When Pregnancy and Eating Disorders Mix

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Healthy pregnant women should gain an average of 25 pounds. Pregnant woman who intentionally restrict their food intake still gain an average of 15.8 pounds. Bulimic pregnant women gain an average of 5.7 pounds, and the average birth weight of their babies is 4.9 pounds.

Although excess is what the body and baby need, women with eating disorders cannot accept why they should eat more. "The eating disorder becomes their identity," says Dr. Jill Pollack, director of The Center of Study for Anorexia and Bulimia in New York City. "Food conquers all of this."

Seeking Support

Melissa found out she was pregnant on May 4, 2010. She was seven weeks along, and unprepared for the numerous rounds of tests she had to undergo. Her 10-week ultrasound found the baby had increased nuchal translucency, a symptom associated with Down syndrome. The doctors tested her DNA, chromosomes and everything they could to determine if something was wrong with the baby. During the first few weeks of testing, Melissa could not ward off emotional eating. She inhaled cheddar Chex Mix. She sucked the crystallized sugar off of jellied candy fruit slices, but threw away the rest.

The emotional eating lasted for six weeks while she stressed about her baby. Melissa wanted to treat her body gently with this new life inside it, so the disordered behaviors had to be restrained. She turned to her blog, "Tales of a (Recovering) Disordered Eater," for support.

When Melissa wrote her first blog post in the summer of 2008, it was for her eyes only. She logged the behaviors and feelings she had kept to herself. When she sent the blog link to her family, they were stunned. Especially her mother, Sue, who did not suspect a serious problem. Whenever her daughter visited, Sue had always made efforts to be complimentary "You look great! You're so thin!"

Sue had no idea that her praise was encouraging behaviors that made Melissa feel worse, despite her more svelte physique. "I was so saddened to know that she had been suffering so much, and alone," says Sue. "That is where the pain comes in for me, that as her parent, who is suppose to protect her from harm and see her through anything and everything, that she went through this pain all by herself and for so long."

After she shared the blog with her family, she opened the blog to a wider audience.

In the blog's introduction Melissa wrote that she wanted to have a healthier relationship with her body so she could hear the pitter-patter of little feet. But, on June 26, 2008, she admitted her qualms about pregnancy. "I'll be honest..." Melissa wrote, "I fear being pregnant. Getting 'fat,' and having to lose the weight all over again daunts me...the very notion that I'd deliberately put myself in a position to gain weight all over again is both scary and intimidating."

The Genes Behind Eating Disorders

The genes identified as chromosomes 1 and 10 increase the likelihood that a child will develop an eating disorder. A woman with a sister or mother who has anorexia is 12 times more likely to develop anorexia nervosa and four times more likely to develop bulimia nervosa. But extenuating factors and outside influences will determine whether the genes come to fruition.

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