Eating Disorders in Postpartum: Here’s Everything You Need to Know
An eating disorder can be a serious condition that affects a person’s entire life. As I’ve worked with personal clients over the years, I’ve seen the growing challenge of eating disorders and their long-term impact on overall health. Most of the time, eating disorders are typically viewed as abnormal or disturbed eating habits. Some examples of eating disorders are:
- Anorexia nervosa: characterized by a fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image, which leads to severe restriction of food intake and excessive weight loss.
- Bulimia nervosa: characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating (eating a large amount of food in a short period of time) followed by compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, or excessive exercise.
- Binge eating disorder: characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating, but without the compensatory behaviors of bulimia.
However, eating disorders extend well beyond these diagnosable conditions, and can include one’s relationship with food, they way they treat food and their body, and so much more. And this is where I have found so many eating disorders begin.
In the context of the medical world, the exact causes of eating disorders are not fully understood, but they are thought to be the result of a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors.
- Genetic factors: Eating disorders tend to run in families, suggesting that there may be a genetic component. Studies have shown that individuals with a first-degree relative (such as a parent or sibling) with an eating disorder are more likely to develop an eating disorder themselves. It should be noted here that this is not shaped by your genes. Rather, it is more suggestive of a learned behavior.
- Environmental factors: Social and cultural pressure to conform to a certain body shape or weight can contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Also, traumatic life events such as abuse or the loss of a loved one can also increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. Environmental factors, including what we learn from watching the people in our environment, accounts for a significantly large portion of women who experience eating disorders.
- Psychological factors: Eating disorders are often associated with underlying emotional and psychological issues such as low self-esteem, perfectionism, anxiety, and depression. Individuals may use disordered eating as a way to cope with these big feelings, often brought on by the environment in which people are raised.
It’s worth noting that eating disorders are complex and multifactorial, and the reason behind each case can be different.
Eating Disorders in Postpartum
A 2014 review of studies into body image and pregnancy determined that body dissatisfaction in pregnancy is often associated with “low mood, importance of body image, perceived socio-cultural pressure, intention to breastfeed and eating restraint.”
Although “bounce back” culture has become so common, this does not mean that it is normal or healthy.
This pressure often leads to emotional distress, physical complications, and it can take away from mother and baby bonding. As a result, food trauma and eating disorders in postpartum are becoming more and more prevalent.
Eating disorders in postpartum women refer to the development or worsening of an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, after giving birth. These disorders can be influenced by a variety of factors, including changes in body weight and shape, as well as emotional and psychological changes that can occur during and after pregnancy.
During postpartum, it is necessary to accept that we will never return to our pre-baby self. This is a time to honor what your body has done, and accept these changes as normal, healthy, and necessary.
From this place, we’ll be able to take the first step toward nourishing not only our body but also to nourishing our mind and soul, through food.
Making Peace with Food
Dealing with disordered eating can be challenging, and seeking professional help is important. However, there are some natural ways that may help:
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques such as meditation, deep breathing and yoga can help to reduce stress and anxiety, which can be triggers for disordered eating.
- Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can affect our mood and appetite, and it’s important to have a regular sleep schedule and to make sure to get enough rest.
- Connect with others: Talking about your feelings and experiences with a supportive friend or family member can help you feel less alone, and can also help you to gain a different perspective on your issues.
- Engage in regular physical activity: Regular exercise can help to boost mood, reduce stress, and promote a healthy relationship with your body.
- Focus on balanced eating: Instead of restrictive diets, try to focus on eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutritious foods. This can help you to learn to listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, and to develop a more positive relationship with food.