As if we needed any reminders that mothering is hard, we now have a pandemic that’s hammering that message into our sleep-deprived mom brains. Caring for babies is an around-the-clock job, toddlers have excessive energy-expending needs and curious little brains (“Why do the scientists say the parks have to be closed?”), and I hear from moms with teenagers that “the moods” are quite real. Our plates are full and our cups overflowing, but often with chores and responsibilities for others instead of ourselves. Of all times in our lives, it’s now officially more difficult to exercise than ever before. Case in point: Me, a fitness professional.
At the start of this whole thing, my 1-year old was taking an hour nap each morning, allowing me to exercise in the driveway with my 4-year old or plop him in front of an activity or show while my husband worked on his computer and I hit the neighborhoods sidewalks to release all my pint-up energy on a good run. But then my 1-year old entered that dreaded nap purgatory where nothing seemed to work because he wasn’t quite ready for one nap but two naps felt like too much. Plus, hello molars. Enough said.
My morning workouts now start earlier than I’m used to, often before breakfast is fully digested, or they’re shoved into 20 minutes mid-morning while my 1-yr old does “quiet time” in his crib with some books and music. On the occasion that I try to workout with my youngest around, he usually climbs on me during planks, snuggles my face during mat work, and throws balls at my legs during squats. He routinely pulls at my yoga mat and makes it impossible to complete a single set of anything because he is climbing between my legs and onto my stomach as though trying to crawl back into my womb. No thanks, buddy. This whole exercise without childcare thing is really hard. It takes patience and consistency, but also flexibility.
Not only are our exercise schedules and access to fitness equipment different right now, but also our ADLs have changed. ADL stands for activities of daily living. Mine often include running a bunch of errands, shuttling my children to activities and parks (and then chasing after them), house chores, yard work/gardening, and general at-home childcare. With stay-at-home restrictions in place, the first few items on that list have evaporated and in truth, that’s where I burn just as much energy as in the gym.
Less energy expenditure on a daily basis and low-grade anxiety over the whole covid crisis have caused me to gain back three pounds that I had been recently really proud of myself for losing since they dropped me lower than my pre-pregnancy weight. Three pounds doesn’t sound like much and in the big picture, it isn’t. But if a fitness professional (me) can easily gain weight during times of stress and change, it stands to reason that another woman might possibly gain even more. Full transparency: Those three pounds were gained in the first month of quarantine, so that’s almost a pound a week. You can see how this becomes problematic if it continues, easily turning into 10 lbs, 15 lbs, 20 lbs…etc.
I’m here to tell you a little secret: It’s okay.
I don’t care if you’ve gained 5 lbs or 50 lbs, my message to you is the same: Really, I promise, it’s okay.
We often shame ourselves into thinking we’re terrible people when we gain weight but the shame-and-blame game is tired and unfair. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is address the reality of our weight gain:
I’m having a hard time. Something is emotionally difficult for me right now.
It might be grief, shame, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, jealousy, fear, anger, self-pity, boredom, social rejection or something else. What is on your list of tough emotions?
I’m not trained in Psychology so I’m not here to explicitly tell you how to sort through your emotions but I am here to say that your emotions can be identified and talked about. And they can be separated from your body’s experience, to an extent.
The pounds on the scale tell a story. Once you identify what that story is then you can take the steps towards making amends with your body. Addressing and working through your emotions and life obstacles with a qualified mental health professional might be the ultimate difference maker in your weight loss journey. Self care measures including leaning into your faith, family and friends might free you up emotionally to focus on your health at last.
It doesn’t matter how much weight you’ve gained, you have control over whether or not it comes off. I know this truth is hard to internalize so let me say it again:
You have control. And if it doesn’t feel like it then take it back for yourself! You deserve it!
As you work through your emotions and establish self care practices, you will free up your energy to focus on your body’s health without fear or shame – and perhaps you will even start to feel pride and joy!
I’ve seen countless women lose weight only to regain it back. It’s not really because they started eating donuts at the office again or slackened their workout regimen, it’s because feelings of worth weren’t cemented as the foundation of their health. Self worth, love and respect usually need to be in place in order for us to maintain a healthy weight. Losing weight isn’t all that complicated, we just tell ourselves it is because deep down we’re scared of failing or we don’t feel worthy.
But you are. Worthy.
Here are a few of my professional recommendations for losing weight to help you get started. Guess what? None have anything to do with exercise.
These are measures which set the stage for effective weight loss before lifting even a single hand weight or stepping on the treadmill:
1. Identify emotions that keep you in a weight gain cycle or prevent you from losing weight – this takes courage and being honest with yourself
2. Write a list of 3 daily self care routines you can lean into to help you counter these negative emotions and experiences
3. Consider talking to a professional or counselor, or perhaps confide in a friend or spiritual mentor
4. Increase your ADLS – activities of daily living, or anything you do throughout your daily, weekly and monthly routines that involves movement but isn’t considered “formal” exercise.
- Ex: walking the dog, cleaning the house, yard work/gardening, childcare and playing outdoors with children, errands that involve walking/lifting/carrying, caring for a loved one who is physically dependent on you, lovemaking (yup! it burns energy!), cooking dinner instead of ordering, chores, etc.
5. Get enough sleep to reduce inflammation, balance hormones and enable nervous system recovery
6. Start taking steps towards healthy nutrition;
- Shop the periphery of the grocery store for fresh meats and produce
- Choose meals you can cook or make at home that are easy and healthy (ex: I do some kind of fish, a roasted veggie and a rice/quinoa/cous cous or sweet potato 3x/week to free up my energy to be more creative for a few other meals)
- Have healthy snacks on hand (ex: hard boiled eggs, fruit, nuts, yogurt, protein powder)
- Choose a style of eating you enjoy for your lifestyle. Ex: Schedule snack times if you enjoy eating often or set your “feeding window” if you prefer large, infrequent meals in keeping with intermittent fasting. No one way is the best way to eat. The “best” approach to nutrition is what will work for YOU.
7. Find a spiritual outlet. I’m a big believer that all people have a spiritual need to connect to each other and something bigger than ourselves in a heartfelt, intangible way. This might be enjoying a traditional religious service, prayer or custom, or it might be selecting a mantra or meditation routine that speaks to you. Omkar chanting, burning sage, placing crystals in your home, striking a Tibetan singing bowl – anything is better than nothing. Honor that place and space within yourself that is already above this world and connected to more.
Courageously jump-starting a weight loss journey must start from a place of wellness in order to last. We won’t always be able to enjoy our “perfect” workout routine so relying on exercise alone for weight management entails a high level of risk. I hope you can stay encouraged by all the other ways you can kickoff the weight loss process before setting foot in the gym again (because let’s be real…we are stuck in a pandemic that could last a while).
Cheers to your health and its priority during this moment in history! Moms, you deserve the best.
Yours in health and wellness,