An RD Shares: Navigating Postpartum With a History of Disordered Eating

If you’ve struggled with your relationship with your body or food before pregnancy, postpartum can feel especially tricky. Here’s how to nourish yourself and find body acceptance.

Life with your newborn can be a blur that quickly shifts from overwhelming love to straight-up overwhelm. Amongst the haze of those early newborn days is a mother who often feels utterly foreign in a body that seems to have changed overnight.

One day your body carries a living being, and the next, you are left with a still full and soft belly and a baby alongside you. It is a rollercoaster, to say the least.

Three women standing against a wall

Unrealistic pressure on new mothers adding to the postpartum struggle

With the joy you now feel holding your newborn, you may also feel foreign and uncomfortable in your postpartum body. For many women, the messages around body and weight during pregnancy and postpartum can feel like a landmine of triggers and can exacerbate body dissatisfaction after birth. 

Research shows a relationship between postpartum and increased risk of developing an eating disorder or disordered eating patterns.

Jaren Soloff, RD, IBCLC, Author

Research shows that the pressure to “get your body back” after birth that is prominent in diet culture messaging can exacerbate maternal mental health concerns and decrease breastfeeding self-efficacy.

Research also shows a relationship between postpartum and increased risk of developing an eating disorder or disordered eating patterns due to the many different stressors that can impact an individual’s postpartum experience. 

Tips for navigating nutrition after birth

So, how can you navigate both nutrition and recovery from birth if you have a history of a rocky relationship with food or struggle with body image?

As an RD working in disordered eating – often with new mothers – it’s important to provide support and nourishment without focusing on weight loss.

Four tips I share with my postpartum clients:

1. Become attuned with hunger and fullness cues

You have probably heard the general guideline around calories if you are breastfeeding to “eat 500 more calories.” While it is true your energy needs increase, you certainly do not need to count calories. Instead, tune into your hunger and fullness to guide your energy needs and honor your appetite. 

2. Add in nutrition rather than avoiding

There are so many food myths that surround postpartum and breastfeeding nutrition. There are no foods off-limits postpartum, contrary to the messages around needing a perfect diet to breastfeed. Shift your focus to what foods can help build up your nutrient stores and provide healing vs. thinking about what you should eliminate or take away. 

3. Use gentle nutrition principles to guide you 

Gentle nutrition involves understanding how food affects the way we feel without stressing out about it. Aim for a combination of carbohydrates, protein, fats, and plant foods at each meal and eat every 3-4 hours to provide a stable blood sugar balance to support mood and hormone regulation. 

4. Cultivate body neutrality 

You do not have to love your body after birth, and it is okay to honor that. Instead of pushing individuals to love their postpartum bodies, cultivating body neutrality can seem like a more reasonable goal. 

Body neutrality might include wearing clothes that fit your “here and now” body, neutralizing black and white thoughts and messages around food and body, and engaging in self-care practices. 

Navigating your postpartum nutrition with support

Are you looking for more tips and support on how to navigate postpartum nutrition? If you have struggled with dieting, disordered eating, or an eating disorder before or after your pregnancy, cultivating a team of providers for support is essential.

Non-diet dietitians can provide nutrition therapy to help support healing after birth and help you explore your relationship with food and body image. You can learn more about my nutrition counseling services for new mothers here.

glass mug of golden milk latte

The Postnatal Cookbook

In my highly-rated cookbook, The Postnatal Cookbook, I provide five chapters dedicated to understanding postpartum nutrition needs, supporting mental health, lactation, and body image from an intuitive eating framework. 

To learn more about The Postnatal Cookbook, you can visit my website and grab five free recipes to nourish your mind, body, and soul during postpartum. Check out an example recipe from my postpartum cookbook below.

Recipe: Mother’s Golden Milk Latte

Nutritionally, turmeric touts cancer-fighting antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties and is slowly gaining evidence to be beneficial in the use of diabetes, cancer, Crohn’s disease, and other chronic diseases.

Golden Milk is a great way to incorporate this spice and has been used in ayurvedic medicine to serve mothers before bedtime to assist with the absorption of powerful anti-inflammatory qualities.

The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, is paired with black pepper, which maintains piperine to boost the active ingredient’s absorption.

#MomHack: Other suggestions for including turmeric into your diet include adding it to the cooking water when preparing grains such as brown rice and quinoa, as well as adding to any dishes that maintain an earthy, warm taste, such as lentils and stews.

Serves 4 

Preparation Time, 2 Minutes

Cook Time, 20 Minutes

Ingredients

4 cups milk of choice

2 tsp honey

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp cinnamon

Dash of cardamon

Dash of freshly ground pepper

Directions

1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan, set on low for 20 minutes to let the flavors simmer, and combine, gently whisking as needed.

2. Ladle into cups and top with fresh cinnamon and additional honey if a sweeter taste is desired.

Additional resources for postpartum nutrition


Jaren Soloff

Registered Dietitian and IBCLC

Jaren Soloff is a Registered Dietitian and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who serves as an expert in women’s health. She is the founder of FULL CRCL, providing nutrition counseling and lactation consultations to help both mom and baby thrive in motherhood.

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