Six or eight weeks after I had my son, I remember boasting to my home girl, “They were right about breastfeeding. I already lost all my baby weight!”
“Yup, and if you sit in that house with that baby all day, you gonna put it all right back on and then some,” she warned me, matter-of-factly.
Now, 21 months later, I have arrived at “and then some.” I look through the pictures I took with my son during his first year of life and envy my own body! Look at my former chin. My former face. My former waist!
I tried to prevent this, sort of. When my son was about five months old, I signed up for a popular, year-long weight management and healthy living program paid for by my insurance. The coach assigned to me asked me during our first consultation if I thought it was the right time enroll, considering I was caring for an infant. I said, “Ma’am, this is the perfect time. A year from now, my son will be walking, probably running all over the place. I need to be able to keep up with him, or at least give him a slow jog for his money.” I imagined I’d boss up like the sista in the featured photo above: wearing my son (who, ironically, eats way healthier than I do) and picking out nutritious fruits and veggies to keep my body going strong.
The coach was right, though. I guess she’d seen it happen before, plus she had two children of her own. She knew what I was up against: an enormous amount of stress as I adjusted to being wholly responsible for a tiny person who
was is as demanding as he is adorable. Not to mention the frustration of being thousands of miles away from his other parent, trying to adapt to a living and economic situation that was nothing like the life I had planned for my son and myself, for a lot longer than I ever anticipated. As I fed my feelings 4-for-$4 fast food combos and pint after pint of non-dairy ice cream, the program’s weight tracker app only served to document my steady climb back to the size I’d been before I spent a year in Ghana. And then some.
As the year passed, I wondered if my “advanced maternal age” body had begun the fabled, post-40 metabolic slowdown, but I couldn’t accept that. After all, wasn’t I 40 when I got to Ghana and lost 50 pounds? Having malaria twice along with several stomach problems did their uncomfortable part, but so did the drastic change in what I ate and how often I walked.
It wasn’t until right after the program ended that I heard the term “postpartum weight gain.” I was reading some bait click article about stars who had lost a bunch of weight, and that phrase appeared in dozens of the famous women’s stories along with “lifestyle change.” My friend’s forgotten warning echoed in my mind along with its new name.
That article led unexpectedly to my Big Realization: if I really want to change how I look and feel for good, I have to slowly and deliberately Change my Style of Living.
I swear that seems harder than pushing a baby out! But a few days before Thanksgiving, I decided enough is enough. I looked in the mirror, and then I looked at my son. I thought about him leaving home for school at age 18, raising his own family at age 30, and all those young adult years in between when he’d still need his family’s support and guidance to help him start his grown-up life on a strong note. I want to be around to see the man he becomes. I want to see my grandbabies! I don’t want to check out early because I didn’t take care of myself.
Of course, my resolve came at the worst time of year: the beginning of eggnog season. Cookie season. Macaroni and cheese season. Every kind of delicious food you could dream of season. I’m not pressuring myself to work a miracle this month. I just know that I don’t want to wake up from a food coma at the beginning of January and cry because I’m even further away from my health goals and have given even more energy to the bad habits I say I am determined to overcome.
So instead of making New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve set some Lifestyle Change Goals that I can start, and have started, now.
- Drink lots of water. Back in August, when I first got on the Lifestyle Change bandwagon, I chose this as my first, easiest, simplest and most doable starting point. I had trained myself to drink a glass while I was preparing meals, first thing in the morning, and last thing before bed. Like most healthful practices, I felt great when I was drinking lots of water. Why shouldn’t I? Water flushes fat and toxins and refreshes our hair, skin and internal cells. Our kidneys need it, and it even helps us eat less when we drink it before meals. Just when I thought I had committed to my daily intake, I caught a bad cold, got off track. Next thing I knew, liquid sugar had crept back into my cups in all its forms: juice, soda, beer, even super-healthy smoothies. Right after Thanksgiving, a close friend challenged me to scale back my sweet drinks and she’d do the same. I accepted, and aside from a few slip-ups, I’ve started limiting myself to a few teaspoons of sugar in my coffee in a day. Otherwise, I’m aiming for a happy medium between the tried-and-true eight 8-ounce glasses a day and the new-fangled advice of drinking up to half my body weight in that high quality H20.
- Move more throughout the day. Recently, I’ve taken advantage of our few mild temperature days to meet my favorite walking buddy at the track for a few laps. On really cold days, we even called each other and jumped on our dusty exercise bikes while my son napped. When I checked my total calories burned, though, I knew I needed more to offset my eating habits. During the program, I learned about the importance of being physically active outside of a structured exercise routine. It could be as simple as walking and bending to load the dishwasher while dictating a draft of this article into my phone instead of planting my butt in front of the laptop for an hour. Yay, technology! My ultimate goal in this area is a mental shift that can trigger the desired lifestyle change: to actually enjoy moving! To get more satisfaction from feeling my muscles and joints come alive than I do from “vegging out” for hours at a time. My toddler could definitely help with this, if I let him. Instead of responding to his active little self with my old lady sigh, I am trying to get with the program and kick the ball, chase him around, march and dance and help him develop his own muscles and motor skills through physical play.
- Make self-care and self-love a priority. I saved the best for last. Like many new mommas, I struggle with self-care. Honestly, I struggled with it long before my son was born. Simple things like logging off social media so I can get enough sleep and spend a little of that idle time adequately planning and preparing for healthier meals and smoother days are such profound investments in my well-being and great examples for my little boy. Sometimes I catch myself wondering what is wrong with me, why I can’t put forth a little more effort on my own behalf. Here is my Ultimate Truth: I actually don’t think any of this lifestyle change stuff will stick if I’m constantly attacking or pressuring myself. It’s such an easy habit to fall back into, but the counterproductive habits I want to break are not far behind that negative self-talk. I can’t afford to wait until I achieve my goal weight or ideal behaviors to like and accept myself. For now, the most profound change I hope to make in this area is a simple affirmation: “I matter. I deserve to take care of my body and my mind.” With that mentality, drinking water becomes an act of self-care. Every time I choose to move becomes an act of self-love.
So that’s my story and the end of this month’s “9 O’Clock Rocks” entry. Eventually, I will add healthier food choices and emotional outlets to my Lifestyle Change Goals, but I am also trying to break the habit of biting off more than I can chew. Water, movement, and positive self-talk are plenty to get me through this holiday season and off to a great start for 2019.
Have you experienced postpartum weight gain or some other undesired change in size? How have you addressed it? What worked and what didn’t? Let’s exchange tips in the comment section!