Strong food cravings and changing eating habits are normal experiences during pregnancy. For some women, however, the changes may be indicative of an eating disorder. A research study released online last week examined rates of binge eating and purging among women to find out how many of them developed, or recovered from, an eating disorder while pregnant.
The study, published in Psychological Medicine, followed tens of thousands of Norwegian women before, during, and after pregnancy. Researchers from Australia, Norway, and the United States collaborated to examine the data with advanced statistical modeling.
They found that 1 in every 21 pregnant women met criteria for an eating disorder, with most of them meeting criteria for binge eating disorder.
When examining how eating disorders changed before and during pregnancy, the researchers found that bulimia symptoms often went into remission during pregnancy. Nearly ¾ of all women who experienced bulimia before they were pregnant no longer met criteria for the disorder during their pregnancy.
The prevalence of binge eating, however, increased among women during pregnancy. Women were not simply eating more food or overeating, but rather experiencing a loss of control while eating an unusually large amount of food (read more about overeating vs binge eating).
Why might bulimia decrease, but binge eating increase? The authors suggest that women may actively try to reduce self-induced vomiting and other purging behaviors associated with bulimia in the interests of the health of their growing baby. Binge eating may increase, in part, due to social norms related to increased eating during pregnancy and difficulties distinguishing between healthy increases in eating and eating disorder behavior.
Dr. Gupta is a professor at Barnard College of Columbia University and provides individual therapy at Tribeca Psychology
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