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.
1) Having a birth plan determines the way labor and delivery happens.
Creating a a birth plan is important as a guide, while realizing the baby has not read the plan.
2) Good mothers easily breastfeed.
Breastfeeding can be easy or difficult, and most likely, both. Good mothers breastfeed, good mothers formula feed, and good mothers do both.
3) You can (and should) get your baby to sleep through the night.
Your baby may sleep at night, may not sleep at night, and may sleep in spurts or have difficulty sleeping. There are lost of tools you can try for assisting your baby to learn good sleep habits and some of them may be effective.
4) Only bad (poor, mentally ill, single, uncaring) mothers get depressed.
Postpartum depression and other perinatal mood disorders affect 1 in 5 women. There is no correlation with level of caring or direct predictive factor with previous mental illness, level of income, marital status. Recovery is possible. You do not have to suffer alone.
5) You can get your pre-baby body back & this determines your happiness.
Your body will change after having a baby. There are various places this happens, some of them may go back to the “way they were” and some of them won’t. You can still be a happy, fulfilled, sexy, empowered, loved woman. Getting your stomach back is not the key ingredient in this equation.
6) You will be mostly the same person with a few acutraments like a diaper bag after having a baby.
You will not be the same person anymore. Motherhood changes you, in profound ways you can’t imagine ahead of time. And this develops over time. Give yourself at least as much patience, kindness, time, and commitment as you do your baby as you grow your new mother identity.
7) You will and should feel sexy and available to your partner postpartum.
You will most likely feel exhausted, pulled on to care for your baby physically, have challenging body image, and your hormones can take years to re-regulate. It’s ok to include these challenges in assessing your availability for and communicating with your partner.
10) You should have the “right” daycare, preschool, college lined up for your child prior to giving birth.
There is not a shortage of schools. Finding the right school is a sorting problem, not a shortage problem. You can take your time, notice your child’ temperament, and re-asses ongoingly throughout your child’s life for the right fit. YOU are the constant that is a safe secure base from which to learn, grow, and be them self.
There are many, many, many resources available for support if you are wanting to challenge these myths!
For a list, see: the “Pregnancy and New Mothers section” http://www.drlindashanti.com/resources.html
My dear Writing Coach Colleague, Liz, hosted a writing contest on “experiencing something magic.” I wrote about the magic (and smelliness) of…well, you can read it. Originally published at: http://www.sparkletonic.com
I once experienced something that felt like magic.
I remember eating a chunk of Brie cheese before looking. If there was a “+,” I knew I couldn’t eat Brie again for 9 whole months, as the bacteria in soft cheese is not good for growing fetuses. I normally find this cheese delicious: soft and melty on the inside, warm, extra creamy. But on this day, I was waiting for the results. I ate the cheese quickly and with anticipation. I don’t remember the experience of the cheese because, as I watched, the tiny window on the pregnancy test stick test was gradually turning into a plus! HOLY SHIT! My body was the same, and yet felt like magic.
All of a sudden, my body was a magical, tender, vulnerable, sacred, miracle baby-making vessel! There was a little tiny baby in there! OK, miniscule cluster of cells smaller than a pomegranate seed or blueberry, but still! My blueberry! A raspberry cluster of growing human being! A little fetal butterfly! Holy magical miracle! Especially since I had struggled with an eating disorder that affected my fertility, was “AMA” (Advanced Maternal Age), and my husband was waaaaaaaay beyond the cutoff for AMA 🙂 .
The smells came later. This magical experience did not smell pleasant. In case no-one has told you, pregnancy makes you fart. It also made my nose into a truffle pig, rodent-of-unusual size-like super sensitive organ. I could smell the neighbors cooking. I could smell unscented deodorant; I could smell fruit ripening in a field 60 miles away. When walking through the airport shopping section where perfume was sold, I promptly threw up. My sensitized pregnancy nose was assaulted and my little fetal butterfly was having none of it. He said, “Mommy, we have passed the put-on-scent-to-attract-a-mate phase. I am here now and I DO NOT LIKE perfume!” Most scents were unpleasant and made me nauseous. A few were nice. Subtle smells like hummus and olive oil; and intense smells like cheesy pasta and hamburgers. YUM. Fetal butterfly said two thumbs up to those.
The quality of light in this experience? Well, people said I was “glowing” which was either the appropriate celebratory response, a polite way of avoiding saying “Wow, you’ve gotten large,” or an actual observation. I never felt “light” or “glowing” during those nine months. I felt startled that I could barely fit out of my car door, hippo-like, awkward, scared, excited, spacey, tired, and vulnerable. I also felt a quality of sacred-ness. The kicking around inside my belly was the most miraculous. As he grew, my baby was not a subtle, fluid mover. He was a kicking, punching, acrobat, which, considering his Mama is unable to do even a cartwheel was possibly the most miraculous of all.
I remember when I first realized that the amount of weight I gained in pregnancy was the same amount of weight that I had gained in my recovery from my eating disorder 15 years ago. It was a stunning realization that helped bring compassion to the parts of me that were struggling with pregnancy weight gain. Just like in early recovery, gaining weight and not feeling in control of the size of my body was emotionally distressing. When I was pregnant, people would frequently say to me “You look radiant!” And I thought “F*ck you I feel like a walking hippo-whale!” However, after 14 years of recovery, I had developed enough skills to be able to graciously receive compliments without restricting/avoiding them (anorexia) or deflecting/throwing them up (bulimia). I also realized, as I often tell my clients, fat (and feeling like a hippo-whale) is not a feeling.
FAT is not a feeling
For someone recovering from an eating disorder, “fat” masks underlying feelings such as fear, anger, grief, shame, vulnerability, and insecurity. As I approached the threshold of becoming a Mom, feelings of uncertainty, vulnerability, fear, and insecurity were big (aka fat). In fact, many of my fears, such as how to maintain a separate, autonomous, differentiated identity from my own mother that I had worked so hard at for so many years to develop in my recovery, as well as how to juggle the many hats of career, wife, and new Mom were quite real and quite visceral. Feelings of shame under the judgment that “I really should be over this body image thing by now” were also there. I remember, when doing my doctoral research on body image, reflecting on why there is not more research on body image: under body image there are layers of shame. Who would want to dig into that?
Shame is not an emotion that people turn toward with welcoming joy. Reflecting on shame, and how the secrecy of body image shame affects women considering having children, Claire Mysko and Magali Amadei discovered:
78% of women we surveyed who do not have children yet or do not plan to have children told us they have concerns about how pregnancy and motherhood could change their bodies. Most of them keep these concerns to themselves. 57% said they don’t talk about the connections among pregnancy, motherhood ,and body image with their friends. 51% said they never discuss it with their partners…And 79% of the women who have body fears related to motherhood name weight (getting bigger during pregnancy and not being able to lose the weight after delivery) as their number-one fear. 
Before becoming pregnant, I naively assumed, like most non-mothers, that the weight you gain in pregnancy is the weight of the actual baby. I thought “No problem, I’ll just gain (fill in appropriate amount for newborn baby here. I am deliberately not naming any weight numbers in this article to avoid any negative comparison triggers for women in recovery) and then, after the baby is born, I will lose that weight with the baby coming out!” Well, being pregnant I realized that the baby needs not only a womb-home with amniotic fluid and placenta within which to eat and grow, but also increases in Mama’s blood, fluids, nutrient/fat stores, and breast tissue. After the baby is born, much of that weight is still there.
Most women still look pregnant, albeit not 9 months, after giving birth. When I first heard that, the negative body image part of me said “Well then I’m not leaving the house until I don’t look pregnant anymore.” (Again, thankfully, I had 14 years of combating this negative body image voice and was able to talk back to it. I was also, frankly, too tired to care much about what I looked like postpartum. I put on sweat pants with a pony tail and that was good enough! In addition, I had a loving partner, recovery support system, family, and doulas surrounding me with love and cheering me on as I left the house post-partum!)
In my work with women recovering from eating disorders and negative body image, it is interesting to notice what parts of their bodies women tend to dislike the most. It is often their stomach, breasts, thighs, and butts. These are the areas that gain weight in becoming pregnant and a mother. Anyone that has ever looked at an image of the Venus de Willendorf, a goddess statue estimated to have been made between 22,000 and 24,000 BC near Willendorf, Austria,and thought she was fat would do well to look at a pregnant woman’s body. I would venture to guess, in no uncertain terms, that Goddess is pregnant! And her fertility, the parts of her body that celebrate her womanhood and the mysterious power to grow a child and feed that baby from her own flesh, is being gloriously celebrated.
What has happened to a culture that denigrates this power in a woman’s body to the point of glamorizing anorexic models, airbrushing the fat out of images of womans’ bodies, and glorifying actresses that lose the baby weight within weeks of having a child? The media images we are surrounded with not only do not accurately portray the reality of womens’ bodies in all their varying shapes, sizes, skin tones, and degrees of wrinkles, but the reality of women’s full ranges of emotions, life-roles, and challenges of the new identity of motherhood. Mysko and Amadei reflect:
There are plenty of red carpet “postbaby body” debuts mere weeks after celebrities give birth but we don’t see a lot of new moms’ bodies in the real world- mainly because most new moms are recovering at home, trying to juggle poopy diapers, feedings, pain, sleep, and the decoding of various baby-screaming pitches- all in a semi zombified state. (Amadei, 2009)
A Larger Identity
Just like recovery, becoming a Mom requires developing a larger and different identity. It also requires literally having a different body, one that was formed to feed and nourish a child from stores of fat. Along the way of becoming a Mom there are many opportunities to cultivate tolerating the distress of being in the ambiguity of the unknown. In the very beginning of my eating disorder recovery, I often felt like “this is too big- I can’t do this- I wish it were just about the food and being ‘fat’.” Sitting with the discomfort of feelings, many of them unpleasant ones, was not fun. There is a slogan in 12 step programs called “HALT,” which stands for Don’t get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. This is hard to do in early recovery, and as a new Mom, it is almost impossible. Sleep deprivation, coping with a newborn wailing baby, and breast feeding/being postpartum hormonal flux create an atmosphere ripe with HALTs! My postpartum recovery slogan became, instead of HALT, accepting “This is hard.” Creating an atmosphere within my mind of radical acceptance made it easier to relax into the difficulties of new Mommy growing pains. And, just like recovery, I was challenged to lower my expectations of what is “good enough.” The perfectionistic, overachieving, self-critical temperament that served me in my eating disorder did not serve me in recovery and did not serve me in new Mommy-hood. I had to lower the bar on my expectations, again and again. One of my colleagues, a highly accomplished Therapist, Classical musician, and Horse dressage teacher gave me the postpartum advice to “do one SMALL thing each day and that is it.” For example, one load of laundry, take a shower, walk around the block with the stroller. Before having a baby I thought “Well that’s certainly not that ambitious. I can do much more than that.” I had also heard other mothers say how difficult it was to take a shower after having a baby. Again, I thought, “Wow, they must be pretty low functioning. Really, what could be that difficult about taking a shower? Just put the baby in a bassinet!” After having a baby, I felt very, very grateful for the awareness that others had had difficulty taking a shower and doing one small thing a day.
I have heard the metaphor that getting into recovery requires getting down on your knees in order to crawl through a very small doorway (humility of letting go of your old identity). However, once you are inside, you arrive in a spacious cathedral (your new right-sized larger self). I have found this to be true in motherhood as well. And actually, just like recovery, it really doesn’t have anything to do with the size of your body. It has to do with learning to tolerate uncomfortable emotions not only in yourself, as you become a brand new Mama, but in your baby as well! Recovery is about embracing a full range of emotions.  And, as anyone who has spent any time with a baby, so is parenting! As you become a “good enough Mother” to yourself, your baby will internalize how to do this as well.
Linda Shanti McCabe is a Mommy and a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. She works at the Association of Professionals Treating Eating Disorders in San Francisco. To read more about her work professionally, go to http://www.drlindashanti.com
 Mysko, Clair and Amadei, Magali, Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? Deerfield Beach: Health Communications, 2009.
 Poor sleep quality and lack of sleep are risk factors for Postpartum depression (PPD), a serious condition that negatively affects both mother and child. For more information on this link between sleep and PPD, see Massachusetts General Hospital website at: http://www.womensmentalhealth.org/posts/postpartum-depression-and-poor-sleep-quality-occur-together/
Postpartum depression (PPD) affects approximately 15% of women, usually occurs in the first 12 months after baby is born, and is different from “the baby blues,” which affect most women in the first three weeks postpartum. http://www.Postpartumprogress.com is a helpful website for information on PPD. If you think you may be at risk for or have PPD, see your healthcare provider.