some of the many cruel things anyone can do to a mom suffering from an eating disorder.
As many people who have suffered from eating disorders know, you don't completely "recover," so much as you learn the tools of coping to keep it at bay. The disorder is always there; lurking in the background and awaiting certain triggers that can bring the disordered ways of thinking and behaving to the surface. I have worked extremely hard over the past decade to keep my disorder in check. Unless you know me really well (or are reading this article), you probably don't know about this part of my past. The short story is, my anorexia began my freshman year in college after a dalliance with one of those diets you sign up for locally in your town (with special pills and a coach). That "diet" led to a complete love affair with lists and calorie counting. I spent my lunch hours at a women's health clinic studying the on-staff nutritionist's books and memorizing the calorie count of literally everything. I spent hours in supermarkets and came back shaking and empty handed. I exercised two hours a day. It has been a long journey to get here and to embrace two healthy pregnancies and enjoy two big bellies, and to be OK with my postpartum body not being how it used to be before.
Admittedly, none of the "cruel" things I'm discussing here are overtly cruel, because the people performing these arguably minor cruelties most likely do not know that the person they are saying them to (like me) is suffering or has suffered an eating disorder in the past. I suppose, the most we could expect from one another is sensitivity when talking about our bodies; whether we are pregnant, not pregnant, disordered eaters, or just regular folks going about our business. I think that a lot of people feel sensitive when it comes to talking about food, their weight, and their bodies, so questions or comments on those topics are best to be held back unless someone has invited them or specifically encouraged those questions in conversation.
Ask Her How Much Weight She Gained When She Was Pregnant
This question seems to fall mostly to friends of family members (or distant cousins and creepy great uncles who just don't get it). They seem to think that asking how much weight you gained during your pregnancy is as conversational as asking about the weather.
The truth? I have honestly no idea, because I did not want to know. I knew that if I had any idea about my pregnancy weight gain I would have this number hanging over my head, following me around day and night in flashing neon, accompanied by a buzzer and announcing itself in a loud and robotic voice. Every time I went to my doctor's office I asked to be weighed while standing backwards, and reiterated to the nurse that I absolutely did not want to know my weight.
Ask Her How She Lost (Or Is Planning To Lose) The Baby Weight
Of course, most people love when someone asks them how they got to look so damn good after baby (or in general). I can't say I mind if someone comments positively on my post baby figure. However, if I told you how I lost the weight, well, you probably don't want to know the answer. Yes, I exercise. I also eat, for the most part, whatever I want. Keep in mind, whatever I want tends to be a reasonable and well-balanced diet most of the time. Still, I cannot deny that disordered thinking and eating has not been a part of my life for years, even if it is just fits and spurts. I can't deny there are days when I make decisions about ignoring hunger pangs for hours. Or that sometimes, when a regular, non-disordered person might just eat whatever she is hungry for at a given time, I'll deprive myself in weird ways so that I can "deserve" something more decadent later.
That the feeling of "guilt" follows me around more often than I would like when it comes to something as stupid as eating four bites of my kid's mac and cheese that I've just made because it smells so good (and I know I'm not eating my own dinner for two more hours) is not something I advertise often. This stuff doesn't happen all the time, but it happens. But it's all part of who I am and how (I think) I look the way I do.
Encourage Her To Join You In Your Postpartum Weight Loss Journey
No, I am not interested in Mommy Bootcamp. No, I will not join your Belly Busters Class. If it is a group fitness class targeting weight loss I am not attending because you have no idea how much of that crap I wasted my life on in my disordered days.
I bootcamped my butt off more hours than I slept so now, when it comes to exercise, I only do what is fun for me (aerial dance) and never what feels punishing. As a mom who has suffered from an eating disorder, I cringe if someone asks me if I want to go on some kind of buddy diet or exercise regimen with them. Almost immediately I want to know if that means they think I need to, or if they are just looking for camaraderie. Then again, I actually don't want to know the answer because if it is the former, it will send me into a tailspin.
Comment On Her Eating Or Not Eating The Snacks At Every Mom Group Meet Up
Mom group meetings tend to revolve heavily around snacks. Snacks for the toddlers, sure, but more importantly: snacks for the moms. My mom group tended to meet near a few really delicious bakeries where we each took turns picking up the most amazing croissants and pastries, or cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies. So, once a week I would push my stroller the half hour it took to get to whoever's house was hosting the group, steeling myself against the inevitable pull towards the dessert table once I had settled my baby on the floor of the living room. I'd pick up a coffee on the way, hoping that the mildly sweet taste would somehow kick the craving, but the most it would do would be to slosh all over my hands over the uneven Brooklyn sidewalks and splatter onto my stroller.
Every single time, I'd end up eating not just one chocolate croissant but two, because one would make me hate myself and two was punishment.
Talking About How Fast Someone Else Lost The Baby Weight Or How Skinny A Person Is
This can immediately trigger a feeling of competition in a disordered eater. I'm competitive in a lot of ways, so of course if you're talking about so-and-so having bounced back from having a baby in, like, three weeks, it's going to make me want to run screaming to my pillows and hiding under my comforter feeling like a failure in life.
Insist That She Step On A Scale
Since I was staying with my husband's grandma when I had my first son, I wasn't in complete control of my environment. The woman who cleaned Grandma's house every other week had been commenting on my postpartum weight loss, and blindsided me one day when I exited the bathroom. She all but blockaded me from leaving the hallway unless I stepped on the scale she had placed before me, and asked me to weigh myself for the purposes of her own curiosity and delight.
While I had expected the scale to break (disordered thinking, y'all), I was honestly surprised by how low the number was. I'll never forget the shock of getting on a scale and learning the number for the first time in 10 years. For me, stepping on a scale used to be an addiction, and I had fought hard to not do it for so long. This entirely inappropriate incident could have potentially been a bad trigger. Luckily, it wasn't.