When Pregnancy and Eating Disorders Mix

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When a mother has an unhealthy relationship with food, it is easier for the child to pick up the same habits. "Parents can deactivate an eating disorder or make it more apparent," says Dr. Aisenberg, who has witnessed the disastrous cycle: a child adopts the mother's anxiety and obsessive behaviors.

Anorexia can worsen during pregnancy and postpartum for many women. "Pregorexia" has become a popular way to describe pregnant women suffering with anorexia. It is not a clinical term, but does illustrate the devastating merger of pregnancy and anorexia.

For Kate Wicker, giving birth to her first child made it easier to cope with her eating disorder, but only after she had suffered with anorexia during her pregnancy. Raised in Snellville, Ga., Wicker developed anorexia and a purging disorder in college. While she was treated in college and gained more stability after she graduated, she struggled during her first pregnancy and felt a loss of control with her weight.

"When I was really sick and weighed myself four to five times a day," Wicker says, "I put so much energy into fighting my own flesh that I could have spent that time solving world hunger."

As a new mother, she gained a whole new respect for her body. Worrying about the health of her three young girls has helped her become more comfortable with food. Although she does not consider herself fully recovered, she is able to recognize her weaknesses and handle them. "It's like a pebble in your shoe," Wicker says about her eating disorder. "It's always there, but you get better at being able to walk with that pebble there and not letting it control everything."

Struggling With a Changing Self Image

As a public relations manager at an Internet advertising agency in Kalamazoo, Melissa normally wears trendy outfits to work. But lately she's been forced to turn her hip wardrobe into a maternity one. At least the maternity clothes are comfortable, and The Bella Band, a nylon and spandex belt attached to her pre-pregnancy pants, has helped her keep some of the clothes she likes (except the Joe's jeans) in her fashion rotation.

By four months in, some of her pre-pregnancy tops began accentuating her protruding stomach. "People can see now, that I'm pregnant," Melissa says, "I like that."

Still, Melissa's feet have become so sore that she cannot wear her beloved high heels or wedges. The added weight of the baby reshapes her body from head to toe. Even at her heaviest, she had a defined waist and fairly flat stomach. Now, the extra pounds have eliminated all the definition in her stomach.

"This is brand-new territory for me," she says, "it also means my clothes aren't fitting right and prepared for it as I was, that has been a bit difficult for me to grasp." Her chest has also grown, but the added cup-size is something Melissa would gladly hold on to after the pregnancy. "I have boobs!" she wrote on her blog recently. "For the first time in my adult life, I have a chest and some cleavage."

Melissa still keeps track of everything she eats. When she was following the Weight Watchers program, it was about tracking the number of points. Now that she is pregnant, she is trying to be more conscious of what nutrients she needs every day. She records everything at MyDailyPlate.com, which gives her the nutritional breakdown of foods in addition to the number of calories.

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