In the last blog, I introduced you to Lindsay Stenovec, Registered Dietician, and her experience healing disordered eating and becoming a dietician. Lindsay is now a Mom who works with women recovering from disordered eating. Here is some of the fabulous insight she shared with me during her interview:
What are some of the things you work with that are specific to moms recovering from eating disorders?
Something that has become more and more apparent to me is that there’s a lot of shame when a mom who’s in recovery has an increase in disordered eating. They could be in recovery for 2 years, 10 years, 15 years, but if they start to realize during their perinatal journey, they’re struggling, it brings up shame. They forget to take into account that this is actually one of the riskiest times for recovery. And a small or large amount of eating disorder behaviors or thoughts that can come back into the mind are not uncommon.
When I get initial calls for support, a lot of the self-talk I hear from recovering moms is “I feel so stupid,” or “This shouldn’t be happening,” or “I can’t believe this is happening again. I thought this was far behind me.”
I’m always really quick to say:
“This is actually something that a lot of women in recovery experience. It’s one of the riskiest times for recovery. And it doesn’t say anything about your recovery or how much work you put into it. And look here you are on the phone with me! You have totally recognized what’s going on. You’re getting support. That’s you taking care of yourself. This is exactly what you need to be doing: reaching for and getting support!”
Right off the bat it’s important to make sure that they know they didn’t do something wrong; that there is nothing wrong with them. A lot of the times disordered eating thoughts and behaviors come up as a result of the hormonal changes that women experience. And pregnancy/postpartum, are big life changes. It isn’t surprising that disordered eating “coping skills” come up.
I also see that there’s a lot of worry around body changes during pregnancy and postpartum. This is a big time of change, not just physically, but also emotionally. What I have noticed is, for women in recovery, it may take a little while to open up about that. I’ve notice a trend with not wanting to say out loud or fully express the distress around body changes, because they don’t want it to be there. They don’t want to be feeling this way about their bodies. They feel shame about feeling bad about the change in their body. And so keep that really close to their vest. But over time it starts to organically come out. For moms in recovery, just know that this could be a risky time, and seeking support can help.
(Side note: shame is such a big obstacle for recovering women. I tell my clients shame stands for the false message of SHAME= Should Have Already Mastered Everything. Let’s challenge that message, again and again. You get to be human and in-process, just like the rest of the world. And you deserve compassion, just like you offer your little one.)
How can pregnant and postpartum women sort through all the food recommendations that are in magazines, doctor’s offices, and diet-culture and find what works (and doesn’t) for them?
We do have some changing nutritional needs during the perinatal period. However, oftentimes they are presented in a way that reinforces diet culture. And so there’s some work to be done regarding how we consider nutrition. How do we incorporate that into our own bodies’ wisdom? For example, if I’m working with someone who is early in pregnancy, the first trimester is often survival mode for many women who have pregnancy nausea. The cues from your body are so strong, they are very chaotic, and they are not to be messed with. So if I were to say, as a dietician
“Hey you know you should really more broccoli during your first trimester because vitamin C is very important and broccoli has lots of vitamin C,”
and then you go home and you can’t even look at broccoli because you’re going to be sick, that nutrition information is not that helpful for you! You have to say to yourself:
“OK, vitamin C might be important, so I could probably take a vitamin supplement to help myself during this time.”
And then, in the meantime, you might be eating saltines and apples. It’s a really interesting time to explore, because the cues from your body are so strong. You have really very little choice other than to go with the flow of what your body is asking for. This level of intuitive eating- of listening to your body’s cues- can be very scary or it can be very empowering. I’ve seen it go both ways.
I believe it’s very helpful to have that dietitian with you to say something like this:
“Oh, you got this piece of nutrition information. Let’s look at whether it’s supportive or not supportive to you and how could we use it in a way that honors what your body is telling you right now.”
We really have to learn what intuitive eating calls gentle nutrition. We have to learn how we can incorporate that gentle nutrition into our lives. We have to think about the different stages someone’s at, and to realize that healthy eating doesn’t mean rigidity. Healthy eating doesn’t mean restriction or not allowing yourself to enjoy food. There is no such thing as a right way to intuitively eat. There’s only listening to your body and going by what it needs. Your body does have wisdom, and it is going to be giving you different information every day. The only way you’re going to know what it needs is to is to pay attention to it and just do the best that you can.
In conclusion? Pregnancy (and postpartum) are great times to practice:
*letting go of perfectionism and shame,
*eating intuitively and listening to your body’s needs,
*being present what what-is (rather than what your fantasy wants it to be) and
*receiving support and practice being good enough.
To connect with Lindsay’s Nurtured Mama podcast, Facebook group, and resources, click HERE
In introducing this month’s Butterfy Effect theme of CONNECTING, I am honored to share an interview by the founder of Recovery Warriors, Jessica Raymond, MS. Recovery Warriors is a multimedia resource hub for hope and healing from an eating disorder. Here is a link to the podcast: RecoverywarriorsPodcast
The desire to become a mom can be a motivating factor in eating disorder recovery. However,the challenges of pregnancy and the postpartum period mirror the early stages of recovery. Both pregnant and new mothers and women recovering from eating disorders experience anxiety, body image distress, difficulty sleeping, hormonal changes, appetite changes, and ambivalence/excitement/distress around cultivating a new identity. In this episode of The Recovery Warrior Show, expert Dr. Linda Shanti shares personal and professional stories of recovering from an eating disorder and entering into motherhood. Listen in regardless of where you are at in the biological cycle because there is much to learn.
What You’ll Learn
- Why people don’t talk about miscarriages
- How pregnancy is similar to early stages of recovery
- Why you need to be proactive in seeking professional help before having a baby?
- Why how a mother eats affects her child
- Is there a right time to have a kid
The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new. -Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
Advice to Former Self
You’ll get through this honey, you will. It’s going to change you and it is changing you and that’s ok; that’s the way it’s supposed to be. There’s no parallel life that you’re supposed to be leading; this is it, this is not a detour. Just because you’re suffering doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path; you’re absolutely on the right path. Keep going.
Definition of Recovery
Taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Not engaging in behaviors that hurt me. Moving toward growth edges. Accepting my body as it is. Allowing and inviting all feelings. Lowering the bar on perfectionism. Thinking in the rainbow between black and white. Listening to my heart and connecting with a larger purpose.
- It’s not about the weight.
In the original “great palace lie” story, when the emperor’s trustworthy officials couldn’t see the cloth the swindlers were weaving (which wasn’t there), they pretended they could. Why? Because they didn’t want to look stupid or unqualified. Who wants to look stupid or unqualified? And yet motherhood, especially new motherhood, is filled with the experience of feeling unqualified. No one is prepared. That is one of the lies. Transitions are difficult, uncomfortable, and messy. That being a different weight will make you feel more competent/happy/qualified is a lie.
Magazines are filled with articles about “the right amount of weight to gain during pregnancy,” “losing the baby weight,” “mommy tucks,” or skinny celebrities strolling down the red carpet weeks after giving birth. It’s another version of one of the Great Palace Lies. Kate Middleton was alternately shunned and celebrated for still having a baby bump after her first child was born and then shunned and celebrated for looking too stunning just after after her second baby was born. So the lie works both ways: you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The truth is weight is just that: weight. And regardless of your weight, your stomach will never be the same postpartum. Your breasts, whether or not you breastfeed, will never be the same. Your sleep will never be the same. Your relationships will never be the same. And, most importantly, YOU will not be the same. Whatever your weight is and becomes, you will never be the same person you were prior to having a baby. Putting all your energy into the lie that you can be (or at least look like) the same person, and that is the goal, will only succeed in making you tired, depressed, and trying to be something you’re not.
- You can be more comfortable in your own skin.
If you get rid of the scale, the real feelings will show up. This will probably feel uncomfortable, but freeing. Motherhood, becoming a mother, includes grief: grieving the old self and creating a new one. Anne Lamott says one of the greatest palace lies about grief is that it should be gotten over quickly and privately.
Allow grief, allow imperfection, give yourself more time than you would have expected, and allow your body to be what and where it is right now. Also, you do not have to do this motherhood-thing alone. Ask for help, join a moms group, get into therapy, do whatever you need to do to not be in isolation with believing the great palace lies. Be the truth teller: be the one who is willing to say, “I’m not feeling happy and glowing! I feel like sh*t! I want to go to the coffee shop without carrying a baby and a diaper bag full of butt cream, cheerios, pureed carrots, 3 changes of clothing, 2 pacifiers, wipes, bibs, burp cloths, sleep sheep, and SPF50 sunscreen!” Speaking the truth of your experience can give you more of the feeling of comfort in your own skin than losing weight ever could.
- You will not pass on the suffering to your child.
Scales are a way to measure value in an amount, but they don’t really measure what is valuable. When you die, I doubt “she weighed this amount” or “Wow, her stomach was surprisingly flat postpartum!” is what you want people to be saying about the meaning you brought to this world. What do you really value? Be that; do that. Many women are inspired, when they become mothers, to break the generational chains of suffering from their own family of origin and/or cultural experience. If you have suffered from self-hatred or disordered eating in your own experience, this is an opportunity to not pass it on. This is an inspiration to be different, learn to love and appreciate yourself now, flaws and all. Wear the bathing suit. Look kindly, as much as you can, in the mirror. Treat yourself at least as kindly as you treat your child. The way you treat yourself is your child’s mirror. Model that imperfection, eating cookies, and cellulite are normal parts of the human experience. Oh, and destroy the scale (more on this next).
- Scales are for fish.
I encourage you to smash your scale. Do it. Get out a hammer and bash away. Have a scale smashing party. Consider freeing all the energy that has been going toward measuring your worth externally to other endeavors. Letting go of your scale can free up so much energy! If you can’t throw out your scale, I encourage you to make it into a YAY scale. A YAY scale is a scale that reads an affirmation to you instead of a number. If you have a daughter, make her a YAY scale, or make one with her. If she is old enough, let her write her own affirmations. Illustrations also work. Though it may sound cheesy that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. Isn’t reading “You are just right,” “You are a sexy goddess,” or “What you’re looking for is not in here” preferable to another “not good enough”?