Pregorexia: A Prominent Problem
Most people will be familiar with the term “anorexia”, however, there is now another term that you’re more likely to hear – “pregorexia”. So, what does this new term for an eating disorder mean?
Pregnant women who experience anorexia-like symptoms are said to be suffering from pregorexia. Women suffering from this disorder experience an extreme fear of gaining weight relating to their pregnancy and use a range of methods such as calorie restriction and extreme workout routines to avoid their weight increasing in such a way that would indicate a healthy, normal pregnancy.
Of course, as you might imagine, this behavior results in many potential pregnancy complications such as health conditions linked to having a baby with a very low birthweight as well as the possibility of premature birth.
The media has coined the term “pregorexia” to refer to a pregnant woman’s drive to control their weight gain during pregnancy through extreme exercise and dieting. While doctors and healthcare providers don’t recognize this term officially, the behaviors associated with this condition are very real and may prove harmful to the baby’s health and well-being.
Some women gain excessive amounts of weight during their pregnancy, but others have concerns about how much weight they’re putting on and experience a negative body image while pregnant. For any woman who has had a history of eating disorders, pregorexia is a greater risk, especially when they also lack an adequate system of support at home.
What Are The Signs Of Pregorexia?
There are a few specific signs that indicate a woman is suffering from pregorexia. Four of the most common include:
- Talking about their pregnancy as if it wasn’t real
- Having a strong focus on counting calories
- Skipping meals or eating alone
- Excessive exercising
Your healthcare provider can help you to establish an appropriate amount of weight gain during your pregnancy suited to your BMI and pre-pregnancy weight. They will also be able to help you establish proper nutrition and healthy habits that will help you to control your weight gain throughout your pregnancy. You may also want to seek help from a dietician or counselor too.
The Importance Of Weight Gain In Pregnancy
Gaining an appropriate amount of weight during pregnancy is very important, not only for the growing baby but for the mother too. If you are pregnant and are having body image issues, it’s vital to talk about your worries with your healthcare provider.
Healthy weight gain in pregnancy is essential to supply the right amount of nutrients to support the health and growth of the developing fetus. Usually, a woman who is expecting one aby will be able to gain safely between 11 and 40lbs through the 9 months of their pregnancy. For women expecting twins or other multiples, the expected weight gain will be significantly greater.
The number of babies that are expected is only one fact to take into account when determining a healthy weight gain during pregnancy. Other factors include the mother’s pre-pregnancy weight, their overall health and their developing child’s health.
Women suffering from pregorexia often struggle to separate their need to support their developing child’s health and well-being from the social and internal demand to stay attractive and slim. Eventually, their concerns regarding their body image begin to override their pregnancy-related health worries, and pregorexic women begin to take steps to prevent weight gain.
Luckily, pregorexia remains quite rare and, at the present time, it isn’t officially recognized as an individual eating disorder in its own right. Rather, it’s included in the overall “EDNOS” category (eating disorders not otherwise specified).
Weight gain during pregnancy is virtually inevitable, however with the obsession in the media about pregnant Hollywood stars and the way that they apparently snap back into shape after giving birth, it isn’t too surprising that pregnant women face more pressure than ever before to maintain a slim and attractive figure, even when pregnant.
For an expectant mother who has a history of suffering from eating disorders, gaining weight could trigger their disorder to return. It’s less likely for a woman who has never had an eating disorder before to suddenly develop one during pregnancy, but it’s not unheard of. This is especially likely if you have spent your whole life battling with weight issues. Once you see the scales creeping up, you may have an unexpectedly strong reaction and begin to restrict your calorie intake or work out more to compensate, just as you would to lose weight before you were pregnant. Unfortunately, in pregnancy this may not be advisable and you could end up causing yourself problems, eventually developing an unhealthy obsession over food and eating that could turn into a long lasting eating disorder that persists even after your baby is born.
For those who have experienced issues in the past, a relapse becomes much more likely at this stage of their lives. Women who have a history of body dysmorphia may also be more at risk.
Yet not every woman who has a history of eating disorders will go on to have pregorexia during pregnancy. In fact, for some women, pregnancy is a wonderful time in which they can focus on their growing baby rather than their own body issues.
How Much Weight May I Gain During My Pregnancy
If your BMI was under 18.5 before your pregnancy and you were underweight, you should expect to gain around 13 to 18kg to maintain a healthy pregnancy. For women with a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 who have a normal weight, they should expect to gain between 11 and 16kg. Women with a BMI of over 25 who are already overweight should gain around 7 to 11kg while those who are obese with a BMI of 30 or more should aim to only gain around 5 to 9 kg.
What Will Happen If I Don’t Have Sufficient Nutrition In My Pregnancy
If you restrict your intake of food severely during pregnancy, or if you binge eat and then purge, your growing baby won’t be able to get the right nutrients to develop properly when inside the uterus. As a result your baby could be born underweight and may go on to develop other health issues during their first few months of life. Your baby’s development and growth may be affected that could manifest later on in your child’s life as a serious health condition. Your, yourself, will also experience some symptoms. You will no doubt feel very tired and, in some cases, you may even experience a miscarriage. The risks of a longer or more difficult labor are also higher and there is a greater chance of a breech birth or needing a Caesarian section.
Without professional and appropriate intervention, the behavior associated with pregorexia may be detrimental to your baby, not only during your pregnancy but also far beyond. Mood disorders, limited cognitive development and psychological issues may all be linked in later life with the mother’s lack of nutrition during her pregnancy. When baby’s are born with a low birthweight, they may also suffer from a host of issues during their first weeks of life including bleeding inside their brain, RDS (respiratory distress syndrome) breathing disorder, retinopathy of prematurity which is a vision disorder, necrotizing enterocolitis which is an intestinal disorder, and patent ductus arteriosis which is a heart condition.
Pregnant women with pregorexia may themselves have a greater chance of suffering from a mood disorder like depression and this could make it harder for them to bond effectively with their baby once he or she is born.
What Causes Pregorexia?
Women who suffer from pregorexia have similarities to those who suffer from anorexia. There are common features in both conditions including an irrational or extreme fear of putting on weight, an unhealthy and unusual restriction of calorie intake and an excessive or unusual need to exercise. There is no single cause of pregorexia, but in many cases, sufferers have a history of eating disorders or body dysmorphia. Others live in an environment where slimness is emphasized and in cultures where slimness is seen as the physical ideal, or with family members who have eating disorders themselves. Women who have been through trauma in the past are more at risk as are those who are going through a stressful time. Biological factors like chemical or hormonal imbalances also come into play along with genetic predispositions.
While the media can’t be said to actually cause pregorexia, it can have a negative impact on someone who is already struggling. There is an ongoing obsession with staying slim, with the media emphasizing a thin physique as being the only ideal. When pregnant celebrities appear in the media, they seem to always have a neat, beautiful bump with no additional weight gain around their arms, legs or face. After their baby is born, they seem to be straight back into their size 0 jeans the next day. It’s no wonder that the average pregnant woman feels unable to compete and feels a failure in comparison. For women who are prone to developing disordered eating behaviors, it’s all too easy to see why watching TV, going online or reading magazines could prove to be very harmful.
I’ve Had An Eating Disorder Before, Now I’m Pregnant
If you’ve suffered from eating disorders in the past but are now pregnant or are hoping to conceive soon, you may be worried about what will happen once you spot the weight creeping on. It’s important to speak to your doctor and your pregnancy healthcare providers about your concerns. Many women don’t share their previous history of eating disorders with medical professionals that they are working with during pregnancy, but without that information, healthcare professionals cannot give an appropriate level of support, advice or care.
When doctors, midwives, and obstetricians are aware in advance that a woman is at potentially high risk of developing an eating disorder during pregnancy, they can put a plan in place to offer extra support right from the beginning. By offering nutritional advice and counseling from an early stage, it may be possible to prevent a relapse so that you can continue to enjoy a healthy, normal pregnancy without any additional complications or difficulties.
What Is The Treatment For Pregorexia?
Women who have pregorexia will usually need to receive treatment that not only addresses the physical issues associated with poor weight gain in pregnancy but also the emotional and mental difficulties that occur alongside eating disorders. The specific type of treatment will vary between individuals. While some women suffer from serious physical issues that will take immediate precedence, others have emotional and mental problems that need priority care.
Healthcare professionals who have a key role to play in recovering from pregorexia include gynecologists, obstetricians, nutritionists, and psychotherapists.
Am I Suffering From Pregorexia?
If you’re worried that you may be showing signs of pregorexia, it’s important to seek help quickly before you or your baby experience any problems. Many women who have this condition feel ashamed and embarrassed. They may even be worried that they are a bad mother. However, this is certainly not the case. They are experiencing an illness that needs to be overcome.
Discussing pregorexia more openly will only help those women who suffer to be more open with their loved ones and to get the support and assistance they need to fight their disorder. This condition needs to be destigmatized and better understood so that women everywhere can get the help they require to recover, to enjoy a normal pregnancy, and to give birth to a healthy baby.
Carrying a baby and giving birth isn’t easy, and women are already under pressure. You should not feel any additional pressure to stay slim during those nine months. Your body has an important job to do – it is growing another human being! So, you need to focus on your growing baby and not only your growing waistline. If you find that you’re obsessing about weight gain during your pregnancy and partaking in problematic behavior because of it, seek professional advice straight away.