Gaining weight during pregnancy—and then trying to lose weight after baby—is an emotional rollercoaster for so many women, and perhaps especially for those of us with lifelong issues with food. At my first OB appointment, my doctor told me I should aim to gain 25-30 pounds over the course of my pregnancy, which seemed reasonable enough to me. The only tricky part—I was already 20 pounds above my happy weight (that weight range where I feel confident and energetic, where I’m not bingeing and my clothes fit). It was the beginning of January 2018 at that first appointment. Daniel and I had gotten married at the end of that previous September and waited a few weeks before hopping a plane to Hawaii for our honeymoon, which was a blissful two weeks long and full of incredible food. We got home just before Halloween, just in time for me to break in our new kitchen with all the holiday baking I could possibly do. We were in full-on merry mode, eating our way through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve—hence the 20-pound gain.
So sure, I was starting at a higher weight than I might have liked, but what could I do? I had no intention to reel it in or restrict or “get back on track.” I was on a new track, nourishing my baby. And maybe that simple fact—that I couldn’t diet and so there was no looming restriction—was what made it easy to accept reality.
My only aim was to eat as wide a variety of wholesome foods as possible while also honoring the many, many cravings coming at me daily. So what did that jargon mean? It meant that I tried my best, which landed me about a mile away from perfection but y’know, in the neighborhood.
All in all, I gained 48 pounds during my pregnancy. More than I intended, but a number I was pretty comfortable with, considering all the challenges that pregnancy throws at you…and as potentially annoying as it sounds, I loved being pregnant. I felt fairly comfortable physically up until my last few weeks, so I was able to stay reasonably active in day-to-day life. I walked every day, cleaned my house non-stop (scrubbing inside and under cabinets was became a hobby), organized and then reorganized, and dabbled in DIY landscaping (which, yup, looked extremely DIY). I tried to find a middle ground between providing my baby with good, solid nutrition and a wide range of nutrients while also not causing myself too much stress in an attempt to be perfect at it. And of course, I wasn’t always quite the model of balance and moderation. Two of my strongest cravings were for Indian food and fried chicken sandwiches with mayo and pickles, and there’s an Indian restaurant nearby with a killer lunchtime buffet and a great deli up the street that makes an outstanding chicken cutlet sub, if that can illuminate my pregnancy eating for you.
And now, here’s where things went off the rails. You might expect weight gain during pregnancy, but you probably don’t expect the weight gain afterward. On one of my first few days home after having James, I stepped on the scale out of curiosity and noticed I’d lost 20 pounds. Huh, I thought, surprised, only not pleasantly surprised like you might think—I was too tired to be pleased with myself. I had no plans to begin losing weight anytime soon and in our first week home, food was the last thing on my mind. I ate quick, convenient meals when I could, at all hours of the day and night, but noticed that nothing I ate seemed to taste like much of anything. Sweets, though, gave me fast energy. Every time I walked by the kitchen, I’d grab something—a cookie, a piece of candy—and momentarily it gave me a hit of optimism, like I wasn’t always going to feel as exhausted and rundown as I was. Looking back now, I understand that I was caught in the fog of either the baby blues or postpartum depression. I still don’t entirely know which it was because the whole experience of birthing a human being, getting to know that little person, learning to care for him, all the while feeling tremendously blessed and overwhelmed by new motherhood…is itself a massive, transformative, life-altering shift that could of course never be easy no matter how sunny and optimistic your natural disposition.
And so I ate, more and more each day until I was full-on bingeing every night in a sort of last supper attempt, promising myself that I’d stop tomorrow and begin eating healthier. Remember when I told you I had lost 20 pounds immediately postpartum? Well I gained those right back, plus 15 extra!, in just under two month’s time. It was astonishingly easy to do, but I didn’t feel good. Eating constantly made me feel—surprise!—heavy and lethargic. Every part of me ached, especially my back, which I threw out several times while lifting James. I didn’t think it was possible, but the sugar roller coaster I was riding was leaving me even more exhausted. I weighed 80-some-odd pounds more than my comfortable weight and I felt it. And as overwhelming as the mere thought of change can be when you recognize how far away you are from where you want to be, I was ready.
On November first of 2018, I started by eliminating the easy, empty calories—like the maple pecan flavor syrup that I’d been adding to my iced coffees at Dunkin Donuts, and going back to basics with regular, structured meals. I aimed to eat three healthy meals a day with one snack in the evening. I’ve never been much of a snacker or the type to eat many small meals. I’ve always preferred to eat a few bigger meals. The food varied, mostly based on what I made for dinner because I usually ate leftovers for lunch, but my emphasis was always eating as many whole, single ingredient foods as I could. We ate a lot of chicken stir fries made with veggies and canned beans because it was super easy to make and buy in bulk. Daniel made some crock pot meals like his famous barbacoa (which I’m pretty sure is just him throwing whatever ingredients he can find in the cabinet into a crock pot with some cholula hot sauce). I ate a lot of hard boiled eggs for breakfast because they were easy to prepare ahead of time. At night before bed, my favorite thing to eat was a big bowl of oatmeal with a banana. It was warm and filling and I knew I wouldn’t go to bed hungry.
I’ve never been someone who liked exercise. I wish I was the person who fell in love with the gym or couldn’t start their day without a run. But I just can’t stick to an exercise routine. This is an area where motherhood really benefited me because even though I don’t “exercise,” I am very active. When James was very small, I used to walk him around the neighborhood in the stroller. I was constantly carrying him around and rocking and dancing with him. Then when he became mobile, I feel like I am more active than when I used to run several miles on a treadmill. I get down on the floor with him and play his favorite game which is me chasing him while speed crawling. I am constantly bending, lifting, playing, cleaning, and moving. And everywhere I go, I carry a crazy cute 27-pound weight with me. Taking care of a toddler is physical work and I genuinely think I get enough activity just from parenting.
The most positive aspect of my postpartum experience has been how little I got hung up on my weight. For my entire life, food was the most important thing on my mind. I was obsessed with eating or thinking about what I was going to eat. All of a sudden, I had something in my life that completely took over my mind. My changes in priority meant I wasn’t so focused on myself, and that’s a good thing.
James nourishes a part of me that I have historically filled with food. Taking care of him makes me mindful of all the ways I need to take care of myself. When you’re a new parent, you’re forced to stop wasting time–watching tv, scrolling social media–and with the little free time you do have, you get really clear about what you truly need to not only survive, but to thrive. I was able to see what was really important for me and develop a positive routine. I don’t have time to obsess over food, or spend an afternoon binge eating. And it isn’t limited to food either. For me, it’s essential that I have an hour at night to shower, do my skincare routine, apply lotion, listen to a podcast, and go to bed early.
By James’ first birthday back in September, I had lost 80 pounds. I felt the best I had in ages—strong and energetic and balanced. I wasn’t so tired all the time, like I had been for those first four or five months postpartum. My old clothes fit once again. But make no mistake—my bare body (under those clothes) does not look like a model’s, and it never has, not even at my thinnest. It’s squishy and soft and dimpled and, well, covered in stretch marks. Because I was big for decades, I had a lot of excess skin leftover after I lost 135 pounds 12 years ago. I had some of that skin removed through surgery, from my belly and my thighs, but honestly the thigh skin removal never worked and the skin on my belly has lost all elasticity. The flesh on my thighs is saggy and deflated-looking, wobbly like a turkey neck. Physically, pregnancy didn’t quite help any of this, what with the ballooning size and all, but I really don’t mind. I’ll never have the figure of a swimsuit model—and that’s OK! I’ve spent 34 years in this one body, and maybe that’s just enough time to learn to accept that all of its scars are just memories of all that it’s done for me.
It’s true what they say about the miracle of childbirth, about how it gives you a new appreciation of your body. I couldn’t have said this two years ago, but today I look at my body with much more kindness, more understanding, and far more gratitude.
I’d love to hear from you—How was your postpartum weight journey?