It was my first group counseling session. A dozen women of all shapes and backgrounds coming together to discuss our common addiction: eating disorders. I was 22 at the time and had been struggling with an eating disorder for several years at that point.
One of the women was a mom. My eyes practically rolled out of their sockets as she confessed to throwing up with her son within eyesight. Binging and purging, with endless guilt that her son was watching, but with no restraint to stop.
Pull yourself together, lady! I remember thinking. Get your act together before you start having kids!
Her story angered me, and my insensitivity to her situation was cruel and naïve, especially considering that more than 10 years later I found myself pregnant with my first child and still regularly battling my own inner demons.
It did not take me long to realize that my eating disorder was stronger than my restraint. Even with a baby growing in my belly, I regularly fought the urge to throw up my meals, something I had done a thousand times before. My fear and guilt and shame of being more concerned with the food in my stomach than the child in my uterus was indescribable. I hated myself. No, I completely loathed myself. I was the worst human being on the planet, and I would pay for it with a miscarriage, or a birth defect, or just damnation from putting myself before my child.
Every day, I fought the same battle. Every day, I tortured myself with threats and pleas and the heaviest guilt. And my inner monologue was fierce: “You are disgusting. You are fat and disgusting. You don’t deserve this baby. You don’t deserve to be happy.”
When we become parents, we expect and prepare ourselves to be ready for the occasion. We read the books, decorate the nursery, and install the car seat. I went into my pregnancy with an active eating disorder. Call it unfair, call it unprepared, or call it foolish, I think deep down in my heart I believed a baby inside of me would overpower any addiction. I believed the situation would, in fact, resolve itself.
Once the baby was born, my inner monologue kept going full force, only now it far overpowered the guilt and worry for my baby’s health. I needed to lose the weight, and fast. No excuses, and no rest. I didn’t want to be another mom complaining about baby weight for the rest of her life. I needed to be one of the women who bounced back. Who makes it look easy and is posing in bikinis three months postpartum.
The sad reality was I was a new mom still battling an eating disorder that had consumed my thoughts and life for nearly 20 years. I didn’t have my act together, and perhaps I never would. Maybe this is just my identity. Maybe this eating disorder is just who I will always be.
There is a happy ending to report. Several years into motherhood, I’m pleased to be somewhat healed from my eating disorder. It wasn’t parenthood that caused the recovery, per se. It was recognizing the importance of where my energy needed to go. My energy was and remains very limited, chasing two toddlers around, working part-time, and maintaining a home. I only had so much energy to go around, and the power of my food addiction slowly dissolved and was replaced by things that are simply much more important in my life.
The voice still cajoles me, of course. I hear it during meals and when I walk through the grocery store. My heart races when I see a gigantic plate of nachos or smell fresh donuts. My stomach churns when I step on the scale and see those looming pounds from my second pregnancy, pounds that might stay with me forever. But this time I get off the scale, and I head back to the living room. I hug my children, and I hold my husband’s hand. This is where my energy goes now. This is more important. I finally know what it means to feel at home.