The news has been abuzz with the prevalence of pregorexia after a UK study surveyed more than 700 pregnant women and found that a quarter were highly concerned about their weight and shape. It got me thinking about my own battles with body image and how much energy I wasted in the pursuit of pregnancy perfection.
The day I got married I was a size 8. I’d spent the months leading up to our wedding eating lettuce, dry chicken and protein bars that tasted like paper mache. I’d also chained myself to a treadmill every day and pec-decked till my breasts resembled stunned mandarins. I kept telling myself that nobody gasps at a fat bride and that if I couldn’t be picture perfect on my wedding day I would have failed at life. Dinner invitations sent me into a flat panic, I’d check out restaurant menus online to plan out the evening – if I ordered the 250g steak, I could eat half of it, ask for salad on the side with no dressing and no fries. Then I could fill my champagne glass with sparkling water and pretend it was alcohol. Yes, I was a barrel of laughs in the lead up to the big day, as I struggled to look nothing like the curvy girl my husband had fallen in love with.
I’ve always been a complete basket case when it comes to my weight. Growing up as the chubby daughter of a skinny dance teacher will do that to you. While my older sister always managed to stay slim, I would put on a kilo every time I glanced at a marshmallow. Ever since I went on my first soup diet at the age of 11, photos of me have been a series of before and after pictures as my desire to be thinner has controlled every event and every day of my life. There is no middle ground with me, I either starve myself or eat everything in sight. When I’m in starvation mode, I’m constantly panicking that I’m going to fall off the wagon and when I’m in hungry hippo mode I feel nauseatingly guilty 24/7. Am I obese? Hell to the no. If I let my body settle into its natural state, I’m a size 12, which in many people’s eyes is perfect.
When my husband and I started trying for a baby, we’d just returned from our dream holiday in Europe. Six weeks of eating gnocchi and drinking pinot had puffed out my thighs and when I looked in the mirror I saw a bowling ball of a face on top of a hessian bag of flab. Each month the negative pregnancy result brought tears of disappointment, but also a sense of relief – I’d think, I have four more weeks to lose weight before I’m not allowed to anymore! But the next month I weighed the same as the month before and I hated myself for not being disciplined enough to break up with carbs and hook up with celery, because if I could be super skinny when I fell pregnant, I wouldn’t be too fat at the end. I would diet for four days then find myself snorkeled up with a chocolate wafer and diving headfirst into a bowl of macadamia and caramel ice-cream. Without a white dress egging me on, I had false start after false start in the pursuit of pre-pregnancy perfection.
Eight months and no dropped kilos later, I fell pregnant. My husband and I were ecstatic but my elation was tainted with the anger I felt for not losing the junk in my trunk. I grilled my obstetrician on how many kilos he expected me to put on. He told me I was a perfectly healthy weight and should put on between 11 and 16 kilos but everyone is different he said, so don’t worry if you gain more than that. I was angry with him for not being harder on me, so I went home and put together an Excel spreadsheet that mapped out the weeks of my pregnancy. I divided 11 kilos across the second and third trimester to try and set myself a limit of how many grams I should allow myself to put on each week. I wanted to be a hot mama with a perfect round bump, not a bloated tracksuit pants wearing slob.
After the first trimester, I’d already gained four kilos, so I recalculated the spreadsheet. Two weeks later, I’d gained another two kilos, I recalculated again. Operation pregnancy perfection was not going to plan.
I Googled ‘pregnancy diet’ and found the details of a dietician who could stop me falling down the rapid gain rabbit hole. She gave me a list of foods to eat and foods to avoid but no strict eating plan. I walked away furious. Where were my super strict parameters? How was I going to regain control? The pressure sent me straight to the pantry. It didn’t help that my husband would come home with treats, “I got my gorgeous wife a Freddo frog” he’d say. I’d scream at him, eat the frog and then collapse into a bawling, hormonal mess.
At prenatal aqua aerobics, I’d ask each girl how far along she was then mentally measure my belly size against each of theirs. Every week while paddling and straddling a pool noodle, I would diagnose myself as gargantuan. I only care about these things because I want to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy bub I told myself. But I knew it was more than that, it was that chubby 11-year-old chaffing in her Mickey Mouse shorts and miserably eating her fifth cup of soup who was screwing with my head.
By the time I reached the final weeks of my pregnancy I had gained 24 kilos. My Mum came out from South Africa to help me prepare for the bub but her camera stayed in her handbag as I refused to let her take any photos of me looking like a whale. My Mum kept telling me I looked gorgeous and was “all belly” but I knew she was just being kind. I put the Excel spreadsheet in the trash folder, slid the scale under the bathroom cupboard and opened a pack of Tim Tams. I was too far gone I told myself, I’d just have to be super strict once bubba was born. If Beyonce could rock sequined hot pants weeks after giving birth, it couldn’t be that hard.
On 21 January our gorgeous baby boy was born. He was a healthy 3.86kgs and perfect in every way. When we got home from hospital, I Ajaxed the dust off the scales and was thrilled to discover that I’d lost 13kgs since my last weigh in. Out came the Excel spreadsheet and according to my calculations I’d be thin again by June.
I’d love to say that becoming a mother has made me view my body with awe and wonder, but that’s not 100% true. I am still fighting with my body and I’m tired. It’s now September and I’ve just fallen off post-pregnancy wagon number six. I hate that despite being completely obsessed with my weight, I can’t get a handle on it. I hate that the more I stress about it, the more likely I am to eat crap. I hate that I can’t occasionally eat a burger without feeling like shit. I hate how the number on the scales each morning has the power to make or break my day.
I know I need to stop. I know I need to be thankful and stop obsessing over a body that really isn’t all that bad. I’m going to try. Because I don’t want something so superficial to have so much power over me anymore. I want to tell that 11-year-old girl eating soup and dreaming of ice-cream that she is beautiful. Because she is. We all are.