Scanning the internet for relevant advice on losing weight post-baby could anger the most blissfully-content new mother. Such phrases as, “…but if you gained more during pregnancy than your doctor advised, you may struggle to get back to a healthy weight ” have made my blood boil. Apparently my body did not listen well enough to my doctor! I must have done something wrong! I exercised nearly everyday of my pregnancies, avoided sweets, NEVER ate fast food, and still gained an obscene amount of weight each time. But much like the other challenges of new motherhood (sleep deprivation, colic, breastfeeding difficulties…), getting angry about it will do very little to make my life better.
Losing weight takes a lot of thought and hard work, and if there are two things new moms are short on, it’s mental and physical energy! Focusing on caring for a newborn (and healing from delivery) while getting little sleep is hard enough without trying to figure out an eating and exercise regimen. And while you’re wishing for the sleepless nights to end as soon as possible, you might also be wishing for a timely end to the stretch panels and drawstrings.
Well I’m here to suggest that you stop wishing for anything to happen quickly. A big part of losing weight is waiting!
As new parents, we all hope to teach our children the value of patience. But our culture is a huge pusher of instant gratification. We shop online for things we don’t want to wait to buy at a store. We receive calls in our cars because we don’t want to wait until we get home to talk. And no aspect of our lives has been changed by our instant culture more than eating. America is the birthplace of “fast food”–both the technologies and the philosophy. We don’t like spending hours preparing a meal…heck, we don’t even want to wait more than 20 minutes at a restaurant for someone to prepare it for us! America is fast. And America is fat. And in grandly ironic American style, we want to lose the fat…quickly!
Research on weight loss has shown time and time again that short-term “diets” don’t do much for long term health: weight lost quickly is usually gained back within a year. The best solution is to slow down, and make small changes that you can stick with forever. Fortunately, the struggle between instant gratification and long-term goals is not a zero-sum game. It is possible to feed your need for short-term enjoyment while also supporting a change in lifestyle. In fact, it’s likely that acknowledging and attending to short-term desires is the only way to stay on track to your bigger goals! Humans are emotional beings, whether we like it or not. Making the decision to change some aspect of our lives is enough of a shake-up, so really sticking to a plan requires sensitive handling of our feelings. For any delayed-gratification goal, from weight loss to getting a college degree, some of the following strategies can help manage the emotional challenge of change.
Celebrate small victories.
If you are attempting weight loss through reasonable lifestyle changes, you will likely not see huge leaps forward to your goal. Remember, good progress is slow progress; but it is PROGRESS! So celebrate it. Weigh or measure yourself every couple of weeks and visualize success for the next check-in. Don’t expect to be buying a new clothing size right away, but appreciate yourself for the hard work you are doing.
Tell people about the changes you’re making so you have a supportive audience, and then keep them in the loop as you move forward. They will probably notice improvements even more easily than you notice them yourself. They may even join you by making a positive change in their own life!
“Cheat” without giving up.
Typically folks making a change in the way they live feel great about it at the beginning, and then start to break down slowly. The old ways start to sound appealing again, and since their goal is long-term, it fails to motivate them enough in the moment. As good as the old ways may sound, the reality is that they aren’t really all that great. If they were, you wouldn’t have decided to change them! But sometimes a reminder is in order. Set a date to live the old way for ONE DAY. Then write down how you feel throughout that day. I’m willing to bet that the junk food doesn’t taste as good as you remember and you miss the clean feeling (you didn’t realize you had) when the chemicals kick in and your healthy edge starts to dull.
Read and relate.
Do exactly what you are doing right now! Read books, blogs, forums, articles, etc. about folks doing what you’re doing. Change is hard! But like all hard jobs, it is easier if we do it together. So many of us are fighting an onslaught of negative food messages, careless marketing, toxic eating environments, and our own insecurities about our ability to live a different life. If we can be honest and relate to each others’ struggles, we can find new strength. And remember, much like parenthood, being a healthy weight isn’t a race. It’s a journey.