How Dietician Melissa Rifkin Learned to Look Past the Scale
The soon-to-be mother of two shares how she finally learned to love her body for how it could love — not how much it weighed.
Registered dietician Melissa Rifkin used count her calories, exercise for 90 minutes a day, and obsessively check the number on the scale. “No one becomes a dietician because they love food,” she explains. “I had borderline anorexia in high school, and then I became obsessive compulsive with exercise. I would say 99 percent of dietitians had something similar happen to them.” Her meticulously planned, dangerously restrictive lifestyle, documented on Instagram since 2012, garnered her hundreds of thousands Instagram followers — and all was going according to plan until she got pregnant with her first child, Max (age one).
“I was pretty sick, and I let go of all the normal restrictions I followed,” she recalls. “I gained 10 pounds in the first trimester, and it was kind of freeing. I ended up gaining 50 pounds total.” After giving birth, she suffered from postpartum depression and had trouble keep down water, much less food. For a person who expended most of their energy on being in control, Melissa was no longer in the driver’s seat of her own body. Eventually, she recovered a normal appetite and lost interest in restrictive eating. Currently three months into her second pregnancy, Melissa is feeling extremely unwell again — but this time, she lost weight instead of gaining weight, and she’s been prescribed medication and receiving acupuncture treatments to improve her appetite.
“I’ve also been working with a therapist, and I realized that a lot of the things I used to do — restricting and obsessing over calories — were coping mechanisms,” she explains. “Working through my past with my therapist has allowed me to move forward.” Also, she adds, becoming a mother changed her priorities. "When I had nothing to focus on except for myself, I made a lot of time for exercising and dieting,” she says. “But now I’m in survival mode. My focus is my child, and it doesn’t matter how my body looks.”
The postpartum depression was particularly rough because she had her first baby during COVID lockdown in Connecticut. Her baby nurse couldn’t come, her husband, Gino, was working overtime in the hospital, their families couldn’t visit, and Melissa felt alone in her first few weeks as new mother. “After three weeks, I felt debilitated,” she says. “I didn’t feel fit to be a mother.” Her husband got her an appointment with a psychiatrist, and she switched from Zoloft to Lexapro to manage her depression — and finally was able to breastfeed. “Once I surrendered and got the help I needed,” she explains, “I was on fire. I could be a mom finally.” It sparked an outpour of support — and empathy — from her community on Instagram. People reached out and confessed that they wish they had gotten the help they needed. Other moms asked for more details about her experience being on meds while pregnant. All this was done with a slight hush-hush tone in fear of stigma. “As the years go by, I hope we can be more open about medication because it doesn't make you a bad person,” she says. “I'm trying to use my voice to push people to not feel this way anymore.”
Melissa is also hoping to help other mothers overcome the emotional changes that arise with the physical transformations of pregnancy. She recommends starting with affirmations that celebrate what the body has just done — giving birth to a child, to start! “It was really hard for me when I was gaining weight, until I realized my body was remarkable and powerful,” she says. She recalls the time she not only breastfed her son, Max, but also provided extra breastmilk for a friend in need. “It’s amazing how your mind shifts after you’ve had a kid,” she says. “You want to nourish your body so you can keep up with your kid.”
Here’s one tribulation Melissa hasn't encountered during pregnancy, however: Stretch marks. After gaining 50 pounds (and losing most of it), she has some loose skin, but no scarring. She applies the Evereden Golden Belly Serum and Nourishing Stretch Mark Cream as preventative measures. "I enjoy putting these products on because they feel like a luxurious experience,” she says. “Being able to celebrate and nourish your body is new to me.”