Weight loss is the number one health & wellness issues for my group of post-natal women. But weight loss is a complicated issue for women who have recently had children because it is intertwined with a lot of emotional stress.
When a new mother tells me she wants to lose weight, what she’s also saying is:
- I hate who I see when I look in the mirror
- My libido is non-existent and I’m afraid of losing my husband
- I don’t have a single picture of me with my baby that I love
- I have nothing to wear that brings me joy
- I’m embarrassed every time I meet my friends
POST-NATAL ADRENAL DEPLETION
All these messages of self-loathing & guilt circle in the post-natal brain dozens of time through the day. According to research by Dr. Lisa Rankin in her best-selling book “Mind Over Medicine”, our lizard brain does not differentiate between physical stress (i.e. a lion chasing you) and emotional stress (i.e. I hate my body). As a result, our body reacts to emotional stress in exactly the same way. Our adrenal glands release our stress hormones and our blood sugar increases so that we can run from that lion. But of course, the only thing we want to run away from our image in the mirror. Our muscles don’t need that spike in blood sugar, so insulin gets called in to return our blood sugar to homeostasis and packages all that sugar as fat for a rainy day.
If body image was the only factor acting on the adrenal glands, then maybe it would be okay. But to make matters worse, the post-natal mother is also highly stressed about:
- the well-being of her baby (i.e. is she eating enough?)
- the state of her marriage (i.e. we don’t ever talk anymore)
- her family (i.e. when will everyone stop having an opinion about how to raise my baby)
- going back to work (i.e. what am I going to wear? How will I cope?)
- not having time for anything anymore (i.e. do I shower or sleep?)
Plus, she suffers from lack of sleep. Every time she wakes up in the middle of the night, her cortisol levels are forced to rise and her melatonin levels are depressed to stay awake and care for the baby.
ADRENAL FATIGUE PUTS OUR BODY IN SURVIVAL MODE
This state of constant emotional stress and physical fatigue carry on for months – sometimes years, placing our adrenal glands under tremendous strain to make cortisol. To add insult to injury, when we have high levels of cortisol in our blood, we are less sensitive to leptin – the hormone that gives the signal to the brain that we are full. As a result, we tend to eat more than usual. And what do eat?
Generally carbs. They are satisfying, comforting, delicious and easy. Let’s face it. It’s far easier to slap a sandwich together with one hand while you’re calming a screaming child, than it is to chop of veggies and make avo mash.
And that’s the other problem. We don’t have time to eat properly. If our body goes for long periods of time without food, our blood sugar drops and our brain sends a message to the adrenal glands to release cortisol, which in turn causes our blood sugar to rise. The pancreas releases insulin again and our liver packages the unnecessary glucose as fat – generally around the hips and midsection.
After months or years of this pattern, our body believes it’s literally under attack and it goes into survival mode, meaning that it won’t let go of any of that fat until it feels safe again. Strenuous exercise also raises cortisol levels. And this is why killing it at the gym rarely bring weight loss results for post-natal women.
HYPOTHYROIDISM BEGINS WITH ADRENAL FATIGUE
But wait. There’s more. The other reason post-natal women find it difficult to lose once their in a state of adrenal depletion is because the domino effect on the thyroid. High cortisol inhibits the production of TSH in the pituitary and the conversion of T4 to T3 in the liver. Your metabolism starts to slow down and you may start experiencing symptoms of hypothyroidism:
- Weight gain/inability to lose weight
- Cold/numb hands and feet
- Depressed immune system
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Digestive problems due to low stomach acid
- Hair loss
- Water retention
LOVE YOUR ADRENALS TO SPARK YOUR METABOLISM
Under these circumstances, is it any surprise that weight loss is a difficult, sometimes impossible task for the post-natal mother? Of course not.
As a result, a weight loss programme that’s prioritises cutting calories over increasing nutrients and burning calories over recovery is bound to fail because it’s not founded on the science of how our body works.
STEP 1: NOURISH YOUR BODY
Your body is a machine. It is designed to work perfectly with the right fuel. But if it thinks its starving, it will keep holding on to fat. So you must eat on a regular basis to keep your blood sugar stable. That means never skipping breakfast, lunch or dinner and maybe having a few snacks.
STEP 2: START EXERCISING SLOWLY
For some women, that means starting with a 15-minute walk (preferably outside) a day. Or maybe it starts with a gentle yoga or pilates session that you do once a week and gradually build up to 3x a week. Exercise does create endorphins that will make you feel more positive but it is important to take it slow and only ramp it up when you are feeling stronger. You should not feel wiped out after exercise. If you do, that’s a sign that you have to take down a notch.
STEP 3: FIND A WAY TO MANAGE YOUR STRESS LEVELS
I find that a guided meditation like this one really helps. When we are stressed, our breath tends to be very shallow. Reconnecting with our breathing and channelling the breath and its energy through our body is a great way to de-stress and reduce cortisol levels. But also, treating yourself to a magnesium salt bath or an infrared sauna can also be lovely ways to relax and stimulate your metabolism and immune system all at the same time.
WORK WITH ME
If you’re struggling to get back to your former self after having kids, get in touch. Sometimes, all you need is a bit of help to get you back on track. You don’t have to do this alone.
Contact me today to get informed and get started.
Cristina Tahoces is a holistic nutritionist and owner of Thrive Nutrition Practice.
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