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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
Brittany  June 10, 2009, 10:36 PM

First off, way to go Whitney! Secondly, Maggie I am so proud of you and all your hard work that has gone into educating the public on this serious illness. Unless you have experienced the disease first hand you have absolutely no right to criticize Maggie’s decisions. It takes courage and strength to publicize such a personal struggle. Maggie, maybe this was meant to happen to you so that you can educate and prevent other young women from experiencing such a hardship caused by this mental illness.

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Roxy June 30, 2009, 1:16 PM

Thank you for this article. I don’t cry easily, but this one brought tears to my eyes simply because it brought back so many memories of my pregnancies. I didn’t starve myself, but my bulimia, which I had struggled with for years, raged out of control during this time. It started with the morning sickness- I threw up constantly, and felt “justified” in making myself throw up if I felt nauseous. This quickly devolved into full fledged bulimia, and like you, I did not discuss it with anyone. I gained 20 lbs with my daughter, and 12 with my son, and hated every ounce if it. I constanyl compared my figure with my step-daughters mother, and felt I was lacking. I loved my baby belly, but hated the fact that I would not look the same after it was all over. (I had 2 c-sections, and definitely have a post-baby c-section droop)Long story, but I got into therapy after my son was born 20 months ago, and while I still struggle with my eating disorder, I am a completely different person than I was 20 months ago. The last thing I want is my girls, 4 and 3, to grow up with a distorted body image. Way to go on the honesty, and I am so proud of you for turning things around!

linda June 30, 2009, 8:01 PM

Why didn’t mama get help with the second pregnancy? She knew she was having a problem. I am sure she knew that this disorder could have harmed her baby horribly. One should always think of their children first, not themselves. I guess I just don’t understand anorexia. I just know that we humans have to eat and drink to live.

Alexis July 2, 2009, 12:09 AM

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someone August 14, 2009, 5:46 PM

I’m glad you got better; I really am. I know from experience that recovering from an ED is HARD.

Having said that, I’m appalled that people have children while they themselves are mentally disordered. Irresponsible. So irresponsible. Parenting requires so much thought, planning, and mental readiness.

I really think that most of the people out there having children shouldn’t be. Think I’m wrong? Think about what you yourselves resent about your own parents’ style of parenting.

Jerzy August 15, 2009, 12:14 PM

How are you. The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy.
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Waiting for a reply :p, Jerzy.

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I am from Panama and , too, and now am writing in English, tell me right I wrote the following sentence: “Generally, overpopulation doses may be removed, remaining hair sign.”

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ariel ureƱa October 21, 2009, 8:28 AM

I don’t understand why would do such a thing when pregnancy is such a beautiful thing to experience to the fullest. I feel as if your not human for doing something like this to the babies. You’ve given birth to that have grown up and had to deal with everything you had done to them while you had them inside your womb. I’m just appauled with this seriously; no unborn child should go through this only because your selfish attitude of keeping your phisique came before your pregnancy, I just hope that it just serves as an example to other women that this shouldn’t be allowed and if they are having problems with something like this, to actually look and seek for help immediately for the baby’s sake.

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