Most of us have heard of eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, but what is pregorexia?
Pregorexia is a term used to describe an eating disorder that a pregnant woman may develop during pregnancy. The symptoms are similar to those found with anorexia as the primary fear surrounding this condition is weight gain.
As you know, it’s healthy for a woman to gain weight during pregnancy to support healthy growth of the developing baby. However, the expectant mother will take measures to avoid weight gain or to keep it minimal.
As with other eating disorders, there are a variety of symptoms and causes that contribute to the situation.
Symptoms of Pregorexia
As is seen with anorexia and bulimia, self-induced vomiting is a common symptom of pregorexia. This is due to being concerned with weight gain the expectant mother is.
She may not be able to avoid the urge to eat during pregnancy and will compensate by vomiting in order to avoid caloric intake.
Skipping Meals/Not Eating Enough
It might be hard for someone to get away with restricting their eating if others are around, however, this is still a common symptom.
Skipping meals or eating very little at meal time might occur regardless of whether others are concerned with the well-being of the person experiencing pregorexia.
The woman might claim that they ate a lot earlier, they are not that hungry, or that they are having aversions to certain foods. All of these claims may be false in order to avoid eating.
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Working Out Too Much
Some weight gain is nearly unavoidable during pregnancy due to the added weight of the baby and fluids needed to support growth.
If someone suffering with pregorexia is determined to gain as little weight as possible, excessive exercise is often seen.
They may claim that they just want to maintain their health and the health of the baby. However, this is not the truth as they are most likely doing more harm than good.
Excessive exercise regardless of pregnancy can be harmful. Increased blood pressure, strain and even internal body temperature can be harmful to the developing baby.
Excessive Weighing One’s Self
Obviously, concern with weight gain is the primary issue. Someone who is irrationally concerned with any weight gain will be paranoid that they’re gaining weight and will want to keep an eye on their weight.
They may also want to monitor how much weight they’re gaining throughout pregnancy. Usually, keeping themselves within a predetermined weight is the goal.
While there is nothing wrong with following the weight gain guidelines from your doctor, being obsessed with one’s weight and restricting themselves to unreasonable standards is unhealthy. Pregorexia is dangerous for both mother and baby.
Not Meeting Weight Gain Expectations
Whether someone is excessively weighing themselves or excessively exercising, not meeting expectations for weight gain throughout pregnancy is a common symptom as well.
If someone is not experiencing pregorexia, it is nearly impossible to not gain any weight during pregnancy.
Not meeting weight milestones throughout the term of pregnancy is a huge warning sign that something is wrong.
She may be using a variety of unhealthy dieting techniques in order to avoid significant weight gain. Methods of reducing (or maintaining pre-pregnancy weight) weight vary per individual. Cases and symptoms will vary case by case.
Causes of Pregorexia
While the specific cause of an eating disorder such as pregorexia are typically unknown, we know that there are a variety of situations that can contribute to it.
When someone develops an eating disorder, the cause is typically rooting in some form of pain or trauma. Here are a few common causes associated with eating disorders such as pregorexia.
As we’ve mentioned in other articles related to eating disorders, trauma and abuse can lead to mental and emotional health disorders if proper treatment is not attempted following the traumatic events.
When someone experiences some type of trauma sometimes they are not mentally equipped to handle the emotional strain that events such as those demand.
Examples of trauma could be the loss of a loved one, a near death experience, losing a job, etc.
The same is true for abuse victims. Dealing with the mental and emotional effects of abuse (sexual, physical or emotional) requires special support and treatment.
If someone needs help coping and rising above those effects they could start to develop mental and emotional disorders as a result.
A surviving victim of trauma or abuse who has developed pregorexia, most likely has some sort of disorder surrounding their self-worth.
Abuse and trauma tend to make victims feel as though it is somehow their fault. They may also think deserved the event or treatment. They may relate that feeling of blame or shame to their physical appearance.
If someone believes that their self worth only relates to their physical appearance, they could take harmful action toward fulfillment through their appearance.
As most of us know, there is already so much pressure in society for women to be “skinny”.
Someone with these kinds of unhealthy self views will risk their health to maintain their figure. They will go to great lengths to not gain any weight during pregnancy.
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Emotional Health Issues
Sometimes, trauma and abuse do not have to be present in order for someone to develop emotional health issues.
Someone with emotional health issues is more at risk to developing an eating disorder such as pregorexia during pregnancy.
Often, women can develop emotional health issues due to a variety of experiences during childhood and adolescence.
Much of it has to do with self-esteem issues and negative beliefs about oneself. Harmful subconscious beliefs can cause them to create a false sense of unworthiness, shame, guilt or otherwise.
Carrying such harmful beliefs about oneself can cause disorders and mental/emotional health issues to form over time. As we know, eating disorders such as pregorexia can manifest as a result.
A Pre-existing Eating Disorder
As we briefly mentioned earlier, having a pre-existing condition such as bulimia and/or anorexia can result in pregorexia once the woman becomes pregnant.
When someone is struggling with an eating disorder, it usually can’t just “switch off” if they become pregnant.
In some cases, the pregnant woman might feel remorse about the neglect she is putting her body through. However, her disorder is so predominant that she may be unable to gain control without help.
Eating disorders usually develop over time due to deeply rooted pain and suffering. Since it is a mental disorder, those suffering will remain victims to their situation whether they’re pregnant or not.
Anxiety About Becoming a Mother
It is not as common as some of the other symptoms of pregorexia, however, people with eating disorders often struggle with some form of anxiety as well.
In some cases, experiencing an increase of anxiety of becoming a mother could intensify the symptoms of pregorexia.
It may become a vicious cycle where the pregnant woman might worry about her health condition to some extent. However, the cycle of anxiety she is in will sustain her symptoms and further damage could be done.
Risks and Health Effects of Pregorexia
Obviously, someone cannot experience an eating disorder during pregnancy and not have any negative side effects or risks as a result. Below are a few health concerns for both the baby and the mother that are commonly seen.
Effects on the Baby
Obviously, the developing baby is usually at more risk than the mother in a situation like this. When an expectant mother is suffering with pregorexia, nutrients and sufficient energy for growth and development are lacking during the pregnancy.
The baby could be born prematurely and struggle to survive. They might have a low body weight which could cause other health complications such as bone health and organ/brain development.
They might also experience irregular growth into childhood and experience struggles with delayed brain development and function.
Having a mother who experienced pregorexia could also result in reproductive problems for the child.
Effects on the Mother
The woman experiencing pregorexia will most likely have a lack of energy during pregnancy. This is due to how much their body is doing with the lack of resources she is providing herself through caloric restriction.
She could also experience an increased recovery time after labor or complications during childbirth. In some cases, milk production and bone loss have been observed.
How to Prevent the Development of Pregorexia
Earlier we mentioned that disorders such as pregorexia can be developed slowly over time. Here are a few tips to help prevent any eating disorder, pregorexia included.
Establish a Healthier Relationship with Food
While this might be easier said than done, a healthier relationship with food is possible.
Taking the time to go within and get to know yourself better can help you see the reasons that cause you to behave and relate to food the way you do.
By simply observing yourself and your internal dialog, you will start to have personal breakthroughs. This will help you understand yourself better in order to consciously make better habits.
Talking to a professional counselor will help work through the layers on top of layers of personal (emotional/mental) issues that might be behind an eating disorder such as pregorexia.
Unraveling personal issues (especially when trauma and abuse have been experienced) can be confusing and exhausting.
Having a therapist who understands you will ease the process and help you achieve a healthy state of mind much faster.
Sometimes, loving yourself does not come naturally to us. Speaking from experience, I struggled with feelings of unworthiness unless I was always working or being productive in some way.
It’s important to understand those subconscious thoughts and beliefs about yourself. The better you understand yourself, the better you can love yourself.
When you love yourself, you will want to lead a healthy lifestyle and do what’s best for you. Having an eating disorder due to some form of self-loathing does not reflect self love.
Just as with prevention activities such as professional counseling or proactive self-love, there are a variety of treatment and self-care options.
This will help you overcome your eating disorder if you’re currently experiencing one (not just pregorexia).
Mental Health Programs
Enrolling in some type of mental health program is a great way to supplement any help you may be receiving in counseling.
Typically, those suffering with an eating disorder such as pregorexia are also suffering with severe anxiety and/or depression.
Joining a supportive program such as this one from Panic Away can help expedite your personalized treatment.
Speaking of anxiety and depression, treat yourself or someone you love to any of these weighted blankets and accessories to help ease your anxiety in a cozy, relaxing way.
Incorporating small things like this to your daily life can have huge effects on your quality of life!
Practice Self-Appreciation and Self-Care
While a bubble bath and the occasional shopping spree might relate to some form of self-care, appreciating yourself through daily actions is sure to go much further.
Activities such as repeating your favorite positive affirmations, meditation and intentional journaling can be powerful tools if used correctly.
Personally, affirmations/positive self-talk and journaling are my favorite go-to activities.
Working with a professional counselor isn’t just for preventing an eating disorder such as pregorexia. If you’re already suffering, they can help you achieve wellness and peace of mind much faster and more effectively.
(In case you missed it, this link for professional counseling is for those seeking online counseling sessions – not in person sessions)
In some cases, medication is often a useful treatment option for those suffering with eating disorders (such as pregorexia).
If you think you could benefit from medication (perhaps to treat anxiety and/or depression), talk to your doctor to see if that’s a good option for you.
Options may be more limited considering pregnancy risk and other pre-existing conditions but if it’ll help your treatment journey, it’s worth looking into!
In conclusion, it’s important to take mental and emotional health seriously and to be proactive when dealing with a life changing disorder such as pregorexia.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder (including but not limited to) pregorexia, reach out for help or encourage them to do the same today!
For more information on pregorexia, check out this other helpful article I enjoyed!
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