Losing the “Mom Weight”: Finding a Balance Between Bounce Back Culture and Body Positivity 

By Alexandra Frost
|
August 23, 2022
a collage of photos of the author
Image credit: Lindsey Engelken for Clean Plates | Photos courtesy of Alexandra Frost

Against all better judgment, I hopped on the scale the day after I gave birth to my youngest child — and was shocked to discover that I somehow weighed more than I had a couple of days earlier. I wasn’t even sure how that was mathematically possible (didn’t I just give birth to a ten-pound baby?) but as I’ve learned since, “mom weight” is significantly more complicated than a number on a scale. 

Each of my pregnancies left me with a residual ten pounds, which have added up over time. I didn’t feel comfortable in my body anymore, and didn’t recognize myself in pictures. But as I looked for support from friends, family, and the internet, I kept receiving the same line of responses, even after the postpartum months ticked by: “You’re beautiful at any weight,” “You just had a baby; give yourself some grace,” “Nine months on, nine months off.” While meant to be reassuring, these old adages only further invalidated what I was feeling.

While my body had, in fact, produced four miraculous human beings, I didn’t feel like a miraculous mother of nature. I knew that I really did need to lose at least some of the baby weight, but I felt torn between two very loud extremes: body positivity culture was telling me that it didn’t matter how much I weighed and I should be happy with my body at any weight, while social media’s ongoing obsession with “bounceback” culture told me I should attempt to look the same as I did when I was 17 for the rest of my life. 

But my own body was conveying a different message

My body was pretty insistent, and it spoke in a language that doesn’t require much interpretation: my joints creaked, and my hips hurt, as did my back, knees, and feet. It wasn’t unbearable, but it was persistent. And so I listened to my body and my weight loss journey began, in spite of old injuries that protested during exercise, in spite of breastfeeding and sleep deprivation, in spite of a painful imbalance between work and home life after a too-short maternity leave.

I have a true hatred for fad diets and flat refuse to cut out whole food groups. I know deprivation doesn’t work for me, so I started my postpartum diet plan the old-fashioned way: I decided to be more aware of my food choices and make a conscious effort to increase movement. 

My first step was to start logging the food I was eating

This turned out to be more revelatory than I first thought: although I thought that I ate pretty healthily, the log revealed that I was actually getting much lower levels of protein than I’d thought, and I was enjoying a few too many cocktails on the weekends with friends. I also thought I was eating a pretty low-carb diet, since I usually swapped bread on sandwiches for lettuce wraps and made similar choices. But sneaky carbs were making their way into my diet in other ways, like protein bars that only appeared to be low-carb and a habit of late-night snacking. 

At around six months postpartum, I started concentrating on incorporating vegetables and protein into every single meal, and making sure that protein played a role in every snack I ate. This sometimes meant some bizarre combinations of food — like last night’s broccoli alongside a morning Greek yogurt — but a postpartum mom working on few hours of sleep will make anything work. 

I started moving again, but more slowly than I had in the past

With my earlier pregnancies, I joined postpartum HIIT workouts at a local gym, but this time, I eased in more gradually. I had a pelvic condition, so I chose a fitness routine that worked for me: short spin classes at home during nap time in addition to evening walks up and down my street while the kids played in the front yard. My aim was just 15 minutes of movement a day for multiple weeks, maybe months.

Weight loss was slow, aggravating, and necessitated exceptional levels of patience, which I really didn’t have much of. I’d lose a pound, gain it back the next week, and break even. Each pound was stubborn, but so was I. 

Eventually, six months later, on my baby’s first birthday, I stepped on the scale to discover that I’d lost around 20 pounds of the 30 I’d gained with that pregnancy. 

Just the last pesky ten remained — as it had each time

I’ve since been in a long plateau, not losing any more weight despite the fact that I’ve increased high heart rate exercise sessions, cleaned up my diet even further, and worked with a nutrition coach. As I weaned from breastfeeding and went through more hormonal changes, I realized that I needed to eliminate any other health condition that could be causing my body to hold weight in spite of lifestyle changes. I asked my OB-GYN for a thyroid panel and full blood work to eliminate any issues. Though it came back clean, and the rest of my jiggly mama belly is just a bit more work to be done, my doctor applauded me for paying attention to the possibility that other factors could be at play, noting that more people need a physical and blood work when they are starting a weight loss or health improvement journey.

Now, as I begin phase two of trying to lose the older, stubborn weight I gained alongside the blessing of my four sons, I find myself both hopeful and patient, but also tired and resentful. I realize now the immense ups and downs — the years-long journey a woman goes through to become a mother and to fully embody her new physical and mental self. 

I can tell you this: pregnancy is far from a nine-month journey

I still sometimes resent the toxic vibes of a body positivity culture that would rather tell me to just keep buying bigger pants and accept my aching back, knees, and joints rather than encourage me to seek improved fitness and nutrition. But I also don’t want to be the same size I was in high school, or even at my wedding: my hips have expanded along with each birth, and I have a seemingly permanent mom pudge where my teenage washboard abs used to be. But how fitting is that? I’m not a teenager, after all. I am a mother, with all the joys and responsibilities that come along with that. My abs are no longer the focus, and these days, I have lost enough weight that I feel really good playing wiffle ball with my seven-year-old son (who fully plans to become a professional baseball player) and following my five-year-old on a wooded hike as he tries to figure out if the boogeyman actually lives in the forest behind our house. These moments with my kids encourage me to continue pursuing a healthy body: I want to keep joining them on their adventures and having my own, too, for as long as possible.

Read next: Dietitians and Nutritionists Tell Us Their 12 Healthiest Weight Loss Strategies

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