How Being Pregnant Silenced My Food Fears
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How Being Pregnant Silenced My Food Fears


This post was originally published on April 8, 2015.

I was one of those annoying people who was struck abstinent on Day One of my recovery program.

I alternate between binge-eating and restricting my food intake and at my first meeting I came in out of ideas (read: crying because I couldn’t stop bingeing and had been completely out of options). I immediately felt at home among my eating-disordered peers. I wanted what they had, so somehow I found the willingness to do what I was told.

I got a sponsor who was the perfect balance of bossy and loving. She told me to stop acting like an expert and to speak to an actual expert about how I should be eating. I followed her advice and a holistic practitioner told me (for the 107th time) to stop eating sugar and gluten and cheese. So I did what they both told me to do.

My first few years in recovery were a pink cloud of wellness. I was at a meeting almost every day, I had sponsees, I led meetings, I did service, I had physical recovery and my Higher Power had lifted an enormous weight off of me: the weight of self.

I was happier than I could have imagined.

Life got bigger. My husband got a job offer that we couldn’t refuse, and we moved from New York to LA on an all-expenses-paid, golden-ticket adventure and never looked back. My sponsor’s advice: Get busy becoming known at meetings. You will find your place.

Again, I did what I was told. The meetings were different in LA—there was a lot of clapping. I struggled a bit finding my people and a home meeting, and my pink cloud dissipated into vapor. I kept my abstinence but lost my recovery groove.

Life got even bigger when I got pregnant. The first three months of pregnancy were—how should I put this—horrible. Not only could I not eat, I couldn’t smell food or even hear people talking about food without surges of nausea. It felt like a constant hangover combined with a backseat-driving-on-switchbacks-listening-to-Kenny-G kind of car sickness.

I was exhausted beyond belief, nearly falling asleep behind the wheel to and from work. By the time I got home, the idea of going out again a half hour later for a meeting when I hadn’t even eaten dinner was intolerable.

Because food was of no interest to me, I went into mind-fuck territory. The part of my disease that loved to restrict loved that I wasn’t able to eat. But my recovery voice knew better—I was supposed to eat three meals and two optional snacks a day. How the hell was I going to make it through the next eight months?

I got in touch with a fellow with kids who turned out to be a beacon of hope. She told me about her own pregnancies, and how there were some days when a handful of pretzels was all she could eat for lunch. Even though pretzels for lunch wasn’t her food plan (and made her feel like her old anorexic self), her body—not her brain—was in charge.

She made me understand. If I accepted that my food was going to change and there was nothing I could do about it, the voices in my head—the Perfectionist, the Expert and the Restrictor—would be silenced. My body was now being of service to someone else and my food plan had to change. I now defined my abstinence by how I ate instead of what I ate.

For the first time in my life, I was able to listen to my body—what normies call “intuitive eating.” It was a beautiful thing, hearing my body speak so loudly about what it needed, not having to fight through the fog and muck of my disease’s voice. Just for today it would be okay to have cottage cheese and pineapple. Veggie sushi rolls with soy sauce were a staple. Doritos. Lots and lots of apple juice. There was no consistency or sense to any of it, but it was abstinence.

I still didn’t eat sugar or gluten—more than anything I was afraid to. I am totally powerless over those foods and I didn’t want to play with fire. I cherished my abstinence and I dared not challenge it. I ate desserts sweetened with honey, coconut or maple syrup and found I could eat them abstinently. I had to find healthy calories and I had to be gentle with myself.

Then I had my daughter, began breast feeding and good God did my eating change.

I was eating huge portions—of healthy and abstinent foods—in quantities I hadn’t touched since before recovery. Being a new mom also means eating when you can as fast as you can, because that baby comes first. I ate breathlessly in ways that were reminiscent of bingeing.

I felt isolated in my new role as a mom in recovery. I didn’t have a village anymore. I didn’t know what normal was when it came to eating while nursing. But I continued to listen to my body and trusted that when the time came to make a change, my Higher Power would speak to me. I hoped that the voice would be clear.

My daughter weaned two months ago at a year-and-a-half. Around the same time, one of my recovery friends reached out to say she was starting a new eating disorders group with a “mom’s focus.” I accepted the service position of secretary, and now I’m finding the willingness to look honestly at how I eat sweet things like maple syrup, agave, coconut sugar and honey.

My Higher Power wants the best for me and now that I’m not pregnant and nursing, maybe my food plan needs to change again. That pink cloud we ride on occasionally in program keeps us elevated and buoyant, and it is a gift. But so is the reality of life, especially when it’s uncomfortable. We are given precisely what we can handle, no matter what it looks like.

My abstinence is a gift, and the best gifts are the ones we accept willingly and with gratitude.

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About Author

Halina Newberry Grant has written for Cosmo, The Next Family, The Hairpin and The Huffington Post, among others. She lives in Culver City, CA with her husband, daughters and dog, Mr. Manfred.