I can’t really explain how my pregnancy taught me to eat intuitively until you understand why eating was such a big deal for me. My history with food and body image is not a good one. For 15 years I suffered, unable to pull myself out of the murky eating disorder waters long enough to reach out for help. I couldn’t understand when people were concerned about my deteriorating health. My “eating disorder self” told me two things: one, that they were jealous and two, they were trying to make me fat. I truly believed this.
Let me start by telling you how difficult and conflicting it is to even recognize there is a problem. To bring into your consciousness that the way you are living is dangerous for your body, mind, and soul. My “eating disorder voice” was always louder than my “healthy voice.” When I was about 28, my “eating disorder voice” weakened and wavered for the first time, and I suddenly began to question everything about my life. While recovering from an over-exercise injury, I sat around with a cast on my right leg, desperate with anxiety and paralyzed with the fear of gaining weight. Too much time on my hands lead me to examine relationships, work, happiness, and love. Things were not looking good. Too much time had been wasted, too many opportunities lost, too many friendships abandoned, too many calories counted. But still, I was not ready.
I continued on in my eating disorder for another year or so until a combination of events fell into place, becoming the catalyst of my recovery. One, I went to work for a family who insisted that I seek out help and provided me with the resources to do so. Two, I began to date and fall in love with someone from work, and this time I wanted things to be different. I sensed immediately that this relationship could be extraordinary, and so I began to fight for it. To fight for my “healthy self.” To fight for the life I wanted.
I wanted to have a healthy relationship. I didn’t want to stay home to avoid any situation involving food. I didn’t want to be fixated on exercise. I was so tired, and I had already missed so much. I had visions of a “real boyfriend,” of nonchalantly eating food with friends, of trying new things, of getting married, of having a family. And so I began my work.
The change was slow, and was never easy, but I had a therapist who challenged me, pushed me, and supported me all the way. I had to put in a ton of work to change deep-rooted behaviors, to change the way I saw myself, to change the way I understood life. In fact, the work is ongoing.
I had the most incredible relationship where I was made to feel important, special, beautiful, and loved every single day, even if he didn’t quite understand what I was going though. I changed all the time, always working to become more authentic. On May 18, I married this man: The man who helped me find the real me. The man who loved every part of me. The catalyst of my recovery.
On December 31st, I found out I was pregnant. Two weeks later, the ultrasound revealed I was having twins. After grieving one miscarriage and almost a year of disappointments, this was fantastic news, but we remained cautious. This was what I had always dreamed of, and I wanted to do everything right.
The way that I thought about food and exercise transformed even more during this time. I began to eat when I was hungry, to stop when I was full. I didn’t deny myself any particular food and I felt at ease with food. It was nothing to be feared. It was fuel for me and my babies. This time was the greatest practice I’d ever had for listening to my body. This time pushed me even further into my recovery.
One of the reasons I trudged on in my recovery is that I wanted to love and be loved. I wanted a family. I wanted to raise children that loved their bodies, children that had healthy relationships with food. I needed to do the work before any of this happened. I needed to practice loving myself. Something that I have learned along the way is that you cannot fake any of this. Children are like sponges, and you have to actually walk your walk. You have to show them you love yourself.
Now that I have two beautiful baby girls, it is essential that I continue to practice healthy behaviors. This is the time for me to love myself genuinely so that they can learn to do the same. After almost 4 years, I feel like I am finally getting to know myself in the most authentic way. My husband and my babies are teaching me unconditional love. They are shifting and redefining the way I understand beauty.
Overcoming eating and body image issues can be incredibly challenging, but it is absolutely worth every second. I let my eating disorder go, and in return I got everything I ever wanted.
Rachel Brehm, mother to 7-month-old fraternal twin girls, blogs regularly on eating disorder awareness and insurance denials for eating disorder treatment. Brehm writes for an Insurance Law Blog as well as an Eating Disorder Law Blog (rated as one of Top 25 Eating Disorder Blogs of 2012) focusing her writing on insurance advocacy, insurance coverage, body image, eating disorder recovery, and weight stigma. As a new contributor to Twiniversity.com, Brehm plans to shift her writing on body image issues in the insurance world to include body image issues in the mommy world. Brehm’s writing will address navigating pregnancy and postpartum with eating/body image issues as well as her experiences raising twin girls-and all the “twin moments” that go along with it.