Pregorexia – The Fear of Gaining Weight from Pregnancy

March 28, 2018

When a woman is pregnant, she usually gains between 20 to 30 pounds. Although it’s different for each woman, it is normal that after the first trimester, the mother gains about 3 pounds per month. However, some pregnant women develop pregorexia, anorexia while pregnant, and this breaks the norm.

Their weight loss or lack of weight gain, as well as their lack of essential nutrients, prevents the fetus from growing properly. Therefore, despite the fact there are only a handful of cases, pregorexia’s repercussions can become very serious, both for the mother and for the fetus.

 

How do these mothers avoid gaining weight?

Pregorexia combines the words “pregnancy” and “anorexia”. It is an eating disorder that affects pregnant women. These women develop an irrational fear of gaining weight during the gestation period. Women with pregorexia cling to wanting to maintain their body weight. So much so that they do all sorts of things in order to preserve their figure.

These women choose to restrict what they put in their mouths to the maximum following hypocaloric and very restrictive diets. They avoid foods with a lot of carbohydrates and fats and they deprive themselves of any type of “craving” characteristic of their condition. Also, they exercise in an excessive, obsessive way. Also, they use purgative practices after binge eating, such as vomiting and even laxatives. This is so dangerous!

pregnant woman

Does this only happen to women who were anorexic before?

It is possible that a pregnant woman develops pregorexia without previously having had a food disorder. But it is not the norm. Most often, it happens if you previously had an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia. However, having had an eating disorder in the past doesn’t mean that you will develop it during gestation, although the risk increases.

This disorder is caused by psychological, biological and interpersonal factors that predispose women to develop such a disorder.

Pregorexia symptoms

Verbally, we often know that a pregnant woman suffers from this disorder because she avoids talking about her pregnancy, denies her problem and rejects her condition as well as her own changes. All this is the result of her feelings of fear and anxiety over gaining weight. Underneath everything, she believes that if she doesn’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist.

Physically, it’s striking how little weight women with this disorder gain during pregnancy, or they may even lose weight. It is most evident during the second trimester, because this is when we most notice changes in the body.

In addition, a low-calorie diet, excessive physical exercise and purgative practices can create dizziness or headaches and excessive fatigue. It also makes a woman have difficulty concentrating and sleeping. All these symptoms not only elevate the likelihood of a risky pregnancy. They can also generate problems during the birth and in the child’s development later.

Consequences of pregorexia for the mother

The repercussions of this disorder, on the one hand, have to do with low food intake. These include malnutrition, anemia, bradycardia, arrhythmias, hypertension, hair loss or very dry and cracked skin. On top of all these, we have to look at the consequences pregorexia has for the pregnancy.

The decrease of essential minerals from insufficient food intake can produce bone decalcification, which can cause low breast milk production. Once the baby is born, this makes it difficult for the mother to give enough milk to satisfy the baby.

Furthermore, the woman’s amniotic fluid will have a low volume – this is the vital fluid for the fetus, which surrounds it and protects it from external injuries. In addition, the placenta may detach. If this happens, things can become very serious, especially if it occurs in the third trimester.

pregnant woman being sick

How does pregorexia affect the fetus?

The mother’s nutrition is crucial for the fetus’ development. The consequences of poor eating for the fetus are really dangerous. Pregorexia increases the chances of complications during labor. For example, respiratory failure, low birth weight or a very poor Apgar score. It can also cause premature birth (before the 37th week of pregnancy), malformations in the fetus, neurological alterations, ADHD or mental retardation.

In the event that the mother has had a serious placental displacement, the baby is likely to have growth problems. Pregorexia also increases the chances of the baby dying during its first month of life, as well as a still birth.

Comprehensive treatment

How you eat is just as important as how much you eat during pregnancy. If you’re not eating more food, you must be eating better food. Pregnant women should pay attention to their diet, but not obsess over it. The sooner pregorexia is detected, the better. If it is detected quickly, it’s more likely that the consequences will not cause irreversible harm to the mother and child.

Given that pregorexia is a mental illness a multidisciplinary and specialized team must treat it. Together, a psychiatrist, an obstetrician, a dietitian-nutritionist and a nurse can carry out a complex and comprehensive treatment.

What’s best is to create a relaxed and de-stressed atmosphere during meals, as well as to normalize meal schedules. A family should not force a pregnant woman to eat a certain amount of food. This can be very counterproductive.

Both obesity and extreme thinness cause risky pregnancies. Therefore, the best thing is to have a balanced and varied diet during this period. Also, it’s a good idea to regularly do exercise, such as yoga, pilates or walking. Aesthetics should never be prioritized when health is at stake. Particularly at the expense of the health of a child!

 

Mathieu, J. (2009). What Is Pregorexia? Journal of the American Dietetic Association. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2009.04.021

Babicz-Zielinska, E., Wadolowska, L., & Tomaszewski, D. (2013). Eating disorders: Problems of contemporary civilisation – A review. Polish Journal of Food and Nutrition Sciences. https://doi.org/10.2478/v10222-012-0078-0

E., H.-P., & E., K.-K. (2017). Pregorexia – Anorexia of pregnant women. Pediatria i Medycyna Rodzinna. https://doi.org/10.15557/PiMR.2017.0038