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Pregorexia: Starving for Two

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Maggie Baumann: Pregnancy is a time for most women to embrace the wonders of pending motherhood. Picking the baby's name, speculating about the sex of the baby, and often, enjoying the freedom to "eat for two" make up some of the traditions expecting mothers experience.

Maggie Baumann second pregnancy 9 months pregnant

However, for me, pregnancy was a nine-month battle in which I lived in a dissociated state from my body -- horrified by my expanding "self" that protested every ounce of weight I gained.

I did not experience the freedom to eat for two; rather, I experienced the restriction of starving for two.

Pregnancy Plus Anorexia
There's a term coined by the media today for what I experienced during my second pregnancy and it's called "Pregorexia." It is a disorder marked by preoccupation with weight control through extreme dieting and over-exercising while pregnant. Pregorexia is a form of eating disorder that can be reinforced by comments about weight from friends and family, but the root of the disorder is more often based in control, perfectionism, or using the disorder as a coping mechanism to deal with difficult emotions or experiences.

Although I was not aware of the emotional impacts of the disorder while I was pregnant (thanks to a big dose of denial on my part), I upheld a very regimented exercise schedule and an extreme preoccupation with monitoring my calorie consumption. It was during my second pregnancy when the disorder appeared in its full force. I simply told myself, "I am not going to gain a lot of weight and I am not going to allow my body to get 'big' like I felt happened with my first pregnancy."

In reality, I gained an appropriate amount of weight (33 lbs) during my first pregnancy. Yet at the time, this weight felt foreign and unhealthy to me. My first pregnancy I felt so out of control with my body changes ... the stretching of my stomach, the increased size of my breasts ... all those changes made me feel like I was losing myself and my identity of being "thin" and in CONTROL of myself. I don't remember thin celebrities impacting my decision, I just remember my goal of keeping myself small was what was deeply rooted in my core.

Pregnancy #2 Feeds Off Fear
For nine months during my second pregnancy, I stuck vigilantly to my disordered "rules," living in fear-based chaos filled with secrecy and shame. At 11 weeks pregnant with my second child, Whitney, I found myself restricting calories and over-exercising. This stress on my body inevitably caused my uterus to start bleeding. My doctor stated, "A miscarriage was likely." He instructed me to stop all exercise immediately and get bed rest. I followed his advice for three days. Fortunately the bleeding stopped and I avoided a miscarriage.

Even so, I was so wrapped up in the eating disorder and my rules, I started my exercise right back up. In my mind, I thought, "You stopped bleeding, so it's safe to exercise again."

I did not incur any other medical problems in the pregnancy until the 7th month, when my doctor thought my baby was experiencing intrauterine growth retardation. In layman's terms, it meant my baby was too small and wasn't getting enough nutrients. He instructed me to stop all exercise for the reminder of the pregnancy and to eat more. At that point, my stomach bump where my baby resided was barely visible.

My doctor never knew the extreme exercise routine I followed. No one knew. I kept my calorie restriction, my exercise intensity, and extended workouts a secret, even from my husband. When my doctor instructed me to stop exercising, I rationalized that I would not work out in the gym, but I could power walk and do whatever I could to burn calories "outside the gym." I truly believed at that time my baby would be safe.

Food, Body, and Weight Not the Cause
This sounds so intensely cruel for an expectant mother to be so oblivious to the health of her growing baby inside her womb. In hindsight, I realize logic wasn't driving my unhealthy actions, fear was.

As it turns out, one of the factors influencing my anorexia during this pregnancy surfaced around an abortion I'd experienced during college a few years prior. I had never processed the abortion, I simply swept it under the rug, which allowed me to numb myself from the pain of my actions. I remember during both my pregnancies thinking silently to myself, "You killed that baby (the abortion) and now God is going to hurt this baby." So in some warped way I felt I needed to punish myself, and I did so by taking it out on my body. The punishment came through restricting my calories and over-exercising. It wasn't the baby in me that I hated, it was "me" I hated.

When I finally delivered my second child by cesarean section, I had only put on about 18 pounds; yet I hardly looked pregnant. I was 5' 8" and weighed just above 135 lbs. Whitney, my second child, was born underweight but did not have any medical problems at birth.

As soon as Whitney was taken out of my body, I immediately switched into the nurturing and loving mom I knew I could be. I just needed her outside of my body to be able to properly care for her. When she was inside the womb, my desire to punish myself for my past was stronger than my desire to feed my baby while she was inside growing.

Research has indicated the health risks children of pregorexics can experience include neurological problems, smaller head size, lower IQ, lower birth weight, birth defects, and impaired functioning later in life.

Whitney went on to develop seizures for several months during her infancy, and later in her teen years was diagnosed with ADD. Her doctor said it is probable that poor nutrition in the womb contributed to these neurological conditions.

With Time, Miracles Can Happen
After the birth of my children, I continued to struggle with anorexia until it became so severe I was admitted into an ER and then sent to Remuda Ranch in Arizona, a residential treatment center for women with anorexia and bulimia. Recovery is a long journey to finding peace within yourself and forgiveness for the life pains associated with the disorder.

Today I am in recovery and working as a therapist in Newport Beach, CA, helping clients recover from eating disorders. My children are amazing. They are healthy, beautiful women who take care of their bodies (free from any eating disorders) and accept themselves for who they are. I love them more than anything in the world.

I regret my actions when they were growing inside my body. I can never take away what I did, but I can and have forgiven myself for these actions. Loving them today brings my daughters and I close and allows us to be connected from the heart and souls of all our bodies.

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303 comments so far | Post a comment now
dude June 6, 2009, 8:57 AM

Women will gain because of the pregnancy. If she is being mocked because of her weight, all she has to
do is tell people why she is that heavy.
Low impact exercise now, high impact after you have the baby. Tai chi, water aerobics,and walking are all good forms
good low impact exercise. She is ruining her health, and her babies health too.

Sabran June 6, 2009, 9:08 AM

It’s hard for me to fathom how any woman could put their body image ahead of their childs health. To me it’s selfishness at it’s worse.

Scot June 6, 2009, 9:12 AM

Why not just get an abortion moron.

Nancy June 6, 2009, 9:18 AM

I was 16 years old and 4 months pregnant when my doctor told me after gaining 5 pounds in a month that if I didn’t control my weight gain, he’d be delivering a “dead baby” and not to come back to him if I did gain more weight. Before my pregnancy I weighed 115 pounds and weighed 125 pounds at the time of this visit. For the remainder of my pregnancy, I was petrified to eat anything, I had nightmares of dead babies nearly every night… I was so ashamed that I was “hurting” my baby that I didn’t tell anyone what he had said to me, so no one knew. When people urged me to eat, I would just tell them it was the “morning sickness kicking in again.” By the time I had my daughter, I had gained a total of 12 pounds,(127 pounds), luckily, she was 8.0 pounds and I looked like death warmed over. As my dughter grew older, she was diagnosed with learning disabilities… Now I have to wonder if it was that doctor’s advice and the toll it took on both me and my daughter’s health are the cause. I did not enjoy my pregnancy because I was in complete fear the entire time and can never forgive that doctor for delivering his concerns with such callousness to a 16 year old scared teenager. The fear of gaining weight carried over into my daily life and I have now struggled with anorexia since then. I cannot state that I’m “cured” but rather maintain a healthy balance with food, weight gain and body image. I applaud the author of the article for being honest and bringing such a difficult topic to a public forum for others to LEARN from as opposed to ignorance. I further appauld her courage to share this information with her daughters and bring not only healing but knowlegde to the forefront. Thank you for sharing your story, I do hope it helps others for a variety of reasons. I also hope some in the medical community take note of how dangerous some of their “advice” can be.

connie June 6, 2009, 9:29 AM

Where was “Dad” while this was going on? Could he helped prevent some of this?

Merry Jane June 6, 2009, 9:34 AM

Though I empathize with your mental problems, I find your casual posting of these on the internet to be recklace and almost condoning. From what you have written it seems God provided you with relatively healthy children — though ADD is a frustrating illness. I fear for the young woman who may be going through a similar situation at this moment — see your article and feel validated. I doubt I would seek your help as a therapist …

meggie June 6, 2009, 9:35 AM

This was an inspiring story. I am strugling with anorexia and my mother struggled with bulimia and binge eating. I know how hard and long a road it is how far i have to go yet. I am so thankful you put something out there to let me know I’m still human

Sophia June 6, 2009, 9:40 AM

It’s easy to judge someone if you have never suffered from an emotional trauma that makes oneself loose all logical judgement regarding food, I can relate to this woman’s story without saying she was being selfish, I starved myself at one point in my life and didn’t know I was suffering with anorexia, it wasn’t until I was healthy and well again that I recognized what I had been doing to myself. Her story is condensed and she does not effectively relate what is happening mentally to a person who is anorexic (pregnant or otherwise) and has absolutely no control over the disease. Cut her a break and if you can read up on the disorder.

From a Concerned Mother June 6, 2009, 9:48 AM

The weight gain and the stretch marks from a pregnancy are your induction rights into motherhood and in exchange you have a healthy child. There is plenty of time after pregnancy to lose the extra weight, and if you intend to nurse, which is the most healthiest nutrition for your baby and also God’s will, you still have to eat healthy so your child receives the proper nutrients through the breastmilk. You are mistaken if you think that your self image will not reflect on your children. I have a family friend who is in her 40’s with an 8-year old daughter and is struggling with her self image. Her sudden weight loss is unhealthy, she looks like a skeleton and her skin is pale. Her diet is extremely strict and she thrives off of compliments. The compliments are more important than her health. Last year her then 7-year old daughter slept over at my house. When it was time for a bath she took her clothes off and asked me if I thought she is fat. You could attribute the 7-year old’s comment to the Hanna Montana culture or all these inappropriate teen shows that mothers permit their children to watch. However, I strongly believe that the comment was made due to the mother’s self-image. This mother claims her daughter only eats healthy foods and will not eat junk food. When the child is with me, however, she asks for McDonalds and will eat food that her mother claims the girl does not eat. Mothers: you develop and shape your children through your actions. Why are you denying the laws of child development—children imitate their parents. Children will do what they see you do and their self image is shaped by the image you have of yourselves. The 7-year old’s question to me was shaped by her mother’s image of herself and not from any other influences. Don’t bring a child in this world if you have these problems. All the postings I read indicate that the kids from anorexic pregnancies are eventually diagnosed with disabilities. What’s worse is that you will raise your children with your disabilities.

Rebecca June 6, 2009, 9:53 AM

I am a 43 year old woman who has suffered from Anorexia since the age of 19. Over the years it is no longer the disorder where I view myself as being overweight, but a eating habit pattern that (or lack thereof) that has been difficult to overcome. Do I feel for the writer? Absolutely not!! Even with my struggles during my pregnancy I fought and fought and fought to remind myself it was no longer about me, but the child I was carrying. It was a tough and horrible emotional journey as the writer describes seeing my body expand. I hated looking at myself in the mirror and I have not one picture of myself during my pregnancy. The writer has decided to share her story not for all of the silent voices (not to say it is not altogether true) BUT for self healing to forgive her own selfish act during her pregnancy. If she knew she had this discorder during her first pregnancy she shouldn’t have become pregnant again without seeking the psychological help she needed. I have one child and although I have been through counseling I know that I would feel the same self-hatred of my body image if I were to consider another child. Poster “Anonymous” is right on the ball to have not considered pregnancy because of the emotional and physical consequences not only to herself, but her unborn child. Good for you!!! I too never planned on becoming a mother for the same reasons as you. But my son was a surprise and I was too far along to do consider any other alternative. Feel bad for this writer? You gotta be kidding me. SELFISH IS ALL SHE IS!!!

Jack June 6, 2009, 9:56 AM

Maggie is sick….her DR and husband should have not let this happen

JM June 6, 2009, 10:09 AM

Anorexia is NOT always about “self image” or having “the Perfect body”. Please study more if you don’t know this. The point is this woman is using a negative situation from her life to educate others in the same situation that she experienced. More power to her for that. is about forgiving herself in order to be able to accept herself which is important to move on in life and have a healthy happy life with her family.
Whitney.. Your mother and father must be proud of you! Life is about acceptance and forgiveness. God Bless your family! Stay Strong!

Tikyra June 6, 2009, 10:11 AM

She didn’t mention having a HUSBAND - she destroyed her daughters’ lives in 2 ways - Anorexia and immorality - that doctor who saw that she “barely” had a bump when she was 7 months pregnant is also irresponsible he should have put her into a mental hospital and put the needs of that baby first.

Richard June 6, 2009, 10:11 AM

What I don’t understand is why women who are obsessed with staying skinny want to be pregnant in the first place.
She should have just adopted if she wanted kids. It seems kind of a no-brainer to me.

Anonymous June 6, 2009, 10:13 AM

“I remember during both my pregnancies thinking silently to myself,’You killed that baby (the abortion) and now God is going to hurt this baby’.” God does not punish people like that. The only way people are punished is by going to Hell. God does not punish people by hurting anyone. God is loving and caring.

Lizzie June 6, 2009, 10:16 AM

You should be sterilized so you are unable to harm more children! Unspeakable to put a child in that kind of danger for vanity!! I understand it is an illness, but for God’s sake, don’t get pregnant if you refuse to take care of yourself first.

barbara June 6, 2009, 10:17 AM

Hello Im not going to judge anybody here on eating disorders or anything like that but I would just like to say I was pregnant with twins and I only gained 23 pounds thru out my whole pregnancy .I had gestational diabeties so I had to monitor what I ate and had to get plenty of excecise on top of insulin shots .My babies were born right on schedule both weighing over 6 pounds.No c sections the only complication I had was baby 2 was breech and he had to be pulled out by his feet .Both boys are 11 now and very healthy active kids .

Debbie June 6, 2009, 10:18 AM

I very much appreciate your courage for telling this story. I had an abortion 30 years ago and I am still affected by this today. Every May 2nd I remember the baby I killed. Girls need to know that it will be with you for the rest of your life - the decision to kill your baby.

JJ June 6, 2009, 10:21 AM


Beck June 6, 2009, 10:24 AM

Thank you for sharing such a personal and private experience. As the mother of 3 daughters & 1 son, this is a disorder that we all should be looking out for. I do not see you as skating over the bad parts of what happened but giving us a glimpse into your private pain. As for those who criticize –People who live in glass houses should not throw stones-. There is not a mother out there who was perfect during their pregnancy because nobody is perfect. I personally had never made the leap about anorexia to pregnancy. Your story did that. I wish you and your family the best and for all of you out there who jump on the bandwagon to write mean comments ———- Educate yourself about anorexia and bulimia first.

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