Post-Baby Body: Love It or Loathe It?

October 25, 2012

Last week, I read an awesome blog by an awesome writer, Leslie Goldman…but I didn’t feel so awesome about myself after reading it. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Leslie and she is one of my favorite health writers. She’s funny, truthful and has a way of delivering a message with just enough facts and just

Leslie & Baby Eve

enough fun. To her bliss she became a mommy this year and as if I wasn’t amazed enough by her, she is breastfeeding her little one even as she jet-setts about speaking, writing, and generally being, well, awesome. Leslie is a lucky lady. She has fallen in love with her post baby body and as I read her words, I realized how sad I was that I wasn’t feeling the same. Breastfeeding didn’t turn my metabolism into a teenage boy’s as she said it did for hers. My first few breastfeeding months were a carb craving frenzy that rapidly got out of control. I felt constantly hungry and the gooey, fried plantains from our fabulous Mexican restaurant downstairs consumed my thoughts. The lack of sleep wasn’t helping my blood sugar roller-coaster ride and before long, I could see I was in for an undoing of the fit pregnancy I’d had with only a 17 pound weight gain. I tried to stick to my own fat loss advice, but I just couldn’t keep my appetite and hunger at bay. I’d stayed away from the Ben & Jerry’s during my pregnancy and slid into my pre-preggers jeans just 12 days after I gave birth, so I was really caught off guard as I struggled so hard to eat well during those first few months. I was slowly feeling like I was getting “fatter” than when I was pregnant. I worked out up until 3 days before she was born – obviously I wasn’t doing a fat blasting metabolic circuit, I was pregnant after all! But now, being a doc in the weight loss/fitness industry, I felt I had to get into great shape ASAP. I had to be the inspiration, set the example or lest someone make an example out of me. And I felt day by day I was losing more and more ground. So after a month or so into full time mommyhood and trying to keep my practice afloat while on “leave” (I use that term lightly), I did what I always do. Freaked out a little, ignored how thin I was already stretched, and put myself on a ridiculously strict plan of cutting carbs and 6 workouts a week… even though I was running on empty. But as it always does, being so strict and regimented just backfired. I felt constantly defeated, constantly like I was failing. My breast-milk was up, then it was down. My back hurt as I jumped right back into training without enough rehab to my abs. I knew BETTER, but I felt obligated to make some speedy progress to the detriment of my marriage, my psyche and what should’ve been stress–free time with my baby. But was I doomed to loathe my post baby body? Did it have to be perfect right away for me to love it? I was reminded that I didn’t have the most loving relationship with my body well before baby. Pretty soon I settled into having to eat more carbs to keep my milk supply level and workout only as much as I could on so little sleep (my 14 month old is JUST NOW starting to sleep longer than 5 hours at a time). I had to accept that getting into my best shape wasn’t going to happen for me until I was done breastfeeding and I was getting more sleep. And I was OK with that. I had to be…I just couldn’t see making myself crazy about losing weight anymore, my priorities had shifted. And I think maybe, I grew up a bit becoming a mommy. As sad as I felt reading another mother’s experience of feeling sexy and great about her body, when I haven’t felt anything close to that since I gave birth, feeling less lean than I’d like is finally OK. It’s OK not because I am 100% satisfied with it, but because it’s exhausting and a waste of time not to be. Loathing it won’t make it a bit leaner – but it will make me miserable. The choices I made to keep myself and my family sane felt right for me, at least at the time. And I simply didn’t have the energy to force myself to workout on 2 hours sleep – and dare I say, I’ve finally learned that’s a bad idea anyway?? I am the hormone expert right? Sheesh…

My little Zen Master.

Not to mention, Lola has chilled me out big time when it comes to my insecurities. I have struggled at my leanest and at my heaviest to feel great about my body. I’ve wanted this or that to be different for as long as I can remember – all the while questioning myself worth as a girlfriend, fat loss professional, doctor, even a person, if I wasn’t fit and lean enough. Knowing better, I wasn’t always doing better…until Lola. Now, I don’t love every little detail about my body, but I don’t go off the rails thinking about them these days. I just don’t have the time or energy to obsess the way I used to! I workout as much as I can and eat as well as I can, as often as I can. I know this will not get me to 17% body fat anytime soon, but it has kept me feeling healthy and making slow, steady progress. I can’t let myself flip out about how my belly doesn’t look like it did before and how there is not enough definition in my arms – but some days I still want to. I made a commitment to myself to keep this in check because I refuse to model this neurosis for my baby daughter, who of course still knows her body is perfect just as it is. While Leslie is enjoying her jump from B to C cup, I’m still having a hard time seeing my now D cups as a plus. On my 5’3” frame they just make me look and feel “big”. But like her, I look at my breasts as a source of nourishment and a sacrifice I’ll happily make. My wish is for all mom’s, including myself, to have Leslie’s experience of enjoying the heck out of their post baby body and not putting ridiculous pressure on themselves to be in perfect shape a week or so after leaving the hospital. For most women it takes a year to get back to a more pre-baby state – and for some, a few parts don’t quite return to factory settings. I don’t think we have to give up on ever feeling great in a bikini again just because we had a baby. If that’s our goal, we’ll all get there in our own time – and hopefully in a gentle-with-ourselves sort of way. In most cases, women that were thinner before getting pregnant have a rockin’ metabolism come breastfeeding. For those of us that struggle to stay lean or have any amount of insulin resistance, breastfeeding can be a tough time to shed the weight. This is due to the relationship between prolactin (a key hormone for lactating) and insulin (our fat storing-blood sugar lowering hormone). This isn’t necessarily true when the thyroid gets involved postpartum, but that’s another blog all together. Lean or not, be amazed at the female body! It can nurture and sustain a pregnancy and then should we choose, make food for our babies that’s custom tailored to their needs, is produced on demand, is toasty warm and in a very comforting delivery system. That’s pretty amazing. Amazed or not, we ladies have a complicated relationship with our bodies. We usually have parts we love, parts we loathe, parts we grow to accept and parts we struggle daily to embrace. I’ve realized that the same things I didn’t like about my body before having a baby are still my sources of angst. (I still avoid looking at the backs of my thighs if I can help it.) Is my stomach less flat and tight than it was pre-baby? Yes. Am I a little nervous about how I’ll face the less-than-perky-post- breastfeeding-deflated boobs I’ll soon have? Yes. But what I’ve realized is that we put a lot of emphasis on how we can “undo the damage of the pregnancy” when honestly, for me, the parts that used to give me upset are the same ones that still do. The parts that changed because of Lola, I love anyway because they remind me of carrying her in my belly for 9 months and of feeding her all snuggled up and sweet. My metabolism issues are similar, perhaps slightly worse for the wear, but I have to do the same work physically and mentally. So the problem is really me, not whether or not I’ve had a baby. Damn…. It still lands back with me and my psyche. It’s the work I still need to do. So whether its babies or birthdays, our body changes over time and if staying fit is important to us, we need to keep doing the work – inside and out. We need to keep reminding ourselves that the berating, self-loathing and feeling sad about our bodies is an optional part of the journey. Post baby body or not, don’t loath it, love it! Even if it’s not quite where you want it to be yet. Find a workout that works for you, is something you can get done rain or shine – sleeping baby or no sleeping baby. Keep playing detective and keep tweaking your nutrition plan, learning what works for you. Find sustainability (remember to LIVE IT, not DIET!) and do it in a patient sort of way and maybe also in a Leslie-style, “I want to run around naked because I am obsessed with my boobs and hey, the rest of me looks pretty damn good, too” sort of way.

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