How to Help a Loved One with an Eating Disorder

by | Eating Disorder Recovery

Pregnancy is truly a unique experience, as it can be highly anticipated, joyous, miraculous AND exhausting, unfamiliar, and anxiety producing all at the same time. Along with pregnancy one may experience nausea, hormone fluctuations, food cravings, food aversions, and body changes. These pesky symptoms paired with unrealistic societal expectations to look a certain way can be challenging for most people, but particularly activating if you struggle with your relationship with food and body. Here are 5 tips to help you navigate pregnancy with an eating disorder, which highlight these unique challenges while embracing your pregnancy and prioritizing your recovery.

1. Build Your Support Team

If you have an established eating disorder treatment team (dietitian, therapist, psychiatrist etc.), make sure to keep regular appointments. Check in with a supportive partner, trusted friend, or family member. You may even consider attending a support group for additional support.  

Be open and honest with your birth team about your current or past eating struggles. This way they can best care for and monitor you and baby. Prenatal appointments can often have a heavy focus on weight and nutrition. I recommend having a direct conversation with your provider to advocate for yourself. You can request that they not discuss your body or weight unless there is a medical concern, and to tread cautiously when discussing dietary advice. Nutrition is important, but off the cuff dietary comments can cause harm depending on where you are in your recovery. Along these lines, you can also request that they weigh you back to scale and not disclose the number.  Some practices can even put a note in your chart so that each provider will get the message. This can be helpful if you are at a large practice where you might have a different nurse or doctor each visit. 

2. Fed is Best (not just for baby)

Nutrition is important in pregnancy, and there are certain nutrients you need more of during this time, but with access to all types of nutrition information at our fingertips, too much can be overwhelming. Often times I see people so focused on the specifics of what they “should” be eating, that it creates a sense of guilt or shame if that is not possible due to nausea, food aversions, or other factors (hello first trimester!) Give yourself grace and know this stage will pass. Eating what you can tolerate is self-care too. On the flip side if some of the unpleasant pregnancy side effects are triggering for you, it can be helpful to check in with yourself and your providers to ensure eating disorder behaviors are not creeping in. 

If you are worried about your intake, find yourself stressing about what to eat, or have a medical concern that requires dietary adjustments, please reach out to an eating disorder dietitian to help you manage this without triggering disordered thoughts and behaviors.

3. Hold Healthy Boundaries- Check the Commentary and Comparison

One thing that I learned through my own pregnancies and by working with other pregnant people, is that others often feel the need to make body comments. These comments can range from well-meaning but misguided to rude and upsetting. It can be helpful to be practice ways to protect your peace and respond accordingly. For example, “I rather not talk about my body, how was your vacation?” 

It is also important to acknowledge that we live in a society that perpetuates damaging and unrealistic expectations about weight gain during pregnancy and “bounce back culture” after.  Be conscious of your social media consumption of pregnancy related accounts that can breed unhealthy comparison. If an account or person is making you feel bad about yourself, mute or unfollow them. Remember that social media is a highlight reel (and oftentimes not even real). Every body is different pre pregnancy and will change differently during pregnancy. Your own experience may even differ from one pregnancy to the next.

4. Practice Body Respect to Combat Body Image Concerns

As previously mentioned, pregnancy is a time of numerous body changes. Weight gain is not only normal, but a necessary part of the process as your baby grows. You can understand this logically, and still struggle with your changing body and negative body image. 

Even if you are struggling to accept your body, try to focus on respecting it. You can show your body respect by nourishing it, resting it, moving it, not criticizing it, and prioritizing self- care. Aim to focus on realistic behaviors verses numbers. Another helpful approach is to reframe and remind yourself of the amazing things your body is capable of and currently doing. You are literally creating a person, which is pretty remarkable!

5. Don’t forget about the 4th Trimester

Often times there is so much focus on pregnancy and preparing for a baby, that you may forget to set up support for yourself for after the baby is born. Ask for and accept help from others so that you can get some sleep, eat meals, keep appointments, and take time for self- care. Think about preparing meals and snacks ahead of time or ask loved ones to bring meals when they visit. Eating adequately and honoring hunger is just as important at this stage as it is during pregnancy. Caring for yourself and your recovery is caring for your baby.

Final Thoughts on Navigating Pregnancy with an Eating Disorder

Thank you for reading this resource on 5 tips to navigate pregnancy with an eating disorder. Whether you have been in solid recovery for years, actively struggling with symptoms, or just realizing your relationship with food is rocky, pregnancy can be challenging to navigate. You are not alone, and a healthy pregnancy while working on recovery is possible. Use your support, keep healthy boundaries, and most importantly, give yourself compassion. You got this!

Contact Us

Courage to Nourish is a group of eating disorder specialized dietitians. We have in person locations in Alexandria, Virginia, Columbia, Maryland and College Park, Maryland. We offer virtual services across the state of Virginia, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. We offer individual nutrition therapy. As well as support groups. We would love to guide you in building a better relationship with food.

Contact us for more information. And to schedule a discovery call. Also, sign up for our client or clinician newsletter!

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Rebecca Hart Courage to Nourish

 Rebecca Hart, RD, LD

Rebecca is a Registered Dietitian with more than 10 years of experience in the field of eating disorders. She is  passionate about helping people develop a positive relationship with food to reclaim their life from diet culture and disordered eating by providing a compassionate, safe, and non-judgmental space to those navigating recovery.

To learn more about Rebecca and her practice style, click here.


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