By Sara Gonet, MS, RD, LDN, CEDRD
I am nearing my third trimester during my first pregnancy and phew—what a journey it has been already! I have experienced feelings of excitement, anxiety and everything in between over the past 26 weeks.
As an eating disorder specialist, I spend a majority of my days counseling individuals with disordered eating and body image issues, while empowering them to make peace with food and their bodies through acceptance and appreciation. I never would have thought that I would have to work extra hard to apply that same knowledge I give to others to myself during this season of change during pregnancy.
In our society, we are bombarded with messages overly focused on bodies and appearance. The media portrays unrealistic representations during pregnancy and postpartum of women’s bodies “bouncing back” immediately after giving birth, rather than focusing on the actual miracle of giving birth and realities of parenting. Even healthcare professionals like myself are not immune to cultural pressures to have the perfect body, be the perfect mom or have it all together all the time!
When I started to struggle with adapting to my changing body, I started to become curious what was going on underneath. For me, it was not only the fact that every part of my body was changing, but I felt as if my entire identity was shifting into becoming a mother. Initially, I felt a sense of loss, rather than gain. It was confusing to me feeling both so much joy and excitement and yet feeling overwhelmed and anxious at the same time. It is a good reminder that we as humans are supposed to feel a range of all emotions.
As I navigate and continue to navigate the journey of pregnancy and motherhood, I started to apply similar tips I would typically offer my clients to myself. Whether you are a first-time mom like me, or a mother of 4, consider the following tips to practice during pregnancy/postpartum body image challenges and beyond:
- Focus on Body Appreciation:
- During the second trimester, I made a commitment to myself: Though I could not control the negative thoughts that popped into my head about my changing body, I could control how I responded to these thoughts with compassion, care and appreciation toward myself and body.
- When you think about what your body is doing during pregnancy, it’s truly a miracle of how well-equipped our bodies are to nourish and grow a life into this world. I find it helpful to say to myself silently, “I appreciate what my body is doing to nourish and grow this baby.” Focusing on what our bodies can do for us allows us to shift away from focusing on our appearance and most importantly, gives more space to cherish this season of life.
- Listen to What Your Body Needs:
- One way to demonstrate care towards ourselves in response to negative body image thoughts is to listen to what our bodies are telling us it needs and honor those needs. This can be honoring your basic needs through gentle nutrition, body movement that you enjoy, and rest, to name a few. I often ask myself, “What do you need today Sara?” Sometimes that looks like getting outdoors for a walk or prenatal yoga, which has been movement I have found that allows me to connect with my body more. Sometimes it looks like shutting off work and resting on the couch with my dog, husband, and Netflix. I have also found regular prenatal massages to be helpful with managing stress and anxiety, not to mention it helps alleviate physical aches and pains during pregnancy. You get to decide and learn what “caring for yourself and body” looks like for you! We are all different and have different needs.
- Less Perfection, More Authenticity:
- During the beginning of pregnancy, I convinced myself that I needed to be happy all the time, since getting the opportunity to become a mother one day has been something I have longed for. When well-meaning family and friends would show their happiness for me and the gift I am bringing into the world, I found myself feeling guilty, as the truth is, though I do feel happiness, I also was struggling with a range of other emotions triggered by all the changes. I put pressure on myself to act as if I was not struggling. However, this only put up a barrier to the connection and support I truly needed from loved ones. I have started to be more real and authentic about my experience of pregnancy and that has been the biggest relief and greatest source of connection.
- Strong Support System
- In addition to family and friends in your corner, there is also no shame in seeking out professional help ever, and especially during life transitions, such as pregnancy, postpartum and motherhood. I have been seeing an individual therapist for the past decade and during this season of life, it has been a space where I can share and work through challenges so I can continue taking care of myself, while being the mother I want to be for my family.
- Pregnancy has been one of the greatest gifts and one of the hardest experiences. We should not have to do this journey alone!
What would it be like to show appreciation toward your body for what it is doing during pregnancy rather than focusing on how your body looks? What does caring for yourself and body through attunement to what it needs look like for you? What if we practiced more authenticity throughout the journey of pregnancy, postpartum and motherhood to allow for more relatability, connection, and support through struggles?
Sara is a Registered Dietitian with Lutz, Alexander & Associates Nutrition Therapy and provides nutrition therapy to children, adolescents and adults. Sara’s goal is to help her clients develop a positive relationship with food, movement, and their bodies. Sara believes in the importance of building trust and rapport with her clients, and provides a compassionate, individualized approach. She is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) through the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals. Sara also works with families of loved ones with pediatric feeding concerns and disordered eating. Sara sees clients in Lutz and Alexander’s Raleigh and Chapel Hill locations. Sara enjoys yoga, training for a half-marathon, writing, and spending time with her husband and golden retriever, Max!
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