When Pregnancy and Eating Disorders Mix

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The pregnancy has bumped up the number of calories she allows herself, which gives her what she calls "cautious freedom" to indulge in once-forbidden foods.

"If I'm going to gain weight I might as well eat something that I enjoy rather than grilled chicken," Melissa says about savoring richer foods during pregnancy. But she still tries to stay around 1,800 to 2,000 calories per day while burning 300 to 400 calories with exercise, five days a week. Her calorie intake is lower compared with most pregnant women, but her doctor recommended staying in the normal range of calories since she was at a slightly higher pre-pregnancy weight.

Melissa's pregnancy has cut her time at the gym in half. Now, she spends 30 to 45 minutes doing low-impact pedaling on the elliptical or takes a walk, but Melissa does not have the same amount of energy she normally would. She needs naps in addition to at least seven hours of sleep per night, which are interrupted by her frequent trips to the bathroom.

On a recent cool, dusk evening, Melissa, clad in yoga pants and a T-shirt, was able to make it out for a run. She had barely jogged 100 yards from her house until she felt pressure around her abdomen. The bouncing baby was squeezing her bladder and she could not continue at the pace she wanted without having an accident. A year ago she would have pushed through the pain. She remembers the grueling workouts of intense sweating for hours, but now, she has to restrain herself. She forfeited her run and walked at a quick pace the rest of the way.

A New Start

Melissa gave birth to Maya on December 18, 2010 and they are both healthy and thriving. In addition to having a healthy baby, Melissa wants to be a good role model for Maya. "I would never want her to see me agonizing over food," Melissa says.

Melissa plans to use Weight Watchers again to lose her baby weight. She is not comfortable with keeping the extra weight on her body that she says she does not need. "I would not like it if I was left with this ginormous pouch," she says.

There is a risk that some of the disordered eating behaviors may return.

There will be reminders, triggers, things that signal her to chew and spit. But Melissa says she will fight. She has found joy inside a giant belly for the sake of her daughter. She has deflected panic when the scale reached more than 170 pounds.

Her sacrifices during pregnancy have shown she is capable of taming her disordered behaviors and at this point, she says, "I don't fear those things coming back."

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