Feeding the Pregorexia Epidemic
Two of my longstanding Google news alerts, "maternal health" and "eating disorders," recently merged when this story from an Irish newspaper on pregorexia (a portmanteau of "pregnancy" and "anorexia") popped into my inbox.
While it's not an officially recognized diagnosis, "the behavior associated with pregorexia is real and could harm a baby's health," says Roger Harms, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic. He notes that while gaining too much weight during pregnancy is still far more common than gaining too little, "no matter what the scale says…some women do excessively worry about their weight gain and experience body image issues during pregnancy."
The British magazine OK! came under fire earlier this summer for running a feature story on Kate Middleton's "post-baby weight loss regime." Even as moms around the world tweeted and blogged their appreciation of Kate's post-baby appearance, in which she seemed not to make any attempt to disguise her postpartum tummy, OK! magazine, like any good tabloid, tried to appeal to readers' venality by promising details of her "diet and shape-up plan" and a (supposed) interview with Kate's trainer, quoted on the cover, saying, "She's super-fit—her stomach will shrink straight back."
Another British tabloid, The Daily Star, recently reported the story of a London woman, Holly Griffiths, who gave birth to a healthy baby after a frighteningly thin pregnancy; Griffiths, who was diagnosed with anorexia at age 13, posted pictures of herself online weighing just 114 pounds at 8 months pregnant. Several years ago, an American woman, Maggie Baumann, restricted her weight gain so severely that her baby suffered intrauterine growth restriction and, after birth, seizures and attention deficit problems, which her doctor suggested "may have been linked with poor fetal nutrition."
I've thought—and written—of my own fear of gaining weight during pregnancy as a failure of hospitality. Indeed, pregnancy is hospitality of the most intense sort, in which the host offers her very body and blood as home and nourishment for the sake of a very small stranger. It's tempting to think that women who are fearful of gaining weight, even during pregnancy, are simply "inhospitable"; that their reluctance to gain weight is a failure to welcome their unborn baby.
As the luck of the genetic draw would have it, despite my early fears of gaining weight during pregnancy, I ended up "skinny pregnant." Severe nausea early on limited what I could keep down, and, late in pregnancy, thanks to my short torso, I couldn't manage to fit much food in my stomach at any one time. Still, I ate pretty much whatever I wanted whenever I wanted—except for the prohibited soft cheeses and undercooked meats and fish, which I craved passionately, like the forbidden fruits of pregnancy.
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