Last month, I received an Email from a woman who’s expecting her first child. She’s struggling with gaining weight and felt that some of her ED behaviors have gotten worst with pregnancy. There are very few women who find gaining weight unacceptable during pregnancy. Those who have fears of gaining weight and have problem eating may need to be treated in a hospital until they can gain sufficient confidence that they can manage their eating. Finally, she’s getting the help she needs and with the help of excellent team she’s managing her symptoms successfully. And she’s managed to gain some weight for herself and her baby.
As we enter the new year, I would like to share a story of Young Woman with you and her dieting nightmare. There’s a lesson in this story. According to Suzanne Abraham, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Sydney,
“Women who become pregnant while being treated for an eating disorder are likely to accept help and to progress through pregnancy with a good outcome for their babies and themselves. Women receiving treatment also have more awareness of the effects of the disorder on their body, better insight into their beliefs, attitudes and behavior, and are more likely to respond to dietary advice during pregnancy.”
My Dieting Obsession
Since the age of 16, I’ve been on many diets. The only problem was my inability to keep that weight off. Every time diet ended, I would end up gaining the weight back again. Then I would make a new resolution and would start another diet.
I somehow managed to get through school and college and then bid Goodbye to my education. I come from a very loving family, my father is a very gentle person and has a great admiration and respect for my mother. My mother is from Lahore, a food heaven, a city famed for its culinary delights. Cooking is an art, and my mother inherited that art from her mother and then passed it to me.
Out of education and with so much spare time, I fell prey to more fad diets and their bogus weight-loss claims. Every time I was on a diet, I was difficult to be around.
Bit tired with my lifestyle, my mother speeded up her efforts to look for a husband for me. Faith was on her side, one day I was at a family wedding, where my husband saw me and liked me and asked for my hand in marriage. He lives in UK and was visiting Pakistan at that time.
My mother absolutely loves him and to her he is God send. We got engaged and a wedding date was set. I was very happy. Prior to wedding I spent months crash dieting. I wanted to look beautiful for my wedding.
I had a beautiful wedding. My dieting and all my efforts were a success. I was exhausted but very happy with all the compliments I got on the day.
For few weeks, dieting took a back seat as I traveled across Pakistan with my husband. It was then time for him to go back to UK and for him to start my visa process.
I then discovered that I was pregnant. I was already feeling low because of my husband and him being so far away. I don’t know how it happened but all of a sudden I became very withdrawn. I just wanted to stay in my room. I also developed severe morning sickness and with morning sickness I developed a very strong will not to go near the food. My mother also had to endure months of being sick when she was expecting me. Therefore, for first few weeks, my lack of eating was overlooked and then everyone became alarmed. My mother ran around Islamabad, buying food for me. Everything I ever liked was provided for me, but I refused. I also saw how I was losing weight. After my first trimester was over, I went for a scan and Doctor was alarmed, she told me I need to start eating and I need to gain weight. The baby wasn’t gaining weight.
Inadequate weight gain can increase your risk of preterm delivery, delivering a low birth weight baby, and a host of other pregnancy complications.
By that time, my body had become accustomed to hunger. In my 26th month of pregnancy, my Doctor said, “you don’t have a choice, it’s necessary you gain weight and get the right nutrients in.” She told me that much of a baby’s weight is gained during the latter part of pregnancy and my baby wasn’t growing. It was then that my husband came for a quick visit. He took me all across Islamabad, and in order to get me to eat, he took me to every other restaurant in Islamabad. I did start eating by then, but I think it was mostly fast food, food devoid of nutrients. He then had to go back to work and promised he’ll be back for delivery.
I went into early labor. No one expected that, I was only 32 weeks along and only last week I was told my baby wasn’t gaining any weight and I need to start taking in more calories. I gave birth to a premature baby girl. When the nurse brought her over to me, I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. She was like a fine china doll. Porcelain complexion and unbelievably small. I held her and fell in love with her. I was ok, nothing happened to me, but my daughter suffered severely. Do you know how much my baby girl weighed? 3 pounds and that’s a very low birth weight baby.
She had developed jaundice and a very severe one and the threat was she could develop a brain damage. Her chances of survival were very low. Soon they took her off me and transferred her to NICU. I was sent home and they kept her there for three weeks.
My husband flew back to Pakistan in emergency and those three weeks were the most challenging and agonizing times of our lives. Doctors didn’t think, she’ll live for that long. My Doctor was very blunt that this premature birth was caused by my under eating.
A baby with low birthweight may be at increased risk for complications. The baby’s tiny body is not as strong and he/she may have a harder time eating, gaining weight, and fighting infection. Because they have so little body fat, low birthweight babies often have difficulty staying warm in normal temperatures.
My mother made arrangements for a reading of Qur’an to be held at our home. So many people prayed. I simply walked on coals.
I know I had to eat, but I don’t know how I developed those extreme restrictions around food or how my lack of eating got to such extreme that it nearly killed my daughter. How can I explain, the more people pushed me to eat the more I didn’t want to eat. My emotions were numb. I just wanted to be by myself. I couldn’t really connect with life that was inside me. I only connected with her, when she came into our world and I held her in my arms for the first time.
They say prayers work. After three weeks, my little daughter was returned to me. I had started to eat again. Within weeks, I gained the weight back again. In those difficult times, my parents were my rock. The day she came home, it was jubilation, everybody from my family to neighbors showered her with lots of love.
New Country New Lifestyle
We then came to England. New country, new lifestyle and no one around. I once again slipped into trap of dieting.
For few years, I tried unsuccessfully to lose weight. The only problem was there were two small pair of eyes that were watching all my moves. My daughter at the age of two was underweight and a very picky eater. When she turned three, she was a nightmare at dinner table. Me and my husband had to work hard at her eating.
It was then that I became pregnant for second time and this time something shifted inside me. My husband was petrified and my parents were concerned. My mother made arrangements to fly over to England to be with me. I realized that with fad dieting, I had completely destroyed my natural metabolic rate. My daughter was now copying my behaviors. Morning Sickness is no excuse for not eating when your expecting a child.
I worked around my morning sickness. I couldn’t stand the smell of cooking, so my husband took over the cooking duties and when my mother arrived, he very gladly handed the charge of kitchen to her. I also got the right nutrients in. I took folic acid and ate foods rich in the vitamins and minerals that are essential to a healthy baby.
Finally October 2014, I give birth to a Beautiful Baby Boy. My son didn’t had to go through the suffering my daughter went through. I couldn’t be more happier.
Please do learn from my story. I share this in a hope that women who are dieting during pregnancy would stop. You need to treat your fears around your weight ASAP. Whatever you do, don’t put the health of your baby at risk. Eat for this life that is inside you and give it best possible nutrients you can.
Never Skip Your Breakfast
Eat two or three snacks between meals.
Choose foods like yogurt (for protein and calcium), dried fruit (for vitamins, minerals, and fiber), or a fruit and yogurt smoothie (for protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals).
Replace soda with milk (for protein and calcium) or juices that are high in vitamin C or beta carotene, an antioxidant. Grapefruit juice, orange juice, and papaya nectar are rich in vitamin C. Apricot nectar and carrot juice have lots of beta carotene.