I shudder to think how painfully strict I was when I wanted to lose weight after my first three pregnancies. The thing is, I honestly didn't know there was any other way to be. From the moment my babies were born, I would never permit myself to cheat on my diet. That meant no chips (which are the food love of my life), no bread, no carbs of any kind. If I slipped and ate a tortilla chip, I'd be so down on myself. But self-hatred wasn't enough of a punishment. Because then, I'd overcompensate and deny myself more, until eating became completely unenjoyable.
My exercise routine was equally as unforgiving. I'd force myself to run a certain distance, or workout at a brutal level for a set amount of time, no matter how tired or sore my body felt. There were no exceptions, whether I'd been up all night with my child, or was coming down with some illness. Given how rigidly I stuck to my diet and fitness regimen, when I didn't lose weight during a given week, I'd fall into a horribly abusive state of mind, chastising myself for this perceived failure. I never let myself celebrate until the scale reached a very specific number of pounds. Although I eventually lost all the baby weight after about nine months to a year, the journey was miserable.
It took me until after my fourth child was born to realise there is a better way to lose baby weight, and it involves being, gasp, kind to myself. This shift was born mainly out of necessity, since I no longer have the time to be so strict in my approach to eating and exercise. My more gentle weight-loss plan started after my son arrived, and I came home to a new level of chaos. I was lucky to have time to go to the bathroom, let alone plan out a low-carb, low-fat meal. When neighbours brought over dinners, I felt grateful to shove a few bites of whatever they'd prepared in my mouth in between breastfeeding the baby, helping my preschooler on the potty, and driving two older kiddos to every activity under the sun.
My first several weeks postpartum were a blur. I ate (quickly!) when I had time, and stretched or walked if it fit into the day. Once I established more of a routine with the kids, I started slowly getting back to a more healthy diet and regular exercise routine. But not every meal is going to be salad or poached fish. Sometimes I'll shovel the children's leftover macaroni and cheese into my mouth. When this happens, I refuse to punish myself, because I know I'm doing the best I can. Likewise, I've done my very best to incorporate exercise into my day somewhere, whether it's walking the long way home after escorting my kids to school, or taking 15 minutes to practice yoga while the baby coos in his pack 'n play. On the days I only manage to carve out five minutes for a few sun salutations, I realise it is not the end of the world, but rather, reality as a mom of four.
Given my more relaxed attitude toward weight loss, it has been shocking to see the pounds fall off more quickly than when I pushed myself through brutal, 45-minute HIIT workouts and shunned every food that wasn't kale, almonds, or salmon. Just five months after having my son, I have lost nearly all of what I gained while pregnant. I still work out and eat healthy foods, but if one night dinner is chips and hummus while I bathe the kids, and I can only squeeze in a few planks and push-ups in between folding laundry, so be it.
I believe it's my attitude toward weight loss that has made this such a different journey. My more kind and loving attitude toward myself has drastically lowered my anxiety around losing weight. I feel so much healthier and more balanced, as well as less hormonal and stressed out. Instead of hurtling numbly toward one, very specific goal, I allowed myself the space and freedom to appreciate each step along the way. When a certain pair of pants fits, even though I know I ultimately have more weight to shed, I take the time to appreciate how far I've come. But it's not only about weight loss this time. I also celebrate when I feel stronger, like when I can hold a forearm plank for 30 seconds instead of 15, or when my chair pose seems like it's infused with more ease than before.
I'm so happy I learned you don't have to mistreat yourself to see your body change. You don't have to berate and deprive yourself to get results. Sticking to a cruel diet that centres around self-denial, and merciless sweat sessions born of the "no pain, no gain" mentality isn't the only way to lose weight. I'd encourage any new mama to adopt this mindful, realistic eating and exercise lifestyle that makes room for kind thoughts, self-love, gratitude, and forgiveness. Because losing weight shouldn't mean losing your sanity, too.