Making Peace With Your Body BEFORE Pregnancy

This topic has been on my mind for a long time now… My relationship with my body has been on my mind for years (years!) before today, and even months before trying to get pregnant, one of my main concerns was about how a (daily) changing body in pregnancy would affect me.

And today, over five months pregnant, this growing body I have amazes me, but in the background, there is a fear I haven’t heard in a long, long time. And, it has a response.

I’m in eating disorder recovery and many people ask if I feel “recover-ed,” like it’s the end of it forever. And, I always say no. Because I’ve relapsed before. And because I’m still having these thoughts. I don’t act on them anymore, but that the thoughts are still around regularly, I can’t say they’ll ever truly go away.

I can, however, notice when myself, my friends and family, and society say and believe things that are a little too… “wrong.” They’re engaging in diet culture or skipping meals on purpose, trying new diets, shaming their food/exercise choices, or whatever it is. And I can notice these things as being things I will not engage in… because I know how damaging they are not just for myself, but now, for my unborn little girl and who she will become because of it, too.

I sit here writing this post with a plate of eggs with chorizo and veggies in front of me, with zero worries about eating it. I hope you know that I’m not restricting or measuring food or denying my unborn baby anything. My behaviors are not disordered, which I’m happy to say, but my thoughts are a little too familiar. And, in preparing my body for pregnancy, I don’t mean getting in the best-shape-ever in order to be able to lose the baby weight quicker. Nope!

When I talk to my husband about weight gain in pregnancy, he’s excited! He wants me to gain weight (as I’m supposed to!) and every added pound is a good thing to him. He loves to see me with a belly and that helps my confidence. But with each doctor’s visit and weigh-in, I see the scale tip a little heavier. Good, right? That’s what’s supposed to happen. The baby is growing and I’m giving it extra nutrients.

It’s scary, though. I really don’t feel like I’m trying to eat additional calories. “Eating for two” is not something I’ve bought into. I’m just eating when I’m hungry, which is often. Sure, I’m not running or exercising as hard, though I’m walking nearly every day and lifting weights a few times each week in hopes of making the dread of actual childbirth a little easier with a fit body (maybe?).

I see my baby App say that my baby weighs 12 ounces… so why have I gained that many pounds? “Your weight looks good,” says the doctor. But, what I hear is, “I’ve told you that XX-pounds is a good number to strive for and you’re half-way there already – slow down! You’re about to gain a lot more.” I hear this, but I quickly remind myself what’s really going on… I’m growing a human and that takes a lot! Isn’t that lovely? Aren’t I amazing?

I can’t imagine what this experience would be like if I hadn’t established a positive relationship with food and my body before getting pregnant – wow. I’d say that it was only in the last two years or so I finally stopped trying to fight my hunger. I gave up my gym membership and began tuning into my body for exercise using the Great Outdoors and my home gym on my own time, in my own mind. But, it took a little longer to listen to my body when it came to food.

If I felt hungry after dinner, I’d just go to bed and sleep horribly… or, I’d eat “too much” and feel guilty about it. If I craved a sweet, I’d deny it… only to binge on it later. I had to “ban” certain foods because I just couldn’t trust myself to know how much to eat like a normal person. Well, add to that, I wasn’t eating regular meals. I’d skip breakfast and eat like, three small lunches, and then snack until dinnertime. Trying to always get ahead of the weight that might catch up to me just left me feeling bloated and irritable about food. Hellooooo?! Something had to change.

What I was ultimately willing to do for that change was scary to me at the time… I gave up everything I was doing in exchange for regular meals and “allowing myself” all food. Nothing was off-limits. Yikes! I knew what I was doing wasn’t working, so I decided to trust that my body knew better than what my distorted mind believed to be “normal.”

Weight loss and total fitness weren’t the goals here. My goal was to have a good relationship with food and my body. I wanted to be able to go to a restaurant and order whatever the heck I wanted and it would be okay! I wanted to cook salad one day and pasta another and not because I was trying to even out my guilt, but because I wanted it! I so desired to feel carefree about food that I tried the last thing I thought I’d be willing to ever do – that is, throw away food rules!

I knew that one day I might have a kid, or someone might look to me and mimic my habits. Would I be ashamed? Would I raise a healthy-minded kid, free from food fears and body image? Or someone who didn’t know that eating carrots and pretzels and cake was all good? I hoped to raise someone whose food choices wasn’t a moral decision of if he/she was good or bad. And that started with me.

So, what happened? It was hard at first, of course; all change is. But I started small – a regular breakfast, more food when I felt hungry, less if I didn’t, dessert if I felt like it. My bloat started going down and my energy up – who knew?! As my relationship with food mended, my relationship with my husband around food (cooking dinner, going out to eat) got better and so did my confidence. I could trust myself again.

This may sound so silly – simple even – but remember that with my eating disorder I taught myself to deny my hunger, then eat to gain weight when I wasn’t hungry, then somehow remember what normal eating was and that feeling hungry was a good sign that your body was working properly! I was recovered in body, but that last part about knowing and honoring my hunger was lost on me. It’s not about perfection in any way. It’s about refocusing on the things that actually matter now, and that’s not calories and carbohydrates.

Fast-forward to today – five months pregnant with a little girl. Eating the fruits and vegetables and saying yes to my cravings every now and then (which range from doughnuts to oranges, to spicy food). This is not about me, only, anymore. Not only am I literally fueling my soon-to-be daughter, but I’m setting up her foundation of what it means to be a confident woman. Confident in her body (whatever that may look like), with her choices, and around making herself strong in body and mind including her relationship with food.

If I hadn’t discovered what it means for me to have a happy, relaxed relationship around food and in my body, how would I ever be okay with sharing this body with another growing baby? How would I ever be happy to be pregnant and understand that it’s not about the stretch marks and pounds on the scale, but about the miracle that’s happening?

I’m thankful for the lesson that brought me here to peace, and I’m thankful to be going through this with my little girl. And, yes, my growing body – I love you.

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Sloane Green is a former volleyball player, current writer, and eating disorder survivor.

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