Please read the disclaimer at the bottom of this post!
GUEST WRITER BIO: Nicole Elizabeth is a stay-at-home mother of two young children and an in-home cooking instructor in the Hampton Roads area. Her cooking focuses on seasonal, fresh, local ingredients, and in her spare time, you can usually find her either cooking new things for her two tiny and very willing taste testers, or hitting the pavement with her running buddies.¬†
Almost every woman who has given birth has, at some point, struggled with her post-baby body. Pregnancy changes a woman’s body in many ways, some preventable (excessive weight gain)* and some not (widened hips, stretch marks), but that doesn’t mean that we have to feel self-conscious about the way we look after delivery.
For the record, I don’t think that a woman needs to be back to her pre-baby figure at 3 months postpartum, nor do I think she should strive to be. A lot of the post-baby weight loss things that I read make my heart heavy by their undertones of “I did it, so what is your excuse?” as if trying to shame new mothers for not dropping their pregnancy weight ASAP instead of focusing their time and energy on their new babies. Though I choose to believe that the women writing those posts don’t mean it that way, to an exhausted woman who is already uncomfortable with how she looks, that is often how it comes across. That is not the purpose of this post. Everybody has different post-pregnancy health concerns, children with different sleep patterns, and varying responsibility and obligations at home and at work, so what works for me will not work for everyone. Some can jump into fitness and exercise with as much vigor as they had before even thinking about motherhood; others have to ease into it. The point isn’t so much about how you look; rather, it is about taking care of your body and living a healthy lifestyle. This is how that lifestyle looks for me.
First, let me get this out of the way: I’m one of those weirdos that eats no processed foods and cooks everything from scratch. Roll your eyes, yes, but hear me out. Food can be a huge roadblock for people who are trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, arguably more so than even exercise.¬† I spent years counting calories and taking protein and energy supplements, but it sucked the joy out of life for me in the sense that it became all-consuming. I did it quite well, to my detriment. Every little thing I ate was calculated, I routinely spent over two hours a day running and lifting, and I would spend more time than I care to admit thinking about more ways to lose weight. The worst part about it was how people always told me how great I looked, which only encouraged the fitness Nazi growing inside of me. That lifestyle tapped into my type-A qualities more than is healthy, and once I was out of college and married, it just wasn’t sustainable.
Choosing to cook and eat the way I do gives me a huge benefit in the health and fitness arena in that I don’t really have to worry about macronutrients/micronutrients, whether I am getting enough fiber, or if I am eating too much fat and too many carbs. Now, if I strength train more than usual on any given day, I make sure to sustain that with extra protein in the form of more chicken or fish. On days that I run longer distances, I make sure I eat enough healthy carbohydrates and electrolyte-rich foods. This is easy for me because it is already part of my normal diet, which relies heavily on whole grains like hard wheat berries, quinoa (which isn’t really a grain but is culinarily treated like one) barley, oats, kamut, amaranth, millet, and freekeh (a grain that is picked green and then roasted), seasonal vegetables, lean protein, beans, legumes, and seasonal fruit. Often, dinner is heavy on vegetables, moderate on protein, and light on carbohydrates, but if my body is telling me I need some carbs after a particularly long run, I eat the carbs. Balance is key, and I am thankful that I learned this before my children were old enough to pick up on my previous habits that could translate into my daughter having a poor body image and my son looking at women with unrealistic, unfair expectations.
On the fitness and exercise side of things, I completely throw out my aforementioned mantra about balance. I absolutely love exercising, pushing myself physically, and seeing growth and accomplishment. I get twitchy if I take too much time off, which is largely why I had such a hard time during the first few weeks post-delivery with both children. After my first delivery, I happily jumped back into my exercise routine, but was frustrated with how much ground I had lost during pregnancy. After my second baby, I was mentally ready for it, so I took it slowly for the first couple of months, doing light cardio on the elliptical, swimming, and lifting light to moderate weights while my body, specifically my joints and ligaments, normalized. Once my son was sleeping longer stretches through the night and I felt more human, I started doing home workouts during nap time. Bodyrocktv.uk and thedailyhiit (that isn’t a typo) were fantastic resources for me, though I readily admit that to the uninitiated, the workouts are pretty intimidating. Intimidation can be a good thing, though, when you need a kick in the rear to get moving. My brother-in-law, fresh home from Special Forces basic training, also gave me a fantastic home circuit workout that I think was responsible for the bulk of me getting my strength back. The big point here is that a lot of my fitness training was done at home, in my living room, often with one or two young children present. I did lower ab exercises, like leg lifts and windmills, with a toddler sitting on my chest. Both children tried imitating me doing pushups, and they loved running circles around me while I was doing air squats with timed holds. If my son needed to be held, I held him while doing wall sits, squats, and lunges. I was certain it wouldn’t be doable with my kids in the room, but I was wrong. This helped prepare me for my current fitness challenge: getting back into running.
Once my son turned a year old and weaned, I started running a couple miles a day, two days a week. Over a few months, that expanded into running every weekday, and then into the current iteration of training for a half marathon. I’ve always been a solo runner, but recently, a small group of friends decided to run a half marathon, and I became the unofficial motivator. I’m not quite sure how it happened that way, but there it is. Now, two of us are training together, running four days a week, and I’m doing additional speed and strength training. Our long run last week was 8 miles, and it was so neat to see my friend do it when she didn’t think she could. During our fast run this week, I timed her at much faster than she thought she could run. Another friend ran five miles the other week, almost doubling how far she has previously run. These women both have sub-18 month old children and are very, very busy, but have decided to make fitness a priority with very little taking precedence over it. It is motivating and inspiring to see them accomplish something they never thought they’d accomplish. These are women who hated running, who didn’t think they would have the strength or energy to do it, who have never exercised like this in their lives, but they are doing it, and doing it well. Though I now prefer the company of my running companions, my solo runs are still relaxing. They give me time to clear my head and serve as the “me time” that I hear so many people talk about. Alone, I can pray, organize my thoughts, plan my day, or just think and listen to the sound of my feet rhythmically hitting the pavement.¬† Our bodies go through so much during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and post-pregnancy, I sometimes just have to stop and marvel to God that He has given me the ability to run long distances, to do push-ups, to suck wind while running up a massive flight of stairs, and then to be able to go home and still take care of my babies. Running solo makes you think, and thinking makes you thankful.
I know a lot of readers want to know results in numbers, so because this isn’t my blog, I will respect that and say that, though it is really an afterthought to me at this point, eating the way I like and doing the active things I enjoy has me back at my pre-pregnancy weight and fitness level. I still have stretch marks, my hips are wider than before, and I have a little mommy pooch that will likely be there for a while, but I’m becoming fond of the marks my babies have left on me, and I don’t agree with the idea that beauty equals looking like you’ve never given birth. I’m done with that mindset, and to me, that has made all the difference in the world.
Disclaimer: All information presented during this event is purely personal opinion and shared for educational purposes only.¬†The information contained herein is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.¬†Please consult your physician before beginning any exercise, weight-loss, or nutrition program.¬†Please note, My Life: A Work in Progress does not necessarily endorse any opinions presented by guest writers during this event. Not all exercise or nutrition programs are suitable for everyone.