Pregnancy with a history of bulimia nervosa

Posted 18/09/2017

I suffered from bulimia nervosa for about ten years, from 18 to 28. I got diagnosed at 24, received group CBT treatment alongside mediction, and little by little, with sometimes more steps backward than forward, I’m now completely recovered for about four years (I’m now 32). I'm now pregnant and suffering from Hypermeresis Gravidarum (HG), which is an extreme form of morning sickness. And this is what I’d like to talk about. Even though HG is rare and only affecting 1-2% of pregnant women, I'm sure I'm not the only one suffering from it with a history of – or a current – ED. I’m also a researcher in ED and after reading a few papers on pregnancy and ED, all I could find were papers regarding fear of weight gain. Although this is extremely important, I feel the psychological aspects of it all should be more openly discussed, and this is what I aim to do here, through my personal experience.

If you ask anyone around you, pregnancy is supposed to be this period of intense bliss, where you radiate happiness, where you have cravings for little things that are so cute, and how plainly, you should have nothing to complain about. And I do have such moments, where I feel really blessed to be married to the most wonderful man in the world and carrying our little baby. But there are also moments where all I do is cry because this is too hard and because some of the symptoms I am currently experiencing are too close to what used to be home, with an obsession around food, a lot of vomiting, an extreme tiredness, and this feeling of hopelessness that this will never end.

In my first trimester, I reached a point where I was vomiting very frequently and had lost a lot of weight, and so was put on medication. This reduced the symptoms but now, even in my second trimester, I am still sick about once a day – and this is only because I'm carefully watching what I eat. Now, I have to force myself to eat or I'll be sick, but not too much either, or I'll be sick too... After my ED, I learnt how to listen to my body cues, to know when I was hungry and when I was not. Now, if I wait to feel hungry, it's too late. So I eat every 1-2 hours, whether I feel hungry or not, and I can't even start explaining how exhausting this is – once again constantly thinking about food, particularly when nothing is actually tempting. Forget about the cravings, nothing looks appetising to me, so it's a real struggle to be constantly thinking 'what am I going to eat next?'. Then there's the extreme tiredness and hopelessness that I sometimes felt when I had my ED. There are days when I wake up and I know I won't be able to get out of bed.

I know it's not what it used to be, and it's apparently down to the hormones trying to make sure my baby is fit and healthy, but the feeling is the same: I'm completely exhausted and sometimes frankly depressed. The hopelessness is slightly different because now at least I know that in the worse case scenario, it will end at the end of the nine months of pregnancy, whereas I had no idea of when or how I would ever get better when I was in the middle of my ED. But still, when you're in your 17th week, and the constant nausea hasn't stopped since week six, and that you know you may have 23 more weeks of this, the hopelessness is strong. I also can't do any exercise because I have to think about what I will need to eat to compensate for the calories wasted (so I don’t feel ill), and just the thought about having to find something more to eat is too tiring. During my ED, I viewed exercise as a way of reducing the Kcal so I know it's slightly different, but it's the same feeling of associating exercise with Kcal...

I do know that these symptoms are different from when I had my ED. And I do know that I'm not back into it and I can't see myself falling back into it again. But there's still this association in my head, and it's tough because it's sort of sending me back to a time that was really hard.

This blog is not a rant to say how unhappy I feel, because I am actually really happy to be pregnant and I would not change this for anything in the world. I haven’t yet met my baby, but I already feel the intense love for that little one and I’m so grateful to be able to experience this. But this is to hopefully raise awareness of the difficulties of pregnancy, particularly here in my case, with HG and a history of an ED. So to all women out there, finding it difficult to cope with some of the symptoms of pregnancy, know you are not alone, and reach out so you don’t fall back in that trap. 

Contributed by Laura