Although I won’t be doing regular pregnancy updates I did get loads and loads of requests for a post on pregnancy + body image and pregnancy + intuitive eating. I didn’t write about these topics much before (Cody actually wrote on these after having a baby) because I felt like I couldn’t write to the depth I wanted to without experiencing these things for myself. My hope is that these posts help you with body image and nourishing your body while pregnant. And no matter what life season you’re in, I hope these posts help you through body transitions and nourishing your body when body signals are confusing. I want to be as sensitive as possible around pregnancy posts and write more from an educational and helpful place for women. If reading about pregnancy in any form is hard for you, my hope is that you’ll skip over these occassional posts if you need to, be kind and compassionate with yourself and know that I’m thinking of you <3
While I still have a lot to learn and will always want to be improving my counseling skills, I’ve had a good bit of training on how to help women develop healthy body image. As I was thinking about writing this post, I realized there hasn’t been much (if any) talk around what body image work looks like for a pregnant or postpartum woman when I have learned how to help women with body image. What I’m sharing in this post is a combination of my body image training, my nursing/dietetics education on the body’s physiology, and what I’m learning as I walk through this season myself.
Bodies are suppose to change. Healthy body image and micromanaging your body size are mutually exclusive. They cannot co-exist. Our bodies are meant to change throughout our lives. Our teenage body will look different than our 20 something body which will change as we move into our 30s and 40s and then into menopause and beyond. Our fat storage shifts, our bodies age and they experience wear and tear – that is the reality of life. Bodies change. And they are suppose to change. For women who carry babies, pregnancy and postpartum is another season of life where body changes occur. Since I’m 29, I obviously haven’t lived all these live stages – but I’m expecting pregnancy and postpartum to be the seasons of life where I experience some of my most drastic body changes.
I’ve spent the past five years recovering from 10 years of hypothalamic amenorrhea and with that, healing my relationship with food and my body. The first two of the past six years of this blog are archived because how I view food, exercise, the body and overall health is quite different than it was in 2012. I feel really grateful to have done a lot of this work before getting pregnant. If I had not, I expect that I would be in a totally different place with my body right now. For someone that is struggling with unhealthy thoughts and behaviors around food and their body before getting pregnant, I can imagine that the body changes that come with pregnancy would be really, really hard. In full transparency, other than initially being briefly self conscious that I was “showing too soon” (whatever that even means..) I haven’t found body image to be much of an issue throughout these first 21 weeks. That might change and it could become more challenging so I want to be prepared for that.
I think there are several things that have been really helpful for me in accepting my body as it continually changes.
- From the beginning of this pregnancy, accepting that body changes were going to occur and seeing them in a positive way. I’m growing a human – that’s awesome and wonderful and such a gift!
- Buying maternity bottoms early (or what felt like early). My pants were uncomfortable around 9-10 weeks and I dealt with it because I thought it was “too early” to buy anything. But then around 11-12 weeks I realized I was uncomfortable in my body and pants that felt good on my body were well worth it to me to spend $$ on. I realize that having the financial means to purchase new clothes is a privilege and I’m thankful for that. Second hand stores and hand me downs from friends are also great ideas to save $$. Once I had a great fitting pair of maternity jeans I felt so. much. better. So then I bought a pair of maternity shorts. By week 15-16 my workout leggings felt too small and were digging into my sides so I used a gift card to buy a pair of align leggings from Lululemon and then bought two pairs of workout leggings from Gap (stuff is always on sale there, highly recommend). I live in all of these bottoms in addition to comfy dresses.
- Associating my changing body with a healthy, growing baby. When my belly grew out, I thought “baby must be growing, my body is making an entirely new organ (hi, placenta) and my uterus/pelvis/hips are expanding to grow baby.”
- Spending my time and energy on things that matter and enrich my life. This has been key for me throughout my body image journey. The more time and energy I spend on pursuing my career in eating disorders and women’s health, engaging in meaningful relationships, hobbies like traveling, being outside, volunteering, and reading – and investing in my faith and community…the less time I have to think about my body. When I’m busy doing these things, I don’t have time to think about my body. Will I have moments of negative body image thoughts? Of course, because I’m human. But those thoughts are short lived, my knee jerk reaction now is a positive affirmation or healthy reframed thought, and then I move on with my life.
- Remembering that pregnancy is a miracle I have been gifted with and there are women with hearts aching to experience this. In the first trimester, when fear about miscarriage would overtake me, I would thank God that I got to see two pink lines. Some women will never get to experience a positive pregnancy test. And in the following weeks and days I would thank God that I got to experience ___ more days or weeks of pregnancy. Some women will never get to, and I may not get to experience this many days/weeks again. As the second trimester came and I was experiencing more and more body changes, practicing gratitude not only helped ease my anxieties around something going wrong, but allowed me to invite in body changes. I don’t want to minimize any woman’s struggle with body changes in pregnancy because we are all human and our feelings are valid. But for me, thinking about those friends, family and clients waiting to experience a pregnancy was really powerful in accepting and appreciating my body changing. I think (and hope) it will continue to be powerful as I experience postpartum.
Something that was really helpful for me when I began my body image work years ago, was choosing to do the work (because it’s hard and long and tiring) and let go of my thinner body. I remember just feeling so sick and tired of thinking about my body that there was no other option. If you’re someone who has hasn’t done a lot of (or any) body image work before getting pregnant, that’s okay. You can start now or when it feels right for you. We are all living in diet culture so it makes sense that tolerating and accepting your changing body in pregnancy would be hard.
I haven’t read much of any pregnancy books up until this point. The pregnancy and obstetrics world can be pretty engrained in diet culture, which sucks, but it’s reality. I did read bits and pieces of Expecting Better which I found really empowering as I navigated caffeine, foods I actually needed to avoid, the ins and outs of genetic testing and other stuff. The author digs into a bunch of science which I enjoyed. A book that I’ve heard often recommended for helping with body image in pregnancy is Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? so I’m sure that would be a good read that I would recommend and I know Kylie has recommended.
Accepting that my body was going to change unless I spent my life obsessed with food and my body was helpful for me in the beginning of my body image journey. My body will never be the same as it was in my teen years. And my body will never be the same again after being pregnant. Accepting that reality was, and is, really freeing. Did I want to spend my days (or insert pregnancy) thinking about food and my body or did I want to enjoy and embrace my life (or insert pregnancy)? Life truly is short and nothing is guaranteed. When you look back in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 10 years do you want to remember how many calories you ate or how fixated you were with getting a workout in or do you want to remember the people you were with, conversations you had, and laughs that take your breath away? Caring for your health and body is a good thing. Obsession over health and your body is not. We hope to have more babies, but I am not guaranteed another pregnancy. I don’t want to miss out on experiencing my body grow and birth new life because I was preoccupied micromanaging the fat on my hips.
What I’ve learned so far, is that pregnancy is a rollercoaster of emotions and transitions. I don’t exercise in the same way as I use to, I don’t have the same capacity to work long hours like I use to, my appetite feels wonky more often than not and there are many other things that are different. These are reminders to me that life will never be the same. It makes sense that when life feels out of control, we cling to what we think we can control to make us feel like things are okay – food and exercise and our bodies being some of the first things. It’s a way to cope with the situation. But what that also does is numb us out to life. We all have coping mechanisms. We need coping mechanisms. But body image struggles aren’t actually about our bodies. You and me, we can feel hard things. We can sit in discomfort. And we can choose to develop more helpful and appropriate coping mechanisms. It’s a lot of hard work, but I’ve never felt more certain that it is absolutely worth it.