Post-natal weight loss is a topic on which I have a fair bit of personal experience. I gained well over 20kg with my first pregnancy. For a 5ft gal - that was A LOT. And let me tell you - it did NOT come off easily. If anything, I continued to gain weight after my first born. And frankly, WHY DID EVERY ARTICLE ON BREASTFEEDING LIST WEIGHT LOSS AS A PRO? My child was on my boob 24/7 and I did not lose a gram. So much for that!
The other problem I had was that exercise and breastfeeding were mutually exclusive. I just couldn't do both. The day I exercised, I would feel totally depleted, my milk supply would drop and frankly, my double D dairy-boobs did not enjoy being harnessed into a sports bra. Even with two sports bras on, my breasts could not take all the jiggle of a workout.
For a long, long time, I lived in deep, painful shame of my post-natal body. In pictures, I expertly ducked behind sofas, prams, cots and people to hide my tremendousness. In fact, oh! Here I am! Hiding behind a sofa. Happy on the outside. Desperately ashamed on the inside.
Nothing prepared me for the shame I experienced and the toll it took on my confidence & emotional well-being. So when my post-natal group told me that their number one health & wellness issue was weight loss, I totally understood.
I mean, how on earth are we supposed to get Victoria Secrets-catwalk ready, when we are:
- sleep deprived and some days don't have the energy to get out of our pj's.
- so time-poor that it's either the gym or the supermarket.
- stressed about being back in time for the next feed.
- so ashamed of the size we are that we can't face going to a class with the taught Lululemons of the world.
Not to mention the anxiety! Sometimes it was so bad for me that I wouldn't be able to leave my child even with her dad. He didn't know how to swaddle her as well as I did and insisted on putting the room temperature at 19C but her little feet would escape and get cold and he didn't get it! What if she woke up and was hungry? What if he used the un-sterilised soother? What if he let her cry when I SPECIFICALLY asked him NOT TO. These issues were not funny and for months my mind, heart and all of my insides felt like they were in a vice.
Weight loss is hard under these circumstances. After having been-there-done-that twice and helping others, here are my two-cents worth.
Step 1: Give yourself permission to be over your desired weight.
Sounds counter-intuitive but in my experience - with myself and in practice - I have found that the road to weight loss starts with an acceptance of ourselves right here in the present: the dimply butt, the thunder thighs, the chubby arms, the droopy, veiny breasts with elongated nipples, the crater belly-button with the wrinkles around it, the chipmunk cheeks, the sallow skin and even the thick ankles.
So ladies: take out the sticky notes, choose your favourite colour gel marker, stick the following on your bathroom mirror and say it like you mean it every morning:
I accept and love my post-natal body with all of its imperfections.
You might not believe this statement the first time you say it (and affirmations are kinda cheezy) but what they do biochemically is very important. Every time you say this, you diminish that stressor that's eating away at you and spiking your cortisol levels. Stress is a major reason for weight gain - as well as an inability to shift weight - because it forces the pancreas to release insulin in response to cortisol & blood sugar spikes. The liver then takes that sugar and any excess is stored as FAT - particularly around the abdomen.
Step 2: Give yourself permission to lose the weight.
I'm sorry - wtf? Of course I want to lose the weight!
Well, let me tell you that for many women who gain a lot of weight with their pregnancy, struggle to lose it and even gain weight after the birth, this "failed" body image creates emotional eating habits, which then become sugar cravings. This vicious cycle is hard to break because it's tied to many emotional crutches. You've got to assure yourself that you're going to be able to walk - even run - without these crutches. And if you need another sticky note on the bathroom mirror to do that, so be it. Your cortisol levels will thank you.
Mine read: You are safe. You are loved. You can let go.
Step 3: Make a plan and set realistic milestones.
There's never going to be an ideal time to start but don't let perfect be the enemy of good. The kind of diet and exercise regime that brings about sustainable weight loss is actually also (in retrospect) very simple to keep up. The hard bit is actually starting. But you do have to be patient with yourself and give yourself time to create new habits.
I started my weight loss plan over a year after I gave birth to Sofia and I achieved my first weight-loss milestone about 5 months after I started. After my second birth, my depletion & allergies kept me glued to the sofa for years, but when I finally was able to start, it took me again 4 months to reach my first goal. After that, my 40th birthday gave me the next impetus to push beyond the plateau I had reached.
Today, I'm still working on my belly, but some days, first thing in the morning when it's not that time of the month and I've drunk plenty of water the day before and have had a good poo, I see traces of abdominal definition.
And I smile.
With patience, a good dietary & exercise plan and self-compassion, weight loss does happen.
Next time we'll talk about exercise. For those of you busting your butt at the gym and seeing no results, we'll talk about why that is and what you can do get the results you want.
Cristina Tahoces is a holistic nutritionist and owner of Thrive Nutrition Practice.
Need help to thrive and not just survive in the post-natal era? Contact her now.
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Thrive is teaming up with Sofie Jacobs, midwife & owner of Urban Hatch to bring you the essential PRE & POST NATAL WORKSHOP ON March 8th and March 20th. The series of workshops combines the extensive wisdom of midwifery and nutrition to help you & your baby BLOOM & THRIVE throughout your pregnancy and afterwards. For details: firstname.lastname@example.org or buy your tickets here.
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