Pregnant women holding belly.

What's It's Like to Be Pregnant in Eating Disorder Recovery

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I have spent a lot of time – more than I care to admit – studying my body, thinking about my body, worrying about my body, hiding my body. But never so much as when I’m pregnant.

Please, do not misunderstand me. I wholeheartedly believe growing a baby, another human being, is no doubt a miracle of miracles. I have often – through four pregnancies now – taken a moment to thank Mother Earth and God for the absolute gift of creating life inside my body.

Yet as a woman with an eating disordered past and a seemingly-fated lifetime destiny of body image issues, I’m obligated to keep it real. So here it is. This is hard. It was hard the first time and it has gotten no easier the fourth time. My body is changing and growing, sometimes so quickly I think I can see it happening. And it’s all completely out of my control, control being at the very core of my eating disorder. There’s the belly, sure, but that’s not all. There’s also the butt, the hips, the boobs, the cankles and the pimples, to name a few. For the most mentally-centered woman this would feel strange, I imagine.

For those of us like me, it can be a struggle.

While the active part of my own eating disorder was many moons ago, my recovery is ongoing. I have struggles with food and weight and control and my own body I have come to accept are part of the fabric of my general being. This was true when I was a sprightly teenager and it has been even more true as an aging woman who is not immune to gravity and it is never more true than when I am faced with gaining so much weight in nine months.

I have often said and I truly believe recovery from an eating disorder is very much like recovery from alcoholism. Once you have had issues with eating, you might always have issues with eating and recovery becomes about learning to thrive despite and with those issues. The glaring difference between recovery from alcoholism and recovery from disordered eating of course is you can’t – and shouldn’t – just walk away from food. And so the work lies in learning how to live this life where so much of who we are and how we interact and how we nurture and celebrate and mourn and cope and nourish and soothe and gather lies completely wrapped up in and around food.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Somewhere in the silver lining of my own anorexia and bingeing struggles lies the fact I never lost my passion for reading cookbooks and spending time in the kitchen. So much so it has become wrapped up tightly in my identity as a mother and a wife. I have an incredibly hard time apologizing in heartfelt actual words when I am wrong, but I am quite fluent in the language of conciliatory casseroles. Nothing in my daily life makes me feel more maternal and more feminine than my own family enjoying food I have planned, cooked, prepared and brought to the table.

And being pregnant gives me the incredible opportunity to nourish myself and my baby from the same meal.

This, I know, is a gift.

It’s worth mentioning the media has done us no service in terms of putting the pregnant body up on the pedestal it deserves, either. All an unassuming “mama-to-be” like me in dirty sweatpants and last night’s mascara has to do while grocery shopping on a weekend morning is glance towards the gossip rags and feel pregnant women should be mocked for their weight gain. This message of failure and self-doubt is received by countless ordinary women, the ones without personal trainers and chefs and assistants paid to help us lose the baby weight. We are the ones who are not paid absurd sums of money to walk down the Victoria’s Secret runway sporting nothing more than a few strategically placed gemstones and some furry angel wings two months after giving birth.

And of course, I see all of this through the lens not only of someone in recovery but also as someone who is raising two girls — two girls who are in my humble opinion, the epitome of perfection. But two girls who may nonetheless struggle with body issues of their own. What do I want them to see through this pregnancy?

Me, as a beautiful, radiant, confident pregnant woman with a big belly full of their brother or sister?

Or me in a puddle of self-pity on the kitchen floor wondering if the cottage cheese I am making them as a snack looks as much like my legs as I think it does?

But if I’m honest, it’s not just my own daughters who have been on my mind. It’s all the women of my life. My daughters, my mothers and maternal figures, my tribe of friends and extended family and neighbors. A pregnancy makes you draw close your circle, and these women are mine, each unique and beautiful and perfect like a snowflake. What’s funny is each one probably has things about their own physical bodies they struggle with and would likely not be comfortable strutting down the Victoria’s Secret runway with jewels wedged in their crevices. But in my eyes, they are absolutely perfect.

I know there is a lesson in there and every day I get closer to accepting it. And this is what recovery actually looks like, right?

One day at a time.

This story originally appeared on lizpetrone.com.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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Finding 'Hope' After Years of Hospitalizations

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The last couple years of my life are an absolute blur. It’s as if someone took my brain and all of the memories it held and mixed them up in an incomprehensible sequence. When I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed and see my friends from what I call my “previous life,” my heart drops and aches for what could have been. And almost always this pain would be turned inward and twisted into anger at myself. But as I sit here today, I can say and start to believe I am not at fault.

At age 11, I was diagnosed with anorexia. I went to outpatient therapy for the next four years until it was determined it simply wasn’t enough. My sophomore year of high school, I was sent to get an evaluation. I entered a day program for a week when they realized I needed an inpatient program.

The day after Christmas, I entered my first inpatient program on an eating disorder unit. I figured it would be quick. I figured it would suck but then I would return to my normal life.

But I never did return to the school. And I never did return to my life.

As I entered treatment, the painful events of my life unfolded. Trauma came out. My depression took over every fiber of my being and my anorexia became my best friend. I was lost and scared. The next four years I spent in and out of this hospital, a residential program, other hospitals, two rehabs, a halfway house and two sober houses.

As I did better with my eating disorder, my addiction would come out in other ways. I was impulsive, I self-harmed and I eventually began shooting heroin. When I blocked my impulsive behaviors, my eating disorder would entirely take over.

I continuously put myself in situations that destroyed any sense I had of who I was. I allowed myself to be a victim. I allowed many more traumatic things to happen to me. I allowed my life to end in a way. I spent four vital years of being a teenager trying to kill myself in anyway I could. I hurt everyone around me just to prove to myself there was no reason to stay. My parents watched as the daughter they raised and loved disappeared before their eyes. They tried everything. Medication, electroconvulsive therapy, ketamine infusions. You name it, they tried it. And they watched as nothing worked. As their daughter became unrecognizable. As she moved place to place, hospital to hospital. My mother would tell me she was preparing for my funeral. And the last time I entered rehab, my mother simply said: “Hope, you are going to die.”

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

But here I am, four years later, age 19 and alive. Today I can say I am sober. I am celebrating six months sober in a couple of days. Today I can say I graduated high school. Sure, not in the traditional way or at the “right time,” but I did it. And with honors! Today I can say I got into every single college I applied to. Today I can say in two weeks I will be starting at my dream school with a $20,000 scholarship per year. Today I have a boyfriend who loves me and isn’t abusive. Today I have my parents’ trust back. Today I want to live. I truly crave the feeling of being alive.

No, I am not fully better. I am actually in treatment for my anorexia right now. However everything is so different. As I entered treatment this time, I went in voluntarily. I went in to prove to myself I could do it and do it right.

As I saw myself slipping, I normally would’ve let it go until I was legally being forced into treatment, but this time the real Hope came out. I allowed myself to be vulnerable and I allowed myself to feel. I went in more scared than ever because this time, I was leaving something. This time, I had a home. I had friends who would do anything for me. I had a sponsor who loves me endlessly. I had a boyfriend who would support me in anything I did.

This time as I left inpatient, I truly felt I would never return. As I beat myself up for being in my 19th hospitalization in four years, a staff member I have known the full four years came up to me. She shared with me how she has watched me grow. She reminded me how far I have come. She listened to me and empathized with me. She reminded me today I am a real person and if I allowed my inner demons to take over again, I would be sitting here next year saying the same exact things. This time around I started to actually listen and trust.

Yes, I got angry about my weight and my doctor not giving in to my eating disorder, but I learned so much. As my discharge from day program is approaching within the next two weeks and I am about to start this very new, but also scary chapter in my life, I strangely feel at peace. A feeling I have never experienced. I feel different. And I can look in the mirror at myself and can be honest with myself.

But most importantly, I realized a few short months ago this would not have been a possibility for me. Being a human and a member of society was not a possibility. But today on this cold January night in the year 2017, I want to tell myself something. To the girl who has spent her life in and out of treatment. To the girl who could not stop flirting with death. To the girl whose demons had nearly taken over. It’s going to be hard and you’re going to want to give up. But please, do not give up. Prove yourself and the people who doubt you wrong. Because you my dear, are a wonderful arrangement of atoms. You are a very interesting soul. You have more to offer this world than you can realize right now. Don’t let this continue to be your life. Stop being so afraid, because this isn’t living. And you deserve to live.

Please believe me. I have been there. “Impossible” should not be in your vocabulary. Because you can start to live. And as exhausting as it is to keep fighting, as tired as you are, there is no better feeling in the world when you start to realize you are blooming. When you realize you are more than existing. You are slowly, but surely, making it.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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How Sports Helped Me Conquer My Eating Disorder

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Last year was the first year I went to the beach heavier than I’ve ever been. And I wore a bikini and beautiful swimsuits and fabulous dresses. I had a ton of energy. We did a two hour trail hikes, I jogged, we played tennis, we danced. I didn’t overeat. For the first time I didn’t think at all about food or calories. If I wanted a glass of wine, I would have it. If I wanted bread, I would have it.

This is an ode to sports and their amazing “sidekick effect” on beating a long-overdue eating disorder.

I haven’t written about this much. I have struggled with anorexia and binge eating disorder for nearly half of my life. It started when I was 15 and it was pretty bad until my early 20s. I got better until last year when it all came tumbling down during some stressful times. This time I could see the signs, so I looked immediately for help and — for the first time — really opened up about it.

It’s hard to confess things like this. It makes me feel like a failure, like I am weak and futile and almost like I am a silly teenager with no self-esteem.

But you know what they say. There is no growth without pain.

I have been putting a lot of work into my recovery and the hardest thing is loving myself exactly as I am. Or, to put it bluntly, to love myself as I look in the mirror. Which is definitely not the same thing.

I read about alternative recovery models, listened to podcasts, reviewed my Susan Bordo literature and researched many “health at every size” advocates. It’s been long road.

Of course it makes no sense to starve myself. Nor do I find any way to rationalize being skinny as a twig makes me a better or more lovable person. 

During my worst crisis I was hiding from life, friends and fun. I was skinny, too skinny. Clothes wouldn’t even fit me. And guess what? I still thought I was disgusting.

This is the trouble with an eating disorder.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Anyway. I will say this. I don’t think this recovery journey would be the same had I not been so focused on sports.

Because running, boxing and CrossFit don’t care about your size. They care if you can hold your weight. If you can bend. If you can make the distance. If you can beat that distance. If you aren’t eating, you can’t do any of that.

In 2016, as I transitioned to a plant based diet and fell in love with sports for real, I felt stronger. My asthma is so much better. I can carry things. My feet — which had surgery and didn’t let me walk for six months — have been running every morning.

These tiny achievements alone are signs my body rocks. It is there with me, 100 percent, if I am there with it.

I still relapse with binge eating and restriction, yes.

But I feel so much better. And I think it shows.

The first day I got out and bought new jeans, I decided I would be proud no matter what size I was. All my friends asked me if I had done something, because I looked great.

Sure, I want to improve my diet for health issues and to finally be at peace with this disorder. But what gets me up and makes me want to recover are my athletic goals. Performing better.

If you want to know more about my journey, reach out to me!

Or start here with some of my favorite resources:

Linda Bacon

Isabel Foxen Duke

The Fuck It Diet

Christy Harrison

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Why Hearing I Looked 'Healthy' Was Hard in My Recovery From Anorexia

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Anorexia nervosa is is more common than one might think. It affects roughly 0.9 percent of females and 0.3 percent of males. Many of us will come into contact with someone who has struggled with disordered eating at some point in our lives. The process of recovery looks different for everyone, but our journeys all have one thing in common: they by no means occur in a straight line. There will be many ups and downs, steps moving forward as well as setbacks. The goal is not for recovery to be “perfect” because this is largely an unattainable goal and only sets one up for failure and disappointment. Relapses happen and it’s best to prepare ourselves for them. We need only strive for an upward-trend toward recovery. While we may not entirely understand what someone struggling with anorexia (or any eating disorder) is going through, we can take steps to support them and increase their momentum toward recovery.

After five months in a partial hospitalization program, I was discharged. I was left to navigate the world on my own — well, not completely on my own as I still saw my therapist once a week. Despite knowing I was equipped with the skills necessary to fight the daily battle anorexia posed, I was terrified. I feared relapse but knew it was a likelihood. This didn’t stop me from feeling at any moment I would slip back into my old ways of disordered eating. I needed the support of those around me.

In the midst of my struggle to continue to move toward recovery, I found myself struck by a common comment others made to me. I knew they were trying to be supportive — searching for the right words to say that would encourage me to keep going — but my mind twisted their words. People would say to me, “you look healthy” and all I heard was “you look fat.” I had such deeply held beliefs about my appearance that a seemingly innocent statement would send me into a period of restriction. What was intended to be a compliment was transformed into fuel for my eating disorder. Old desires and urges lurked in the shadows of my mind, looking for anything to latch onto and send me spiraling.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

With anorexia having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, the odds were scary. I needed to choose recovery every day, every meal. Through working with my therapist, I came to realize when people said I looked healthy, they meant I no longer looked sick and the color had returned to my face. They did not mean to imply I was “fat,” but instead that I was returning to the world and no longer isolating, participating in activities and pursuing things other than a specific number on a scale. “Healthy” now means I am living.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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When a Compassionate Stranger Told Me to 'Take Care of Myself' at the Gym

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Take care of yourself.

Those words are said quite often to others, whether it’s an acquaintance, a close friend or a stranger. We thrown them in with our goodbyes and see-you-laters. We say them to our co-workers who are headed out on vacation.

But those words spoken to me that day mean more now than ever before.

Back when I was a freshman in college, I developed an eating disorder that took over my life, day in and day out. It started off as just “trying to get fit,” but soon became something that consumed my every thought. I fluctuated between bulimia and anorexia until I had the dangerous and life-threatening combination of both.

But one of the major problems was I didn’t think anything was wrong.

I didn’t listen to a single thing anyone said to me about my drastic weight loss. I didn’t want to hear someone ask me what was wrong or if I was doing alright. In fact, I don’t think I really listened to anyone about anything.

Until one day.

I frequented the recreation center at my university during this time in my life, often exercising for long periods of time to obsessively “burn off” more calories than I had eaten. I was losing weight — and quickly.

The man who said those four words to me also went to the gym the same time I did on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, so I had seen him before. I think we had even spoken a few words to each other, though I didn’t know his name. One day, around the time of my lowest point in my eating disorder, he looked at me and asked me if I had been losing weight, though he already knew the answer. I shrugged and said, “I guess I’ve lost a little bit.”

I tried desperately to hide it, but there was no getting around the fact people were noticing now something was wrong.

I was even noticing something was wrong.

He paused for a moment. I imagined he could see the hurt in my eyes and hear the quiver in my voice. I wished he would just walk away. But instead he said to me, “Take care of yourself.”

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

His words drilled into my head, but the disordered mindset I had fostered for so long didn’t truly understand why he said this. I decided to brush it off. And I never saw him again.

Looking back, this man’s words really impacted my journey back to health. I had a lot of healing to do: mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. I don’t think it’s just a coincidence I remember this particular day. I’ve never been able to say thank you to the man who cared about a total stranger, though now I wish I could.

I share this story to tell anyone who is going through something like this to take care of yourself. I’m serious. It may be one person reading this or a thousand, but you need to take care of yourself. There are so many people who truly care about you and what you are going through. Including strangers. Including me.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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Why Anorexia Recovery Is About More Than Gaining Weight

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I may have gained weight, but in reality, I have gained so much more. I have gained happiness, I have gained laughter, I have gained truth. There is no more lying or hiding or running. I would say no more fear, but there is. There is fear. But who isn’t afraid? Life is scary; life is a big frightening world of experiences and lessons and people. It would be more worrying if we weren’t afraid. But now, bigger than the fear, something else has begun to take over. Hope.

My whole world is different now. I wake up without the cloud of a bad night’s sleep interrupted by nightmares or drowned in a medicated fog. I open my eyes and see. Not calories, not numbers, not the lurch in my stomach on weigh day. I see the day I am about to have. The friends I will see. The things I will learn. The new experiences I will gain. Breakfast is no longer a battle of wills, a fight between me and my parents, me and my own mind. I listen to the radio, hear the music, sing along, laugh at the jokes. I can laugh now. I can sing.

I walk to school, not alone any more. I’m surrounded by people and don’t feel alone. I talk, about my day, my week, his day, his week. I look at him, I see him. He sees me. I don’t pace anymore, trying to walk as quickly as possible to burn more and hurt more. I stroll along, taking in the trees and the cars and the weather.

Arriving at college doesn’t bear the heavy weight of fear and apprehension about the day ahead. Instead I am excited to see my friends. I have friends now. They know my story but not all of it. Maybe one day they will. But for now they know enough, enough to understand, but they don’t judge; they listen. They don’t berate me for struggling; they berate me for not leaning on them enough. They want to help. My conversation is no longer restricted to me and my brain, numbers and percent signs. Sometimes I join in, talking and laughing. Sometimes I just listen. That’s OK too.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

In lessons I can think straight. I look down at my page and it’s full, not of my problems and my past but of algebra or the American constitution or French verbs. I look up at the clock for the first time in half an hour. Time goes more quickly now. My head isn’t so full.

It’s not all about the food, but it helps. Timings are more relaxed. If lunch is not at 1 p.m. sharp the world will not end. That extra chocolate or the sweet given to me in class or the chip off my friend’s plate will not hurt me. Anorexia will hurt me. Eating will not.

So much has changed. Walking is for pleasure and purpose, not for walking’s sake. I don’t run. I don’t like running. That’s OK. I choose the shortest routes now or the most enjoyable, not the longest. I make a habit of seeing people, speaking to people, smiling at those I pass in the street. At work I can smile now, chat, ask people about their day. I can stand without it hurting now, and last week I chose to switch off the heater. I’m warmer. I smile.

I am growing in more ways than one. I am changing. I am smiling. I am laughing. I am singing. I am healing.

So yes, I have gained weight. But it wasn’t just weight. It was life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Comstock Images

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