Pregorexia and other dangerous maternal eating disorders
Women who excessively watch their baby weight and go through extreme measures not to pile on the pounds during pregnancy, may be suffering from one of the three maternal eating disorders
As women, most of us are conscious of our weight due various reasons such as media influence, pressure from society or our relationships, cultural messages, and our own personal goals.
At one point of our lives, a woman has probably ether gone through a strict diet, tried a weight-loss exercise program.
Some may have even invested in expensive fat reduction massage treatments, bought slimming pills, or slathered on various fat-burning lotions and creams.
All this is done in a desperate attempt to shed those extra pounds or maintain our figures as we struggle to achieve the perfect body.
But once we find out that we have a bun in the oven, that’s when our extreme dieting and over-exercising days should be (temporarily) over, right?
That may not be the case for some who suffer from body image issues as they have an unrealistic view and are overly critical of their own body and may develop an eating disorder during their pregnancy as they desperately try to control any undesired weight gain.
A mother’s struggle with weight
This is exactly what happened to Wendy K., a hair stylist and mother of one, who struggled with her pregnancy five years ago.
“Growing up, people would constantly pick on me about my weight. I wasn’t even morbidly obese or anything, just a little chubby. So when I got pregnant, I was really happy at first, but then extremely terrified at the thought of getting even more fat than I already was”, she shares.
Wendy would skip meals, hoping to control her daily intake of calories, but then would often feel light-headed and suffered from migraines — at one point, she even considered taking slimming pills to control her weight gain.
It was only during one of the scheduled ultrasound scans when the doctor revealed that her baby was quite small, she realised that her extreme dieting was affecting her little one’s growth.
Wendy says, “I felt so guilty and couldn’t stop crying when I got home. I didn’t want my baby to suffer because of my own superficial desires to be thin. If my baby was born premature or had any health problems, then I would never be able to forgive myself.”
She confided in her mother about her eating disorder and with her help, was able to plan nutritious meals which were healthy and the correct portions for an expectant mum.
“After my mother knew about my problem, she made it her mission to prepare healthy meals for me and even delivered them to my house every single day! I felt so embarrassed at first, but now I’m glad that I reached out to her because my baby was born at the healthy weight of 3.6kg”, she says.
Maternal eating disorders
So what are the different eating disorders found in pregnant women and what are the warning signs to look out for?
Anorexia during pregnancy has been coined “pregorexia“, and occurs when expectant mums are obsessively worried of any weight gain so resort to extreme dieting and over-exercising.
Studies have also shown that a third of women who suffered from pregorexia are predicted to develop postnatal depression and may also face difficulties breastfeeding.
Experts like Claire Mysko, a spokeswoman for National Eating Disorders Association, believe that women who have a history of eating disorders and those who do not have a strong support system from their partner, family and friends are at greater risk of pregorexia.
“I would say for women who know that they have a history of poor body image and disordered eating to really take that seriously as they enter into pregnancy and to be up-front about that history with your prenatal and post-partum health care providers”, she advises.
Warning signs: Talking about the pregnancy as though it isn’t real; Obsessed with counting calories; Prefer to eat alone or skip meals; Exercising excessively; Dizziness or fainting
Binge eating disorder (BED)
Pregnant women with a “Binge eating disorder” (BED) usually skip meals and abstain from eating for long intervals at a time.
Then they will eat an excessive amount of food (also known as binge eating), often lacking self-control, which can actually lead to excess weight gain.
BED will also deprive your growing baby of sufficient nutrients for long stretches at a time, but then suddenly give a sugar rush during the binge eating.
Experts explain that there is a difference between eating to satisfy your pregnancy cravings and binge eating when you’re not even hungry or to the point that makes you feel ill.
Warning signs: Skipping meals, especially breakfast; Eating large amounts of food at a time; Lack of control when eating begins; Often eating in secret due to feelings of shame and self-disgust
Bulimia nervosa that occurs during a pregnancy is referred to as “maternal bulimia”.
This is when the mum-to-be forces herself to purge after binge eating either by vomiting or using a laxative, and may also exercise excessively.
The Singapore Association for Mental Health explains that such an eating disorder usually occurs in those who either have low self-esteem and often feel unhappy, or perfectionists who want to have strict control over every aspect of their lives.
The excessive use of laxatives, diuretics, and also slimming pills during pregnancy could take away important nutrients and fluids before they are able to nourish the baby, which will cause harm to any healthy growth and development.
Warning signs: Binge eating, followed by self-induced vomiting or heavy use of laxatives; Over exercising; Use of slimming pills; Self-esteem linked to body image
The KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) advises women not to try dieting during pregnancy as this will deprive your growing baby of vital nutrients.
Women who have eating disorders during pregnancy can also put their baby in potential danger and health risks such as:
- Fetal distress
- Delayed fetal growth
- Gestational diabetes
- Postpartum depression
- Respiratory problems
- Low birth weight
- Complicated delivery
- Premature delivery
- Longer labour time
- Malformations or birth defects
- Low Apgar score
How to prevent eating disorders during pregnancy
Although it’s not easy to overcome eating disorders, here are some tips you can bear in mind should you be feeling extra worried about weight gain throughout your pregnancy:
Eat healthy and exercise moderately
To avoid gaining too much weight, you can choose to eat healthier food that has been steamed, boiled, baked or grilled, and also cut down on sugar.
Being pregnant gives you a good excuse to go shopping and buy a whole new maternity wardrobe for yourself which will probably make you feel a whole lot better too instead of trying to stick to your regular clothes and scrutinising the way you’re filling out now.
Now that you’re playing this very important role of growing a tiny human being inside you, you deserve to give yourself a treat by booking a relaxing day at the spa, having a nice prenatal massage, or getting a pregnancy-safe manicure and pedicure.
Approach your doctor for a referral to a dietitian for help to plan out a suitable meal plan for you which will help reduce the rate of weight gain in a healthy way.
You can also confide in your partner, family member or trusted friend so that they can give you all the support you need.
Even though your baby has not been born yet, you are already a mother and you should remember that your bub is relying on you to provide enough nutrients for her to grow and develop properly.
Once your little one arrives, all the extra baby weight will usually come off in due time, so try not to stress over the numbers on your weighing scale.
Your partner and everyone else around you probably think that you are absolutely beautiful, so you should learn to embrace your amazing body and love yourself too!