Monday, August 24, 2015

Postpartum Weight and Misconceptions

A few weeks ago I was reading a post about the struggles of postpartum weight loss that really hit close to home for me, this fourth time postpartum, and I made the mistake of scrolling down through the comments.

One commenter, who was very obviously well meaning, said something about how gluttony had never been her sin, but she had plenty of other struggles, they were just less obvious and she really felt for those who struggle with such an obvious sin.

Now gluttony hadn't been the subject of the post to begin with, it was about the way our bodies change after we have babies, and on that day I started to write this post in my head and today I think I have the time to actually sit down and write it.

For most of my life I have been naturally on the thin side.  In college I struggled to gain weight to play rugby after a coach told me that I needed to gain at least thirty pounds.  I was fluctuating between a size 0 and 2 at this point and drinking weight gainer shakes (with thousands of calories that I could barely keep down) and eating two Chipotle burritos and a order of chips and guacamole at a time (along with many, many other things) and still the scale would not budge.  At the time it seemed like a huge, huge problem.

In retrospect it's a "problem" I would love to have today.

In the last eight years I've been pregnant five times.  I've delivered four full term babies.  And each time the pregnancy weight loss has felt increasingly more difficult.

With Sadie I was wearing my pre-pregnancy jeans a week after she was born.  I had gained forty pounds while I was pregnant with her, but the weight came off quickly.  I felt "huge" but in hind sight I was delusional.  It took twelve months to totally lose the weight, but it was still easy.

The second time the pregnancy weight came off rather easily again.  I mean, I thought it was work, but relatively, looking back, it really wasn't.  I was making chicken casseroles and eating bread and occasionally pizza and the weight still steadily disappeared.  It was gone before the year mark again.

As I approached thirty my metabolism, which up until that point had carried me along without much effort, hit a wall.  I wasn't loosing much weight post partum with Patch until he came down with a mysterious allergy and we had to wait three months to get in to see his allergist and I went on a full elimination diet for a months that meant I could basically only eat meat and fruit and vegetables, while nursing a two month old.

While eating around the clock to try to get enough calories I lost the pregnancy weight in a month.   I struggled to keep my milk supply up. Without that scare I know that it would have likely been more like the struggle that I'm experiencing this time around.

I guess you could say that up until that point I thought I was losing the weight because I was active and ate healthily and as a result I was reaping the benefits of that behavior.

Enter the James postpartum period.

Coming back from this... isn't easy.

We still walk a lot.  I have no problem pushing a 160 lb stroller loaded with three kids, twelve miles.  My diet hasn't changed.  But my body isn't getting the message this time.  I weight about ten pounds less than I did when I had Sadie.  Which for the first time in my life puts me solidly in the range that the BMI chart tells me is "overweight."
Six months after Patch was born.

It means that I'm about 55 lbs more than my lowest weight after college and about 20 more than I'd like to be (30 would be ideal), which I know isn't a lot, but which has been eye opening for me.

Because life is basically exactly the same.  I'm eating far less than I have at other times in my life.  I'm on my feet just about all day every day.  I cook homemade meals for my family and I know that I'm healthy.

Only this time I'm not seeing the results.

We do all have different struggles, but the assumption that someone is overweight because their "gluttonous" isn't necessarily true.  People metabolize food differently.  Some people can eat like I used to and not gain wait.  Others can look at a cup of ice cream and gain five pounds.

We also have these insane expectations of what a postpartum body is supposed to look like.  I know that I have had those expectations, at least for myself, and because I know that I'm healthy I've been working to see myself through the eyes of my two year old, who thinks I'm a princess and through the eyes of my five year old who giggles when I talk about mermaids and doesn't care that my tummy is more squishy than it was when she was one.

After five pregnancies in eight years my stomach perpetually looks like I'm in the second trimester of pregnancy for about twelve months after I'm pregnant (which seems like a great time to tell you to go read Jenny's post here.  I'm the one in the black dress on the right hand side and it's a great post).

In the past my stomach has mostly gone back to it's old self about five minutes before I'm pregnant again.  I've been told repeatedly by commenters on the blog that I must have diastasis recti, and I know lots of women who do, but I actually don't.

My stomach muscles actually have no separation whatsoever.  They just are soft now.  And stretched out.  They've been cut apart and sewn back together four times in seven years.  And it takes them a little longer each time to go back to their old shape. I'm not totally sure that they ever will, even though I can totally do V-ups again.

I would like to lose these last few pounds.  I won't lie.  Some days I really would.  Other days when I'm playing on the ground with the kids I realize that as long as I'm healthy it doesn't matter all that much if I have a box of pre-baby clothes that I may never fit in again.

In the best moments I can steal glimpses of how they see me, and know that it's all totally worth it, even with my soft, squishy tummy.  After all it makes a much, much better pillow for snuggling than the one I used to have anyways.  Now if I can just remember that all the time, I'll be just fine.


  1. Metabolism changes over time, differences exist from the beginning. I gained weight starting in my early 20's. Now I know my thyroid was cycling for years, I would weigh myself and the same fairly wide span of pounds would go on an off with my cycle--and now that I am on thyroid medication it helps a lot. Still, with every child my metabolism slowed and the weight stayed on and is very stubborn.

    I am glad my doctors no longer mention my weight. They have learned that after having the fanatical discipline to live for months at a time on diets-- only to have them fail (one memorable diet, the weight came off for three months and then went back on for three months at the same rate-- same food, same exercise, same (expletive deleted) everything and that was the last straw. I haven't dieted since, and guess what? I am still over-weight by the same amount and nothing I do changes that--unless I want to gain-- that is easy.

    Assuming gluttony is incredibly unfair. It is like assuming that the woman with only no kids or only two is contracepting. Or that the child is spoiled when there may be something else.

    I am soon to go back on weight training. I will get strong. My squat weight will go up steadily. My fat body will not likely get lighter. If I am lucky it might shift around a bit and improve the over-all shape, but the scale won't budge. The hard part will be motivating to do the workouts when people will assume I am a glutton and sit all day no matter how strong I get. There are days when I ought to get a medal for not punching anyone for suggesting the weight would change if only I would eat less.

    1. I still can't wrap my head around how anyone can think it's appropriate to comment on.

      I've been focusing on weights lately too. I want to be strong enough to be able to keep up with Maggie and these days that's my #1 fitness goal.

  2. Cammie, I've never been pregnant, but I can definitely appreciate the struggles of not being able to lose weight. I have PCOS that has been really bad here, and I think a lot has to do with the pesticides in the area. I really start to see the bias against overweight people, and it can be really disheartening. No matter how healthy I eat and how much I exercise, I rarely see my weight go down, only up. However, after 3 months in Oregon, I definitely feel a lot healthier, which is going to influence where I go next after Leo is done with school ;). Stay tuned...

  3. People that are thin can still fall into the sin of gluttony. I have been fairly thin all my life, sometimes too thin. Like you, I've had those weight gain shakes and high calorie everything just to maintain. There have also been times in my life when I was perfectly thin and so people assume healthy, but I was living off candy and coffee and had terrible eating habits. Certainly gluttony, but from the outside you wouldn't know it. The Bible nails it when it says that man looks at the outward, but God looks at the heart.

    As for postpartum weight loss, I so appreciate this post. Our culture paints such an unrealistic picture of postpartum. All these celebs and what-not looking stellar and thin just weeks or days after having a baby. It's so not healthy. At all! And it's not reality for most women. Our bodies hang onto weight postpartum for a reason. We have hormones to metabolize and balance, we have breastmilk to create, we often go without sleep and so the body needs to draw fuel from somewhere! I'd rather see a woman postpartum have a little extra pudge, but have a happy healthy baby and positive outlook on her mothering than one who hits the gym and starts dieting just to conform to arbitrary cultural standards of beauty.

    **getting off my soapbox now**


  4. What a strange world we live in. It's so anti children. Children change your body and it never goes back to how it was. It used to be that a curvaceous woman with strong muscles was the desired shape, thousands of years (just look at art work). Now it's the waif thin pre-pubescent female form. It's weird.

    I'm on my fourth full term pregnancy, 6 pregnancies in all. Like you, my first birth was easy to lose weight from. I gained a crazy amount of weight but it was all gone by 3 months. I was surprised how easy it was. I thought it would be just as easy with the next kid. Nope. It was harder. It took me a year to lose all the weight I put on and I had gained 20 lbs less that time. Then I had my third baby. In the time I had before getting pregnant again (1 year), I still was 15 lbs from my pre-pregnancy weight. I had gained 10 lbs less than my 2nd pregnancy. I only lost a grand total of 10 lbs in 1 year. I was also on a fairly restricted diet. I don't eat wheat and I couldn't eat dairy when I was nursing. Processed foods were almost entirely eliminated. This time I'm terrified of gaining weight because I don't know if I'll be able to get any of the weight off at all. I'm already far off the BMI chart's healthy range but that's mostly because I'm very muscular and tend to put on muscle easily. In the military I was never in my weight range and had to be taped every time for my body fat percentage. I always passed. I hate the BMI chart because it doesn't really apply to me. I've proved it again and again.

    I've had a horrible relationship with food for a really long time. I found the paleo community and that really helped. I've done AIP when I was diagnosed with Hashimotos. I've listened to countless podcasts and seminars on the history of food and the changes in our bodies. I really appreciate the Weston A Price foundation. They convinced me to look into eating real food rather than processed junk to get healthy (not necessarily to lose weight - although that would be a nice side effect). I've come to a healthier understanding of food and how it interacts with my system. A good talk I listened to was by a Dr. Lassek who wrote "Why Women Need Fat". Wow. What a different vision of the female body. I learned so much about how women's bodies behave, like, women store DHA fat on their hips and thighs and when enough has been accumulated they will start having menstrual periods. If they don't, like many athletes, they won't start. DHA fat is the prime brain fuel for a growing baby. If you don't have enough, your body won't let you get pregnant. I know my sister-in-law complains of a flat butt that she got after she had babies. She thinks it's from sitting so much. The more likely case is that the fat was turned into breast milk and given to her children to help their brains develop. I don't agree with all of what Dr Lassek writes in his book but I am thankful for the science he imparted in regards to women's bodies.

    The point I'm trying to make is that there is a lot of biology going on there that most of us just don't understand. To throw it all onto gluttony is to ignore science. Losing weight post-pregnancy is hard at times. You try to cut back on calories and you end up with compromised milk supplies and a feeling of being absolutely starving (because you are). Your body will use what you give it and ask for more if it is lacking in some nutritional component. It's not a sin to try and nourish your body with food.

  5. I've been seeing far too much of this lately. Bashing a mom's body, no matter what state it is in. I'm currently pregnant with #2 and I've had a lot of self-image issues this time around. I don't like that my brain works this way and I am trying really hard to overcome it. But it isn't easy - especially when so many negative comments are swirling around out there. It is so comforting to know that I'm not the only one who struggles. Thanks for writing on what can be such a touchy subject. Really helped my mama heart today!

  6. I don't know about your hubby, but I remember my dad did not have any problems with my mom being (and staying) a little overweight after having six kids. She had always been skinny too and could eat anything, but after the kids she didn't ever really lose the weight totally, though she tried. But as a kid, I loved snuggling up to her, and I remember her being soft and lovely to cuddle up to. I never even noticed her weight until I was in my teens, and I didn't think a lot about it unless she complained about "being fat" (which I never thought she was.)
    So, try to ignore the unrealistic messages our culture sends about attractiveness and weight, and ignore people who are clumsy with comments or even who have harsh opinions - remember, you don't even know them. Who cares what they think? They don't speak for everybody.
    Your husband probably and your kids certainly don't care about those extra pounds as much as you do. Women need to really think about how much they let society dictate how they feel about themselves, and what's the right context for that. We need to stop letting opinions expressed in comments sections get to us, or make us feel defensive, or feel we need to respond. After all, the person commenting might themselves be a million pounds, right?
    God bless. ~ Bonnie

  7. Thank you so much for posting this. I have a different journey than you (I have been at least a little overweight ever since puberty) so in many people's eyes I don't have the same credibility you have: i.e., because at one time you were thin and therefore disciplined, your lack of discipline is not as easily questioned now that you are not thin. Because I have never been able to lose all the weight I wanted to and am now, after nine years and five children, heavier than ever, even my closest friends don't believe I have the will power to lose weight (although they're nice about it). They can't believe that the answer is not just will power, because in their experience they think exactly what you assumed--that their bodies were responding directly to their efforts to eat less and exercise more, and that what worked for them should work for me. I believe they are wrong, and that weight is affected by hormones and, even more importantly, gut health. I am currently on a search to find a doctor/nutritionist capable of guiding my journey to a healthy gut, and thereafter, lose the weight.

    Catherine H.

    1. Do you make your own sauerkraut? Facebook has two groups on creating great probiotics: Fermenters Kitchen and Wild Fermentation. I use the book THE ART OF FERMENTATION by Sandor Katz. Things like Kefir and Sauerkraut have a lot of good things fore the gut.


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