Raquel and I discuss body image after pregnancy and how societal pressures and “bounce back” culture can fuel poor body image and sometimes lead to a difficult relationship with food. Raquel shares really helpful tips for navigating body image in the postpartum phase.

S2 E4. Navigating postpartum body image with Raquel Griffin Food & Life Freedom with Emma Townsin

Full episode transcript:

Raquel Griffin (RG):
As far as what is expected for your body to look like in terms of shape or size is bounce back culture. Is this expectation that at some point you should be returning or restoring to your pre-pregnancy body.

Emma Townsin (ET):
During pregnancy, bodies naturally change a lot in a very fast period. And since we are growing a human inside, it makes sense. But this doesn’t make us free of the societal pressures for our bodies to look a certain way, especially after pregnancy.

So after pregnancy is one area that the pressure to change our body back is really strong. And as Raquel and I will discuss, there are so many layers to what can make us feel so much pressure around our body and have poor postpartum body image.

[…] you are listening to the Food and Life Freedom Podcast. I’m your host, Emma Townsin, a UK registered dietitian and a certified intuitive eating counsellor. I support you to move away from lifelong dieting and feeling stressed with food to develop a positive relationship with food and connection with your body.

And just a reminder that we are all unique. So please use this as an opportunity to learn and explore. But if something does not sit with you, then it’s not meant for your unique self. And if you have any health concerns, please seek personalized support from a registered health care provider.

So today’s guest is Raquel Griffin. Raquel is a queer therapist, a Registered Social Worker, a Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor based in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. In her private practice, she specializes in disordered eating, grief and supporting trans and non-binary folks in accessing gender affirming care.

So let’s jump into today’s episode. So I’m joined today by Raquel Griffin. Raquel, a huge welcome to the podcast.

(RG):
Thank you. Thanks for having me.

(ET):
I’m really looking forward to diving into this conversation on body image in the postpartum period. But before we get started, I’d love to learn a little bit more about you and how you became to be interested in postpartum body image.

(RG):
Yeah, a little bit about me, my pronouns are she/her. I live in Canada, so a little bit of a ways from where you are. I live on the East Coast in a little Canadian province, province known as Nova Scotia, colonially, at least, or more commonly known as Nova Scotia. But I specifically live just outside of Kjipuktuk or Mi’kma’ki, the land of the Mi’kmaq people. And I’ve lived in kind of this little cluster of provinces called the Maritimes my whole life. So it’s kind of not as populated as some larger cities in the country.

And I have a couple of dogs. I have a partner and a kid. And when I’m not working, I’m usually singing or doing choral artsy, fartsy stuff on the side or or playing video games outside of spending time with my family, of course. So that’s a little bit about me as a person.

As far as my interest in postpartum body image, I’ve always been interested in body image in general and body image concerns and eating disorders, mainly because of my own lived experience.

I had an eating disorder in my youth for about four years and then thought I was recovered for like a decade and then came to realize I was definitely still living like in a really disordered space and started doing this work a lot more professionally.

And so it’s kind of the same for postpartum body image. I’m specifically interested in that because it’s kind of what I’m going through now. It’s really relevant to my own life.

And I’m sure you probably know, you know, just because you do this stuff for a living, it doesn’t mean that you’re immune from having really hard periods or really hard seasons with with body and with eating just in general. So on top of that, when you do kind of have that disordered that eating disorder experience, it definitely can complicate things. So I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last few years.

There was an added component of kind of complexity for me because I had two pregnancy losses before the birth of my child. So I’m currently about 20 months out from birthing my child. So she’s I’m going to have a two year old in a few months.

So before I birthed her, I had a couple losses and I felt really erased from a lot of spaces because, you know, pregnancy loss is a pretty stigmatized thing and a pretty secretive thing that a lot of people go through alone.

I felt erased from a lot of like pregnancy spaces in general, and I felt erased in a lot of like eating disorder recovery spaces as well.

Because, you know, regardless of whether you get your baby, you still go through body changes and appetite changes and can struggle with eating things when you’re pregnant, regardless of whether you’re pregnant for like six weeks or 20 weeks or 36 weeks or whatever.

So I kind of in general became really interested in just reproductive health care in general and how that kind of intersects with disordered eating and wellness culture.

And then it really, you know, amped up when I kind of had when I got, you know, when I got my baby and when I gave birth.

Yeah.

(ET):
Thank you for sharing your story.

It’s when you mention recovery from an eating disorder and feeling like you were recovered, but maybe later realizing that there were still those eating disorder thoughts or disordered food and body thoughts.

It’s just so, so common that for a lot of people with an eating disorder, they reach this place of kind of recovery, but it’s not freedom around food or how they feel in their body.

And I think your story is probably relevant to so many people who’ve been in this place at then a big life change.

So whether that’s becoming pregnant, postpartum or another big change, maybe it’s like getting married or divorced or these big life events can can bring that more to the surface and then make us realize that actually we are still really struggling.

(RG):
Yeah, like I, you know, I even struggle with like recovery language.

I know that’s really meaningful for some people.

I’ve, I’ve kind of abandoned it a little bit [for] myself, but we do often is kind of seen as a destination.

And I think I, I was, I think I absolved myself from thinking I had like a problem with the way that I was eating and with my body because my body still kind of occupied like a really palatable place like in society.

Like I have a lot of privilege as like a white, able bodied, cis woman and a body that was always pretty thin.

So when that changed, when I had a child, I really had kind of a reckoning of my, my values and kind of digging through and excavating through that anti fat bias and fat phobia.

And I think it’s kind of that I totally didn’t think, you know, that I had, but of course we all do because we’re all swimming in the soup of diet culture.

(ET):
Yeah, definitely.

And I guess if we take a step back then from the postpartum period, just thinking about our world in general, that we’re surrounded by these messages about bodies.

Like, you know, diet culture swimming in that diet culture, as you said, and this tells us like how our body should look or that we should be able to control them as well, often through things like food and exercise.

So it’s really common anyway, whether we’ve had an eating disorder or we haven’t had an eating disorder to, to maybe have some degree of body dissatisfaction or body stress, even before maybe going through a pregnancy journey, if we do.

I’d love to start just by asking you more generally, like what is body image?

(RG):
Yeah, well, I think in its simplest terms, it’s the way we think and feel about our body. So, I mean, that can be negative, it can be positive, it can be neutral, it can be all the above, all those things.

And, and that can shift, you know, throughout the lifespan. And what body image looks like for each person is going to be really different, right? Like that’s a really unique, really subjective kind of perception.

So I kind of tend to see, I find I interchangeably will say like body image or body relationship.

Because I think body image is more of like that perception, like what we think, how we feel, but our relationship to our body, I think is more of what we do about that or what we do in response to that, right?

And that can then also include like thoughts and like inserting more neutral thoughts or challenging, you know, those unhelpful thoughts about body image.

But it has that addition of behaviours to and actions of, you know, I’m not going to pretend that these, you know, these thoughts are going to go away.

But if they’re going to be here to some degree, you know, what can I do about that? And how can I respond to that? So that I can foster like a more, maybe it’s accepting, maybe it’s loving, maybe it’s neutral, maybe it’s respectful relationship to my body.

So like, to me, they’re so connected because they’re so interdependent and like dependent on each other. And I think that either way that I kind of interchangeably use the two a lot of the time, but technically they are slightly different, I think.

(ET):
Yeah, I love that connection, but also that distinction because that can support someone who is struggling with what feels like called body image to know that they can actually take steps to work on their relationship with their body.

Yeah, food and all these things as well.

But specifically that with their their body, even if they currently dislike their body and they they have poor body image, we can start taking those those steps to start responding to our body and trusting our body, even if we don’t like our body.

(RG):
Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course.

(ET):
So the perceptions that we have about our body, what then influences the way we think about it? It’s often we can feel maybe just like we’re born hating our body or we’ve always hated our bodies. So there’s no no different way we could be.

What is it that that really influences the way we feel about our body?

(RG):
I think of two main things.

One, I think of like family, like what our environment was growing up, and I think of like dominant discourses.

So like, what is like, you know, the main way that a thing is talked about, like culturally and in society of your, you know, your particular area or maybe country where you live.

So like, you know, you think about things like media and literature and TV and movies and podcasts and all this different content that we consume and just conversationally what most people tend to think and believe about a thing. That’s kind of like what I mean by like a dominant discourse or like what’s the dominant story of like acts or this topic or whatever.

And so that can be, you know, that can go across kind of any topic. Like the dominant discourse of like an eating disorder is we instantly probably think of like a very emaciated skeletal figure like that’s in a hospital maybe on feeding tubes.

And that is a really valid experience for some people. But when that’s the only story that is told and when that’s the face of an eating disorder. You know, that’s really problematic because statistically we know that that’s the minority. That’s the minority of people that are living with disordered eating or eating disorders.

[…]

I think just the general or the dominant discourse of of bodies, you know, is going to really be pervasive in people’s lives, especially if you occupy or inhabit a body that is deemed, you know, bad, right, that is deemed like diseased or unhealthy or lazy.

And this isn’t just about like body shape or size. It’s also about, you know, queer bodies and trans bodies and black bodies and racialized bodies, disabled bodies.

So bodies are really political. They really are. So like eating disorders to me are a huge social justice issue.

So it’s always been a little bit odd to me that it’s taking up such a big space like in the medical field and that it’s a very medicalized mental health issue where there’s so much like rich social context for for why this happens for people.

I mean, even just looking at food insecurity and what that does to the body and the starvation response and how, you know, so many people go their full lives without even realizing that they have an eating disorder because because of these dominant discourses and that dominant discourse is of course is diet culture, right?

Like it is that system of beliefs about bodies and about food that becomes really normalized, even though it’s kind of messed up.

(ET):
Yeah, definitely.

And when we’re surrounded by these messages that I may be saying that our body is not, I guess these messages are often hidden in health, but they’re not really about health. They’re about encouraging really unhealthy behaviours.

When we go to the bottom of them, it’s really your body for whatever reason is not as worthy, it’s not as valuable, it’s not as accepted.

And when we’re surrounded by this, of course it can then be easy to internalize these messages.

So we start to then believe that about ourselves as well.

So it’s not just something that’s said, you know, outside of us and we still have the confidence and trust in our body.

Of course, we’re going to start internalizing that and then have these beliefs that we are not in a good body, that we aren’t as worthy, that we’re not as valued and that we don’t deserve.

Maybe even the healthcare support that we do deserve as well can have that extra barrier.

(RG):
Yeah, of course.

And that pervasiveness, like it trickles down in a hugely impactful way through our upbringing and through our families or our caregivers and what things are like in the home.

That’s like a great example, I think, of how the pervasiveness of it.

Yeah.

So when we think this is the type of messaging that we can just receive in general in our world, for someone who’s maybe navigating a changing body through and after pregnancy and also having to care for a new baby and the changes that brings as well.

What are the types of messaging that may be received in that space?

(RG):
Yeah, a lot.

Yeah, I think it’s important to acknowledge that pregnancy and this kind of reproductive health, it’s very much within the gender binary.

And so with that come a lot of problems. So the messages have this underpinning of these really massive systems of power. So these messages can be also transphobic or queerphobic.

So I think it’s important to acknowledge that pregnancy can affect all genders, all people who are assigned female at birth.

So there’s these additional layers of trauma that people can experience when they have a child, when they give birth. And on top of that, as far as what is expected for your body to look like in terms of shape or size is bounce back culture.

Is this expectation that at some point you should be returning or restoring to your pre-pregnancy body. And there does tend to be a grace period for that, I think.

But there does come a point in time where I think, I know for me, I started to get kind of stressed.

You know, the more, […] the further away I got from the date that I birthed her, I started to get more stressed about like, why is my body still like this?

You know, like, why isn’t my body looking like all of my acquaintances and of course generalizing here.

But many of my acquaintances and friends that gave birth around the same time that I did that trap of body comparison and wondering like, what’s wrong with me that like my body looks like this.

You know, that we, we bind to this, we bind to this idea that it’s very normal to try and attain a body that looks like it hasn’t gone through like a major medical event.

Right?

Not just like shape and size and weight, but you know, skin and stretch marks and scarring that these are all, you know, it’s, it’s bodily evidence left behind from, you know, what for many people can be a really joyful and beautiful time.

And then it can kind of shift into this shame and into this embarrassment and to this, how can I hide this, which is really, you know, confusing when often I think during pregnancy, you and others give you a lot of permission, right?

People expect that you’re going to have the big belly when you’re pregnant, right?

It’s celebrated, it’s seen as beautiful and you’re glowing and how incredible it is.

And I’ve heard from, you know, from a lot of other folks, you know, professionally with clients and also with friends personally, that there is a lot of freedom that can show up during pregnancy.

And I think it’s because people are, it’s easier to have that unconditional permission to eat, because there’s an acceptance of, well, my body’s going to get bigger and my belly is going to be huge and you know, that’s just part of it.

And then after, you know, labour and delivery, there’s that kind of brief grace period and then it’s like, okay, I have to like get quote unquote back in shape or whatever.

And we know what that means.

It means restricted eating and unhealthy relationship to exercise to, to, like I said, try and attain this body that like doesn’t look like it’s gone through this like massive life changing thing: a major medical event.

Yeah, that was a really long response to your question and I don’t know if I totally got it.

But yeah, I think that’s the main thing is like the bounce back culture is so intense and it’s so normalized and it’s awful.

It’s such an awful feeling of like this feeling of like, oh no, like I haven’t.

I still, you know, I, the people who feel like I look like I had a baby, and I shouldn’t write that kind of feeling.

(ET):
Yeah, absolutely.

And no, that was a fantastic answer.

It does feel like in our world, we’re kind of sold this message that our bodies should never change in general, like longer term, our bodies should just stay the same.

And that’s often from maybe our late teens or early twenties.

That’s where our body should be.

And our body naturally changes at different parts of our life.

And I guess pregnancy is the time that it temporarily changes. So it’s okay. It’s temporary.It’s for a medical reason.

And then we’re expected to come back right where it was because bodies aren’t supposed to change.

But actually, bodies do change.

Going through a pregnancy is going to change our body.

We know that changes our body.

So why would our body end up looking and being the exact same weight and shape and all of that as it was before it’s undergone this change?

We see that with different life events as well, especially, I guess, as people get older as well, it’s natural that our bodies do just change.

And we often see like, no, we need to, I guess in those situations as well, we should be staying the same as where we are.

But I think the post pregnancy, especially when we’re either maybe grieving the loss of a baby or we are caring for a new baby, both of those mean there’s so much else going on for us.

And so we’re seeing a lot of things that can be really exhausting, really tiring.

We don’t have maybe as much headspace just for navigating these difficult emotions and feelings.

And I wonder if that is another trigger for putting it back on the body when we’re surrounded by all these messages telling us that our bodies should look different to what it does.

(RG):
And of course, like, who does this affect?

It affects like marginalized genders, right?

And so that I think that’s where we often see, you know, secrecy or stigma around these issues because they affect, you know, bodies that have these particular body parts.

I’ll give you an example of this like bounce back culture that that I experienced because, you know, as far as people in my life, you know, I surround myself with a lot of people that, you know, align with my values and for the most part, you know, aren’t telling me that there’s something wrong with my body and I need to change it or whatever.

But I remember four months after I gave birth, I was scrolling on Instagram and I came across a post on my feed from my local pregnancy unit at the hospital here.

And it was for like a Q&A on C-sections.

And I ended up having a C-section after 30 [hours of] labour.

But so that ended up happening for me.

And so, yeah, like great that they were doing a Q&A on that.

But the graphic for this post was a naked, very thin, flat-tummied, stretch mark free white person from like about just below the chest to the thighs.

And so even that, you know, like this disembodied image, we see that a lot with, you know, what we what we consider to be women’s bodies, just in media in general, right?

And like how problematic that can be just in terms of gender based violence and stuff like that.

So anyways, it’s like this disembodied, like extremely unrealistic picture of someone who has just given birth.

And like you can see, like, you know, there’s a C-section scar, like, you know, just barely showing.

And there’s, you know, a little newborn baby, like laying on the person’s lap.

And the baby was positioned in a way to where like it was so low on the body that like, you know, you could you could almost see this person’s pelvic region.

But like, no visible pubic hair, no stretch marks, like, no, like, that like this body did not give birth.

Like, it did not look like, you know, and it wasn’t it wasn’t even a thing where you can justify like, oh, it’s been like 10 years or something.

And this person, quote unquote, got their body back.

Like, there’s a newborn baby on on like laying on them.

So the assumption is like, yes, this is probably a model and it’s maybe a stock image or whatever.

But the message being sent is like, oh, like, this is a body that just gave birth via C-section.

And what they chose to what they chose for a body or the graphic that they chose for that was really problematic, like not only really unrealistic, but like a weirdly sexualized image to of the way that things were positioned and like the fact that, you know, it was disembodied and, you know, didn’t look like the person had any clothes on.

Like, it was really it was really weird.

And the thing that really particularly upset me about that was this wasn’t just like a friend or a family member or a neighbour down the street posting something.

This was coming from a medical facility, from a hospital that specializes in reproductive health care.

Like, it’s the only, quote unquote, women and children’s hospital, I think, in all of Atlantic Canada.

So that’s four different provinces.

So it’s a really it’s a huge hospital that specializes in these kinds of things of pregnancy and birth.

So I was I was appalled that like this is this is the message that is being sent of that this is normal.

What a what a postpartum body looks like.

And like, of course, you’re going to feel like shit about your body when you see something like that, something you seem to be like a legitimate source, like a medical facility.

So that’s just like an example of like how that bounce back culture comes up, and it makes you feel like something is wrong with my body because it does not look like that.

And they’re saying that that’s like, not only like attainable, but it’s like normal because that’s what they chose for a graphic or a model to use.

(ET):
Yeah, definitely.

And I think what from when we think about all the messaging that we’re receiving, we think about maybe social media, maybe it’s friends and family.

We think about kind of the outside world TV shows, movies, this kind of thing.

But it’s really important to note that it’s also within our health care space as well.

And just those little things like an image that’s chosen if we can’t relate to that image or we obviously can’t relate to every single image.

All bodies are different.

But if it’s just nothing like what’s going on for us, and especially when it’s a place that isn’t really widely discussed.

(ET):
So pregnancy bodies and postpartum body image, it’s not something that’s often maybe discussed enough, even within the people experiencing that.

And then the images we’re showing from the medical setting where you’re receiving treatment makes our body feel like it’s not sort of worthy or it doesn’t fit that space.

That’s a huge impact, especially if we’re already struggling or that’s already on our mind a lot.

(RG):
Yeah, I totally agree.

And I think because of that, like, there’s this weird, I think, perpetuating cycle of people feeling shame about their postpartum bodies and not showing it.

Because it not being really well represented, like, in mainstream media, then, you know, people thinking it’s not normal.

And then we don’t really see, like, we don’t really see what a real postpartum body can look like.

We don’t see diverse postpartum bodies.

And like, you know, the wide breadth of what that can look like for people.

(ET):
Yeah, definitely.

Also thinking in the medical setting, just the language that’s used to describe people who are pregnant or in general as well, it happens.

But certainly during pregnancy as well, like we just thinking of terms like geriatric pregnancy, which is used a lot for people now because a lot of people are getting pregnant in kind of the later years, maybe the late, later 30s.

And we’ll hear these terms like geriatric pregnancy.

And that doesn’t, it creates that sense of maybe shame being different, it being sort of your fault if you have any complications during pregnancy because it’s termed a geriatric pregnancy.

So I’m sure there’s other terms that come up as well that can create that sense of shame, whether we verbalize that shame or not.

(RG):
Yeah.

Yeah, absolutely.

(ET):
Yeah.

When you’re working with people in the postpartum body image space, do you find that most people you’re working with are people who’ve previously struggled with body image?

Or is it something that can show up just for the first time maybe in that postpartum period?

(RG):
I think for me, just because of the fact that the main thing I work with is disordered eating.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a client that didn’t struggle in some way with their body or eating before having a baby, if that’s what they’re coming to me for now after having a baby.

I think definitely, the postpartum adjustment can definitely trigger the initiation of an eating disorder or exacerbate an already existing eating disorder.

But I find often, it’s pretty rare, I think, to show up for the first time ever, like feeling dissatisfied with your body after having a baby.

When we can think about how common it is to have some level of dissatisfaction with our body, that’s a lot of people at risk who might be going to get pregnant or who are pregnant who are then at risk of experiencing this distress postpartum.

Yeah.

And then of course, we have to consider a lot of the trauma that can happen for people even before they get that baby that they’ve been wanting.

Pregnancy loss is statistically extremely common, at least in Canada, up to 25% of pregnancies are lost by miscarriage and then about 1-2% for ectopic pregnancy.

And that doesn’t include things like stillbirth.

And I think the last time I checked, I think it was about 15% of couples in Canada struggle with infertility.

And then you look at queer families and queer folks and that sometimes they have less options when it comes to creating families biologically, at least.

And so it can be like a whole road for people to finally get to, you know, having their baby and, you know, a lot of grief along the way.

And then this added layer of grief sometimes on top of it with adjusting to a new body or, you know, loss of the body that you had before and maybe privileges that you had a lot with it, or maybe even, you know, worsened stigma or discrimination because if you’re in a larger body or in a fat body and like the discrimination that fat folks face in the fertility world, like, you know, it’s really astounding.

So there’s all that stuff that people are bringing into the postpartum period that can really influence, you know, how they’re able to cope with that and what that journey kind of looks like for them.

(ET):
Yeah.

Often our medical setting on just societally as well, we’re just focused on maybe the medical side of it, baby’s healthy […]

We don’t focus so much on everything else that’s going on and what’s being brought into it and just how people are actually coping with their changes as well.

(RG):
Yeah, there’s a lot of appointments, like, and I know I don’t know what it’s like for you in the UK but in Canada we have like a free universal health care system.

It’s not perfect but I’m very grateful that we have it.

And yeah, like you have a lot of appointments when you’re pregnant and if there’s any kind of concern about anything, they’re, they’re gonna, you know, there’s going to be extra appointments and tests and ultrasounds or whatever you know just, you know, luckily for peace of mind.

And then you have your baby and, you know, you kind of don’t see them again, you have your like six week appointment and that’s kind of it.

Luckily for me I have a really amazing family doctor so that’s been great but yeah it’s kind of jarring when you’re like, oh okay I’m, I’m on my own now and, you know, less questions are asked, you know, about you and because you continue to have lots of appointments for your baby, you know, there’s certain checkpoints that they do and immunizations at certain times so you go to the doctor a lot especially in like those first six months, but it’s for the baby it’s not really for you.

Yeah, I forgot about that then so back to normal everything’s back to normal now.

(ET):
Yeah, yeah.

We know as well that body image in general can affect our relationship with food that can lead to this maybe sense of wanting to change the body or control the body in some way and this can also, this can often be something that we maybe start to restrict food or have some control, try to have some control over food to change the body.

The postpartum period as well has so many other challenges coming in as well.

How does the, how does poor body image during postpartum period.

How does that maybe impact on our relationship with food or how can it for some people.

(RG):
Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head of like you know it can it can lead to disorder eating behaviors that often begin with restriction.

You know when we, when we usually look at disordered eating behaviors whether it’s been bingeing or purging, and specifically what that can look like a lot of the time there’s some kind of restriction happening right and the power of restriction on the, on the body biologically speaking, it makes a lot of sense that these other behaviors show up in response to that and in response to the body kind of being in a survival state.

So when you have those feelings and that pressure that your body is an okay and that it should be smaller or it should be different.

You know that dieting mentality or that restrictive mindset can show up, and that can sometimes lead to restrictive eating, or this need to.

Yeah, to eat less or to be, be careful.

(ET):
Yeah.

(RG):
Hopefully that hopefully that makes sense.

(ET):
Yeah, definitely.

We can often, I guess blame the body as well for the way we’re feeling and then that might lead to.

Yeah, feeling like how it doesn’t deserve the food that it’s communicating that it needs so like it’s hunger isn’t valid, it doesn’t maybe.

We’re not happy with the way that our body is, quote unquote bouncing back compared to other people’s bodies so we might have less like, oh yeah feel our body deserves less or less trust in our body based on that as well.

(RG):
Yeah, for sure.

And there’s, you know, there’s a whole piece to here that is really relevant around bodily autonomy.

And the postpartum period, or the pregnancy period for some folks you know can be one of where you really lose a lot of control over your body and your body isn’t really your own.

It’s like, yeah, you’re important but really like we’re really concerned about baby and it’s a really rife fertile ground for wellness culture to show up and wellness culture is you know diet cultures, you know, twin sibling basically, they’re the same thing.

Yeah, and so there can be like a, you know, a loss of control and people not being able to have full autonomy over their bodies, understandably so you know in some respects.

But that can continue into the postpartum period where, you know, you’re adjusting to caring for this new life and this new human.

And, and if you like are chest feeding or breastfeeding, your body’s still not your own for sometimes like years.

(ET):
Right.

(RG):
We’re like, like I remember when I stopped breastfeeding around like 13 months after I was born.

Oh my god, like such freedom, and I had, I was very lucky I had a very easy [nursing] journey and I was really grateful to be able to feed my baby in the way that I wanted to.

But I was so happy when it was over, just because I felt like I was able to reclaim part of my like physical self again right like it was no longer.

You know, this thing or this object or this like source of nourishment that was required for my child in the way that it was before.

So I think that’s a piece of it too, of like, it’s not just the messages that were being told about our bodies in the postpartum period but it’s also this like disembodiment that can happen because your body is not your own and you have had this loss of bodily autonomy.

So I think that can really like contribute to this whole tornado that can happen for people where they do end up engaging in disorder eating behaviours, whether they mean to or not.

I mean, sometimes it’s just like, there’s all these additional barriers to interoception right like with intuitive eating we talk about interoception and there’s a lot of barriers to that when your sleep depression is going through your body.

When you are sleep deprived.

When you have this new life change and stressor of having a kid and needing to care for them, especially if it’s like the first time that you’ve like had, you know, a baby and so you’re, you know, adjusting to parenthood in general, on top of caring for this human.

So I think the bodily autonomy piece is a big contributing factor to this too.

(ET):
Yeah.

There’s so many layers that can affect our body image postpartum.

Body image in general but postpartum we’ve just got all these extra layers added on that maybe aren’t usually there for us in other periods of our life.

Knowing the that all these layers will kind of be added on and the risk that we are navigating a new body in our world.

Are there any steps that we can take maybe during pregnancy maybe during the pregnancy journey or beforehand to help prepare ourselves for navigating the postpartum body image period and our relationship with food afterwards as well.

(RG):
Yeah, it’s really hard because there is a lot of different things that you can try to prepare for, you know, before it happens.

But I think for a lot of people, there’s this big anticipation like of the birth.

Right?

So I think it’s really hard for people to really conceptualize something like oh how am I going to cope with this after or, you know, how am I going to adjust or how, you know, what will my relationship to my body look like because you’re just so consumed with.

Oh my goodness like what’s labor and delivery going to be like and what’s it going to be like when I get to meet my child.

But I do think one thing that people can do that could be helpful is just trying as much as you can to normalize diverse bodies in general.

But on top of that and specifically to normalize diverse postpartum bodies.

And you do have to get creative with it sometimes I’ve just like exposing yourself and becoming desensitized just to to images and to stories and to people that have diverse postpartum bodies you know what you’re seeing all kinds of different representations of what that can look like like representation is really important and so like the podcast that you’re listening to you know the host, what do they look like the TV shows that you’re watching the movies the literature that you’re reading you know your social media feed like these things are all really important because the representation for postpartum bodies is really really lacking.

And I think like if you do start doing that work ahead of time and hopefully like continue that into postpartum period and beyond I do think it will help because you do over time begin to see it as more and more normal.

Like I know for me there there was one like influencer in particular that I followed before I gave birth, and it really meant a lot to me that she was just showing her postpartum body and all of its stretch marks and loose skin and, you know, having, having like that excess fat, like in the abdomen.

And her not really adjusting like you know what she was wearing and and just showing it like just showing like yeah like this is what my body looks like while still being well still like you know talking about her own past struggles with body image and with disordered eating.

But I think for her, it seems like it’s important for me to show like what my body looks like and to be like this is normal and like you don’t have to try and quote unquote bounce back and she’s, she’s like, that’s not something I’m going to do because for me I know that means like an eating disorder and I don’t think that’s going to serve me.

So that was that was really helpful for me personally because I knew what some of those bodies looks like.

And like I said we don’t really know unless we like seek it out unless we try to find it, because you’re not going to just find it like by accident.

You’re not.

I think it helped to that like you know I have, I have you know family members that had given birth and you know maybe sometimes you might, you know, you’re more likely to see like the body of like a close family member than maybe just like people out in the world or whatever because there’s like a closer relationship there.

But I think that’s a really big thing that people can do is just normalizing and diversifying your feed so that those bodies become the new normal and you, you are helping to create like a new dominant story or a new dominant discourse like at least for you and the way that you view the world.

And what we see as is normal is just what we’re surrounded by the most or the messages that we hear and receive the most and act on ourself the most.

The images that we kind of see of all these idealized bodies whether it’s regular like bodies that haven’t been through pregnancy or postpartum bodies.

We often just see this idealized like one type of body and we have a culture of hiding a body that doesn’t fit the ideal.

So because of that we don’t really see the full spectrum.

But when we do find this more diversity then our normal really changes.

(ET):
The thought pathways in our brain can really shift from this is what my body should look like to like hey there’s a whole variety of what’s normal and whatever my body looks like is actually normal it’s fine.

(RG):
Yeah, and that’s why I say like the first step really is just diverse bodies in general.

Yeah, like racialized bodies disabled body like bodies that look different than you, whatever that looks like for you.

(ET):
Right.

(RG):
So, so even if if you if you do have a body that isn’t represented, you know, as much as others of like intentionally seeking that out and finding bodies that look like yours and finding more importantly lots of bodies that look very different from yours in all kinds of different ways.

(ET):
Yeah, I love that.

And for maybe listeners who might be currently navigating postpartum and struggling with a stressful relationship with food or poor body image themselves at the moment.

What are some ways that we can maybe improve our body image or our relationship with food at that point.

(RG):
Yeah, I mean, I think if you have the resources to do so, you know, to connect with supports, because you don’t have to go through this alone and it is, it can be an isolating experience just being a parent in general, or being like a birthing parent.

So whether it’s a therapist, a dietitian or support group.

If you have access to those resources to use them.

And as far as like the intuitive eating principles, I think there’s a few that are really relevant.

But remembering that like the first principle is number one for a reason, rejecting the diet mentality.

And so this does go back again to like consuming content that is in alignment with that supporting content that, you know, that you’re listening to fat activists and that you’re listening to stories of people with diverse bodies that whole spectrum of diverse bodies and like revisiting if you haven’t in a while, you know, things that are in alignment of critiquing diet culture and things that are anti diet and, you know, health at every size.

And reminding yourself of, you know, the research of weight loss studies and dieting studies in that they don’t work and just reminding yourself of those hard facts.

That’s something I do sometimes of like, okay, I got to remind myself of like the success rate and like, even if I were, you know, to do all this, it’s not going to work.

So that rejecting the dieting mentality I think is is really the biggest piece.

And especially, you know, as far as honouring your hunger.

I mean, that principle is even more important for that postpartum period, because I mean, you have just gone if you’re a birthing person you have just gone through a major medical event.

And your body has to recover.

Whether you birthed vaginally or by C section like you have to recover like that is major, you know, if you have a C section that is major surgery major major surgery abdominal surgery.

You know, like you have to recover, you’re probably sleep deprived you’re coming off of maybe some pretty intense medications and hormones are all over the place, and you’re also having to like, make sure this human survives and it’s like, okay and nourishment and like energy is even more important.

And on top of that, like I said if you’re breastfeeding or chestfeeding.

You need energy via food for milk production.

So it’s even more important that you know that your hunger is honoured.

During that like really critical I think early postpartum time especially just because it’s such a vulnerable time for birthing people.

(ET):
Yeah, when we think about all the barriers as well that we might experience to honouring our hunger so not just from body image or from wanting to go back to dieting but just from maybe it’s having food available for ourselves because we’re so tired and can’t get to the shops, or it’s so consumed with caring for someone else that we can maybe forget to care for ourselves as well or that’s that’s put second as well.

(RG):
Yeah, you don’t have time to like cook anything, like for weeks.

And that’s just like you know that’s just with one kid.

So I, you know, there were there were things ahead of time that I did to try and like cope with that like I did have.

I asked people to like, I was happy to accept food from people and I was at a place where, you know, that was something that I was comfortable with.

And I’m so grateful that I like, I didn’t have to cook for weeks, basically, and you know that was a resource that I had access to.

But I didn’t know what time of day it was, I didn’t know what day I didn’t know what we was up what we was down.

So then on top of that you’re asking people to like remember to eat, and then all of like the practical tasks involved in eating and food preparation.

(ET):
Yeah, there’s lots of barriers there that have nothing to do with diet culture.

(RG):
So yeah, like I, my partner had to remind me to eat, I had to have things that were like really accessible to eat and be like, okay, liquid nutrition is like what is going to work for right now for this moment and.

And I asked, there’s a lot of barriers there for people to be able to honour your hunger.

So, I guess, now that I think about it, that could maybe probably be another thing that could be helpful to prepare for like before you have a baby.

So that you’ve kind of taken that like task of executive functioning off of your, you know, off of your responsibility.

(ET):
Yeah.

(RG):
So that you, so that yeah, food becomes more accessible or eating is more accessible to you during a time that is like really, really wild.

(ET):
Definitely. Yeah, that’s a great tip for preparing.

And it’s also navigating feeding ourselves in that period can be really tied back to rejecting the diet mentality as well, which isn’t just rejecting like the idea of actual dieting or restricting food.

It’s also rejecting ideal, that there’s an ideal body that doesn’t exist, but also an ideal way of eating.

We get all these messages about healthy food and unhealthy food and good food and bad food.

That’s not a thing. There’s no such thing.

And the way the food that’s going to be best for our body is dependent on so many things.

And one of them is accessibility and just what we’re able to navigate, like having access to and physically eating or have time for eating.

So having whatever food is most accessible at the moment is the healthiest option.

(RG):
Yeah, yeah, because you there can be really dramatic appetite changes.

When I was breastfeeding, I have never been so hungry in my life than when I was just starting out breastfeeding.

But it’s still very hard to eat because you’re like, really, am I hungry again?

Like how is that possible?

But like, yeah, and this is when this is when like rejecting the diet mentality is useful when you remind yourself, OK, I just had major surgery. I haven’t been sleeping. This is what’s going on for me.

Yes, you’re still hungry. Of course, you’re still hungry. It makes sense that you’re hungry.

You deserve to feed yourself. You need this. Your body really needs this from you.

I’m reminding yourself of that.

Yeah, you have permission to be hungry and to honour that hunger as well.

Yeah, yeah, I was basically just hungry all of the time for like months. And that’s very normal. I think that’s normal for a lot of people. I’ve heard similar things from from others as well.

(ET):
Yeah, this has been so helpful.

Raquel, it’s been such a nice conversation and I’m sure there’s a lot that listeners will have got out of this as well.

If listeners want to find you and learn more, where can they go to find you?

(RG):
Yeah, it’s been such a pleasure talking to you.

I really enjoy talking about this whole kind of area and how it intersects with disordered eating and body image.

So thank you so much for having me. It was it was really nice to be able to talk about it.

If anyone happens to be in Canada, specifically, if you’re in Ontario or Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, those are the provinces that I practice in virtually.

You can find me online through my website. I have a virtual practice called Birch Stand Mental Health Services like Birch’s and Birch Tree.

So my website is WWW. BirchStand.ca. You can find me on Instagram @BirchStandMentalHealth

If you have any questions or you want to connect, you can send me an email,[…] Raquel@BirchStand.ca

And I also want to mention, too, maybe this is something I don’t know if you link in descriptions normally.

(ET):
Yeah, I’ll link it up.

(RG):
But I did write a blog post last year for NEDIC, which is the National Eating Disorder Information Center for Canada. It’s Canada based. And I wrote a blog post on navigating postpartum body image.

So there’s a lot more kind of like specific tips of like what people can do to kind of navigate during that time.

And I’m also going to be facilitating a free support group for people living in Ontario this fall who are looking for eating disorder support, who also happen to be pregnant.

So I’m going to be facilitating that support group from October to December.

And depending on when this comes out, if that time has passed for people or by the time you’re listening to this, we’ll be running the group again in the new year.

So if you happen to be in Ontario and that sounds like you and you’re looking for a free support group, then yeah, that might be the thing for you.

(ET):
That sounds so lovely and we’ll definitely link to all of that in the show notes as well.

(RG):
Great.

(ET):
Thanks so much. It’s been so lovely to share this episode with you today.

I would love for you to visit today’s guest with the links they shared and for more support and information, including articles, free resources, online courses and individualized support, you can visit my home on the internet at www.FoodLifeFreedom.com.

If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a rating and review on the podcast platform you use and feel free to use the three dots symbol to share with anyone who may find this episode helpful.

If you have a question or topic you would love to have covered on the podcast, I would love to hear from you.


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