Pregorexia Impacts the Eating Disorder Field

Maggie Baumann’s second pregnancy over twenty years ago pushed her into restricting her caloric intake and forced her to exercise excessively. She did all this in a desperate effort to maintain her body shape and in fear that she did not gain the 33lbs she had in her first pregnancy. Instead of enjoying the freedom of eating for two, Maggie starved herself and her unborn child. In so doing, she unwittingly became part of a group of pregnant mothers whose prior battles with eating disorder behaviors continued throughout their pregnancies.

Maggie Baumann’s second pregnancy over twenty years ago pushed her into restricting her caloric intake and forced her to exercise excessively. She did all this in a desperate effort to maintain her body shape and in fear that she did not gain the 33lbs she had in her first pregnancy. Instead of enjoying the freedom of eating for two, Maggie starved herself and her unborn child. In so doing, she unwittingly became part of a group of pregnant mothers whose prior battles with eating disorder behaviors continued throughout their pregnancies. Pregnancy for most mothers is a time of joy and celebration – but for mothers suffering from an eating disorder like Maggie, it can become a living nightmare. This behavior is synopsized by the term “Pregorexia” – a term coined by today’s media as a disorder marked by a pregnant woman’s preoccupation with weight control through extreme dieting and over-exercising.

What’s important to understand is the eating disorder is not really about the food someone consumes or restricts, or if the person purges calories through vomiting or over-exercise. The real causes of eating disorders are much deeper and can be connected to previous trauma, neglect or abuse that overwhelms the individual. To cope, this person uses the eating disorder to feel in control. It’s much easier for someone to focus on the symptoms of their weight, body size or eating patterns than to deal with the emotional pain that is hidden by the symptoms. Maggie, like other women who are affected by Pregorexia, are so consumed with the “symptoms” it looks like to the outside world they have no love for their growing babies. However, that fact is far from true. What they ultimately have no love for is for themselves, and this inhibits their ability to properly take care of the unborn child because they cannot properly take care of themselves first.

Maggie, an MFT Intern and staff therapist at The Victorian of Newport Beach, a CRC eating disorder facility, has had much interest generated from her story from media outlets throughout the U.S. and Internationally. Last year she appeared with her two daughters on Fox’s New York based ‘Mike and Juliet’ show to discuss this relatively new adjunctive to eating disorder behaviors. She continues to be sought after as a guest, author, and expert in the eating disorder field on this topic by such syndications as NBC, BBC, and various other TV stations, blogger sites, and newspaper and magazine publications from as far as Australia. Recently, the website momlogic.com ran a post about pregorexia that featured Maggie’s story and this story and the accompanying picture led to such a large response that the Orange County Register newspaper published a follow up story about pregorexia.

Maggie’s story is clearly not unique – but it is an important one. It comes at a time when society’s preoccupation with the need to look slim and svelte is exerting pressure on pregnant moms. More and more celebrities are falling victim to the notion that being thin and pregnant is the norm.

Maggie’s story has created its share of controversy. She has been criticized and received ‘hate’ mail from people who believe her actions are criminal. Her own journey as a therapist has enabled her to work through the painful feelings associated with her eating disorder behaviors. Now many years in recovery, Maggie has finally learned to forgive herself. Maggie wants her story told to help other pregnant moms learn about the dangerous consequences of eating disorder behaviors on their unborn child. Poor fetal growth, low birth weights and premature birth are some of the impacts of malnourishment. Maggie’s hope is that her public acknowledgment of this disorder brings awareness to those in the medical community too. Solid evaluation and knowledge of patients’ prior eating disorder histories together with vigilance on healthy weight gains for pregnant patients has the potential to save other women from the horrors of Pregorexia.