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Mom Talk: Battling An Eating Disorder

Written by Austyn Smith

Photography by Artwork by Tiana Lewis

We’re back with another round of  “Mom Talk”, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. This week, Austyn Smith shares her battle with an eating disorder, becoming a mother, and self-discovery. -JKM

Throughout high school and college, I struggled on and off with a pretty severe eating disorder. With a lot of hard work and therapy, I was fortunate enough to regain a healthy relationship with food and exercise, and eventually found myself in a good spot. I was married, doing well in my career, and soon discovered I was pregnant! The joyful celebration and excitement lasted for a few months until I was blindsided by the return of my eating disorder (ED) tendencies. I’d luckily had enough education and therapy under my belt to understand the dangers of giving in to the “control and release” urges, especially during pregnancy. However, my emotions were all over the place. I’d feel so blessed to finally be pregnant, and then resent the baby for my changing body and feel subsequent disgust, followed quickly by a wave of shame and guilt. It was a difficult journey to navigate, to say the least.

Over the years and subsequent children, I’ve learned that pregnancy serves as an intense trigger for me, and that’s just the way it is. When my ED rears its ugly head, it helps to remember the real problems and solutions surrounding this disease.

Aside from the obvious dichotomy between getting adequate nutrition during pregnancy and the restriction of an ED, there are other negative results. Being in an internal obsessive state of mind makes it nearly impossible to truly connect with family and friends, or even want to. As my children watch my behaviors with food and exercise, they are subject to my poor modeling and may gain unhealthy attitudes and habits of their own. Constant criticism and body obsession can lead to low self-esteem and depression that leaks into many aspects of life.

I’ve learned valuable tools to combat such an ugly disease. First, understanding that an ED is only a symptom of a larger problem, helps me get to the core of what I am really feeling. Once I have that pinned down, I can turn to healthy solutions that don’t involve food restriction and exercise abuse. Mindfulness often helps. I also practice positive affirmations. Repeating these daily loving messages to myself trains my mind to truly believe I am valued, loved, and capable regardless of size and shape. In addition, processing my feelings with support groups, therapists, and friends makes them feel less powerful and scary. An ED is usually sustained via mental and physical abuse. So when I feel triggered, I combat it by performing physical acts of love using all my senses—buying a new cozy sweater, rubbing some sweet smelling lotion on my skin, or soaking in a warm bath.

Although life is not all roses, I have definitely hit a new stride with combatting ED during pregnancy and motherhood, and I love seeing the results. The greatest one? I’m present as a mother. Being proactive about my recovery helps me to deal with my issues, and I am then able to truly see, hear, and love my children. I see the wonder in their eyes when they are explaining something. I listen to their sweet voices read to me and try to commit it to memory. I feel their warm bodies snuggle in my lap as they hug me. It brings joy I would otherwise be missing.

I also like myself a lot more. Spending all my time thinking about my body is a gigantic waste of time, and completely pointless. I’ve been able to discover new hobbies and passions, and as a result, I feel likable and interesting. I am modeling great self-care and self-discovery. This has been such a joy to realize, especially now that I have a daughter. When I invest in myself, I know I am teaching her that she is important; that she should also do these kinds of things as she grows and develops.

Motherhood is a wild ride, filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I am sure I will continue to experience unexpected challenges, ED related or not, but I know it’s a ride worth experiencing, and that I am strong enough for the undertaking.

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