I am 10 weeks postpartum, and I’m going to be honest – over the past couple of weeks, I have been feeling an immense amount of pressure to fit back into my pre-baby clothes. Part of this stems from the practical desire to not have to go buy a bunch of new clothes, and a larger part of me is sitting with the feelings of discomfort brought on by (another) drastic shift in my body during pregnancy and now in the postpartum period. Weight restoration was a critical, yet challenging,  part of my own recovery journey.

And even though weight restoration was necessary for me, I would be lying if I said I have always been comfortable with it, as my sick body felt like home for a long time. So now, here I am in a body that looks and feels a whole lot different than my body has in a long time, and it’s brought some of insecurities, thoughts, and questions to the surface.

Now, there are a lot of internalized beliefs, systems, and problematic societal messaging (hello, “bounce back” culture) contributing to the perceived pressure I feel to fit into certain clothes at all, let alone in the early weeks after I have had a baby. And while I know this, it doesn’t exempt me from feeling like I need to spring into action to “fix” my post-baby body (I kind of cringe even re-reading that, but in an effort to be fully transparent, I’m going to leave it and invite you into this dissonance with me).

Maybe it isn’t having a baby that has challenged your recovery in this way.

Maybe it’s another life event, major change, or maybe you don’t even know what has you feeling that pressure to assess, judge, and restrict, but I know that – regardless of where these feelings originate – they can bring with them distress and shame, especially for those who have done a lot of work to get to where they are in their recovery journeys.

I have talked to others who are in recovery who have shared that they experience similar emotions and thoughts – a desire to stay in recovery while having competing desires to enact some of their eating disorder behaviors to “fix” their bodies, specifically during a season of life that inherently brings change to their body – when pregnant, after having a baby, when dealing with an illness or side effects of a medication, or for any number of other reasons. I get it. So what do we do when these thoughts and feelings arise? What do you do when it isn’t just a fleeting thought or one bad body image day, but rather a whole life event or season that has you feeling like your desire to change your body is challenging your recovery?

Intersecting Thoughts About Body Discomfort and Body Control

I have put a lot of work into weight restoration, reframing thoughts, working on strategies to confront eating disorder behaviors, but natural changes in my body (like the ones I experienced while pregnant and after giving birth) can still trigger my perceived need to control my body.

This can be a challenging space. Because there are a lot of thoughts that intersect at this point. You may be feeling like you are too far into your recovery to have these feelings; you might wonder if you are being hypocritical when thinking about how you talk about, post about, and genuinely believe that the size or composition of your body is the least important part of who you are, and that you can be healthy at any size while having thoughts about wanting to fit into a certain pair of pants or shrink your body to a size that you are more familiar or comfortable with. You may be sitting there wondering if it is ever “okay,” possible, or healthy to actually work toward changes in your body while you’re in recovery or after you consider yourself recovered.  

If you have had any variations of the above thoughts or emotions, there is no shame in them; these do not mean you are “falling out of” recovery. Being in recovery for your eating disorder does not turn you into a reprogrammed robot who will never have a thought that challenges your recovery and tempts you to lean back into your eating disorder behaviors again; you and I are human beings with real thoughts and real emotions, and having feelings and thoughts about the size and composition of your body are a reflection of that. 

But what are some things you can do right now to better work through these thoughts and feelings? Here are three initial steps:

1. Be honest

I don’t mean you need to go share your thoughts and feelings with everyone you know. Rather, I want you to be honest with yourself about your thoughts, emotions, and desires in order to disarm some of the distress of not knowing what to do when they arise. You can best address the things that you recognize, so bringing these thoughts and feelings to the surface is an important step in knowing how to best deal with them.

2. Avoid moralizing your thoughts and feelings

Did I wake up the other morning and try on a pair of pre-pregnancy pants hoping they would fit? Yes, I did. Was I upset when they did not? Yes, I was. Did this make me think about what I could do to try to ensure that I would fit into those pants again? Yes, it did. And are these emotions and thoughts “bad”? Not necessarily. They are normal thoughts and feelings that put me in a position where I am able to choose how I further engage. We are quick to try to moralize all of our thoughts and feelings as “good” or “bad,” and it’s often not helpful in getting us to a place where we can move forward well. You can recognize the thoughts and feelings you are having without allowing them to catapult you into feeling shame.

3. Seek (or lean into) outside help

If you have a therapist, dietician, nutritional counselor, or other professional you are already working with, connect with them about these thoughts and feelings. If you are not currently connected to a professional, I urge you to connect with one! 

Like being honest with yourself about where you are at, connecting with a professional can help you feel validated, uncover where these thoughts are originating, and can help you work through the nuances of your specific situation. Then, you can set and work through individualized goals and make plans that address the specific fears, thoughts, feelings, triggers that you are experiencing. 

Ultimately, It is Most Helpful to be Curious (Not Judgmental) About Your Body Discomfort

Please know that it is very normal to experience discomfort with your body – even if you have been comfortable in your body for months or years into your recovery journey. So if you have experienced a major change in your body recently (or even if you haven’t), and you are tempted to use some of your ED behaviors to ease discomfort, or if this space you are in has you wondering how to best cope, know that this is very normal; it does not diminish the progress you’ve made. Being uncomfortable with your body after going through recovery does not make you a hypocrite; you are a human being on a continuous journey towards holistic well-being, and there is space for all of your thoughts, feelings, and questions on that journey.

By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC

All images via Unsplash

How Can Wildflower Therapy in Philadelphia, PA Help You?

Life is a unique and sometimes messy journey for each of us; we all have our own individual battles to fight. Our therapists know there is no one-size-fits-all approach to any of life’s challenges and because of that, we offer many unique perspectives and approaches to help meet you where you are with our Philadelphia, PA Therapy services. We offer in-person therapy in Philadelphia, and also offer virtual therapy to anyone in PA, NJ, DE, or VA!
Our practitioners offer services for eating disorder therapy, body image struggles, services for anxiety, and depression, and have practitioners who specialize in perinatal mental health , maternal mental health, therapy for college students and athletes. We also celebrate that we offer LGBTQIA+ affirming Therapy. As you can see, we have something to offer just about anyone in our Philadelphia, PA office.

Reaching out is often the most difficult step you can take to improve your mental health, so please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have! We look forward to partnering with you on this journey!