Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Better Late Than Never: My Postpartum Health/Fitness Journey

This post has been a looooong time coming. Over the last year, I've had so many thoughts on all things related to my body after having a baby, but I honestly never found the words to share in a blog post.

Long before having Emma, I just knew I wouldn't be one of those unicorn women who drop the pregnancy weight by breastfeeding or better yet, who literally have no explanation but the weight "just fell right off.." I just knew I wouldn't be one of those people. I was okay with that but I knew I'd have to work to get back in shape and drop some weight. What I didn't see coming was how negatively I would allow it to affect me. 

At any given time over the past year, my emotions would sway from frustration over what I felt like I was expected to do to overwhelming self criticism for not being where I should be physically at any given time to throwing up my hands up in frustration and not doing anything about it.

It was an exhausting and unhealthy roller coaster of emotions that I stayed buckled into for way too long after having Emma. 

I'm sure we all have the best of intentions toward the end of pregnancy. We tell ourselves we'll get into a serious workout routine, we'll reign in our eating to drop allll the weight right away. We'll be back to where we want to be in no time and we will have the motivation, will power, energy and focus to do all of this with no problem at all. I can't speak for everyone, but I did have the best of intentions. Then Emma was born and we came home and that went out the window real quick.

Getting my body back was the last thing on my mind. Instead, I was adjusting to being responsible for this tiny little human. I was recovering physically and emotionally from delivery. I was trying to adjust to a new normal with my husband. I was trying to sleep whenever possible. I was trying to remember to shower. I was soaking up sweet newborn snuggles and staring into our baby girl's precious face. I was nursing and constantly concerned whether or not she was getting enough, gaining enough weight, etc. I was navigating the fun that is postpartum hormones and trying to find a balance between keeping up our household and giving myself some grace because I couldn't do it all (duh).

When I did start working out again a few weeks later, I wasn't necessarily motivated. Looking back, I was doing it because I knew it was something I had to do. I was going through the motions for the most part but I wasn't fully committed and being motivated by things other than my own desire to do good for myself set me up for a lot of frustration. I would have a good week or two of working out and eating right and fall of track for weeks before kicking myself in the butt and starting over again. I was forcing it and exercising just to know I did it, but it wasn't doing me any good being so inconsistent with both food and exercise.

This trend went on for months. I tried a few different things to drop weight - shakes, cutting out certain foods, etc. but I was all over the place and would let one bad day derail me completely. Self sabotage is the only way I can describe it. I wanted to do what it took to lose weight and be where I wanted to be again, but I was looking for the fastest way there instead of doing what is right for me and finding a healthy balance for myself.

The worst part of all this is how much space all of this took up in my mind on a daily basis. I would tell myself I was going to exercise or do this or do that and then when I didn't, I would beat myself up about it so much. I was so all over the place trying to decide what to eat/what not to eat or what I would start doing tomorrow. It was exhausting and not healthy even if I had been dropping weight like crazy. Instead of feeling empowered to take better care of myself, I felt shame for getting to where I was. I felt self-conscious and kind of uncomfortable in my own skin. I wanted to feel sexy again and confident but I felt like I was so far from getting there. On the rare occasion when I allowed myself to just have fun and not be so concerned about what I looked like, something would happen that brought me right back to feeling low.

One night in particular stands out to me still. My husband and I were at my friend's wedding back in March. My parents had taken Emma for the night and we booked a room at the wedding venue for the night. We'd had an incredible day together and by the time we made it to the wedding reception, I was feeling relaxed, joyful, beautiful and confident. We were in line for a drink talking to another couple we didn't know when the husband asked me when I was due. I was completely caught off guard and while I wanted to walk away and go cry in the bathroom for the rest of the night, I somehow managed to gracefully respond telling him I wasn't pregnant. As a sidenote (and this topic probably deserves a separate post), can people everywhere just know that you should never, under any circumstances ask a woman this question? It blows my mind that this happens along with so many other things that just shouldn't be said to a woman ever. Questions like this are so well-intentioned that you can't help but shrug it off because the person didn't know any better and didn't mean to be hurtful but enough is enough. You could literally ask me a thousand other questions that don't have the potential to (1) make me want to murder you, (2) make me feel self-conscious and uncomfortable or (3) make you look like an ignorant jerk.


I let that one well-meaning but completely out of line question from a stranger tear me down and almost ruin our evening. Thankfully, I moved past it as quickly and gracefully as I could and we had a really fun night dancing together and enjoying our night away but I had given so much power to everyone and everything outside of my control that I forgot how much stronger I am than that.

I projected so many negative feelings onto my husband during this time, convincing myself that he felt these same things about me I felt about myself. I subconsciously wanted to shut him out of this inner struggle I was having. Men tend to have a habit of trying to fix things when we just need them to feel things with us. With good intentions, he would suggest things I could do or try to help motivate me or something. I took this as pressure from him rather than support because I felt so self-conscious. My problems weren't because I had a lack of knowledge about how to solve them, they were all about me getting in my own way.

I've honestly been incredibly happy being a mother and everything that's gone on in our lives this past year or so, but this inner struggle was going on the whole time in the background and it was stealing some of my joy.

I think back in May, Jonathan and I had a serious talk about a lot of things and we got a lot of this out into the open. I really let him in on how I'd been feeling and we came out of this conversation being much more open and transparent with each other about a lot of things. I was able to let go of all these things I'd convinced myself he was feeling and from there, I felt like I could open up more about all of this and knew he was there for support in any way. I had been having this inner struggle for a while and was trying to fight it on my own. When I finally opened up about my feelings and struggles, it was almost like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and I could see everything more clearly.

By June, something had really shifted in me and I really felt emotionally strong and capable of staying on track. Somethingjust told me it was time to do this for me. I had just seen my older sister finish a series of weight loss challenges in which she had to check in and share progress on social media. I remember how exciting and motivating that was for me to see. I started thinking about the accountability factor and how I love connecting with people online, how I love sharing with people and how cool it must be to be able to track progress in such a visual way. I'd been getting into a better fitness routine anyway so I went ahead and created an Instagram account specifically for my health and fitness journey. I made it separate from my original account so I didn't flood my friends with post-workout selfies and pictures of food. My goal with this was exercise 4-5 times/week and share a post-workout photo after each and every workout, I also wanted to share healthy meals I was making and anything else that related to my journey. If people wanted to follow along, they were more than welcome and I loved seeing so many friends start to follow along and even better, engage with me!

A few weeks into this journey, as it got closer to Emma's first birthday, I was reflecting a lot on how much I'd struggled just months before and I couldn't put my finger on what had finally clicked for me. Why was I finally able to find such a healthy outlook on all of this? How did I suddenly find a way to stay motivated? How was I finally able to eat more consistently healthy without obsessing so much? Why did I feel such peace with where I was at/how far I have to go/the struggles of getting there?

My answer was this, which I posted on my Instagram account the day before Emma's 1st birthday:

At this time last year, I was in the hospital getting ready to deliver my sweet baby. This body of mine carried a child for 9+ months. This body of mine endured 2+ hours of pushing to get that healthy and happy girl out into the world. This body of mine can do incredible things. I've been thinking lately about what has finally clicked-- why I'm finally able to stay focused and motivated and as a result, finally start to see some real progress. I figured it out. I've been really mean to myself since having Emma. I gained more weight than I should have during pregnancy and didn't stay in shape. My body didn't effortlessly transform back to its pre-baby form. I wanted to want getting my body back to be a top priority, but every time I tried, I was just going through the motions. I was doing it because I HAD to. Because I was disgusted with myself. Because I felt shame. Because I didn't want at several months postpartum for another stranger to ask me when I was due. Something shifted in me recently and I started to do all of this for me, because I love me. I started to do this because I wanted to have something that is just mine. An outlet. A period in the day where I'm not cleaning, cooking or taking care of anyone else. I'm doing this now because my body and mind deserve love. Doing any of this to punish myself for getting to where I was or doing this because I'm expected to is not what's going to give me satisfaction and I'm glad those days are over. I'm being kinder and more patient with myself. I'm enjoying the process where before I could only focus on how far I have to go. Most of all, I'm celebrating and loving my body and the incredible things it can do.

It's truly incredible to me how much your mindset affects everrrything else. How when you decide that you are worthy of your best, you often give it to yourself. How when you stop worrying so much about what others are thinking and focus on making sure you are thinking good thoughts and sending positive vibes, you conquer every battle you've been facing. How it's so much easier to stay on track when you aren't obsessing over what to eat/what not to eat/what exercise you should/shouldn't do and you just do what is right for you in the moment and find a healthy balance between all of it, you see the results you want.

It's now been 3 months since I created that Instagram account and while I won't credit it for the progress I've made recently - physically and mentally, it has been such a an awesome outlet for me to use in this journey. It's also been an incredible motivator being able to look at photos from just a few weeks ago and see how much progress I've made. It's progress I wouldn't necessarily notice otherwise, but having the daily photos to compare has been incredibly helpful!

I'm 20 pounds lighter in the photo on the right but more importantly, I'm stronger, happier, more energetic, more playful, more confident and so much more at peace. Jonathan came in while I was putting the finishing touches on this post and helped me put those comparison photos together. He asked me how much I'd lost since that first photo. I told him it 20 pounds and he left the room without saying a word. He came back in with one of his weights and handed it to me saying "This is how much you've lost. That's incredible." I held the weight for a minute -- actually, I lifted it over my head in defeat because I was being a goofball but it was cool to acknowledge how much I've lost. This has become so much less about the number on the scale and more about feeling good and treating myself good but holding that weight just reminded me how much (physically of course, but more emotionally) I was carrying around before.

It's a vulnerable thing to do putting your emotions and thoughts on the Internet, not to mention sharing photos of the journey (sweaty and unfiltered as they may be), but it's made all of this about so much more than my journey to get healthy. It's made it about community and lifting each other up. It's made it about being open and real about life which isn't the norm with social media at times. It's made it a place of positive vibes when the world is full of a whole lot of negative. It's made it about letting your guard down and letting people in on your journey.

In August, I'd felt like I really found a great balance and routine with exercise and wanted to turn my attention to changing the way I think about food. I'd already made a lot of progress getting my diet more balanced and was more consistent with eating healthy but I wanted to do something more intentional to help me let go of cravings, learn what does good for my body and what I can do without and overall change my outlook on food completely. I started The Whole30 on August 14 and if you follow my Instagram account, I shared a lot of the journey there. I'm planning a big recap post now that it's over, but it's been an incredible experience for me.

No shake program, calorie counting or obsessive fitness routine would have ever gotten me the peace I feel these days. I have a ways to go before I reach my goals and when that time comes, I'll still have work to do to stay there but I'm not thinking so much about all the work I have to do. Instead I'm enjoying the journey and focusing on being true to myself and most of all, good to myself. I still have days where I almost beat myself up for skipping a workout or making a not-so-great food decision but I catch myself now and reign it in. I'm giving myself more grace and being patient with myself. It's a beautiful thing when you can be kind to yourself, laugh at yourself and also have self-discipline and motivation to stay on track. Everything just plays off of each other and you kind of feel on top of the world. At least I do lately.

I don't have all the answers (in case the thousand words above didn't already prove that to you) and I won't ever claim to. I know I'm not the only woman who has struggled with her postpartum body/emotions/etc. so I'm not sharing anything unique here in that sense. I also spent so much time writing this only to nearly avoid sharing it out of fear. Fear of exposing the not-so-pretty, fear of judgment, fear of pity, fear of criticism. 

The thing is, I'm figuring all of this out as I go along, as I know we're all doing. I didn't just share all of that tough stuff up there because I want you to feel sorry for me or because I have any advice to give you. It's the opposite, actually! It's been therapeutic for me to reflect on all of this and share it. If I've been reminded of anything lately, it's that sharing the ups and downs of your journey can be liberating, fun and maybe even inspiring. I want to share more, lift up others more and connect more because sometimes when you open up about your journey and let others in, you let go of what was holding you down.

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