National Eating Disorders Association
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Parents & Caregivers

When I got pregnant, my midwife insisted I take the gestational diabetes test repeatedly because she couldn’t believe my blood sugar was normal. The extra testing proved over and over that my baby and I were healthy, but my midwife never seemed convinced. —Anna 

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On the Friday that I was officially diagnosed with an eating disorder, my mother had her first seizure. That weekend, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, the following Monday she had brain surgery, and that night we were told that her cancer was terminal.  

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With Mother’s Day approaching, I began to think of the moms in my life as well as the moms I treat in my practice. A running theme for many of them is the struggle with balance, happiness, and the demands of motherhood. More often than not, self-care is the one area that moms tend to let fall by the wayside. One reason moms often give me for not taking better care of themselves is that they feel it’s selfish, in addition to being too busy, therefore, putting themselves last.

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In our current healthcare model, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing weight and BMI as the most important measure of health. Prenatal care is no different and the focus on weight, weight gain, and the weight of the baby too often take center stage. This often has more to do with cultural beliefs about body size than evidence-based research and it can negatively impact an individual's ability to care for their body throughout their pregnancy.

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My mom has always been one to rescue those in need. One time, in second grade, I got a D on an oral math test. I’ve always been a math whiz, but doing what is now known as “mental math”—you know, doing math in your head instead of on paper— has never been my thing. After getting my test grade, I crawled into my mom’s car at the end of the school day and started crying hysterically. 

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Our bodies, and our relationships with our bodies, are complicated. We bring our whole body history to birth—our stories of pleasure, pain, strength, weakness, successes, failures, belonging, and outsiderness. These histories are also shaped by lifelong and shifting relationships with food, weight, culture, and identity. As labor doulas, we support pregnant people navigate their pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period, and see firsthand that with the right support and a bit of planning, pregnancy and birth can be a profound opportunity to live in your body in a new way.  

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I have been practicing psychotherapy for close to 18 years now. In this time, I’ve focused most of my work on the treatment of eating disorders. Having suffered with an eating disorder in high school, prevention, education, and treatment have become my passion. 

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We want our kids to grow up feeling strong and confident in their bodies. We’ve learned a lot about what to do—and what not to do—to promote a positive body image. We know better than to comment on other people’s weight and engage in diet talk in front of our kids. We model self-care behaviors and teach them values related to diversity in all areas, including body size.

But what happens when our children walk into the world?

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If you are worried about your friend’s eating behaviors or attitudes, it is important to express your concerns in a loving and supportive way. It is also necessary to discuss your worries early on, rather than waiting until your friend has endured many of the damaging physical and emotional effects of eating disorders. In a private and relaxed setting, talk to your friend in a calm and caring way about the specific things you have seen or felt that have caused you to worry. 

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There is a tendency for the media to portray eating disorders as superficial illnesses of female adolescence. The limited scope of these stories mitigates both the severe emotional and physical consequences inherent to eating disorders, as well as their prevalence across other genders and age groups. 

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