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  • Writer's pictureEmma Carpenter

Navigating Pregnancy After Eating Disorder Recovery

Since being pregnant which I am 16 weeks on Sunday, it has brought me thoughts and almost flashbacks of when I was in the mix of my eating disorder. Pregnancy was always a 'what if" as I didnt know if I could have children. Now I am pregnant it has made me think about my past of my eating disorder and how things can creep back in when you are pregnant. The major one for me is my poor body image which I knew would always come about however what I didn't think that would come up was the fear of too much weight gain due to the constant hunger, the fear of not being able to exercise and the worry of morning sickness. Todays blog I am going to right how people navigate pregnancy after recovering from an eating disorder.

Embarking on the journey of pregnancy can be a whirlwind of emotions and challenges, more so for those who have bravely battled and recovered from an eating disorder. This unique situation often brings a blend of joy, anxiety, and a resurgence of old fears, especially around body image, mental well-being, and physical health. This blog aims to shed light on these struggles, offering understanding, support, and a message of resilience for those walking this path.

Body Image and Pregnancy: 

My last blog was all about poor body image in pregnancy so I wont go into too much detail

however feel free to read last weeks blog on all things pregnancy and body dysmorphia. Pregnancy brings about significant changes to the body, which can be particularly challenging for those with a history of eating disorders. A study by the National Eating Disorders Association found that approximately 30% of women with a past eating disorder report increased body dissatisfaction during pregnancy. This discomfort can resurface old feelings and thoughts related to body image. It’s crucial to acknowledge these feelings and seek support, whether through therapy, support groups, or open conversations with loved ones, to navigate this complex time.

Navigating Morning Sickness and Eating Disorder Triggers: 

As many of you will know morning sickness has hit me hard! I had to go on medication and the first trimester well I have never experienced anything like it, the constant nausea, the hugging the toilet and the fear of eating due to feeling sick. Morning sickness, a common aspect of pregnancy, can unexpectedly trigger past eating disorder behaviors or thoughts. Research indicates that nearly 40% of women in this group experience heightened anxiety due to morning sickness. It’s important to create a plan that might include nutritional guidance, mental health support, and open communication with healthcare providers to manage these triggers healthily and effectively. With my eating disorder I never struggled with the binge purge cycle. However the morning sickness has brought back triggers in the aspect that I haven't been able to train due to feeling sick, exercise has always been a tool for me to help with my poor body image and anxiety. Going into the second trimester the sickness has subsided and I am able to train again. For some women though morning sickness can be triggering for those who have had a past of the binge purge cycle which in turn can cause flashbacks and relapse behaviours. It's always important to talk openly about this rather than bottling it all up!

Mental Wellbeing and Anxiety:

Anxiety has always been a massive issue for me including having OCD, my anxiety has been heightened in pregnancy and I found it particularly hard in the first trimester. My anxiety is heightened due to the unknown and being my first pregnancy I have no clue what is happening so that causes my anxiety to increase. The fear of whether I am doing well in pregnancy is always on my mind even though it is silly to think that, I think a lot of women feel this during pregnancy. When I was in the mix of my eating disorder my anxiety was at an all time high and it caused me to pull out my eyebrows, have anxiety rashes on the back of my neck and overall I didnt want to leave my house. This has come back nowhere near as much as when I was really poorly however there is days I don't want to leave the house, I have noticed I have started to scratch the back of my neck again and this brings back memories of me in hospital. Since starting my second trimester my anxiety has improved however I do have days where it is still bad. I chose to wean myself off my anxiety medication before I got pregnant and it has been hard, as I have been on antidepressants and anxiety medication since the age of 12. The mental load of pregnancy after an eating disorder can be heavy. Studies suggest that pregnant women with a history of eating disorders are more likely to experience heightened levels of anxiety and depression. Regular mental health check-ins, mindfulness practices, and a solid support system can be invaluable tools in managing these challenges. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Underactive Thyroid and Its Impact: 

When I turned 18 I got diagnosed with an under active thyroid, doctors always warned me that my eating disorder will have consequences to my body and one of those is that I now have an under active thyroid. When you have an under active thyroid your immune system is weakened. This has shown during my pregnancy journey, not only do I have a consultant due to having to have regular blood tests more often due to being pregnant with an underactive thyroid but also I pick up on bugs and illness's even more so now that I am pregnant. When your thyroid is playing up you get depressive symptoms, also you can get tired easily. During my first trimester exhaustion was huge! So mix that with an underactive thyroid and you get one exhausted Emma which caused my sickness to be worse as well! Eating disorders can lead to long-term health issues like an underactive thyroid, which affects about 20% of women recovering from eating disorders. This condition requires careful monitoring during pregnancy as it can impact both maternal and fetal health. Regular thyroid function tests and close collaboration with your healthcare team are essential to ensure a healthy pregnancy journey.

Navigating pregnancy after recovering from an eating disorder is a testament to incredible strength and resilience. It’s a journey filled with challenges, but also immense growth and joy. Remember, you’re not alone in this. There's strength in seeking support and sharing your story. Let’s continue to build a community where experiences are shared, and support is abundant, paving the way for a future where such journeys are met with understanding and compassion. This blog is showcasing the raw deal of pregnancy and with my past of having a severe eating disorder, it hasn't been easy! I do worry as things have come up that honestly I didn't think I would have to deal with these emotions and thoughts again. The difference this time round is I have a strong mindset, an amazing support network and working in the eating disorder/ pregnancy industry has really helped me deal with these thoughts/ behaviours better due to having the right mindset and tools this time round! If you are reading this, I do hope you find it helpful as pregnancy is amazing however not everyone finds it plain sailing. When it comes to eating disorders, recovery and pregnancy it is not an easy thing and I think it needs to be spoken about more often and saying it as it is and not wear rose tinted glasses. Recovery is possible as I am walking proof but there can be bumps along the road and that is okay!

I am going to end my blog like I do with all the others, some questions for you to think on. Have you had an eating disorder and recovered? Are you currently pregnant and had an eating disorder in the past? What do you find helpful? Have you found things pop back up even when recovered? But remember guys, "let's keep it real".

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