The skinny on "pregorexia" - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

More moms-to-be struggling with "pregorexia"

According to the Mayo Clinic, far more women gain too much weight rather than too little during pregnancy.

While eating for two is not recommended, dieting for two is far scarier.

Mental health experts say a condition known as "pregorexia" is an epidemic that isn't discussed nearly enough.

Similar to anorexia and bulimia, pregorexia is an eating disorder which many pregnant moms desperately try to disguise.

Kathleen Fetter is a primary clinician at The Renfrew Center, a residential eating disorder facility with locations across the country.   

Many of Fetter's patients want their baby to be healthy, but they also want to maintain a thin physique even during the pregnancy.

Doctors worry a woman with pregorexia may give birth to a baby with a low birth weight, vitamin deficiencies, growth retardation, and other long-term health problems.

"At no time in an American woman's life have they ever been told, ‘Hey, gain weight,'" says Dr. Mark Bland, a board-certified OBGYN with Presbyterian Healthcare in Charlotte, N.C.

The condition is commonly blamed on the pictures of petite baby bumps glamorized on today's glossy magazine covers.

Fetter says most of the moms with pregorexia have pre-existing eating disorders which are magnified by the metamorphosis of motherhood.

When some of Fetter's patients at her out-patient clinic give their eating disorder a face, it's akin to a monster who causes pain in their stomach, which is the same place they feel the baby kick.

"Psychologically, what's going on for them is an obsession with their body and a huge fear of change," Fetter says.

Unable to control their widening waistlines, the urge intensifies to cut calories and continue heavy exercise in hopes of fighting off any extra fat.

America Now met up with Laurel Kaufman as she hurled around a Kettlebell and her six-month pregnant belly, leaving us to wonder where pregnant women like her need to draw the line.

"I think there's a lot of pressure on women to look and act a certain way and have it all together," Kaufman says.

Many OBGYNs say fit mothers like Kaufman who have been pumping iron and cranking out the cardio for years only need to modify during motherhood, because daily exercise is essential.

Bland says a simple 'talk test' will let you know if you're pushing your exercise to the extreme. If you can't talk during your exercise regime, you may need to do a less strenuous workout.

When it comes to pregorexics, the calorie-burning effort is extreme and often hidden.

To these women, the recommended 25 to 35 pounds of weight gain during a pregnancy as well as the additional 300 calories per day is terrifying.

What most pregorexic mothers don't realize is that fighting this also causes serious consequences for the developing child.

"The baby kind of takes what it needs," says Bland. "And [the mother] is left with the leftovers."

Malnutrition can leave a woman with brittle bones, or unable to lactate and feed her baby.

A pregorexic's fat-fearing behaviors can be heartbreaking for their families, as the only help they can offer is support.

Clinical care and counseling can help a pregorexic manage and make health changes, but trying to cure or control a life-long complex in one trimester will only leave everyone emotionally exhausted.

Kaufman says a pregnant woman's desire to remain trim is "sort of like their best friend and their worst enemy."

For women dealing with an eating disorder during pregnancy, early identification and professional care can help both mom and baby start a happy, healthy new life.

But for both, it's going to take baby steps.

Doctors tell us that old rumors about keeping your heart rate below 140 beats-per-minute during exercise need to be laid to rest.

Fit moms can continue their exercise, but just be sure to remember the 'talk test.'

And after a baby is born, stay away from those pictures of celebrities who immediately seem to bounce back to their slim bodies overnight!

OBGYNs say the body takes at least six weeks to get back to its base level, so don't worry about fitting into your skinny jeans until well after then.

Additional Information:

The following is from an article published in The New York Times entitled, "During Pregnancy, Starving for Two." Click to read.

  • Health officials estimate about 20 percent of pregnant women don't gain enough weight.
  • Risks include: premature delivery, low birth weight and long-term health problems for baby.

The following is from a story by CBS News entitled "Pregorexia Inspired By Thin Celebs?" Click to read.

  • Calorie restriction is linked with growth retardation (and) birth defects, and (with) vitamin deficiencies, both for the mother and baby.
  • With vitamin deficiencies, the baby will probably get what he or she needs, but that will be at the expense of the mother.

The following is from an ABC News report entitled "When Pregnancy and Eating Disorders Mix." Click to read.  

  • Women who purge can easily hide their behavior by blaming it on normal morning sickness or nausea.
  • Pregorexics often have increased rates of difficult labor (breech, forceps, Caesarians), low birth-weight, growth retardation, vitamin deficiencies.
  • 60 to 70 percent of eating-disorder patients experience remission during pregnancy.
  • While the actual pregnancy can aggravate an eating disorder, the postpartum period can compound its intensity.
  • Extreme starvation worsens the situation, making it impossible for a new mother to feed her child when lactation stops because of dehydration and malnutrition.
  • Healthy pregnant women should gain an average of 25 pounds. Pregnant woman who intentionally restrict their food intake still gain an average of 15.8 pounds. Bulimic pregnant women gain an average of 5.7 pounds, and the average birth weight of their babies is 4.9 pounds.

The following was published in a Mayo Clinic article entitled, "Pregnancy week by week." Click to read.

  • Research shows far more women gain too much, rather than too little, weight during pregnancy.

The following was highlighted in a report:

  • Low folic acid levels can lead to birth defects and neural deficits such as spina bifida, a condition in which the newborn's spinal cord isn't completely formed. Babies who don't receive enough calcium in the womb may steal it from the mother, damaging the mother's bones and teeth.

The following was published in an article by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists entitled "Nutrition During Pregnancy." Click to read.

  • If you are of normal weight before pregnancy, you need only about 300 extra calories per day to fuel your baby's growth = glass of skim milk and a half a sandwich.
  • Pregnant women need extra iron and folic acid so a prenatal vitamin supplement is recommended but first consult your doctor.
  • Click here to go to a website that can help you plan your pregnancy meals.
  • How much weight you gain depends on how much you weighed before pregnancy.
  • Normal weight before should equate to 25 to 35 pounds of weight gain during pregnancy.
  • Overweight or obese before should expect a weight gain between 11 and 20 pounds.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes on most, if not all days of the week.
  • Downhill skiing, contact sports and scuba diving should be avoided as exercise.
  • Try to avoid jumping, jarring motions or quick changes in direction.

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