Last week my best friend shared a blog post about a “1200 calorie myth.” This is supposedly where if a women wants to lose weight she needs to do cardio and limit her calories to 1200 per day. I commented on it, thanking her for posting and talking about how I do not think calorie counting works, but for years I tried to track my calories.
She responded that she is “not sure who has the time to freakin count EVERY meal-seriously how about everyone put in the time they’d spend figuring out how many ‘cals’ are in each meal and apply it towards working out and just enjoying life!!” I responded that I probably eat 1200 calories by lunchtime for which she replied that I needed that for my growing baby. The funny thing is I was referring to not being pregnant! This got me thinking about how much time I spent in the past trying to pretty much do the impossible….accurately count calories.
First of all, to determine the number of calories in a food, it must be done in a completely controlled environment. This setting is pretty much impossible to replicate to determine the exact number of calories in a food outside of a lab. They have even done studies where Registered Dieticians were asked to count the number of calories in a meal and they were all almost completely off by a significant amount. How big is the apple you are eating? Was the chicken breast 4 oz. or 6 oz.? People also grossly underestimate the number of calories they eat and overestimate the number of calories they burn. Think about it, it takes a lot of effort to burn off 300 calories but only takes a few min to consume that much.
I spent too much of my life trying to count calories and obsessing over food, but I honestly think I have made the most progress in this area since becoming a mother. As I have talked a little bit about before in my blogs, though I never have struggled with eating disorders I have definitely struggled and to be honest still struggle with body image issues (which I personally think a majority of women do in some way). I also personally feel extra pressure since I work in the fitness field. I want to be able to ‘walk the walk’ and be a good role model for my clients and participants in my classes. Even though I hope to help women become strong and confident and help them eat healthy and find joy in exercise, this does not mean I am exempt from worrying what my body looks like. And as many women can relate, many issues come up during pregnancy when you are expected to gain 25-35lbs. This can be very challenging for many women.
I would not say that gaining the 29lbs I did with Caleb was necessarily ‘hard’ mentally for me as I was so grateful to finally get pregnant and I knew I needed to gain weight for a healthy baby but I still worked out a lot. I knew it was good for mother and baby but it was also to keep my weight gain in control. I did not necessarily see myself as ‘cute’ when pregnant and still definitely was challenged with gaining weight in other areas such as my arms, face etc. Getting back to into shape after having him was challenging physically and mentally. My body had never been through something like that and I was not exactly thrilled with the way my stomach muscles were stretched out and how hard it was to get back into shape since I have always considered myself in shape.
However, what I noticed the most after having Caleb was my mindset shift. For one, I have never known a hunger like I did the first 6 weeks after giving birth. Not only was I exhausted (which does make you hungrier, but not necessarily in a good way since your stress hormones are out of whack), my body was healing and you actually need more calories when breastfeeding than you ever do pregnant. I had to feed that hunger and I had to learn to let go of my ego and fuel my body to properly take care of my new son. I had to let go of the idea of losing the weight fast since I did not want to compromise my breastmilk stores and know I needed to keep up my energy anyway I could.
Also, my life was just turned completely upside down. Gone were the days where I could plan every meal and workout every day and be completely on my own schedule. I was suddenly on the schedule of this tiny little human that I was figuring out how to take care of. Though I still tried to make healthy choices the majority of the time, I just honestly did not have the mental or physical energy or capacity to be so controlling over my food. One of the biggest changes I made naturally was to go down to 4 meals a day. For years, I had been eating 5 meals a day (3 main meals and 2 snacks) since that is what was ‘recommended’ to keep your metabolism revving. But honestly, by the time I got up, fed the baby, changed the baby, maybe tried to get in a short workout or walk, I was not eating breakfast until at least 9 am and then a few hours later I was ready for lunch vs. having a snack and then lunch after that. I actually still do this now…I basically have cut out that mid-morning snack unless I get up super early. I am just not as hungry as early anymore. (Coffee is and always will be a must though! 🙂 ) Though this may seem silly to some, it was kind of a big deal to me as I was so regimented that I would worry that if I did not have my morning snack, I would over indulge at lunch and then not be hungry for my afternoon snack which might mean I eat too much for dinner and so on. Wow. That was a lot of energy going into having a snack or not. I learned how to be flexible with my meals and really trying to listen to my body and eat when I am hungry, not necessarily when the clock tells me it is time. This is something I am really trying to teach to my clients. If you feel satisfied, good during your workouts and during the day and are seeing the results you want or maintaining where you want to be it really does not matter if you have 2 meals a day or 7 meals a day. Do what works for you. There is no magic formula for everyone.
Another big change is the overall amount of exercise I do. I looked at old exercise journals and saw that I would workout in the morning and then maybe do an hour Hot Yoga class at night. WTF? Who has time for that? Now, I strive for 45-60 min about 6 days a week, which I know is a lot to most people but that is significantly less than what I used to do. I also used to teach group exercise classes 4 times a week and would sometimes do workouts on top of that! I used to do SO much cardio and you know the funny thing?? I literally weigh the same amount (referring to my non-pregnant weight) when I do endless hours of cardio as I do when I keep my workouts short, intense and more strength based and I HAVE so much more time. There main reason for this was that the endless hours of cardio or working out in general was driving my hunger levels through the roof. I would workout more and then eat more. When I workout less with shorter, more intense workouts, my hunger is not nearly as high. The exception to this rule for me is when I am training for triathlons. I love doing a few short races every year. I know I will be doing more hours of cardio which will mean my hunger will go up, which is fine as it is for a specific reason. I do not do triathlons to lose weight or lean out. I do them because I enjoy them. I also know that I do not want to do any more long races as I personally feel that it puts my body out of whack.
Now, do not get me wrong, I still struggle with body issues. I still have moments when I look in the mirror and wish my arms were leaner and I was a little less body fat. Or wonder if my clients think I look fit enough. Or feel guilty if I over indulged etc. BUT I feel that I have come a long way since becoming a mother. Days I hear Caleb say ‘love you mommy’ or he does something silly, I could really care less about how much exercise I got in that day but trust me, it has taken me awhile to get here. I think I am learning to be kinder and more forgiving as being a mom is hard! I still work on these issues every day.
Now, I also still believe in taking care of yourself as a mom. I do not think that just because you are a mom means that 100% of your entire day should be focused on your kids and that you should totally give up exercising, eating well and taking care of yourself. I know it is cliché to say it but we all know we take care of others better when we take care of ourselves first. I think we should workout to feel strong, be our best and lose the baby weight for health purposes. I just realized that I could not be or want to be as controlling or obsessed about it. I want that mental energy going towards raising my children and other areas of my life.
I honestly think my next challenge will be ‘coming back’ after my second baby is born as now I will be handling 2 kids under the age of 3. I know I am going to put a lot of pressure on myself to get back into shape and lose the baby weight faster than maybe I should and it might not be the same as it was with Caleb. But I will try to remember how far I have come with my mindset and take it one day at a time.
2011 Pre-baby when I was doing A LOT of exercise but weighed the same as I do post-baby.
30 weeks pregnant with Caleb
8 weeks post partum
Rockin my belly while hiking at 32 weeks with BB2
Has your mindset changed over the years? Did an event switch that mindset or how did you change your outlook? I would love to hear from you! Please feel free to leave a comment below or on my Healthy Baby Fit Mom Facebook Page.