Postpartum Weight Loss

Postpartum Weight Loss

Here it comes: A weight loss post.

I shouldn’t do it. I hate reading about postpartum weight loss. Hate it! We moms have some messed up relationships with our weight.

Nevertheless, a blog on postnatal bodies without talking about weight would be like a blog on parenthood that never mentions tantrums: It can be done, but wouldn’t be honest.

It’s Not Easy, but Not Complicated Either

The female cultural relationship with weight is called a “normative discontent.” Postpartum self-consciousness about not fitting in pre-pregnancy clothes or about a floppy belly takes this discontent to a new level.

We are eager for solutions.

For example, in a postnatal Facebook group, one desperate mom of a 3 month old asked for help losing the baby weight. She hadn’t lost any since her 6 week checkup and claimed “diet and exercise have not helped.” She then asked if she should buy a specific popular exercise program.

Some of the moms in the group recommended the popular program, others suggested she “balance her hormones,” and others even suggested some supplements.

I didn’t want to be a jerk (so I refrained from commenting and wrote this instead), but I wanted to say

Your baby is 3 months old. You are likely tired. Really really tired. You are probably just eating more than you think you are and moving less than you think you are. Disturbed sleep can also make losing weight more difficult. It’s not that “diet and exercise have not helped,” but more likely and totally understandable that you haven’t been able to establish weight loss habits. Plus, if you truly suspect your hormones are off, you need to see an endocrinologist, not listen to the advice of random moms on Facebook. And please, please don’t take an unregulated supplement to lose weight.

How to Lose Weight

I could write an entire post about the weight loss evidence, about the National Weight Control Registry and its findings that most successful losers plan meals, track their intake, exercise, and weigh themselves, or about how our food environment matters more than sheer weight loss willpower, but, other smarter, more qualified people have written books on that stuff. Check out the Resources page for my favorite nutrition books.

Instead, I’ll retreat into anecdote.

How I Lost the Baby Weight

I lost the baby weight really quickly with my first. This was because I worked out, ate loads of fruit and veggies, and nary looked at a candy bar.

Liar! Liar!

None of that is true. My daughter had colic. If any of your children also cried for HOURS AND HOURS, you can relate to the stress. I was SOOO STRESSED!! My eating patterns were all over the place.

The entire time was a blur. I suspect the weight coming off was a consequence of walking compulsively to stop the crying and of eating less without knowing I was. Usually stress makes me reach for Oreos, so “not eating stress” was a new one for me (and luckily, only temporary).

I got lots of compliments on losing the weight quickly, compliments I felt compelled to brush off with “if you could only see my messed up belly.” The compliments and my reply were odd. Losing weight quickly postpartum is not some grand achievement, and I would have traded the colic for 10 pounds any day. But why did I feel compelled to refute the compliment, as if I’d be lying without mentioning my wrinkly skin and diastasis recti. My postpartum body was not a success or a failure. It was what it was.

With my second, I had to try a little to lose the weight. This meant after a few months of wearing the same cursed yoga pants, I started to track calorie consumption on myfitnesspal.com. It worked. After I lost the weight, I stopped tracking.

With my third, the weight lingered much longer. This was disappointing. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything differently or eating any differently. In fact, I worked out more after that pregnancy than after the other two. If anything, I would say I was paying more attention to diet and exercise than ever. Like the new mom from the Facebook group I was inclined to say “diet and exercise wasn’t working.”

But that didn’t make intuitive sense, so I decided to track my calories again. To my surprise I was eating more than I wanted to admit, not an obscene amount, not enough to make me gain weight, but enough to prevent losing weight. This was my usual “OMG, I’m so stressed, give me some Oreos eating.”

My baby didn’t have colic, but he did have a weird possible dairy and soy allergy that made me restrict my diet. I was moving half way around the world. And I had two other young kids. This all made me overeat. Tracking my calories with pristine honesty revealed this.

Did I continue tracking and lose the weight right away? No. I decided life was too hectic and I wasn’t going to worry about it. I wasn’t gaining weight and the last 10 pounds could just linger as long as I needed them to.

That was a good call. I would have gone crazy worrying about my weight during all that flux.

Eventually, I started tracking for a week and stopped, then tracked again and stopped. The weight slowly came off, much more slowly than with the first two. Eventually, I stopped the higher than normal calorie consumption after many tracking stops and starts.

Oddly enough, I did not want to lose the weight quickly. I figured any drastic temporary changes to my habits would not be sustainable and would probably annoy my husband and kids.

I know lots of moms get a high out of losing the weight quickly, a little ego boost when someone says “you are so skinny. I can’t believe you just had a baby.” I felt oddly proud of my accidental weight loss with the first, like I had done something right (as I cradled my baby screaming her head off). But you don’t get a medal for getting back to your pre-pregnancy weight first. Our lives aren’t an odd Olympic competition between moms for the skinny prize.

Know Your Sanity Limits

However, never losing it, letting it accumulate over time and creep upward IS a health risk. Obviously, carting around excess weight isn’t good. For example, if a mom retains 10 or 15 pounds after every pregnancy and has three children, she will have gained 30-45 pounds. In the long run, that ain’t good.

But in the months after childbirth, know your limits. Be honest with yourself:

Is “diet and exercise” not working or is life too hectic to prioritize that right now?

Would spending money on a new exercise routine or a new supplement or a new anything improve your overall quality of life, or just drain your bank account and add one more thing to your to do list?

Should you really be taking advice from your Facebook feed about weight loss?

Should you be taking advice from a blogger about weight loss? Probably not. My cue to end the post.

Just remember, your body is not a project. Don’t be so hard on yourself if the weight is taking a bit longer to come off. Dr. Yoni Freedhoff in The Diet Fix makes a great point about dieting’s affect on body image. He writes,

Looking at yourself more frequently in the mirror to scrutinize the physical effects of a diet could actually lead you to feel less comfortable with your appearance than before you lost.

We all want to lose the baby weight, but if we connect our body image to our weight, we’ll go bananas. Maybe our new postpartum bodies, instead of serving as a source of shame, can act as an impetus to reexamine our culture’s “normative discontent.” Or maybe they don’t have to represent anything. Maybe they can just be cozy cushions for our crying, puking, pooping, perfect offspring.

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