Forget the image of the glowing expectant mother with a tiny bump. Pregnancy is not picture perfect. But the standard of beauty is still thrust upon women, even when they’re carrying a baby. It’s hard not to fall into the trap of diet culture, especially at such a vulnerable time. All of the language about what you should and should not eat can trigger women who have previously struggled with eating disorders. For many, discussing all the Dos and Don’ts of eating while pregnant undoes all of the body positivity and wellness they’ve worked so hard to achieve. If you’re feeling the weight of diet culture caving in, you’re not alone.
“Having a baby is one of the most stressful times in a woman’s life, yet we pressure women into believing that it’s the most euphoric,” Deborah Berlin-Romalis, who is the executive director of Sheena’s Place, an eating disorders support centre in Toronto, told Today’s Parent. “Women are often afraid to say ‘I have anxiety’ or ‘I have depression,’ let alone ‘I have a history with an eating disorder and it has actually come back.’ It’s something that tends to go quietly underground.”
Here are some ways that can help you navigate your pregnancy if you want to avoid the pitfalls of diet culture.
Find a care provider who empowers you.
Before and throughout your pregnancy, find a healthcare provider that you are comfortable with and who knows how to cater to your concerns.
“Women are constantly being told that their bodies are not good enough. We are not thin enough. We are not pretty enough. There is never a good time for this to be the rhetoric we are told and pregnancy is no exception,” doula Kaeleigh Terrill explains. “Weight gain in pregnancy is normal and essential, but can be triggering. We often have to be our own advocates when dealing with our care providers. Choose a care provider that speaks to you in an empowered and non-weight-centric way.”
Talk it out with someone who understands.
Going through a pregnancy while feeling isolated can be stressful. Seek out a professional or a friend who will listen to you without judgment.
“Instead of allowing for the life-altering experience of growing a human, while also managing the ups and downs of regular life, we perpetuate the trope of pure bliss that creates shame and silence for those of us — many of us — who have a hard time during pregnancy,” wrote Alyson Gerber in Good Housekeeping. “And that shame discourages women from seeking support from their loved ones or professional help from a clinician.”
Rather than give in to the urge of staying silent during this difficult time, Alyson shared her story with a woman she met in her third trimester. She found out they were both in recovery for disordered eating. They stayed in touch and leaned on each other.
“I don’t know how I would have managed during those challenging weeks without the support of my new friend,” she wrote, “who offered me exactly what I needed: solidarity, validation, empathy and, most importantly, permission to be both upset and happy at the same time.”
Put “snapping back” on the backburner.
There is a persistent message to women that snapping back into shape after giving birth is a necessity. Diet culture puts more of an emphasis on image than health. Actor Tia Mowry documented her pregnancy on social media to show other women that it’s acceptable to do everything in their own time.
“Pregnancy was such a special time in my life and I loved it and my bump! I also loved my body before pregnancy. We’re led to believe we should love one over the other. But it was important for me to be super proud of BOTH bodies instead of feeling pressured to be a part of the snapback culture,” she said in an Instagram post. “I think instead we can look at our bodies and love and acknowledge them for keeping us alive and keeping our babies alive! Mamas, we can allow our bodies to just BE while we nourish them (and our little ones!) with good things, instead of buying into the snapback culture.”
Every pregnancy is different and there are dangers in having a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to eating. Women who get cravings and are constantly hungry at this time shouldn’t feel ashamed because social media is focused on how to stay in shape. Rather than listening to unsolicited advice—after all, YOU are the one growing a human—surround yourself with supportive family and friends, and consult your healthcare provider with any concerns or questions.
If you’re looking for more perspectives on pregnancy and diet culture, try listening to this episode of the She Found Health podcast.
More resources are available here:
- National Eating Disorder Information Centre (Canada): https://nedic.ca/
- Sheena’s Place (Toronto, Ontario): https://sheenasplace.org/other-support-centres/
- Eating Disorders Nova Scotia: https://eatingdisordersns.ca/peer-support-chat
- Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta: https://edsna.ca/support/
- Fraser Health (British Columbia): https://www.fraserhealth.ca/Service-Directory/Services/mental-health-and-substance-use/mental-health---community-services/eating-disorders-program#.YXHERG1KhoE