Episode 9 - Pregnancy and Body Image with Lauren Hill
We all see the dramatic photos of celebrities looking toned and thin immediately following the birth of their child... Is that really what we should strive for?
Join us as we talk frankly with Lauren Hill about her experiences with body image and pregnancy. We'll discuss what's most important for our bodies and our family during and after birth, how partners, friends, and family can support us best, and how to navigate this unique time with love.
We also get the perspective of Kate Daigle, a Licensed Professional Counselor who is currently writing a book on fertility and eating disorders.
[00:00:00] Ellie Pike: Lauren Hill knows her values, peace, family, joy, friendship, and faith. She and her husband, Brandon, have worked hard to foster a loving community in their small city on the North Carolina coast. When they discovered they were expecting a baby girl, they were elated but also a bit apprehensive. You see, pregnancy for Lauren and for a lot of women was both exhilarating and fear-inducing. Her body was about to change in unforeseen ways and she didn't know how to feel when those changes happened.[00:00:30]
Ellie: On today's podcast, Lauren invites us into the triumphs and challenges of having a baby. We'll discuss how to capably handle body image issues, how caregivers and spouses can empower us, and what body acceptance postpartum can look like. You're listening to Mental Note Podcast, I'm Ellie Pike.
Lauren Hill: I struggled with an eating disorder for about 12 years. At the time that I got pregnant, I was about four solid years into recovery. I'd been trying to recover for a long time but I think those were four solid years of solid recovery. I was really afraid that I wasn't going to be able to get pregnant because I had been so sick physically that I had lost my period for about eight years. I know infertility is a medical consequence of anorexia [00:01:30] and eating disorders in general and so I was really scared I wasn't going to be able to get pregnant.
Lauren: We tried for almost a year, I was really, really fearful but luckily, we were able to get a positive pregnancy test last March.
Ellie: When you were in your eating disorder, it sounds like you restricted your food and you over-exercised and then that shifted in your recovery, but can you tell me a little bit about that. [00:02:00]
Lauren: When I was really, really struggling with my eating disorder I restricted my food also, if I felt like I'd eaten too much I would purge, over-exercise a lot. I counted every calorie, I was very self-conscious of how much I weighed, I weighed myself multiple times a day, could only eat at certain times of the day. It was very strict very rigid and no matter what I weighed, I hated how I looked. I always thought I was fat no matter what the scale said.
As I moved into recovery [00:02:30] I was able to get to a place where I was more flexible, had a variety of foods that I ate, I didn't really think about my weight that much. The behaviors weren't there but the body image issues were still there.
Ellie: While you were trying to dive into recovery from your eating disorder, I know that motherhood was something you really desired and it was part of your motivation to recover. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Lauren: When I was really sick I had lots of medical professionals, doctors, family members, therapists, and everyone telling me all the [00:03:00] horrible medical consequences of eating disorders, all the things that would happen to me, that I could die. At that time I really didn't care if it killed me because I was so depressed and I was just in a really dark place.
Lauren: The one thing as I got older and I've always wanted to be a mom but as I got older, I really started thinking about, "Oh my God, this [00:03:30] could impact me having a kid one day." That was even more than all the other scary things that can happen to you, the thing that really, really caught my attention and gave me more motivation.
Ellie: I think that leads to my next question too because I was going to ask what recovery looks like for you or what it means to you.
Lauren: I always tell people, recovery doesn't mean that I love my body every day, that I wake up every day and look in the mirror and think I look great and I'm happy with how my clothes fit and all of that [00:04:00] but it means that even though those days happen, I still eat that day and I don't go run a million miles that day. This many years into recovery, it's less of a chore to do that, it's just how I live my life.
Ellie: Despite being at a healthy weight and confident her eating disorder was behind her, Lauren realized the process of bringing her baby into the world would not be easy.
Lauren: Before I got pregnant I had less concerns about the actual pregnancy and more about the postpartum period, I felt like-- [00:04:30] I still had a lot of body image issues but I had this idea in my head that getting pregnant would cure all those body image issues that I had like somehow I would just automatically just love my body and what it was doing for me. That was not really the case, I was very thankful for my body and that it was carrying this life. The body is an amazing thing, that it can this human inside of you and then deliver it into the world, it's just crazy.
I was less concerned about that because I felt like I could justify [00:05:00] the weight gain and justify my clothes not fitting because I'm growing a human but then afterwards, there wouldn't really be a reason for all this extra weight in my head. Then as I moved through the pregnancy, the body image concerns were really real. I'd spent years terrified of gaining weight in here I was just not in control of my body and gaining all this weight. Then-
Ellie: I bet you're also having food cravings.
Lauren: Oh yes, and being hungry like every hour of the day. I was able to give my body what it needed but it was still like, "Oh my God, I just ate an hour ago, why [00:05:30] am I hungry again?"
Ellie: Which would be scary considering your history.
Lauren: Yes, absolutely. I had a hard time with my clothes not fitting in that awkward stage where I didn't really look pregnant yet but my clothes weren't fitting. That was the time when I really needed reassurance whether it's from my husband or from people around me like, "You're pregnant, your body's doing what it's supposed to do."
Ellie: It sounds like the challenge was trusting your body, that you were allowing it to do what it's supposed to do and it's going to naturally be okay.
Lauren: Yes. That's what recovery is, is like body trust which is scary [00:06:00] because you control your body for so long and restrict it from food and give it all this exercise that it can't really handle. It really was just like recovery all over again or going through that process of just like, "Okay, my body's going to do what it needs to do, and then afterwards it's going to get back to where it needs to be without me working too hard."
Ellie: That does take a lot of trust.
Ellie: I imagine that there were some triggering instances too, moments where you felt worse about your body image or weight. Can you talk about any triggering [00:06:30] instances? I know you had mentioned the doctor's office.
Lauren: That was my postpartum visit. It was about five weeks after I had given birth and I went to the doctor and the doctor-- Actually there were two instances I can think of. One of them was I stepped off the scale and I turned around and hadn't gone off the screen yet and I just happened to see it. That was a jarring moment for me because it was a higher number than I'd ever seen before.
Ellie: It's helpful for you not to know your weight.
Lauren: Yes, absolutely. For years and years and years, probably ten years, [00:07:00] I've weighed backwards at doctors' offices even though weight isn't really something that triggers me into eating disorder behaviors anymore or seeing a number, I just don't prefer to have a number in my head. I did that throughout my pregnancy. I told them, "Hey, if I'm not gaining enough weight or I'm gaining too much that it's dangerous for the baby, then let me know but otherwise I don't want to know."
Then there was a second instance, it was about five weeks after I had given birth and I went to the doctor and the doctor [00:07:30] came in and she looked at me and she told me my weight at the end of my pregnancy, how much I had lost to date and how much more I had to lose.
Lauren: That was really jarring.
Ellie: I got chills even when you said that because it just makes such an emphasis on your weight loss.
Lauren: Yes. I'm breastfeeding and so generally that helps with the weight loss I guess which isn't why I'm doing it but she was just looking at me like, "Way to go, girl. You've lost this many pounds and you've only [00:08:00] got this much more to go." It was just really really jarring for me because I was just like, "Wow, that's the first thing you say when you walk in the room."
Ellie: Kate Daigle, a licensed professional counselor who is currently writing a book on fertility and eating disorders, says that [00:08:30] pregnancy for someone in recovery can be a rocky path.
Kate Daigle: It definitely brings up a lot of body image issues. I think it can resurface old body image issues that maybe one thought that they had put to rest but being pregnant, your body changes more rapidly than in any other state of your life. There's a wide range of experiences people have. People focus on your weight a lot when you're pregnant like your doctors, they want you to gain [00:09:00] weight because that's what your baby needs, but for someone in recovery, we've been working to not focus on getting weighed a lot, reporting that to your team.
Ellie: Can you talk a little about the challenge postpartum? After having this baby, still dealing with some body image issues and also some of those medical and social pressures to lose the weight quickly.
Kate: There's the concept, the post-baby body which I really don't like that term at all because it's just another [00:09:30] judgmental way of talking about women's bodies. It's your body no matter what,. If you've had a baby or not it's your body. The post-baby body pressure definitely affects women and something that many women don't know is that you still look pregnant for a little while after you have a baby. The media says you should lose all of that weight and probably more within two months of having your baby. That really conflicts with the actual experience.
If you're breastfeeding [00:10:00] your body is holding on to weight to sustain your baby, make milk, and your focus is not on losing weight, though society tells you you should be losing weight, but your focus is trying to survive the first three months. It can be a very conflicting experience again, for women, postpartum, and eating enough to make milk for your baby means you need to eat more than you regularly [00:10:30] would and you're hungrier than you regularly would.
It's again, listening to your body's cues is what you need to do, but it can be very conflicting, especially if you want to not have that post-baby body. Your whole body changes when you're pregnant and it stays changed after you've had your baby. It's not going to look the same and that's fine. It's a miracle what your body does when you're pregnant.
Ellie: You work with families, you work with individuals in recovery as well as their partners [00:11:00] at times. How would you advise someone's partner to support them through the process of these body changes?
Kate: I support people not focusing on the weight gain as a negative thing, to reframe that experience if a woman gains weight while she's pregnant, as she will, for her partner to help her see that as a really healthy thing, this is for the baby and for you. Many people in recovery or who have eating disorders, they don't have eating disorder symptoms while [00:11:30] they're pregnant. They go into a temporary recovery. However, almost two-thirds of those will relapse after they're pregnant if they don't get treatment or focus back on recovery.
There can be this magical thinking that, "Well, I'm going to recover for my baby while I'm pregnant and I'll keep that up after," but the eating disorder can come right back. I encourage families and partners to, if someone's in recovery, to keep focus [00:12:00] on what has helped them in the past be in recovery. Healthy exercise, not focusing on numbers as much as possible, seeing weight as or weight gain, in this case, as a really healthy thing and not feeding into the media perception of pregnancy and motherhood. It doesn't ever end. Just another vein of the media pressure.
Ellie: Let me ask you one more question about that, [00:12:30] how to take care of yourself. What are some ways that you guide the individual that's in recovery to not focus on weight, to honor their body?
Kate: Again, to listen to what their body is telling them. Exercise, but not put pressure on it to lose weight right after having a baby but to be out doing things with your baby outside. To really focus on you time, to get a massage, or do something that you used to do before you had a baby because your whole life is [00:13:00] upside down and rebuilding that relationship with themselves is imperative for healthy baby, healthy family, healthy life, healthy recovery. It seems counterintuitive to mothers when they have a baby to focus on themselves, but I think it's just an important lesson of recovery. We can't ever put ourselves last or else we might suffer.
Ellie: Thankfully, Lauren had a partner who supported her like Kate suggested. You mentioned Brandon being a support for you. Can you just name a couple of things that he did that were really supportive and helpful for you during that process?
Lauren: I've always told him when I was going through my recovery process and even still that my view of myself has always been distorted. It didn't matter what weight I was, if I was really low weight or really high weight, I still didn't think I looked good or I still [00:14:00] thought I was fat. I've always asked him that I don't know what I look like, so you're going have to be my eyes. When I feel really bad, I just need that reassurance from him that I look good to him and that's all that really matters because I don't know what I look like in an accurate representation in my brain.
That was helpful, for him to just say, "Listen, you're pregnant. Your body is doing what it needs to do. You look beautiful. I think you're beautiful."
Brandon Hill: My name is Brandon Hill. I am Lauren's husband.
[00:14:30] Been there for her, I've been her husband, her boyfriend, her friend and her support person. I would definitely say that the first thing that was helpful for me was just educating myself on the changes that her body is going to go through. The natural swelling, the weight gain, when that's going to happen and what to expect. If you know what's going on with that, then you can educate her on that. [00:15:00] Even though she might know it, you just remind her that this is part of the natural pregnancy period.
Ellie: I really like that it sounds like you've been really accepting of the body changes too.
Brandon: Oh, yes. [crosstalk] That's beautiful, being her eyes and letting her know that she looks wonderful and that she's doing a great job and also just being there for her, listen to her. If she's struggling, try to like help her through that, [00:15:30] keep her occupied.
That's one thing and the other thing is don't be afraid to spend a little money. [laughs] I don't mean that by bribing or any like getting gifts, but her clothes are not going to fit the way that they used to because she's wearing clothes that are pre-pregnancy. Just being willing and excited about saying, "Hey, let's go get some clothes that you're comfortable in."
Ellie: That's [00:16:00] really important, I think, to be able to normalize it for her.
Brandon: I think with anything that's an addiction for people trying to get away from some addiction, you've got to fill in that empty space with something else. Doing things that she likes to do and--
Ellie: It sounds like being a partner and redirecting the focus, not focusing all the time on body image, but on what feels good.
Brandon: Yes. I'm lucky. A lot of times people give the spouse credit if there's a [00:16:30] successful transition from an eating disorder, but really, Lauren is the one that does all the work and just I'm and there to remind her of that.
Ellie: Y'all have really gone through a lot together and it just says so much about how far you've come that you can talk about it now.
On November 21st, 2017, baby Emma Hill [00:17:00] was born fully healthy and to two adoring parents. Lauren was overcome with emotion.
Lauren: I might get emotional talking about that because it was such a dream for so long and I had waited so long to just look into her eyes and hold her in my arms. That was just like the best feeling in the whole world because I felt like I had purpose, that I was born to be her mother. It's how I felt, just joy. Just more joy than I've ever felt.
Ellie: Can you describe to me what motherhood is like so far?
Lauren: It is very chaotic. It's just a learning curve, a big learning curve. We've been thrown for a loop but in the best way possible. [chuckles]
Ellie: Yes. I imagine with that chaos, it's hard to take care of yourself and your daughter, but that is something that you value, is your own health, your own happiness and peace. What does that look like for you, postpartum, [00:18:00] after having Emma?
Lauren: Well, definitely just making sure it's really easy to just get really busy, but notice that hey, it's time for me to have lunch. There's times that I reheat my lunch four times before I ever take a bite because she cries when she needs something. Just making sure that I'm taking care of myself with my nutritional needs, that I'm getting a rest because your body goes through a very traumatic experience giving birth, giving it time to recover and I think just giving myself a [00:18:30] break.
The dishes are in the sink and I feel like I need to go do laundry and all this stuff, but I'm cherishing every moment because I know this stage with her is going to fly by. Just letting go of some of the perfectionistic tendencies that I have and trying to be okay with a little bit of chaos in my life, [chuckles] with being late to things and never being on time to anything probably again, but just giving myself grace, I think, has been the biggest thing and not being so hard on myself.
Ellie: Are you able to take that grace into just how you feel about your body and [00:19:00] the way you look?
Lauren: Oh, absolutely. I haven't focused on a diet or an exercise program. I know that in our society, you see celebrities on the red carpet, seems like three hours after giving birth and they look perfect or they're in a bikini and that's just like--
Ellie: That's airbrushing.
It is, but it's still what we see. That's the focus, is okay, push the baby out and then get your body back, is what's hammered into our heads and that's [00:19:30] the last thing I want to be focused on. I want to, like I said before, just cherish every moment with her and if that means laying on the couch all day while she naps on my chest, that's what I do. Nothing gets done around the house, I don't go exercise. That's not my focus right now. It's just being with her, but the second that-- I think about the second that I focus on getting my body back is like the that I let that eating disorder back into my life and I'm not going to do that.
I think that just is that body trust of [00:20:00] I'm going to live my life. I'm going to do what I know I need to do, and my body will find its way to its normal. It might be a new normal, but it'll be okay.
Ellie: When you say I'm going to live my life, I think that relates to your values. That you have certain values that you live by in order to stay healthy and peaceful and all these things that allow you to be you. Can you just share with me what your values are?
Lauren: Yes. I think my biggest ones my faith has always been super important to me. [00:20:30] Spirituality is how I define it of just like my relationship with God. That's always been my number one. Which is something that completely like went away when I was struggling with my eating disorder because all I focused on was myself. Definitely it's my spirituality, my family, peace is something that I said before that's always been my worth. The thing that I looked for in life and that I wanted so bad was peace and joy. Those two things are my things that I really value. I feel like I finally found those.
Friendships are important to me so I try to find [00:21:00] time for that. It's a little hard lately. All of those things are things that my eating disorder took away from me. To have those back and try to focus on whenever I feel that voice creeping back in, it's just I turn my attention to those other things.
Ellie: Your values allow you to reconnect with yourself and others.
Lauren: Yes, and what's important.
Ellie: What are some warning signs that you've decided to listen to that might be like signs of relapse or even just moving in a negative direction?
Lauren: That's something that [00:21:30] I've thought a lot about throughout like my recovery process and in therapy and all that kind of stuff like what are my red flags because that's important to recognize and important to share with support people in your life. A lot of times when I had been slipping back into relapse mode, I was blind to what was going on. It was like it was creeping back in but I wasn't aware of it in most cases, but other people could pick up on things. I feel like some of the biggest ones are just like focusing on my body and what I'm eating.
When I'm thinking about [00:22:00] food a lot that's a big deal for me because I've gotten to a place where I don't really think about it that much. I just think about what sounds good, but when I start thinking about calories and exercising. When I start doing like choosing to go exercise rather than doing something that I value like hanging out with my family or my husband or something like that, that's a big warning sign to me. Any kind of diet plan, that's a no-no for sure. It's a slippery slope.
Ellie: What about with body image, any red [00:22:30] flags there?
Lauren: Yes. I feel like everybody struggles with body image, but I feel like when I'm focusing on it a lot and spending too much time in front of the mirror. I think it's always been helpful for me to get rid of clothes that don't fit anymore because then they almost become like this goal of like, "Oh well, maybe I'll get back into those one day." There are some pre-pregnancy clothes that maybe I just need to get rid of right now and go buy some new jeans. I'm still in my maternity clothes. [00:23:00] They're comfortable. I'll probably never wear regular clothes again. [chuckles] Those clothes become like this goal. I don't want to have a goal weight or a goal pair of jeans. Just embracing where I am now, and buying new clothes. Think of it as a reason to do shopping instead of this horrible thing that I have to get a bigger size in jeans.
Ellie: It sounds like re-framing and refocusing on your values has been a really big part of avoiding those red flags.
Lauren: Yes absolutely.
Ellie: If you could [00:23:30] advise any current moms or future moms out there based on your own experience, what are some words of wisdom that you'd want to offer?
Lauren: Well, I said earlier I just have grace with myself. I would say have grace with yourself. Be gentle with yourself is maybe a better way to say that because we're so hard on ourselves, but pregnancy is a time where your body's supposed to get bigger. You're supposed to eat more and things like that. Listening to your body, when you're tired rest. You're taking [00:24:00] care of not just yourself but another person.
I think that was what was so helpful for me too during pregnancy is it's like, "Okay. This isn't about me anymore. If I restrict my food or if I overexercise or something like that, I'm not hurting myself anymore I'm hurting her." She was almost. I'm worth recovery, but she was worth, in my mind worth whatever discomfort I was going through.
Ellie: To nourish yourself for this life inside.
Lauren: Right, yes. Then now it's like [00:24:30] I nourish myself because she needs me because it's not like it's hard for me now but I don't want to hurt myself because she's worth being here for. I want to see her grow up and be able to have a mom to grow up with.
Ellie: Lauren's story is one of hope and accomplishment. [00:25:00] Not only does she actively choose out of the thoughts and lifestyles of her past eating disorder, but she's also chosen the health of herself and her family over the oppressive expectation society puts on new moms. This show is sponsored by Eating Recovery Center and Insight Behavioral Health Centers. If you're looking for professional help to break away from your own challenges with eating or mood disorders, I encourage you to give them a call. Consultations are free, and they can help you by finding the next step in your own recovery journey. Their phone number is [00:25:30] 877 411 9578.
Also, please say hello. We would love to hear about your own recovery story or about a topic you're interested in. You can write us @mentalnotepodcast @eating recovery.com. Today's episode was produced by Sam Pike, with editing help by Erica Prather and mixing by Meredith Turk. I'm Ellie Pike till next time. [00:26:00]
[00:26:26] [END OF AUDIO]