I thought I had overcome my eating disorder, then I got pregnant

“And what does it say about me that being told that I can’t have sugar makes me feel like this, like I’m losing my mind – why am I so OBSESSED with sugar? What’s wrong with me?”

Tears streamed down my cheeks, inhalations came broken and sniffled as I wrote in the chat my husband and I communicated during work hours, discharging all the intense feelings that have been haunting me since my midwife sent me there. ‘e-mail diagnosing me Gestational Diabetes.

After suffering gastric bypass at 17 and lose 100 pounds – enough to make me wear a J. Crew suit but never their pants; enough to get some guys attention but never cross the social line from “fat friend” to “pretty girl” – I had decided that while it didn’t make me skinny, the surgery had “leveled the playing field” , which means I could diet like a normal woman and exercise some control over my previously unruly body.

I spent the next 15+ years swinging between crash diets and hands-free reactive eating, punching myself in the gym and then spending lunchtime texting my boyfriend remotely about what I ate that day and how many calories I was. remained.

By the time I turned 30, though, I’d mostly accepted that my body didn’t want to be smaller than a size 16. The diet made me unbearably boring, so I tried to avoid it and recently found out yoga has me made me feel great, even when it didn’t make me smaller. But I was also the youngest I had ever been, due to nine months of deep depression after my engagement with the aforementioned fiancé ended.

As I began to regain some of that weight after meeting a new man (now my husband), my food problems began to resurface. I scared the hell out of him with the level of my obsession, my inability to make a change and behave normally. When I tried to be paleo for three days, making batch after batch of “cloud bread” and “cheese fries,” he and my therapist both got their feet on the ground. I was banned from dieting, at least without speaking to my therapist first.

Things got better again. Between therapy, investing more time and energy in fat-positive spaces, and starting to work with a nutrition consultant who specializes in intuitive eating, I was able to fight my obsession with smallness and control. Even when the pandemic burden that I knew I had gained but had not tracked was recorded against my will in an urgent care center and glued in large numbers to the top of my aftercare paperwork, I did not followed the diet.

I cried, got angry and panicked, but didn’t go on a diet.

Then, at 36, I got pregnant.

The first quarter was mostly OK. Yes, finding a provider who wasn’t obsessed with my BMI was a struggle, and morning sickness (or, to me, all day) was no joke, but with the help of my nutrition advisor I am I was able to let go of preconceived notions of what and how much I should eat and focus on feeding my body everything it could tolerate, basically just salty carbohydrates.

But as my pregnancy progressed and the nausea subsided, things only got more difficult. Since my gastric bypass, I have had to avoid particularly fatty or sweet foods; a few years later, I was diagnosed with oral allergy syndrome, which has drastically limited the number of fresh fruits and vegetables I can eat without cooking or salting. I was quite used to those restrictions, but then the pregnancy came.

No raw fish. No tuna, even if it is fully cooked. No pink meat. No fresh / soft cheeses. No pineapple. No Caesar salad. No more than 200 mg of caffeine. No googling “Can I eat xyz while pregnant?” unless you want to hear that that thing you were about to put in your mouth could kill your unborn baby.

Years of work to dismantle the line between good food and bad food and here was an easy loophole! I could assign a moral value to alimony if it was about my condition.

A pregnancy selfie.
A pregnancy selfie.

Photo courtesy of Anne H. Putnam

The noose only tightened when we got to the blood glucose test stage of pregnancy and found that, unlike the reactive hypoglycemia I’ve been living with from gastric bypass, I was actually teetering on the brink of gestational diabetes.

At first I just had to monitor my blood sugar and not change my diet – I was in an “observation period” – but I knew this was best not to be trusted. I started looking into everything that went into my mouth, secretly Googleing if foods were “allowed” with gestational diabetes and avoiding but also obsessing over carbohydrates.

I stared at them, instantly desperate to eat nothing but bread, pastries and candy and repelled by my own despair, my weakness. I hunted for recipes that were diabetes-friendly but not filled with fake sugar – I actually found it a good one – and bought hundreds of dollars worth of keto substitutions for snacks that I missed (wise word: Kodiak waffles are No Eggos).

My last defenses had failed. After years of nutritional counseling and cracking down on diet talk at work / with my family / with friends / online, I’m back to my 1990s Californian roots: carbohydrates were the enemy. And this time I couldn’t argue, because my baby’s health was at risk, not mine.

My husband kept reminding me that this burning medical spotlight on my diet was temporary, but I knew that something much older and more enduring had been released in my brain.

And now here I am, explicitly told to stay on a diet, the last bits of my sanity erased from an informative PDF filled with condescending and shameful language about food and weight. All the time, energy (and money) that I have spent working to break free from diet culture I have felt useless in the face of this. quite common but intensely triggering a diagnosis.

When I emailed my nutrition advisor about the diagnosis, she ordered me to stop looking at the brochure and recommended that I work with a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) with experience of working with people recovering from eating disorders and diet culture trauma.

And she was right. I can’t overstate the benefit of working with someone who understands the intricacies of diabetes, who can view my blood glucose readings holistically, and who can contextualize my questions and concerns to my history and other restrictions. Whenever I leave a virtual date with my CDE, I feel infinitely better.

But it doesn’t last. By the time it’s time to eat again, I’m in an uproar. It’s actually worse than my past dieting experiences, because the rules are less strict: they are hypothetical eat carbohydrates, but they must be the right kind of carbohydrates, in the right amounts, along with the right balance of protein, fat and fiber. That’s enough to make me long for my fat days in the camp, when some skinny adult would tear me apart and I could just eat without thinking (albeit miserably).

Constant calculations, carbohydrate tracking, and food preparation are good reminders of why the diet has made me so miserable for so long. It is exhausting and consumes everything. But I have to do it, and unfortunately my damaged brain is a little too good at it; I hate to admit that I am adjusting to this joyless eating pattern, fighting the diet less every day.

Between my limited food choices and the baby crushing my stomach, I don’t really want to eat anyway: I have to remember to do it, to keep us both alive. This also caused me to lose weight steadily during the second half of my pregnancy, which my midwife seems a little too happy about for my liking (despite the dark, ancient pride that sometimes oozes from the deepest parts of me when mentions it).

The good news is that most of these problems should go away within a day or two after giving birth – thinking about the turkey sandwich I’ll have my husband take to the hospital is the only thing that really keeps me looking forward to working.

I say “should” because do not google statistics on type 2 diabetes after gestational diabetes. But as my CDE points out, it’s just another risk factor like any other. And thank goodness, because the last thing I need is to be obsessed with carbohydrate and glucose readings and how much fruit can I eat when I’m trying to keep this little human alive. outside my body.

What is less certain is whether I will be quick enough to go back to thinking of food choices as neutral or joyful, rather than as proof of my morality. I can only hope and prepare – in case my mental health doesn’t “roll back” – to go back to the work of dismantling the lessons of diet culture that was so easy to get back into.

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If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association Hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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