Approximately 30 percent of pregnant females in the United States do not gain enough weight in pregnancy. According to healthcare professionals, women who are average weight before pregnancy should gain 25 to 35 pounds during their pregnancy. Underweight women should gain 28 to 40 pounds and overweight women may need to gain 15 to 25 pounds during pregnancy. Pregnancy takes an immense amount of strength in order to get through the sleepless nights, morning sickness and the emotional and physical toll the body endures. The nourishment and care of the unborn baby must come from the mother through what she eats and drinks. A pregnant mother must take care of herself in order to nourish the baby. Women who engage in disordered eating behaviors while pregnant, such as caloric restriction, extreme exercising, or dieting behaviors, risk consequences for their developing baby, such as birth defects, prematurity, congenital malformations and even prenatal death.

What is pregorexia?

Although not recognized as a clinical eating disorder by experts and professionals in the industry, the term “pregorexia” was coined by society and refers to a woman’s drive to control pregnancy weight gain through extreme dieting and exercise, potentially resulting in eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa. A rise in the obsession with looking fit during pregnancy has risen due to the widespread increase of images of pregnant women with six-pack abs on top of their baby bump on social media sites. This drive for the perfectly toned body among Hollywood stars and social media has resulted in an increase in body dissatisfaction during pregnancy, potentially resulting in harm to both the mother and baby.

Orthorexia in pregnancy

Many women who become pregnant may not necessarily become obsessed with weight gain during their pregnancy but instead become hyper focused on the types of foods they put in their bodies. Many women will try to only eat organic, staying away from genetically modified organisms (GMO), and avoiding processed food out of fear that it may harm their unborn baby. Some women may even refuse to take any medications or vitamins and refuse routine prenatal tests during their pregnancy. Although it is good to be aware of what you put in your body, becoming obsessed with healthy eating can in itself, cause more harm than good and can result in nutritional deficiencies in both mom and baby causing low birth weight, premature delivery and even miscarriages. Orthorexia is an eating disorder characterized by having an unhealthy obsession with healthy food. The term is derived from the Greek word “orthos,” which means, “right” and “rexia” which means, “hunger”. Therefore this terms literally means “righteous eating”. An obsession with healthy dieting and consuming only pure foods becomes deeply rooted in the individual’s way of thinking to the point it interferes with their daily life. Unhealthy and obsessive thoughts, emotions and behaviors about eating “clean” or “healthy” food can drive individuals to isolate themselves from their friends and family; causing a strain on their social life and personal relationships. Additionally their health can take a toll if they restrict too many food groups resulting in the elimination of necessary nutrients and vitamins. The following are known signs and symptoms of orthorexia:

  • Obsession with avoiding foods that contain animal products, fats, sugar, salt, food coloring or dyes and pesticides
  • Obsessive concern with food and the development of health consequences such as medical illnesses including asthma, allergies, and gastrointestinal problems
  • Obsession with consuming supplements and vitamins
  • An extreme limitation on food groups which may result in only consuming less than a total of ten ingredients
  • Increased amount of time spent thinking about food
  • Allowing food to revolve around one’s daily schedule
  • Obsession with meal prepping
  • Irrational concern about food preparation techniques and cleanliness of the kitchen
  • Avoidance of food prepared or brought by others
  • Extreme feelings of guilt or shame when consuming unhealthy foods
  • Feelings of power and satisfaction when consuming only healthy foods
  • Refusing to go out to eat or allowing oneself to be around other types of food
  • Isolating oneself from others because they do not share the same beliefs

Your baby is your number one priority

Pregnancy can be a very difficult time however it is important to remember that your baby needs sufficient food and nutrients to grow appropriately and eliminating foods because they are processed, packaged or non-organic can result in an obsession leading to disorders such as orthrorexia which can harm your unborn baby. If you feel you are experiencing triggers during pregnancy to either purge, restrict or binge, it is important you seek nutritional counseling, therapy and/or medical care immediately in order to ensure your baby is receiving enough nutrients and making appropriate progress throughout the pregnancy.