My Eating Disorder Journey During Pregnancy

(Originally written for a friend of mine, who is a doula with a special ministry to pregnant women with eating disorders.)

For a young woman with body image issues, the prospect of carrying a baby and watching her body grow and change (in ways she cannot control) is frightening. In addition to the physical aspect, pregnancy is a bit of an enigma to young women: in high school and college, the unmarried but sexually active fear it. There is shame and stigma attached, which partially accounts for the high abortion rate. Once married, pregnancy is desired and greatly anticipated – the joyful promise of a new baby awaits. Where, exactly, does the woman suffering with an eating disorder fall into this spectrum?

That is a complicated question, as many of us who have been through this experience can attest. The life-dominating obsession of anorexia or bulimia is an intensely lonely experience, and many women with eating disorders truly want to become nurturing mothers to a little one who loves them unconditionally. Having an eating disorder during pregnancy is not a matter of selfishness; of putting one’s vanity or pride before the child’s needs. The pregnant woman struggling with anorexia (or, more commonly, bulimia), needs compassion more than ever in order to reach out for the help she needs.

My eating disorder began 10 years before my first pregnancy in 1996. Although severely underweight in high school, I had managed to maintain a normal-enough weight throughout my early twenties to conceal my bulimia. At 5’5” and 110-120 lbs., I weighed enough to menstruate regularly and had no trouble conceiving and carrying my babies to term. (I had stopped menstruating from age 15-19, as I had insufficient body fat to produce the estrogen needed to ovulate. Many women with eating disorders permanently lose their fertility; it should be noted that I was extremely lucky.)
As a pre-teen, I had casually made the comment once to my mother, “Being a fashion model seems like a fun job to have,” to which she caustically replied: “What would you model – maternity clothes?” This comment stayed with me my entire life…causing me to associate pregnancy with being overweight. As a young married woman, I do not recall, however, being unduly concerned about weight gain or looking “fat” during my pregnancies. However, as I was regularly bingeing and purging (up to four times per day), I did not gain as much weight as the average woman would have. During my first pregnancy, I gained 15 pounds – and delivered a healthy, 8 lb. 4 oz. baby girl. My second pregnancy was similar – the bulimia continued, undetected….and I gave birth to an 8 lb. 1 oz. baby boy.

Towards the end of my third pregnancy  in 2003, protein was noted in my urine. Tests were done to check my creatinine clearance – a measure of kidney function. Knowing that long-term bulimia can affect the kidneys, I became worried. Thinking I had been drinking insufficient water, I began fluid-loading…..which skewed the results of the tests and caused my ob-gyn to think my kidneys were failing. Knowing nothing about my bulimia, she assumed I was pre-eclamptic (despite my low blood pressure) and scheduled an induction at 37 weeks gestation. A difficult and painful delivery followed, although my son was healthy and strong at 7 lbs. 6 oz. Several months later, I saw a nephrologist who assured me my kidneys were completely healthy….and that compromised kidney function was often present in late-term pregnancies.

Nevertheless, the experience scared  me…..and it was part of the wake-up call God gave me to turn my life around. While Stefan (my third child) was an infant, I began the process of repentance from the eating disorder that could have claimed my life. Intercessory prayer by others, as well as regular time in the Word and personal prayer were tools that I used to overcome the bondage food had become in my life. (See my book, “Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders” , (Calvary Press) for helpful information on the process of renewing the mind.)

In 2005, I unexpectedly found myself expecting once again – this time, with a second daughter. In between buying pink outfits and nursery toys, I was by this time talking to women online who found themselves in the same predicament I had years earlier – pregnant;  trapped by eating disorders; and scared. I shared with them the same hope that God had given me – and explained that there was freedom available in Christ. I encouraged them to get help, either through their churches or with a local counselor. Eating normally, this time I gained 30 lbs. (although I had slightly more edema) and came home from the hospital 20 lbs. lighter. Without reverting to restriction, purging, or any other unhealthy mechanisms, I was back down to my pre-pregnancy size 3 within a few months. Natalia, who weighed 8 lbs. 6 oz. at birth, was the only one of my children conceived, carried and born post-bulimia.

The physical risks of eating disorders to a pregnant woman (and her unborn child) are sobering. Dehydration can lead to severe cramping, which may be mistaken for miscarriage. Malnutrition causes key nutrients and minerals to be leached from the mother’s bones, in order for the baby to obtain what he/she needs. Worse, in the case of anorexia, miscarriage is common and low-birth weight (along with insufficiently developed brains) is a major risk. Although my children were fortunate not to have been physically affected by my eating disorder while I was carrying them, while practicing bulimia I could not have been the mom that they needed. Constantly being preoccupied with thoughts of food and the takes time, energy and attention away from the little ones who need it most. One of the first things I noticed when I stopped the bulimic behavior was how much more energy I had. I was also able to concentrate and stay focused much more easily.

Overcoming an eating disorder is never easy, and because the mindset and behavior pattern is so difficult to break the motivation to “just do it for the baby” is simply not enough. Moreover, such statements (however well-intentioned) may add to the guilt a pregnant woman with an eating disorder already feels. She needs to feel safe enough to confess the bulimia (or other eating disorder) to her doula or trusted medical professional, in order to get nutritional and spiritual help. Pregnancy can be an added incentive to a woman’s recovery, but transformation is never automatic. If you are pregnant and suffer from an eating disorder, there is hope. Do not be afraid to tell someone you trust, and allow others to help and support you! 


Trips, Changes and Pits that Have Nothing to Do with Bulimia

Sometimes the counselor needs counsel. Or just understanding.

Wow...has it really been 3 months since I blogged? I started this blog in 2011 (I think), as a platform for my writing about eating disorders, and in hopes of getting my first book, "Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders" picked up by a traditional publisher. It worked - Calvary Press released RFTP in October of that year, and I still get e-mails from women all over the world seeking help. (I try to keep up with them as much as possible.)

I completed my certification as a biblical counselor the following month, just in time for the counseling ministry at my church to fall apart and the Associate Pastor to move to Canada.

Oh well. I've always considered myself more of a writer than a counselor anyway. (For those of you who don't know me personally, I am a courtroom and medical interpreter by profession so I keep busy. As of now, I am the only certified Bulgarian<=>English interpreter on the East Coast. My dream is to interpret for a biblical counseling conference someday, if ACBC ever brings biblical counseling to Bulgaria.)

But I digress. Why have I not been writing? Well, the truth is, I HAVE. This spring, articles I wrote about overcoming eating disorders in the power of Christ were published in both Albania and Bulgaria, as well as a second article about using social networking to further the Gospel. I can barely keep up with the e-mails and Facebook messages I receive from women in both countries, and I have been trying (thus far unsuccessfully) to get "Redeemed from the Pit" translated.

Recently, I was honored to write the Foreword for a booklet Dr. Mark Shaw is publishing on eating disorders (His Truth in Love Ministries). I was a contributor to Nancy Kennedy's fourth "Miracles and Moments of Grace" series, "Inspirational Stories of Survival". And, this month I completed my second book, "Plugged In: Proclaiming Christ in the Internet Age", which is in second-draft form at the publisher's. (More on that as release date gets closer.)

I have not updated this blog because I have not known what to say, really.....apart from answering the desperate e-mails and Facebook messages I regularly receive, my life has so little to do with eating disorders. And, increasingly little to do with biblical counseling (although I am currently counseling one young woman). For several years, including after completing my biblical counseling training, I have been increasingly apathetic towards theology, and dissatisfied and disillusioned with my family situation.

This summer, my family and I traveled to Bulgaria and Albania for the first time together in 6 years. We had been planning this "Balkan Road Trip" for 3 years, with the main purpose being to visit my husband's family in Bulgaria (and naturally to attempt sharing the Gospel with them, as we have in the past). I have "family in Christ" in Albania, and have developed close relationships with several students and their families. For years, I was dreaming about the day I would introduce my husband to them. They, also, were eagerly anticipating meeting my family and husband.

The "vacation" did not go as planned, despite the cheerful, happy pictures I managed to upload to Facebook. (Ever notice how we can make our Christmas card family pictures and Facebook albums tell a much rosier story than reality?) What I had seen coming - known was inevitable - hit the proverbial fan on the first afternoon of our trip. Maybe someday I will be able to write about it. But not yet.

Anyway, as incongruous as it sounds for a certified biblical counselor, my husband and I are now in counseling. With a wonderful ACBC counselor (who is a pastor). For our marriage. Which I no longer believed could be saved. And, one Wednesday night in a hotel room in Albania - during a week that was supposed to be a "dream come true" for me - I threw in the towel, and that became my decision. After years, and years, and YEARS of verbal abuse. The Holy Spirit has already begun to work. If our counselor is right, and our marriage begins to "sing", it will be a truly amazing testimony of God's grace....and I will happily write a blog for the Biblical Counseling Coalition about the Happily Ever After of allowing God to meet us in a new "pit" and pull us out.

Today, however, is not that day.

I am still too angry, double-minded and emotionally raw to give you a success story of being transformed by the power of God's Word. Right now, that's all it is....just words, like the ones I crank out in my book manuscript.

So, that's where I am at right now.....busy as always; writing where possible; struggling to find the will to save my marriage. I will not be writing about that here, as a blog is much too public and personal to write about one's marriage struggles, but I do hope someday to have a grace-filled testimony to share. Thank you for your prayers, patience and understanding as I try to move forward. As Martha Peace wrote in one of her books, learning to obey and glorify God is more important than whether we ever are published or not. I don't really know what He is doing right now or why He allowed this, but I am trying to trust Him.


Prayer of Freedom from Eating Disorders (Re-post from Shalombewithyou)

I did not write this, but a young friend shared it with me from another blog and I am re-posting. Hope someone is blessed by this prayer today!

“Dear Heavenly Father,
I want to thank you that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  I come humbly to you with a repentant heart.
I have not been treating the amazing body you have given me with the respect it deserves. For some reason I have bought the lie that I am not good enough.  I haven’t felt ‘good enough’ for as long as I can remember.
In the name of Jesus’ I bind any generational curses of insecurity that could have been passed down to me through my father’s or mother’s bloodline leading all the way back to Adam.

Lord, show me the source of where the wounds of self-hatred were inflicted.  Help me to forgive those who have hurt me and help me to forgive myself for hindering my health as well. I bind the spirit of depression, self-hatred, bulimia, anorexia and the suicide spirit.  You no longer have control over me.  I am giving every area of my mind, heart, soul, spirit and habits to the Lord.  I am allowing the spirit of Christ to overcome the spirits of darkness that once ruled in those areas.  You no longer have dominion. Lord, open my eyes to see how the enemy deceived me in the past.  Help me to see the truth for what it is and the lies for what they are.  Help me to distinguish wrong and right thoughts and to make the choices that will bring me life, not death.

In the name of Jesus I am asking for a complete healing and restoration of all the areas of my life that have been affected by the spirits of body dismorphia, anorexia and bulimia. Lord, I need healing in my mind.  I cast out the spirits of fear, anxiety, dizziness, foggy thinking, fainting, shame and low self esteem. Restore my brain chemistry to be perfectly balanced and in alignment with your Word.

Lord, please regulate my body fluids.  Raise my levels of potassium, magnesium and sodium if they are off balance.  Help me to keep these levels where they need to be with proper nutrition. Restore my heart to be strong. Remove all heart flutters, low blood pressure and any unaturally slow heart rates. Help me to eat in a way that will keep my heart strong.  Give me a balanced view of exercise for longevity.

Strengthen my kidneys.  I have put this amazing organ under extreme stress. Relieve and heal my irregular bowel movements, remove all inflammation, bloating, diarrhea and abdominal cramping in the name of Jesus.
Lord, restore my hormones to be where they should be for a person of my age. If I have started depleting my bones of calcium restore what I have destroyed and help me to eat in a way that will build my bones, not destroy them.

If my mouth has suffered from sores, heal them.  Heal any irritated throat and esophagus tissues. Restore what the devil tried to steal from me in the years and quality of my life. Help me to understand the root causes of this eating disorder.  I will not claim it as mine as it will no longer have an impact on my life like it has in the past. When I feel the compulsion to restrict my calories or to throw up, remind me of how much you love me. Help me to tap into that love whenever I don’t feel love for myself.

Heal my wounded way of thinking and all the damaging memories that are associated with this disorder. Pour the blood of Jesus and the dunamis power of His resurrection spirit over these areas of my mind and body. If Jesus could raise Himself from the dead, he can raise me up from this deadly way of thinking and acting.

When I am healed, allow me to be a beacon of light and encouragement to others who are struggling with the very issues you are healing me from today. In Jesus’ precious name, I accept this full and complete healing, Amen.”

Author: Julia Shalom Jordan

*Prayer should never be a substitute for receiving medical attention.  If you, or someone you love is experiencing suicidal thoughts or harmful tendencies towards themselves or other individuals, please help them contact a qualified physician in addition to praying for them.www.shalombewithyou.com does not assume any responsibility for any personal decisions or choices made by it’s readers.


Question About Telling My Children (from Reader)

"Hi Marie,
Hope you're doing well. I was just pondering today and thought of you. I was wondering how you talk about the topic of eating disorders with your kids. More specifically, the fact that you had one. What age did you bring it up? What did you say? How exactly did you go about it - did you sit them down or talk about it more casually? Has your history of having an eating disorder affected your parenting? Look forward to hearing from you.

Hi L!

Huh. Good question. I don't specifically remember having any real conversations. When my book came out, Valentina and Miro read the first chapter, my testimony, but didn't have any particular comments. I guess they're just used to the idea that (like a lot of people who they would have heard sharing a testimony over the years) Mom has something in her past that, with God's help, she overcame. 

Valentina was the only one old enough to have any (even vague) memory of my ED - not that she would have been consciously aware exactly at the time, but since I was still buying and planning my days around out-of-control binges (while trying to hide it) when she was in Kindergarden, 1st grade.....it was making me more short-tempered and irritable, as well as exhausted and I'm sure that did affect her. But she has no conscious memory of either my bulimia or drinking problem. However, she has always had a sneaky side......hiding/lying about stuff (usually small stuff), and even at 17, waits until we are out of the room to sneak sweets out of the fridge. Which is ridiculous, given that we have never restricted any of them from having chocolate (or whatever); why hide it?? My husband once wondered if my past might have had anything to do with her inborn "sneaking", but I doubt it.

How has it effected my parenting overall......I would say, I don't repeat the same mistakes my mother did. I have never made an issue of weight with her, never used the word "calorie" in a sentence or passed on any food hang-ups in any way (probably because I no longer have them.) I'm more concerned, if anything, about all the GMO and junk in the American food supply than my kids getting fat (but not concerned enough to go organic....I'm far too cheap.) 

I hope that answers your question......I never really addressed it or made a bid deal out of it with them, but they've long known (probably because of my book.) However, telling my husband was another matter entirely and a very hard experience. See "Telling Someone" in my book. 

Hope that helps!


Review of "Redeemed from the Pit" on the Biblical Counseling Coalition

Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance And Restoration From The Bondage of Eating Disorders by Marie Notcheva

Redeemed from the Pit is a solid read for the biblical counselor who is looking to expand their understanding on this important topic and for anyone seeking to overcome an eating disorder or is ministering to someone who is enslaved to the lifestyle. The personal story victory and practical application of Gospel truth makes this a great resource.

In the Pit of Despair

As a biblical counselor and as a person who was once diagnosed with bulimorexia, I took on the challenge of reading Marie Notcheva’s book, Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders book for both personal and professional reasons. I have had a love/hate relationship with food all my life. Like Marie, I once struggled with binging and purging and I alternated those behaviors with starvation.  
From the introduction to the end of the book, Marie makes it clear to the reader that eating disorders are not a physical disease from which a person recovers but a spiritual disease from which a person must repent. 
Marie’s personal story is weaved throughout this great book. She gives vivid details of how her early years provided the perfect mental and emotional set up for the development of her eating disorder. The culture of the late 1960’s and early 70’s that subjected women to consistent expectations of thinness and beauty fueled the fires of shame ignited by her family’s careless words about her weight and appearance. Her mother in particular (who appeared to struggle with her own food issues) was exceedingly fearful Marie would be overweight and suffer consequences to her health. She enrolled Marie in a toddler dance class to slim her down and restricted her access to sugar and starches.
At age 11, Marie began taking gymnastics. By 14, with gymnast Nadia Comaneci as her idol, she began a lifestyle of severe calorie restriction and over exercise. The highly competitive worlds of gymnastics and dance fueled her desire to become sylphlike. While she got the desired results through constant exercise and living on Slim-Fast and vegetables, the following year she determined to eat as much as she wanted, eliminating the food binge through vomiting.
In a very short amount of time, Marie’s binge/purge lifestyle was out of control. It was clear to everyone around her she needed help. Her health was in serious jeopardy. While referred to psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists, they were unable to breach the concrete protecting her heart. 

A Way Out

In her sophomore year at college, she joined Campus Crusade and put her faith in Christ. She continued her secret lifestyle while active in Cru, Bible study, and discipleship. A job abroad followed college and her slavery to bulimia remained an active part of everyday life. She also began to drink heavily as a way to medicate the constant guilt and shame she lived with.
Marriage and children did not expose or alter her bulimia, although her husband did express concern about her drinking.
Marie writes at length about the self-disgust she experienced. It caused her to question her salvation and consider herself a hypocrite. She felt hopeless and at times she feared God had rejected her. However, she had such a desire to return to Him that she continuously tried to turn away from her sin. In desperation, she met with a small group of Christian women who prayed over her. It was then that she began to find freedom from alcohol and bulimia.  
From this point forward in the book, Marie develops the inward battle of change at the heart level. She describes her battle with overcoming her eating disorder both on the physical and spiritual level and does not shrink away from describing the difficulties she faced or her failures in overcoming the desire to binge and purge. She notes, “Overcoming an eating disorder requires our constant, active commitment to inward change” (7). 

Living Free

She urges the reader to “be one who believes” in the power of the Gospel as the means to transform life from victimhood to victorious in Christ, rightly emphasizing the critical need for repentance in overcoming an eating disorder.
“Forgiven, cleansed, and given a new start, He expects you to get up off your knees and get started—walking in repentance” (6).
Marie carefully breaks down the numerous issues of the heart that a person with eating disorder behaviors must repent of to overcome this sin and live victoriously. There is an entire chapter devoted to the believers position in Christ, which is very important for a woman with an eating disorder to understand since so much of her thinking is performance oriented. Marie brings forth the truth about the role emotions play in how a person thinks about food. This is vital since those with unhealthy eating habits believe many lies about food.
Throughout the book, there are application steps that make use of charts and Scripture memorization. There is also an entire chapter on practical issues that a person with disordered eating faces. Marie highlights the refining benefits of a biblical counseling relationship and involvement in a local church. 
This book is a solid read for the biblical counselor who is looking to expand their understanding on this important topic and for anyone seeking to overcome an eating disorder or is ministering to someone who is enslaved to the lifestyle. The personal story victory and practical application of Gospel truth makes this a great resource. 
Julie Ganschow

Julie Ganschow

Julie Ganschow has been involved in biblical counseling and discipleship for over a decade. She ministers to women through Biblical Counseling for Women and writes a daily blog on counseling issues. She is a staff member at Reigning...
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