I bought my oldest child a larger-than-life, helium-filled princess balloon for her birthday, just weeks after my third baby arrived. To my chagrin, that royal blob hovered above our kitchen table for months, refusing to deflate. Sofia the First, for once I can relate.
Despite routine (if ungainly) prenatal exercise, I joined the majority of my childbearing peers in gaining more than the recommended 25-35 pounds in a 40-week span. Twice. The third time was furthest from charming.
Fashioning, nourishing, and releasing a human into the world is nothing short of colossal—but for me, that undertaking paled next to the task of scaling down my stomach (and butt, thighs, insert body part here) when baby moved from belly to bassinet.
To the unicorns among us who pranced right back into skinny jeans two weeks postpartum, I offer you a sincere, jealous congrats. Spoiler alert for the rest (read, majority) of us: your pre-baby body? Gone, girl.
This isn’t Vegas, and what happens in the womb (thankfully) doesn’t stay there—but some parts of the pregnancy process can, literally, stick with us. Statistics show that many moms are heavier a year after giving birth than they were pre-pregnancy.
Yes, my body did something miraculous. No, my chances of sporting taut abs again in this lifetime were no better than my daughter’s likelihood of becoming Cinderella when she grows up. But I desired to button my pants without cutting off essential circulation.
So, I committed to losing the baby weight—and through unrelenting months of caloric trench warfare, I managed to lose a few other things, too.
My sanity. When I emerged from the newborn hibernation cave this time, baby three was only a couple days old. I rubbed my bleary eyes and dug up my trusty (now dusty) Fitbit. The OCD kicked in immediately: 3.8 miles? Make it 4. Tracking my sleep proved an exercise in absurdity, but the other numbers became as addictive as that delectable baby smell. I lost my sanity a bit to that tiny device, but its daily goals and reminders mega-motivated me. I spent the winter wearing sweats and a baby, pacing my house, fanatically staring at sums on my wrist.
Sweets. When baby three was almost 3 months old, my husband, inspired by a New York Times article, suggested we skip out on added sugar. For a month. Life without the most popular ingredient added to food in the U.S. meant losing two of my basic food groups—ketchup and peanut butter cups—and it felt disastrous and empty for a while. But by day 30, a nectarine after dinner tasted almost as heavenly as a stolen swipe of processed, colorful lusciousness off the top of my kid’s cupcake. Some added sweetness has snuck its way back in through the cracks, but there’s less room than before this rewarding experiment. I’ve designated an entire shelf in my freezer to my new kryptonite: frozen bananas.
Patience. The glossy brochures advertising Weight-Loss-Land don’t exactly highlight that the trip can be disheartening and downright dismal. I encouraged myself to celebrate even when the number staring up at me was only a fraction of a pound lower than the week before. Still, some weeks I glanced down only to see that those blasphemous, two-faced, back-stabbing digits moved in the wrong direction. My patience waxed and waned, and I did my share of sulking—which I tried to accept as part of the journey.
Myself. Take a ride with me for a moment down Cliché Drive, and peer in my window. Little people nestle in every cranny of my body, creating a scrumptious pile of snuggle. They’re hanging on to every word about Elmo and friends, while I delight in gurgly baby giggles and exuberant toddler amusement. Talk about a weight loss strategy: I could eat (guilt free) moments like this all day long. During days punctuated by tantrums and meltdowns, I learned to hold out for—and sometimes even create—these miracle moments where losing myself in motherhood became easy. There’s no way I’d collapse a cuddle like that to get up for a cookie.
Seven months and five days later (yes, I counted), I have finally emerged victorious from the Battle of the Baby Bulge and made it to my pre-baby weight.
Confession time: in addition to being a mom of three (and aspiring writer at night), I’m also a public health professional by day—and I’ve even worked on obesity prevention programs. We all know the numbers: more than two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. Though these levels may be plateauing among men, they’re rising among women. And don’t get me started on the alarming rate of overweight/obesity among our nation’s children: 1 in 3.
My how the tables have turned on me—behind the data on nutrition and weight loss are strong emotions and a very real struggle.
There are two clear winners here though: my health and my kids. Those little ones are busy forming lifelong habits—and memories—and they now have a halfway decent example of healthful eating and active living in me.
Moms, we’re the gateway to healthy families. Believe me, I know that the recommended pregnancy weight gain range can seem laughable—and that taking it off brings the tears. It may take weeks, months, or even years—but we need to keep moving and motivating each other.
Join me in losing as a way to win.