Growing up, I was majorly involved with a dance community on the outskirts of Atlanta, GA. My weekends and evenings after school were all spent at the studio. I loved it more than anything, even after the company director put me on weight probation at 12 years old. 

That year, I received an audition acceptance letter, under the condition that I lose 15 lbs. This confirmed what I had always suspected — I was different and larger than other people my age. My body was unacceptable. 

I went into treatment for anorexia at 17 years old. But this was 2005. Therapy wasn’t as informed as it is today. Once my BMI reached a “normal” level, it seemed to satisfy everyone around me. I appeared healthy, but there wasn’t much healing beyond a physical aspect. Besides, my drinking overtook all other mental health obstacles, and I spent the following 10 years just trying to get sober. 

My drinking overtook all other mental health obstacles, and I spent the following 10 years just trying to get sober. 

Healing the roots of my eating disorder never reached a top priority. I kept it manageable enough, until life became overwhelming again. And I found myself on the third day of not eating, or I, once again, found myself leaning over the toilet throwing up bowls and bowls of cereal.

I held onto bad body image like an interior playbook, secretly hoping it would give me the prize of thinness once again. I thought, I will give up drinking and smoking, and I will even work on my relationships. But I still need this little corner of self-hate to make me seem like I am love-able. It was all because my belief system conditioned me to think that being thin meant being worthy.

After three years of healing and consecutive sobriety, my husband and I decided to have a baby. I thought, for sure, my eating disorder would magically go away during pregnancy. (Spoiler alert: it did not.)

During the first five months of pregnancy, my body changed drastically (as it should when growing a human). But my inner critic isolated the experience, saying I was “too big” for how far along I was. Instead of anticipating what our child would look like, I was worried that I had crossed over into an unacceptable body size. I often questioned, “Is my bump normal?”. When posting a bump photo on Instagram, I kept a vague sense of where I was in my journey (#secondtrimester-ish). Instead of realizing my growing body was a key sign that there was another life growing inside of me, I felt like I was over-expanding again, awkwardly.

I swam through one of the most intense waves of body image distortion I had ever experienced. But I stayed silent about my struggle because, as a sober person, I felt I needed to appear “healed” across the board. I thought someone with years of sobriety shouldn’t still be dealing with body shame. 

At times, I even looked to morning sickness as an excuse to possibly binge and purge, which I didn’t partake in, but I thought about it… a lot. 

And then the pandemic hit.

At times, I even looked to morning sickness as an excuse to possibly binge and purge, which I didn’t partake in, but I thought about it… a lot. 

I did not look at the number on the scale until my six months doctor’s appointment. We were two months into the pandemic, but I was more afraid of what that number might say than I was of getting COVID-19. I wore the lightest amount of clothing possible, took off my shoes, and stepped on the scale. My nurse announced the number out loud. Immediately afterwards, I saw my baby’s face on an ultrasound. Somehow, having those two events back to back made something very clear — weight gain could not define me. 

When I saw that number on the scale, I didn’t die. Nothing terrible happened. The baby and I were healthy. Some crucial piece of my recovery shifted that day. My ED voice lost some of its power. I didn’t love the number I saw, but I also knew there wasn’t anything I could do to fix it. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to. I knew losing weight would hurt us. I had no control. 

Once I made that connection, I found acceptance — something I’d never even strived for out of fear that leaving myself alone would result in some horrible outcome. But there was no losing from this point. I knew I would only be gaining or maintaining weight for the rest of my pregnancy. This realization helped loosen the self-hate whip. I let myself breathe for the first time that I can remember. 

My baby grew and kicked more and more. It became less about my weight and more about two people surviving in one body. What a beautiful realization. 

Pregnancy forced me to confront my relationship with weight gain. What if it could mean something new?

After giving birth to my son, I lost half of the blood in my body. This forced me to be soft with myself during postpartum recovery. I had to eat. I had to breastfeed and stay up with a newborn. I had to move slowly. Trying to shrink myself down wouldn’t make me a more capable mother. I needed to take up space. 

I still catch my reflection in storefront windows and wonder how my perception could change so much from the mirror at home to the window reflection, but I can shake that thought pretty quickly. It doesn’t pull me under. After a few breaths, I remind myself that something as important as my body can’t change from meaningful to meaningless on a 10 minute car ride. I have a workout plan that makes me feel good, and I try to relax when it comes to food. I eat what I want most of the time. 

I’m not fully healed, by any means. Like sobriety, it is progress not perfection. My ED voice still exists, but I have more power against it than I used to before pregnancy.