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.

Don't Forget to Look Back

I'm someone who looks forward a lot.  If you know me in person, you also know I document quite a bit as I go along, but I rarely actually look backwards, which seems kind of funny to me now.  Why document all of this stuff if I don't look at it that often?

It's for days when I want to locate a happy memory.  It's also useful for seeing how far I've come.

As part of honoring my body's journey, I decided to check out some photos of me in the past and see if I noticed anything.  These are from 2008 (sorry about the picture quality):

I clearly had not yet learned how to stand up straight or pose for pictures.  Also, this sweater? Not flattering.

I clearly had not yet learned how to stand up straight or pose for pictures.  Also, this sweater? Not flattering.

And another, a little later in the year, after I'd gone on my first stint of trying to eat healthy and hit the gym, in order to be in better shape for my wedding.

Cute shoes!  I wish they'd lasted.

Cute shoes!  I wish they'd lasted.

Better fashion, better pose, and I look happy. 

Here's two from the past few months:

This is my partner's way of trying to be "arty".  I think the angle is silly, but the outfit was cute.

This is my partner's way of trying to be "arty".  I think the angle is silly, but the outfit was cute.

Dress, cute booties, statement necklace.  BOOM.

Dress, cute booties, statement necklace.  BOOM.

My thoughts:

  • Even I, with my disordered, dysmorphic brain, can tell there's a difference.  I look a lot stronger, especially my arms.
  • My face looks a little more defined.
  • My tummy isn't so prominent.  That could be because I learned how to pose better, and dress my body to disguise it, but I also just think it's a bit flatter.
  • Also, hello, my fashion sense has really evolved.  Wow.  I dress like a damn grown-up now.

This is why this exercise is important: if we are dissatisfied with where we are now, seeing progress from where we were can really help.  It puts things in perspective. 

Over the last 6 years, I've changed a lot.  I may not be a skinny minnie, but I'm a lot of other things - fashionable, cute, happy, fit, and strong.  And that matters. 

Today, I wish to honor the progress I've made, both physical and incorporeal.  I want to affirm that I'm more accomplished, strong, compassionate, thoughtful, socially responsible, wise, and kind, than I was 6 years ago.  That's something to be proud of, and to acknowledge.

Once I've acknowledged it, I can thank  my body, brain, and soul for getting me here, and then gently let it history go to focus on the challenges of today.

Have you thought about how far you've come?  What markers show you that you've made progress?

Honoring the Journey

I’ve been struggling a lot lately, more than I probably ever have, with body image.  My teachers have told me in the past that this is probably a good sign—when we are close to transformation is often when we struggle the most.

It’s funny: I know the most about body dysmorphia and weight gain/loss, and body composition, and the rest of it, than I ever have, and yet my negative self-messages are at an all-time high.  Usually, even when I’m not liking my body, I can find something, one thing, I love about myself.  My hair is a good one; I have great, thick, healthy hair.  But even my hair isn’t doing it for me lately.  That, combined with a bunch of changes due to hormones (going off the pill is a bear) is making me feel like the careful equilibrium I’ve maintained over the years is slipping, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

Lacy said to me in an email a few weeks ago, “You may just have to accept that you’ve gained weight.”  When I first read that, I felt like I’d been punched.  What?  Accept that I’ve gained weight?  No way!  That careful web of denial and telling myself “it’s not that bad” have been working for me.  It’s comfortable.  And furthermore, admitting that would be accepting defeat!  But she was on to something, I think, and I’m going to expand on it.

It is only when we can accept where we are right now, and honor our body’s journey, that true change can become possible.

We say this stuff a lot, right?  But I think there’s a little holdout voice in everyone that thinks, Oh, yeah, I know, but if I could just do X, if I could just lose X, if I could insert-your-own-adventure-here, I could accept myself.

No.  Now.  

I have to accept that I’ve gained some weight, but more than that, I need to honor the journey that my body has been through.  You know what?  We don’t always have control over our bodies.  I certainly have no control over these hormones coursing through me.  If I have a baby, I most definitely will have very little control over my body’s transformation.  As we all get older, we have no damn say in what happens.  This weight gain?  It’s practice.

It’s practice for letting go.  Ultimately, it’s not up to me, what my body becomes.  I certainly have some say—I can choose to feed it whole foods, move it in a way that brings me joy, get enough rest to replenish it, and nourish its spirit by honoring it and turning in, rather than tuning out.  But—nature has a part to play in this too.

I might have these grandiose ideas about being a size 6, but it may just not be in the cards.  It may be more important for me to work not on a perception about who I should be, but on being my best self in any given moment.  And that person might be someone whose arms are so ripped from pull-up practice that they hardly fit in her damn blazer.  But is that really so important, that blazer?  It’s just a thing.  What’s important is the journey, the holistic view of a person.  My arms, out of context, would bother me.  My lame inner voice would default to assuming that I’m a lazy, self-indulgent fatass, who has ever-expanding upper extremities.  But I know that I’m an athlete recovering from a Plantaris injury who worked solidly on upper-body strength for 6 weeks, and thus, have biceps that make boys cry.

It’s all about context.  We are mothers, weightlifters, single ladies, partnered ladies, yoginis, aerial enthusiasts, roller derby players, older gals, ladies with muscles, and scars, and rolls, and freckles, and all kinds of other rad body parts, that all come together to form strong, awesome, complicated women.  (And men.  Do men read my blog?  Hey dudes, you’ve got bitchin’ bods too.)

So yeah, there may be stuff I wish I could change, but that’s not all there is.  I’m not just a walking bunch of goals.  I’m a complex, strong, whole person, who’s traveled far to be where she is.  And I’m not going to count myself a failure just because my blazer is a little tight today.  I’m too smart for that now.

Blazer


Then and Now, Part 2

First off: an exercise.

Let's look at these photos side by side shall we:

2013

2013

And:

2014

2014

What differences do you see?

I'm wondering if you see what I see.  As you may have guessed, these are from 2013 & 2014 respectively.  This week, I dressed in the exact same outfit I did last year to see if my body dysmorphia and my perception that last year I was way thinner and prettier could be challenged by side-by-side photos.

Here's the differences as I see them:

  • My face looks a little rounder this year.  Though, that could be that I'm angled a little more to the side in the first photo (I learned this trick to make my jawline look more defined. I have a really round face, which is why you'll see me angle it in photos.)
  • My stomach isn't as flat.  Could be that I'm carrying more weight in my stomach this year, or that I'm leaning forward a little more in the second photo.
  • My arms look bigger.  That is definitely a thing.  My arms are way stronger this year.

What do you notice?

The biggest thing I noticed is that the differences aren't nearly as extreme as I thought.  I really did believe that they would be vast, that I would look totally different this year.  But I don't, not a ton.

Here's the breakdown of how my body has changed:
Weight: up 12.5 lbs
Inches: down 5.1 inches

So even though I weigh more, my overall size is down.  Mind-boggling, isn't it?

And what's even more funny is that certain parts of my body have shrunk while other parts have gotten bigger, and I don't care.  I like that my shoulders and arms are getting bigger.  My neck, hips, and calves have stayed the same, my waist has been on a downward trend, my bust and thighs seem to change with my cycle.  It's interesting to watch, but it doesn't have the sting it once did.  Measurement day for Precision Nutrition used to make me really anxious, but I've skipped the last couple altogether, because I am not a number.  I am more complex than that.

Don't even get me started on how inaccurate most measurements are anyway, given our cyclical lady changes and the subjective nature of human data collection.  I've given up on calipers and scales altogether.  I include my own measurements here to prove to myself with hard data that my flawed perception of my body ballooning up because I'm not rigorously exercising and restrictively eating  is false. 

My body has changed, certainly.  I can see that I'm not quite as angular as I was in 2013.  That's cool.  If I want to do another Whole30 and be strict Paleo again, I can.  If I want to do intense cardio and CrossFit 6x a week again, while restrictively eating, I can.  It's just - that's not my goal right now.  I don't want to dedicate my life to the temple of svelteness right now.  And that's a more than acceptable choice.

But I did this exercise to show myself that I am acceptable when not eating restrictively and goose stepping through my self-enforced boot camp.  In fact, I think I look pretty rad, especially for having been injured for 3 weeks, eating comfort food because of lady times, and being off my normal meditation and yoga practice.

What's more, this way of being feels like a breath of fresh air.  It feels sustainable.  I get to ask myself every day, "What will nourish me most?" and then do it.  It feels like spring, and sunshine, and a deep, full breath.  It feels badass.

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.