When I was 16 and struggling with a vicious eating disorder in a hospital inpatient program, different patients had different reasons for nursing themselves back to health.
Unfortunately, most anorexics don't use health itself as a motivator: The reasons ranged from going back to college or to please a boyfriend or family member. But my own personal incentive to get well was inspired by my longtime desire to have children one day.
After severely weakening my body and inflicting amenorrhea on it through my best attempts to starve myself to skeletal proportions, I knew that I would need to get healthy myself before I began thinking about having a healthy child.
It was difficult at times; having a child seems far off to a 16-year-old. But it wasn't as far off for me as it was for the average adolescent. I am an Orthodox Jew, and marriage and motherhood at a young age are almost expected in my community.
I had several near-relapses along the way, and I doubt if I ever allowed myself to feel completely comfortable with food, but I certainly returned to a more normal weight and was functioning in normal society. I graduated high school, earned a college degree with honors and married an amazing man at age 22.
When I discovered I was pregnant a couple of months after my wedding, the first thought that ran through my head was not how my body would change. I was just so excited and ready to have a child. I thought I would never worry about what was sure to become an increased food intake and actually felt liberated enough to vary my bland menu — switching to low-fat cottage cheese instead of fat-free, and skim milk instead of calorie-free soda. These may seem like somewhat-pitiful baby steps toward more normal eating, but for me they were each important milestones.
Fast forward to a month or two later, when I was hit by the incredible urge to fulfill the gaping hole of hunger that nourishing a growing baby brings. Suddenly, things that I never imagined myself consuming ever again were daily menu items for me: pasta with cheese, pizza, chocolate milk, salty French fries and egg salad sandwiches. I didn't care even while consuming items that, for me, were once akin to chugging rat poison. Every time I felt my baby kick or move, or marveled over its growth between the tiny dot on the screen I saw during my first sonogram to the miniature-limbed fetus sucking his thumb at 20 weeks, I was reassured that I was nourishing my baby and had no reason to feel ashamed or guilty.
Not once since I became aware I was pregnant did I restrict my food intake, exercise obsessively or "freak out" about my changing body, as my husband feared I would do once I started gaining weight. Yes, body image issues sometimes plagued me — I'd catch a glimpse of my once-slim ankles in the mirror, or have trouble hoisting myself up from the couch, and I'd think: Is this really me?
But the moments of doubt or fear that I'd never fit back into my "skinny clothes" were fleeting, if that.
Even now, after we just celebrated the 8-month birthday of my happy and healthy son and I am still struggling with losing the last of my pregnancy pounds, I am more focused on eating for energy to take care of him than I am on fitting into that little black dress that has been relegated to the corner of my closet.
I'm obviously not recommending getting pregnant as a treatment option for young girls suffering with an eating disorder. But pregnancy, in my case, allowed me to finally let go of any lingering body-image issues and embrace food as a source of nourishment and life — in the most miraculous way possible.
Ross is a freelance writer who works in public relations and marketing in New York. She lives there with her husband David, a professional musician, and their baby son, Joshua.
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