My Post-Partum Body, A Year Later

We don't talk about the realities of post-partum bodies enough.  There's a strong narrative that once you have your baby, you do a bunch of work and "go back" to your pre-pregnancy body.  With kegels and push-ups, some grit, and "no excuses" (Thank-you-not-really, Maria Kang), you can get back your body, and by extension, your sexuality and attractiveness and sense-of-self. 

Well, sorry, but that's a big, ol' NOPE.  There is no "snapping back".  These changes are forever. Your body went through a gigantic transformation.  No sense in pretending it didn't happen.

The thing is: I think you can reclaim your body, and by extension, your sexuality and attractiveness and sense-of-self WITHOUT a whole big weight loss "journey."  In fact, I think it's vital that you do.

My post-partum body, 1 year later. - superbalancedlife.com

My post-partum body, 1 year later. - superbalancedlife.com

A year ago, I showed what my post-partum body looked like, a month after birth.  The above picture was taken about a year after that.  Honestly, they're not much different.

My post-partum body, 1 year later - superbalancedlife.com

My post-partum body, 1 year later - superbalancedlife.com

I guess my stretch marks have faded, but I still have the "mummy tummy" and the same hips and big arms.  So what's different?  My head.

To be honest, I put off this post for a couple days because I was actually a little disappointed about the pictures.  A teeny part of myself wanted this to be a Before and After kind of scenario, because we're conditioned to believe that that is the triumph: visible, tangible transformation.  But the bigger win is what's been going on in my brain. 

To be even more candid -- as I compared the photos from a year ago to now, my thought process has gone something like this: "Oh man, it's not that different.  Shit.  And I've gone back to CrossFit, but it's obviously not working, and maybe I should be watching what I eat... OH WAIT A SECOND STOP RIGHT THERE.  Am I doing these things to "fix" what I look like, or to feel good in my body?  I am doing this to feel good in my body.  Eating well, moving my body in ways I like and feel good, sleeping as much as I can, and making time for self-care, those things are the goal in and of themselves."

Taking care of myself is its own reward.  I feel good; so much better than I have in a long time.  I feel motivated and engaged and happy.

So as much as I've been conditioned to see no physical change at all as a bad thing, I don't really think it is.  The life I'm living is sustainable.  I'm not driving myself crazy being consumed by a weight loss struggle.  Today, I ate a salad for lunch, but I also ate oatmeal with dark chocolate chips for breakfast.  *shrug*

This is what success looks like for me: total self-acceptance and making choices that support my strength, health, and life, and also acknowledging how amazing it is that my body has sustained and given life.  It will never be what it was before my kid.  I don't have the time or energy to do the work I did to make it that way.  But I am finding what time and effort I can to make sure I'm the best me that I can be NOW, and that's what really counts.

Be With Yourself

Things have been a little crazy for me lately - my mom is dealing with some health challenges, we have 3 tiny asshole feline ninjas running around, and work is always pretty busy leading up to the holiday season.  In the midst of all of it though, I've found some quiet, some space to just be.

Autumn makes me a little more reflective, internal.  I think it's that way for a lot of people.  Back-to-school always used to kick me into high gear with goal setting and planning and projects; but this year, I'm feeling a bit more settled and contemplative about how things are as they are.

Maybe it's that I've been so close to the business of life lately.  Helping someone with a chronic illness is sobering and often difficult, but it can also open up valuable opportunities for accessing compassion.  What I've learned this fall is that just being present for someone, holding space for their suffering, pain, and confusion, is a grace.  Oftentimes, people don't need you to fix something; they just need to know you care and that you're there.

It's a practice I'm trying to apply to my own life.  I find it much harder to be present for myself and what's coming up for me, than for someone else.  But you can't be a good caretaker if you're not taking care of yourself. 

Be with yourself. - superbalancedlife.com

Be with yourself. - superbalancedlife.com

I've embraced the usual things: meditation, yoga.  I've been an inconsistent practitioner of both over the past few years, but I'm starting to settle into a rhythm a little bit.  It's nothing mind-blowing: yoga 1x per week, and meditation as often as I can manage it. 

One of the things I'm learning is that the best thing we can do is work with whatever our reality is at the time.  A big theme for me these days is not pushing.  I used to push myself constantly, driven by my own fears that I was fat, lazy, and not enough.  Sure, I got a little thinner, and definitely stronger, but I also got a bunch of injuries and a heap of stress.  The nicest thing about my current headspace is that I'm taking things at a pace that feels sustainable for me.  Like, truly sustainable, no bullshit.

By being patient, checking in a lot, and waiting for the right time to move, I'm finding what works for me naturally.  Me and my body are a true team.  I'm just kind of letting things work themselves out.  It's very different from my normal agenda, but the sense of peace I feel has no comparison.

If you feel stuck, hot, frustrated, cockblocked, whatever, do what seems most contrary to what you'd like to do (life something, throw something, yell at someone), and sit down.  Try allowing those feelings to just be.  It's probably the hardest thing I've ever done, but it's also been kind of the best ever, because there's always a neutral, safe place to come back to.  My feelings don't run me.  I just let them exist.  And then they move on, and so do I.

The Measure of Our Greatness

I am totally having a rough morning today.  Ill-advisedly, I stepped on the scale, and the number wasn't great.  But for the first time ever, I stopped the negative thoughts before they could really ramp up, picked up that scale, and gave it to my partner and told him to hide it in our basement.

Fuck the scale.  I don't want to get triggered every day by what my weight is doing.  Weight is an inexact measurement anyway - it can fluctuate rapidly over the course of a day.

I know my weight is up for a couple of reasons:
1. I spent a week in South Carolina eating less-than-nutritious food, because I had very few options, would offend my relatives who had made some of the food, and because I just couldn't bring myself to get overly fussy when the point of the trip was to have a family reunion for my mother in law who has lung cancer.  In the face of lung cancer, weight gain doesn't seem that damn important.
2. My partner made homemade sushi this weekend, which was totally fun and absolutely delicious.  Not eating the handmade sushi your partner offers you?  That makes you an asshole.
3. We also went out on an amazing date to Nopa last night, where I didn't overeat, but I did give myself the space to choose whatever I wanted.  And last night, that was ratatouille with duck egg as a shared starter with my dude, their amazing, delicious burger, which is seriously one of the best burgers I've ever had, and dessert.  Because I am a grownup lady who really loves food as art and nourishment, and that is how I wanted to nourish my body.
4. Ladytimes

Knowing all that made it a little easier to dismiss the lame internal voices in my head and get rid of the scale.  Maybe someday I'll sledgehammer that jerk, but for now, baby steps, you know?

What really got me to do it though was that I read this AMAZING ARTICLE by Ladybud this weekend.  No really, it's literally the best thing I've read all year: Fuck Diets

Read it.  Be incredulous.  Laugh at all the cussing.  Then seriously, ask yourself the hard questions.  Why do we want to be smaller?  Isn't that literally the dumbest thing ever?

Thinking about it this morning, I made this illustration for y'all:

Self explanatory.

Self explanatory.

"...that’s the rub, right there. Exactly why do we want to be smaller? What exactly is the appeal of being smaller? How does it benefit us? Does it make us better mothers? Better students? Better lovers? Better artists? Scientists? Friends? Does it make us more badass badasses?
No, no, no, no, no. You must see that it doesn’t. It doesn’t do anything but make us smaller.
Babies and puppies are small.  So are dimes and Skittles.  You’re a fucking woman.  A woman! You are entitled to occupy as much fucking space as you like with your awesomeness, and you better be suspicious as fuck of anybody who tells you differently."

Couldn't have said it better.  I mean, seriously, why do I want to be smaller?  I'm already a not-big person.  I'm not even technically plus size.  I'm at the upper end of normative sizes, and I have a bottom that stops traffic and decries gravity, as well as ripped arms that refuse to fit in skinny lady arm blazers, but so what?  Maybe clothing makers should actually create clothes that fit badass, CrossFittin' ladies like me.  Maybe it's the INDUSTRY that's the problem, not my body.  And perhaps it's time I stopped giving in to the idea that I must change, and instead starting fighting the activist fight of getting the industry to change.

"That’s a valid message for women and girls: grow, expand, branch out, open up, get bigger, wider, faster, stronger, better, smarter. Go up not down. Get strong, not skinny.
Language affects our thinking whether we like it or not. Every time we tell ourselves, “I’ve gotta get down to a size whatever,” or “I’ve got to get rid of this gut,” we discount who we are RIGHT NOW. And fuck that shit. Who we are right now is okay. Instead of encouraging ourselves and other women to get smaller, we ought to be focusing on what will make us better. Better. Not smaller.
You are not here to get smaller. You are not here to have a thin waist and thighs. You are not here to disappear. You’re here to change the world! Change the fucking world, then! Forget about “losing a few pounds.” Think about what you could be gaining instead.
Think about the possibilities, we could be so much greater, so much more powerful if we refocused our energies. So stop your fucking nonsense with the Slim Fast shakes and the diet pills or whatever the fuck. CUT THAT FUCKING NONSENSE OUT. Get out there and learn and grow and be amazing. Accomplish something real, right now. Don’t wait until you reach your super-whack “goal weight” which no longer has any bearing on real life probably. Your gratification, your happiness and your unconditional acceptance of yourself will do something for you that dieting never will: it will set you free and unlock your true potential."

That's the rallying cry right there fellow badasses.  I am done with my scale and trying to be smaller for the sake of being smaller.  I want to be better.  Stronger, smarter, kinder, more engaged and creative and in-tune with what's going on, just better.

So whaddya say?  Are you in?  Let's do this thing!

Treatment Plan for Negative Body Image Triggers

Hoo!  That was a long-ass title, wasn't it?  I was thinking about this topic today because I accidentally stepped on the scale this morning.  I'm not in the habit of weighing myself, but my scale actually came out of hiding behind the trashcan in the bathroom this morning as I was shuffling some things around, and I decide to hop on for the hell of it.

It goes without saying that this was a bad idea.

The number was at a place I find a little shocking.  I'd expected it to be high, after my week in South Carolina, but I was still a little taken aback.  And even though I consider weight an abstract concept, and that numbers mean very little, it still was kind of a gut punch.

A few weeks ago, the amazing Josey linked to this fantastic article from Beauty Redefined: Not Picture Perfect? Bounce Back from a Body Image Blow.  It's worth reading the whole thing, but if you don't want to do that, no worries - I'm going to break it down for you in a series I'm starting today.

The article deals with body shame resulting from seeing unflattering photos, the same kind of shame I experienced today when looking at the scale.  With pictures, it's even worse because, thanks to social media, everyone can see them.

In a world where girls learn from childhood to monitor their appearance at all times, and where public identities are carefully crafted online at every waking moment, a picture speaks more words than ever.
— Beauty Redefined

I've experienced this shame many times finding unflattering pictures of me that have been tagged on Facebook.  It happened a lot when I played roller derby, because sport photos capture a lot of candid moments  -  I was too busy playing the game to pose.  The most recent example, however, happened when photos of our CrossFit Prom were posted online.

I'd bought this faux satin dress at Community Thrift for like 8 bucks, and I was stoked to wear it.  I'd neglected to realize that shiny fabric looks voluminous under a flash, and that an empire waist can make you look 4 months pregnant without trying too hard.  And when the photos were posted, I was pretty disappointed. 

Here's one of me with my bestie Lacy from Super Strength Health:

BFF 4-EVA!

BFF 4-EVA!

When I saw this, I was immediately thrown down the rabbit hole of chagrin and embarrassment.  How could I have worn that?  Didn't I know ho that made me look?  The dress looks mad bunchy in the back and is kind of wrinkly and ill-fitting. And I look so short and squat.  Ew.

I felt similarly when I got on the scale this morning.  How could I have let it get this bad?

In both cases, I knew better than to get stuck in the shame spiral for long.  I know that my worth as a person and my attractiveness isn't defined by one badly-lit picture.  But how to get out of this horrible head space?

Beauty Redefined thinks that resilience may be the answer:

Resilience theory describes opportunities to call upon resilient traits as “disruptions,” which are experiences that shake us out of our comfort zones and allow us to change in positive or negative ways. Disruptions are occurrences that cause us to feel self-doubt, hurt, fear, or loss. They can be anything from unkind words from a stranger, to a pregnancy, an invitation to go swimming, weight loss/gain, or even the super lame inconvenience of being tagged in a photo you can’t stand. Disruptions are big and small and different for everyone, but the emotions you feel from them lead to opportunities to begin the process of changing.

The trick is to make sure that these changes are positive, and to make sure we utilize resilience to get over these disruptions.

Stay tuned for more on how to do that from my perspective.  There are a lot of tools and tricks we can use to feel better when we have a disruption.

And in the meantime?  This is a shot from the CrossFit Prom that I feel no shame about.

Boom.

Boom.

Step 1: Compassion

Creativity & Food

One of the things I hated about restrictive eating (a.k.a. dieting, leaning out, etc.) was that it sapped my creative impulse with food.  I love food.  I love choosing it, cooking it, and eating it.  Cooking is a ritual that calms and centers me, and feeding my family, friends, and most of all, myself, is deeply gratifying.

Restrictive eating robbed me of that.  It made it so that I was questioning if I could have this or that thing, frequently adapting recipes to include "good" foods and exclude "bad" ones, and constantly saying no.

I said no to baking.  I said no to happy hour.  I said no to most Mexican and Italian food.  I said no to toasting.  I said no to trying anything with any trace of sweetener ever.

And it was lame.

It was frustrating, isolating, anxiety-provoking, and most of all?  It was boring.

I didn't feel happy or challenged or curious.  Those are all things I love to feel, and their absence was like a big weight on my brain and chest. 

Now that I'm coming out the other side of restrictive eating the biggest blessing in my life is free, unfettered choice.  I had thought that I might go off the deep end - that once the restrictions came off I might go full throttle at the Wheat Thins, mac 'n cheese, and ice cream (my "vices" of choice), but I didn't.  As it turns out, indulgence isn't such a big deal when you're conscious of it.  When you can revel in the decadence of something you've chosen to eat, when you can take your time with it, not scarf it down in secret, afraid someone will find out your sin, you really enjoy it.  You cherish it.  And it's no longer loaded.

I'm sure you've heard this before.  But I assure you, it's not bullshit.  Yesterday, after eating a big salad from Whole Foods for dinner, I then put down the portion of mac 'n cheese I'd gotten from their hot bar, because I was full.  I'd had all I wanted.  And there was definitely a part of me that was like, "Eat this now, even though you're full, because you'll never have Mac 'n Cheese again!"  But these days, I can quietly tell that scared, scarcity-mentality voice that it's okay.  I can have mac whenever I want, because I'm a grown-up lady who gets to decide what she eats.  And that truth was delicious.

So here's an idea of what I eat now.  This was breakfast for the last couple mornings: a pear, banana, spinach, kale, and almond milk smoothie, with turkey breakfast sausage.

Looks like algae, tastes like winning.

Looks like algae, tastes like winning.

And here's what I'm eating for lunch: a kale, quinoa, ricotta salata, and cherry salad, with scallion cilantro chicken nuggets.  All of these recipes were winners, by the way.  I recommend.

Who knew raw kale salads could be so decadent?  Live & learn.

Who knew raw kale salads could be so decadent?  Live & learn.

Not pictured: me licking the juice from a fresh peach from my wrist, as it was a little too salacious for this blog.

But you get my point - not so crazy, right?  When I allowed myself anything, I naturally found out what I wanted.  It looks something like this: a foundation of whole foods - fresh vegetables and fruit that is as local and organic as I can afford, along with nuts, seeds, ethical meat, some dairy, and the occasional sweet. 

Life is about celebration, curiosity, love.  If I can't have those things, what's the point of choosing to live?  When we eat, we are making the choice to live, because to not eat is to move towards non-living.  So let's choose to live a life that nourishes us completely, with more than just macro-nutrients, restrictive eating, and the constant worry and self-flagellation of deprivation.  Be curious about what works for your individual body.  Seek to nourish it with more than just food.  And most of all, love it.  Because you can make that choice.  I did.

Then and Now

Today I was getting a little frustrated with what I perceive as my "backsliding" this year.  This time last year, I'd completed a Whole30 and a Whole14, participated in the CrossFit Open, and felt pretty slim and fit.  Here's what I looked like then:

May, 2013

May, 2013

What you don't see in this picture is that I was totally stuck in the extreme mentality of feast vs. famine.  I'd do a Whole30/14, and then indulge afterwards.  I'd feel guilty I wasn't able to stick with such extreme restriction - if you are unfamiliar, the Whole30 only allows you to eat vegetables, fruit, meat, nuts, and fats - and I'd go back on, only to repeat the cycle again.

What seems so obvious to me now is that what I was doing wasn't working.  It wasn't sustainable.  The cycle drove me crazy and made me feel bad about myself for not being able to be "perfect" all the time.

So then I decided to do the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating Program, to help me stop with the cyclical disorder eating.  And it sort of worked -- by having a longer window of time to look at these patterns, I realized a couple of things:

  1. Real, sustainable change comes over very long periods of time.  I always thought this was bullshit, but it's totally true.  When we are in the pain of low self-esteem and body dysmorphia, we want change to come right away.  We need to fix it. Right now.  But real change takes a long time to happen.  The weight I lost on Whole30?  It came back.  But the muscle I put on in the last 2 years of CrossFit hasn't gone away.  And my changed body composition has stuck around, even though I've been injured the last two weeks and not eating my best.
  2. Small habits have a better chance of being successful.  Truly.  If I only have to do one thing, I'm more likely to do it.  What became so overwhelming about PN was that you start with just one habit at a time, fine, and then add incrementally, and while that works pretty well for awhile, eventually I felt a bit suffocated by all the things I was expected to do each day.
  3. Diets are diets.  Even with PN.  There's this secret, which is that to effect real change -- like the dramatic kind you see on marketing brochures -- you have to thoroughly and dramatically change your life and habits.  To be a new person, you have to become one.  Sounds simplistic, but I didn't get it.  I kept looking for a happy medium, but I wasn't willing to accept that to get a really different body, I would have to commit to a kind of restriction and scrutiny that I'd never experienced before.  More on this later.

I've been defining success as who I was last year, but in thinking about it, that place wasn't so great.  Sure, I was probably a bit lighter and leaner, but I wasn't as strong.  I was hella injured with a shoulder impingement, and I could hardly lift a bare barbell in a strict press.  Just 33 lbs, and I was yelping in pain.  Whereas this year, I PRed my strict press at around ~60 lbs, I do believe.  And I can nearly do a full push-up with perfect form -- another goal that felt way out of my league last year.

I was also ill at least every other month in 2013.  Sounds crazy, but I had multiple colds, the flu, and a nasty bout of strep throat.  Coincidence?  I don't think so.  I think crazy binge/restrict cycles can really tax the body and sap it of strength and immunity.  And remember too that I was going to CrossFit 2-3x per week, and playing competitive roller derby, so 2-3 skating practices a week.  I spent a lot of 2013 tired, sore, and sick.

So was I trimmer?  Yes.  But was I fitter?  Up for debate.

Already Okay

I'm going to start off this blog with a post I wrote about the end of a journey.  I've been participating in the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating program since July 2013.  It's about to end, and I realized a few things when I reflected on its ending.

What if the point of Precision Nutrition was to convince me that I am already okay?  That I am already perfect just as I am?

Because you’d think after months of awareness brought to my eating habits, extensive checklists such as this one:

A chart I've been keeping every week, for nearly a year.

A chart I've been keeping every week, for nearly a year.

 

…. Routine workouts, a whole foods challenge, and all the rest of it, that I would have dropped a bunch of weight, right?

NOPE.  I’ve gained 10 lbs since I started.  And to be honest, I feel pretty great about that.  Is that weird?  Probably.  Do I care?  Nope.  

You see, the thing is guys, I know I can lose weight.  I did it last year with Whole30 and a couple of Whole14s.  I look at the pictures right after that and feel a little nostalgic.  I look a bit leaner than I do now.  My face and arms are more defined, my chin and arms look like daggers, and my stomach is nearly flat in the outfits I’m wearing.  And that’s cool.  I realized yesterday that instead of feeling wistful that I’m not quite as thin, I should look at that as an accomplishment—my goal back then was to lose weight, and I did it.  Go me!

That should be it, right?  I look thinner, so that was clearly the most successful time of my life, and I should be upset that I’m 10 lbs heavier and a slob, right?  No.

What you don’t see in those pictures is that I had injured my shoulder by overuse and lack of care, and that I was in a really bad cycle of restriction followed by binging.  There was a stark difference between each “challenge” I was on, and whatever came after.  I didn’t know how to take care of myself, nourish my body, or what level of exercise was appropriate for me.  

I was constantly sore, sick, and self-doubting.  And the illness part is where I figured out something was wrong.  It’s not normal for me to be sick every month, but I was.  Every month.  With a cold, usually, but sometimes with strep throat (June) or some kind of wacky infection that took antibiotics and a round of Prednisone to finally heal (September).  That round of steroids had the added effect of putting my shoulder back online, which was rad, but also sad that it took steroids to get it to heal.  Sad/rad.

It wasn’t until this year, and my friendship with Lacy Davis of Super Strength Health, that I finally figured it out and turned it around.  I had a breaking point back in February where, for the first time ever in my life, I felt so low as to be nearly suicidal.  This sounds dramatic, but it wasn’t.  It was sad, and isolating, and scary, because those feelings are totally new for me.  I’m a doer—when shit hits the fan, I like to go out and fix it.  But I couldn’t fix my profound despair that despite my best intentions, I couldn’t lose weight.

Every time I’d try, a small little voice inside of me would say, “Stop it. I don’t want to diet anymore.  This is all just one big diet, and it’s not sustainable. I want to feel creative and free about food. I want to enjoy the process of eating. I am so tired of the mental gymnastics. I am angry that you are putting me through this feast and famine cycle again and again! Can you please just relax into this?  Take it more slowly? Take care of me?  Please! Please?”

And I was low enough and fed up enough and angry enough that I actually listened this time. 

I wrote an article about how diets are a fallacy.  I cried.  And then I ate some cinnamon raisin toast, and went to the gym, and started a weekly yoga practice, and cried some more, and meditated, and thought a lot about what I wanted my life to look like, and I realized that little voice was right.  It was me reaching out to myself, trying to care for me.  It was trying to get me to see that the opportunity to lose weight will always be there, but that it’s not my focus right now.  And that’s okay.

My focus right now is building a healthy, nourished, self-loving body.  It means going to happy hour once in awhile—not always saying no because I have to go to CrossFit.  I haven’t given up or anything.  I still go to CrossFit 3+ times a week, but I don’t feel crazy if I miss a session, or reschedule it for later to take a rest day, or even just some much needed social time with friends.

Because the fitness journey can’t be all there is.  At the end of this, we’ll all die.  A healthy body isn’t proof against death.  It can prolong your life, sure, but if you’re killing yourself to get there? You’ve missed the whole point.

My life now has really awesome, creative recipes, mostly made from this cookbook, and this one. It has a weekly brunch date with Lacy, after we hit the WOD hard, but also laugh and cheer our way through it.  It has a whole, healthy shoulder, recovered from injury, and lifting more weight than I ever have before.  It has a mat, and me balancing on my head, and taking lots of warrior poses, and meditating and chanting because I feel closest then to whatever great big energy is out there, even if I don’t know what it is. It has more flexibility, both physical and mental.  It has people who love and support me and think I am amazing and gorgeous as I am, right now, in this body.

I am embodied.  I’m not hiding from mirrors or windows or even conceptions and dreams of myself. I am aware of how my body feels and I listen to it, rather than listening to other people about it.  And that’s the biggest change: that I trust myself to know what’s right for me.

Maybe that’s what that illusive “maintenance” thing is really all about (even though the name is kind of unpleasant and makes me think of coveralls and paint).  I know how to keep my body healthy and safe and nourished and lovely, as is. And if that means an extra 10 lbs—well, I trust my body to tell me that’s the weight I should be at.