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Anorexic While Pregnant

A new pregnancy-related eating disorder surfaces -- or does it?

Batten the hatches. The mainstream media is now announcing yet another new eating disorder: "pregorexia."

Today's Daily Mail has a story about "weight-obsessed Melissa Henriquez," a young Michigan woman who -- long before becoming pregnant -- had developed the habit of "secretly devouring sweets and cookies, but spitting them out before she swallowed." Upon becoming pregnant for the first time last year, Henriquez was overcome with terror that pregnancy would make her obese.

"She had fallen under the spell of 'pregorexia,' an illness that experts say affects one in 20 women worldwide, and knew her baby would pay for her insecurities," the Daily Mail reports.

"Before the pregnancy, Mrs Henriquez ... used to shun all food but her Weight Watchers portions.

"She visited the gym twice a day and became so obsessive that she would refuse to go out with friends if it meant missing out on her workout.

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"Once her husband Luis surprised her for a weekend getaway and she cried hysterically, refusing to go because she had not had a chance to go to the gym that day.

"Terrified by the spectre of growing bigger, Melissa became more obsessed with her weight than ever" after learning that she was pregnant. She began blogging about these issues -- titling her blog TalesofaDisorderedEater.com, then changing it to TalesofaRecoveredDisorderedEater.com after finding support and strength online. Her daughter was born last December.

As quoted in the Daily Mail, Massachusetts-based psychotherapist Katy Aisenberg called "an illness, disorder, disease and temporary psychosis."

The Daily Mail continues:

"According to experts, the increased sensitivity [of those who are already eating-disordered before becoming pregnant] has a risk of triggering either life-threatening behaviour such as starving or purging. And without a mother nourishing herself properly the pregnancy becomes high-risk.

"It is estimated that one in 20 women suffer from an eating disorder while pregnant; however, this figure is likely to increase when one considers that many women hide their disorder through shame, secrecy or denial.

"Telltale signs can be seen when, for example, the mother does not gain an adequate amount of weight (generally 25 to 35 lbs) or experiences hyperemesis -- a severe form of morning sickness causing excessive vomiting and nausea.  However, pregnant mothers who purge can easily hide their behaviour by blaming it on normal morning sickness or nausea.

"The real problems come later -- many have obstetric complications and a difficult labour, like breech delivery, using forceps and Caesarian sections. And, when the mother acts on an eating disorder during pregnancy, a foetus will experience a low birth-weight, growth retardation and vitamin deficiencies, which can lead to more severe conditions.

"Extreme starvation worsens the situation, too, making it impossible for a new mother to feed her child when lactation stops because of dehydration and malnutrition. Also when a mother has an unhealthy relationship with food, it is easier for the child to pick up the same habits."

Anneli Rufus is the author of many books, including Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto and Stuck: Why We Can't (or Won't) Move On.

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