Having a baby gave me an eating disorder: Envy women who snap back into shape straight after pregnancy Julie's disturbing story will give you pause for thought…
23:46 GMT, 9 August 2012
09:03 GMT, 10 August 2012
The day I decided to restrict my food intake I was sitting on the sofa, feeding my newborn son Alex. Unwashed cups, fluffy teddy bears and a changing mat littered the floor. Flowers sent by kind friends were decaying in their vases because I’d not had time to throw them out. I was thrilled to be a mother. But my world was chaos.
Before getting pregnant, my life as a freelance writer was governed by order, tidiness and punctuality. Now all that had been overtaken by a relentless round of feeding, changing and sleeplessness. It didn’t help that I developed mastitis and a kidney infection.
So on this one particular chaotic day, as I thought of all the ‘thank you’ cards I still needed to write and the dirty laundry piling up, I made a decision. I would go on a diet. Instead of my usual hearty pasta lunch, I had a salad. I did the same the following day. And the same the day after that.
Days before giving birth: Julie at 14st 7lb (left)… and six stone lighter a year later (right)
You may wonder how the chaos and going on a diet are linked, but it comes down to control — or lack of it.
I may not have been able to control the mess in my home or how many times my baby woke in the night, but the one thing I could master was my weight. In my new world of baby disorder, controlling what I ate helped me hang on to a sense of power.
My new healthy eating plan, coupled with breastfeeding which burns a few hundred extra calories a day, made a visible difference. Fast.
Within four weeks I’d lost more than a stone. I was thrilled to leave behind my baggy pregnancy clothes.
Over the next few months I cut my calorie intake again and again. Every few weeks I’d drop another dress size. Within a year I’d gone from 14st 7lb to 8st 7lb and was living mostly on apples.
Now, when I look at articles about stick-thin celebrities who’ve just given birth, I nod knowingly. Their dramatic weight loss is not just down to vanity but a way of regaining a semblance of order in their lives.
In a world where women are judged constantly on their appearance and eat with one eye on the calorie counter, pregnancy can feel like a free pass from reality. Everyone expects your weight and your waistline to expand. Curves are part of the package. It would be unnatural, wrong even, to restrict your diet too much.
Then, almost before you know it, you’ve given birth and your little excuse for self-indulgence is lying there in the cradle, leaving you with a body and a life that are both out of control. Starving yourself seems a way to fight back.
This is why I think pregnancy can lead to eating disorders. It did with me — and the results were rather scary.
Before having Alex, I was an ordinary size 12. My weight just wasn’t an issue. I could eat what I liked within reason as long as I exercised.
Before Julie became pregnant, she was a healthy size 12 and her weight was not an issue
Then I got pregnant. For the first few weeks I suffered from horrific morning sickness. I couldn’t stand the smell of food cooking and actually lost weight.
Then, seemingly overnight, that nausea vanished. I woke up one morning to discover food smelled good again and immediately celebrated with a fried breakfast.
I’d been existing on dry toast and crackers, so I relished every morsel of my first proper meal for weeks. So much so that a few hours later I made a fried brunch as well.
Soon, I was 20 weeks pregnant and my middle was much rounder. I figured I’d suffered so much during those early weeks of pregnancy I should treat myself.
Foods I’d always considered forbidden before suddenly jumped on to my ‘acceptable’ list. Why not I was pregnant!
So I began eating whatever I wanted: chips, pizza, cakes, ice-cream. Some evenings, my poor husband Cornel would trot off to fetch me Nutella-stuffed pancakes from the local shop because I’d convinced him ‘the baby needed it’.
As the weeks passed my stomach grew — as did the rest of me. My face filled out, along with my arms and legs. And as for my bosom. . . kindly matrons in bra shops would shake their heads in dismay. I began ordering from special ‘larger lady’ online stores.
At a 26-week check-up, my doctor put me on the scales then turned to me with a look of disgust. I was 12st 7lb — 3st more than at the start of the pregnancy.
‘She’s eating too many desserts, isn’t she’ he asked Cornel, who stared at the floor and nodded, his eyes darting to mine like a guilty child.
‘If you’re not careful you stand a risk of gestational diabetes,’ the doctor warned me. I was so upset I nearly cried. . . then headed outside to an ice-cream shop for comfort.
Julie (pictured with her son Alex and husnband Cornel) is much happier now as a normal-shaped mother
Soon I was too afraid go anywhere near
the scales. But I didn’t stop eating; it was my only joy. I couldn’t
meet friends for wine and I was too fat to sit in a cinema chair.
sex, who’d want to make love with an elephant Nutella pancakes and
fry-ups became my best friends.
A few days before my due date, I stood nervously on the scales and waited for the dial to settle. It stopped at 14st 7lb.
I very nearly toppled backwards. I’d put on 5st.
Cornel merely raised an eyebrow. ‘I have spent most of your pregnancy queueing for Nutella pancakes,’ he said.
He was completely right, of course. This was not baby weight, this was the result of greed. Now it had all caught up with me.
few days later I had our son, Alex, now three. Foolishly, I fully
expected my body to somehow magically ping back into its pre-pregnancy
Several weeks went by
before I realised that wasn’t going to happen. I had become the owner
of a huge, sagging pouch like a chubby kangaroo.
the pregnancy I could hide behind my baby bump. Now, the greed of the
last nine months was hideously visible for all to see.
why my diet seemed such a good idea. I would lose my 5st excess, and in
regaining control of my body, I would somehow regain control of my
As well as skimping
on calories, I continued breastfeeding for six months and was amazed at
the effects. While my son seemed to double in size every few days, my
own waistband just got looser and looser.
like many new babies, didn’t appear to need much sleep. He’d wake
hourly to eat and refused to nap during the day. I seemed to spend 23
hours out of 24 feeding.
only time I felt like the old me was when I stepped on the scales. If
another few pounds had vanished, it didn’t seem to matter that the
living room floor couldn’t be seen for toys or that I hadn’t slept in
days: becoming thin equalled control.
I walked daily with Alex in his
buggy, sometimes for two hours at a time. While other mothers would be
meandering slowly in a park, I’d be pushing my buggy up hills at
month went by, another stone disappeared. By the time Alex was eight
months old, I was something I had never been before: skinny.
I hadn’t realised that in the process I’d become obsessed. I counted
calories daily. If friends invited me out, I’d decline; they might
expect me to eat.
to have just a boiled egg for breakfast — and threw away the yolk. Lunch
would be an apple and dinner a homemade vegetable soup. If I was
hungry, I’d drink gallons of water.
Alex’s first birthday, I was a size eight and weighed 8st 7lb. I’d lost
6st. One day Cornel caught sight of my bony back and asked in shocked
tones: ‘What’s happened to you’
ignored him. My weight loss had become a sort of badge of honour,
something to distinguish me from being just another dowdy, chubby
Cornel would ask if I’d eaten and I’d lie that I had. Instead of Nutella pancakes, I’d treat myself to a new, size eight top.
one day we were out pushing Alex in his buggy when my hearing went and I
saw black spots dancing in front of my eyes. I collapsed on to the
Seconds later, I came to sitting on someone’s doorstep. Cornel was fanning my face, looking terrified. ‘You fainted,’ he said.
I was horrified. I’d never fainted in my life.
I looked at Alex sleeping in his buggy and realised how much worse it
could have been. What if I had been holding him when I collapsed I
broke down in tears.
It was a defining moment and one in which I realised something with utter clarity: I had an eating problem.
From that day on, I vowed to eat sensibly. I started having dinner with Cornel so that he could see I’d eaten a full meal.
It was difficult at first. I worried that I’d get fat again. But I was far too busy chasing after a gorgeous, toddling baby who kept me on my feet all day.
Now, three years on, I have indeed put weight on — about 2st of it. But I am glad. I’m a size 12 and weigh 10st 5lb. I still exercise, but allow myself treats, too.
Looking back, I can’t believe how selfish I was. But while I’ve no sympathy for myself, when I look at those new celebrity mothers parading their washboard stomachs in skintight designer gowns, I feel for them.
Are they under pressure because they are famous Or are they trying to control their new, chaotic life as a mother — as I did — through dieting
I am just glad I saw the light because now I can be a healthy, happy, normal-shaped mother — something of much more use to my son than an unhappy, calorie-obsessed, stick insect.