For years, I attended a hip hop cardio class taught at our local rec center. Since I was such a regular and rarely missed, I often would talk to the instructor after class was over and just get to know her a little bit. When we both happened to be pregnant at the same time with due dates three months apart, I even took over “teaching” a few of the harder routines she could no longer do, since I was about a trimester behind her.
When she came back to teaching after her maternity leave, I was also back in class (since I felt well enough to resume exercise after about three weeks), and we talked several times after class about our postpartum journeys. I remember that she confided in me at one point that although it had been about four months since she had her baby, she had only lost 12 pounds.
I remember being shocked. She was so active! And she’d gained about the same amount I had—around 30 pounds!
I don’t know if it was like that with each of her postpartum journeys, but I’m wondering now if it was because that was her third baby and my second. Because lemme tell you, it’s been 8 months since I had Hyrum, and my weight loss has been…
About 12 pounds.
With both my second and third pregnancies, my weight gain was the exact same: 31 pounds, which is well within the recommended weight gain range of 25-35 pounds. I was much more careful with my weight gain in those pregnancies because I gained 50 pounds with my first, and it was a BEAST to get that all off.
I was very active during the entirety of my pregnancy with my second, which meant I felt up to resuming exercise relatively quickly postpartum. Between starting an intensive resistance training regimen 8 weeks postpartum and going off of sugar for a month, I was able to actually go below my pre-pregnancy weight by 7 months postpartum.
My postpartum experience this time around could not be more different.
For starters, I was unable to be active at all during the pregnancy due to a back injury and then later due to being put on bed rest. In this period after the birth, I haven’t fared much better—although my back is quite a bit better thanks to hundreds of dollars spent on chiropractic work and physical therapy, it still flares up each and every time I try to go back to a regular exercise program. I’ll admit that my diet hasn’t been that stellar, either—between the stress of the pandemic and everything else going on in the world AND thanks to the stress of moving, I’m just thankful that I haven’t GAINED any of those 12 pounds back.
However, I’m tired of the way my clothes fit (or don’t fit), I’m tired of having no energy, and I’m tired of the excuses.
So, I’ve created a plan.
Note: There are affiliate links below to products mentioned, which means I may get a commission on any purchases made through these links, at no extra cost to you.
I am officially beyond the days when I’m up for strict calorie counting, super restrictive dieting, or anything “extreme,” including any major, “big” changes, at least at the beginning. I recognize that many of my habits DO need to change in order for me to lose the rest of this baby weight, but my goal here is not to run out too fast from the gate and then burn out quickly–rather, my plan is to slowly build myself back up to the healthier levels I had maintained in the past and then continue to add as I need/want.
My first order of business? Getting my back the treatment it needs. My chiropractor was able to get me most of the way, but she said that in order for me to regain full functionality, I would have to couple chiropractic work with massage. My sister has been raving about her specialized massage therapist for years, so I finally looked into booking a session with him. Unfortunately, he is over a month out, but I made an appointment for late September and asked to be put on the list sooner if someone cancelled.
Next, I’m taking advantage of the fact that my health insurance reimburses gym costs, and I bought a pass to the local fitness center a few blocks away from where we’re now living. I looked at a few different gym and rec center options before finally deciding on this one, which I chose thanks to its offering of the kinds of fitness classes that I like at times that will be easier to swing. I’m super fortunate that since we’re living with family currently, my mom is willing to watch the kids for me so I can get away to exercise, which has definitely made it easier (especially as my husband is staying up in Logan–an hour away–for the better part of a week until the company he works for finally moves to their new location).
The third thing I needed to do was to actually get some exercise clothes that fit. The only fitness pants/leggings I had in my current size were ones I wore when I was pregnant, and they kept falling down every time I tried a more vigorous workout, and the ones I was wearing “before” no longer fit me at this size. My time and opportunity to go shopping in person with three small children is extremely limited, and I would never try to take my kids with me to try on clothing for myself anyway (talk about stressful!). I’ve also been unimpressed with the few things I’ve gotten from Old Navy’s active line of clothing (which I always try first since I can usually get my stuff from there for almost free), so I knew that was out, too.
After doing some online research, I finally came across what seemed like the perfect option for me—a low-cost, no-minimum-term fitness subscription box called Ellie. I basically chose how many pieces I wanted to receive in my monthly box (just top and bottoms, top and bottoms plus a sports bra, or all three plus a fitness accessory), then I chose which “style” I wanted for that month (they have multiple style sets you can choose from each month, or you can just skip that month if you don’t like any of them), and then I chose if I wanted to just do one box, prepay for three boxes, etc. I chose the box with three items in it (top, leggings, sports bra), which would normally cost $44.95 a box, but then I got lucky—they were offering a deal for new customers who signed up for a three-month subscription that took over $20 off my price, and then I was able to apply an additional 25% off coupon. All told, I was able to get THREE months’ of boxes (for a total of nine items) for just $93. (If you’re interested, they have a refer-a-friend program that will give you that same 25% off if you sign up through my link, which gets me $10 off my next box, too).
Anyway, I’ve loved my first box and have worn the pieces many times since, so I figured it was worth passing along!
The Exercise Plan
So I’ve made the first appointment with the massage therapist, I’ve bought the gym pass, and I have exercise clothes that actually fit. Now what?
I’ve had enough experience of getting off the exercise horse and trying to get back on again to know that it’s extremely important not to push too hard out of the gate when you’ve had to take a big break from fitness. Thankfully, from my years of avid distance running and group aerobics classes, my body’s muscle memory and lung capacity are still pretty good, which means that once my back is totally healed, I should bounce back relatively quickly (fitness-level-wise, if not weight-wise) after consistently working out.
So far, I’m planning on going to the gym three times a week—probably twice for Zumba or other group fitness classes, and the other time for some easy treadmill work and light weight lifting and resistance training.
Ever since I discovered the marvel of running outside, I’ve had a really hard time spending a long amount of time on any cardio machine, specifically the treadmill. While I do plan to start doing shorter runs (probably around two miles, maybe three) outside once my back is completely healed, I have started utilizing the treadmill again just to slowly build up my general fitness level.
My favorite way to ease back into running is to do what I call the “frog in boiling water” treadmill workout: I start the treadmill at 3.0 speed and walk for two minutes, then I increase the speed to 3.5 and walk two more. Every two minutes, I’ll adjust the speed up by 0.5 until I hit a speed that’s harder to maintain. At that point, I’ll either maintain that speed for as long as it takes to either reach whatever milestone I’m working for (1.5 miles total, for example), or I’ll go up in speed one more time, do more of an all-out effort for two minutes, then dial it back down quickly to a walk. This means that I’m engaged pretty constantly in the workout because I have to be paying attention to the time and speed, and it also means that the workout passes pretty quickly (especially because I generally keep it short).
For my first time back at the gym in a really long time, I started at 3.0 then worked my way up to a 6.0 speed (10-minute mile), then I did a quick dial-down to a 3.5 to cool down after I’d maintained that 6.0 for the two minutes. All told, I only did about 1.10 miles in all and had to take about 15 minutes to get there, but I had to start somewhere!
On Not Letting Perfectionism Prevent Progress
I frequently quip that I’m a recovering perfectionist, and it’s the truth—I’ve long since recognized that I have major perfectionist tendencies, and I also have long since recognized that they almost always do more harm than good. So I’ve been consciously trying for over a decade now to counteract that natural tendency.
With this particular postpartum weight loss journey, I could tell that my perfectionist tendencies were hitting hardcore, and I kept putting off starting at all because I couldn’t commit to do everything “perfectly” from the get-go—I couldn’t commit to cutting out all sugar, ending all eating past 7 p.m., working out five days a week, quitting the Diet Dr. Pepper cold turkey, doing a full-on training program, and ensuring that I got at least 8 quality hours of sleep a night to have the energy to make it all happen.
There have been times in my life when I HAVE been able to make a lot of consistently great choices like the ones above—that’s one reason why it’s hard for me to actually acknowledge a different starting point now, just because I think I *should* be capable of doing all of that again, right NOW.
(And yes, I *technically* could do all the above right now, except for maybe the “ensuring 8 hours of quality sleep” one—but I know for a fact that I would burn out and/or fail at one or more of them pretty soon and just want to quit the whole thing if I tried to do too much, too quickly.)
So, to be honest with you, I’ve had to literally talk to myself for WEEKS about just the idea of making myself start, no matter how small. I had to give myself permission to go to the gym for 20 minutes rather than an hour. I had to give myself permission to not jump right into a super intensive exercise regime or throw my all into that group fitness class—I had to just be okay with starting slow, and starting small.
And every time my perfectionist tendencies rear up again (because oh, they still do!), I just say—“Hey, I did SOMETHING today to improve my health, and that’s progress from before, so I’ll take it!”
Another thing I have to consciously tell myself is to manage where my “expectations” come from. If you talk to many people in the wellness industry, including doctors, they tell you what you should be doing (the “recommended amount/diet/etc.”), and then tie that expectation with a fear—If you don’t cut out all the sugar, you’ll end up with diabetes, or If you don’t start exercising 150 minutes a week, you’re never going to be able to get that weight off.
I don’t know if you’re like me in this regard, but I know that fear and shame can only get me so far, and I will inevitably give up if those are my motivators.
So for me, I basically have to NOT get advice or counsel or recommendations from other people unless I know that it’s someone who can do it in a way that builds me up, rather than shames me or makes me concentrate too hard on all the “shoulds” and all the things that I could “fail” at. It’s another one of the million reasons I love my husband because he’s the perfect person to have in my corner—he loves me just as I am, but he always supports and cheers me on whenever I want to make progress in an area, too.
A New Experience For Me: Feeling Self-Conscious at the Gym
I went last weekend to sign up for my gym pass, and after I signed on the iPad’s dotted line and worked my way up the stairs to the cardio floor, I wanted to turn right around and say, “Hey, um, I actually made a big mistake—can I just get a refund and never come back, please?”
You see, I’d been with my former gym (technically a local rec center) for like, 7 or 8 years, and I’d gotten to the point where I knew the names of all my fitness instructors when I went to classes (as well as the names of all the other regulars), I knew the routines and how the classes were structured, I knew where everything was located in the building and in the gym itself, and I knew that most people who were there were, well, more like me—interested in being healthy, but not fitness junkies by any stretch of the imagination.
I quickly noticed at my new gym that literally almost everyone seemed to look like a fitness model—they all knew what they were doing, many seemed to be there with friends or family members or trainers, and I saw people pulling off physical feats that I didn’t even think looked possible, much less safe. The women seemed to all be wearing makeup and had abs-baring spandex attire in a veritable smorgasbord of colors and styles, and I felt frumpy and overweight and like I looked exactly like your “stereotypical stay-at-home mom”—too busy chasing after kids and taking care of everyone else to be bothered looking after myself.
I forced myself through the short treadmill workout I mentioned above, I attempted a few of the machines (though I felt ridiculous because I didn’t know how some of them worked and had to ask for help), and I just felt 100% inadequate and out of place and like I definitely, definitely did not belong.
I never wanted to go back.
Over the next few days, I had to do a LOT of pep-talking and soul-searching to get myself back into the kind of headspace that would actually lead to me trying again and making progress rather than just giving up altogether.
Here are a few of the realizations I really had to internalize:
1 – If someone is comparing themselves to me or criticizing my appearance, it is a reflection of their own insecurity, not of my worth.
I was totally comparing myself to others that day in the gym, which was something I could clearly see was due to my own insecurity about my current state of fitness and the fact that I’m a bit overweight at the moment (even if it’s just by 10 pounds). But it was important for me to flip that on its head and realize that about other people, too. Honestly, most people in the gym are too busy with their own workouts and their own goals and their own focus to worry too much about anyone else. And if they are? Once again, it’s a reflection of THEIR insecurity, not about MY worth.
So I had to tell myself that I didn’t “owe” the world a certain version of myself to show up at the gym—I belonged there just as much as anyone else since we had all paid the same entrance fee to get in, and that was that. I didn’t have to put on makeup or lose those ten pounds BEFORE I could fit in—I just had to show up and do my thing, and let other people do theirs.
2 – The learning curve is always steepest at the beginning, but there are things you can do to speed it along.
Anytime I have to learn anything new or be in a new environment, there is always going to be a learning curve, and it’s always going to be steepest at the beginning. We just barely moved in with my folks, and I’ve had to remind myself that the adjustments are always going to be hardest at the beginning, but that we’ll get more used to things over time. (Case in point? The kids did TERRIBLE at going to bed and sleeping through the night for the first five days or so, and now it’s a TON better, just two weeks later. In another month, I will probably have almost forgotten how hard it was at the beginning!)
It’s the same thing with a gym—at first, you’re not going to know where things are located or how to work all the machines or what the general protocol is for the new social environment. But the more you go, the faster you’ll learn.
Another way to speed things up (in addition to just throwing yourself back in the arena over and over again) is to just suck it up and ask. I noticed that there were certain sections of the gym that seemed like they were reserved or roped off for certain trainers or certain groups, and I didn’t know which ones were off-limits or whatever. So I just asked. And while I found out that some of those areas were indeed reserved for their in-house training program for “premium” members, some of the areas just SEEMED like they were off limits just because the people working out in them were so intensely into their workouts.
Most workers are happy to point you in the right direction, and if they act annoyed or like they think you’re an idiot for asking, just choose someone else to direct your questions to next time :).
So there you go, those are the two major things I’m doing to help speed along this bumpy getting-used-to-things stage: going frequently (I’ve gone three times in the last week, including to two different fitness classes), and not being afraid to ask lots of questions.
The Wicked Stepsister of Weight Loss: DIETING
So we all know that weight loss is mostly about diet, yeah? Yeah. But since food is basically my favorite, I kind of hate to think about it unless I have to start thinking about it, if that makes sense.
The fact is, I eat a lot of really good things every day—I love pretty much all fruits and vegetables, and I make pretty much 95% of our meals from scratch. I limit gluten because it helps my autoimmune disease to stay in check, which helps me to avoid a lot of refined carbs by default, and I also eat a wide variety of foods, many of which are healthy.
However, I also love love love my chocolate and Diet Dr. Pepper, and I definitely have too much of both on a regular basis.
The experts, the health studies, and any fitness trainer are going to tell me that I absolutely have to cut out the sugar, or at least drastically take down my current intake ASAP, in order to “get healthy.”
(Are they right that I should? Yes. Are they right that it would help me lose weight? Also yes.)
But once again, this isn’t my first weight loss rodeo, and I have absolutely learned that all of my expectations must come from a positive place WITHIN MY OWN HEAD, or they will never, ever stick.
So, rather than let the ideal of the “perfect” diet stymie my progress before I’ve even gotten started, I’ve just decided to, once again, start where I am rather than try and change everything at once. What that means for now is that I’m not focusing on diet, at least not yet. I wasn’t exercising before, so I need to get back in that habit of exercising again. Once I’m in that regular habit and maybe wanting to see some more results than what I can just get from that alone, THEN I will make further changes as needed.
This may not be what works for you—maybe you need to see quick wins and fast results in order to stay in the game, so maybe you would want to cut down on some obvious food groups, like treats or fast food, to get there.
But for me?
I have to embrace one new habit at a time if I want it to be the kind of thing that’s really going to stick with me long-term.
(Also, I know from years and years of past experience that exercise automatically seems to have the side effect of making me eat better—since it gives me more energy, I’m no longer feeling like I need to reach for my chocolate-and-caffeinated-diet-beverage hits as often to try and stay awake. But once again, that’s just something that works for me—I can’t say that it’s a universal truth for everyone.)
Embracing Instant Gratification
I got my gym membership last Saturday, and I’ve gone to two exercise classes and done one short solo workout since. While a part of me would LOVE to see immediate results from this first week, it’s not happening yet.
HOWEVER, I am making it a practice to embrace the immediate good effects that are coming about—I have more energy, I feel way less stressed, and after every session, I can visibly tell that I’m walking with my head held higher and with much more confidence and strength.
Yes, I will lose this weight. But until then, I’m going to enjoy all the good benefits that come about from the process of getting there and taking care of myself.
What are some ways you’ve been able to successfully get “back on the fitness horse” after some time off? Any tips or mantras you’ve found to be particularly helpful to stay motivated?