Mommyrexia: Avoiding Pregnancy Weight Gain

by Courtney Sullivan

women with hand weightWhile all new moms worry about losing their baby weight, an alarming number of women refuse to gain weight in the first place. Meet the mommyrexics -- pregnant women who are desperate to keep the nine months of weight gain to an absolute minimum. member, Christina is a 36-year-old mom pregnant with her second child. She battles bulimia every day.

Christina shares her story: "I was about 20 when my eating disorder really became apparent. I think I'd always struggled with food and weight but using food as I did with the bulimia didn't really stand out until then. Early on it was very manageable, but that's the problem. It's so addicting. At the height of my bulimia, I was bingeing and purging 16 to 20 times a day...yes, a DAY, and keeping down the equivalent of a cucumber."

During her last pregnancy she says she was blissful. For some reason gaining didn't bother her. After her son was born, her baby weight dropped slowly. She worked out and watched her diet, but it didn't seem to matter.

Christina continues her story: "When I got pregnant this time around, I knew I was in for a struggle but I wasn't aware how hard it would be. Thinking I'm too fat, or that my body isn't what I want it to be, being out of control or feeling inadequate really make the urges come back. I actually did give in early on but I felt so incredibly guilty that I knew I couldn't allow purging to happen again, no matter what. I had to change my mindset."

Here's what Christina decides to do: "I started eating tons of fruit and veggies and walking about three miles a day with my son every morning. It has made a world of difference. I am more able to block out all those negative feelings and know that this is necessary for my health and my baby's."

Who's at Risk?

Expectant moms realize they must gain weight to produce a healthy baby but many worry they'll never be able to regain their pre-baby figures. For women with an eating order, that worry escalates. A Swedish study of women who had given birth recently found that 11.5 percent had a past or current eating disorder. Are you at risk for mommyrexia with this pregnancy? Here are some questions to find out:

  • Do you have a pre-existing eating disorder?
  • Is beauty an important part of your identity?
  • Are you worried about losing your athletic edge?
  • Do you worry your weight gain will spiral out-of-control?
  • Do you worry your changing body will lessen your husband or partner's affection?
  • Are you half way through pregnancy and still working out intensely?

Okay, you've answered these questions honestly to yourself. Do your answers suggest you're struggling with your changing pregnant body?

Growing a Healthy Baby

According to Alexandra Allred, pregnancy fitness trainer and's Fitness Expert, gaining too much during pregnancy increases the risk of diabetes and other problems. However, not gaining enough weight presents its own set of dangers. Your baby might grow slower, have a higher risk of some defects and breathing problems and lower Apgar scores right after birth. Mom's problems include nutritional deficits, heart disease, anemia, preterm labor and over-exercise injury.

"By the end of the second trimester," Alex says, "your joints loosen in preparation for childbirth. Ligaments stretch very easy and with more intense, high impact workouts, ACL's, ligaments and tendons are at risk of injury." Alex continues to state that, "Olympic coaches and professional trainers, therefore, INSIST that their athletes back off at this point.

Athletes who took it easy and looked at their pregnancy with more respect -- got some exercise but focused on great sleep and proper nutrition -- came back stronger and faster than ever. There is a tremendous Wall of Fame for Olympic Moms who came back to win gold. If you're only worried about weight gain or not getting your figure back, you can't and must not do this to yourself and your baby."

Our expert has these suggestions for each mom-to-be:

  • Remember you're acting as host to a baby
  • Watch what and how you eat
  • Stay hydrated
  • Scale exercise back for your baby
  • Be honest with your midwife or doctor. Request special care for the added risks involved. Ask to work with a nutritionist that specializes in eating disorders.
  • Seek professional counseling and assistance from family and friends if you're struggling to cope with your changing shape

"Most importantly, don't go it alone! Get the help you need for both you and your baby. Even if you feel it is not out of hand and you can manage it, still get some help!" encourages Kimberly Tessmer, RD, LD. "As you go through your pregnancy and gain weight (the average pregnant woman should gain between 25 and 35 pounds to have a healthy child) there may be more issues that surface that you are not ready to deal with. With proper care, you can overcome your eating disorder and have a healthy child."

The Celebrity Factor

Do super-slim celebrities such as Rachel Zoe, Bethenny Frankel and Victoria Beckham influence new mothers and mothers-to-be? Do they persuade other moms to go to extreme lengths to fight any excess weight gain caused by carrying a child? Apparently so! Maternity labels are producing smaller sizes while new mommy boot camps are multiplying across the country.

Christina chimes in, "I know that seeing celebrities barely change physically and after the birth be fitting into sizes I only dream of is very hard. Why are they so different than the average woman? And why does media insist on telling me that so and so is back into her size 2 dress two weeks after giving birth? That seems to perpetuate the thought if they can do it, so can I." She continues, "I know most of them deal with disordered eating and have trainers, Spanx, and nannies but that doesn't ever seem to be brought up. And my mind always seems to push those facts to the back."

Christina hits on a very important truth. We encourage you to remember that often those celebrities showcasing their flat abs and skintight wear just weeks after giving birth aren't the norm nor should they be! Along with the full-time help with both baby and home, personal trainers centered more on achieving a "look" versus a healthy mom, and chefs at their disposal, many are battling their own eating disorder demons.

Our final words of wisdom: Stay focused on being healthy -- for you and your baby. Seek support from family, friends, and within group settings, both online and off. Don't be afraid to reach out for professional advice from physicians, nutritionists, and other experts! Finally, embrace your ever-changing pregnant body. You ARE beautiful inside and out.

Have you suffered with mommyrexia? Share your thoughts!

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allara.aoste's picture

Hello moms and moms to be Smile

I am on my 8th gestational week - baby seems to be fine and I feel I am fine but one big worry related to this article: I am terrified of the body changes. I never had an eating disorder but I am a light eater and very conscious of my body and weight. I have been an athlete all my life so having a lean body was never an issue and now that I need the weight to produce a healthy baby, I struggle with the thought of not going back ''to what it was'' after this little one comes out.
I am doing pre-natal yoga twice a week and will not go any further with physical exercise before my 12th week - personal decision - what can I do after to keep myself fit without any danger to my baby (and myself, of course). Any gals with experience out there?
It is my first and I just found out not long ago so it all a big question mark at the moment. Thank you all in advance,

Over the last 17 years, it has been my great pleasure to interview some of the most regarded female elite athletes in the world on the topic of training, motherhood and pregnancy.

I have built a career on training and guiding pregnant athletes (sometimes talking them off the "I just ate two pounds of fudge" ledge") and, in fact, will be speaking to the International Olympic Committee in London this summer.

But I also work with everyday moms as well and can tell you there are two mindsets to pregnancy and fitness.

The "elite" athlete (this can include an everyday mom who is a devoted exerciser -- an Olympian at heart) understands that pregnancy is a temporary state. This is NOT the time to count calories, to worry about weight gain (in acceptable terms) and whether or not she will be bikini ready months after giving birth.

This worry drives me crazy! Because we have become so accustomed to the Hollywood mom bikini ready a week after birth ... we think this is normal. Uh, it's not. Hello airbrushing, on-call trainers and nutritionists and staged photos!

The true athlete embraces this time as a new kind of training. Five-time gold medalist Angel Martino (swimming) said it best. When she became pregnant, she said, "This is my new Gold medal training plan ... for my baby!"

The weight will come back off. Your body will be better, stronger than ever before. The list of Olympic mothers who came back to win the Gold is long and noble!

As a trainer, my most frustrating (and dangerous) pregnant clients are the ones "determined" not too gain too much weight or worry endlessly about what they are going to look like post-baby.

They tend to not listen. They tend to develop habits that are unhealthy for the baby and themselves. The hard reality is that you will gain what you need to gain. In my first pregnancy, I gained 60 pounds. I sat on my couch, ate, watched TV and worried about child birth. My second pregnancy, I was on the US women's bobsled team and working out harder than most non-pregnant women. I gained 58 pounds. My third pregnancy, I was teaching kickboxing and earned my second black belt. I gained 50-something pounds. (I stopped caring).

This story mirrors many of the Olympic athletes I have spoken to. However, your training during pregnancy (and it must be cleared with your doctor and be wise/safe) will help you get back into training after you have your baby and are ready to work out again.

Accepting Angel Martino's theory of the "Gold Medal Baby Plan," is the best plan you can have. Eat healthy. Get good sleep. Train safely for you and bay and let life take you where it takes you .... A stress free, happy mom makes for a stress free, happy AND HEALTHIER pregnancy and baby!