I didn’t think much about how pregnancy would change my body when my husband and I decided to start the journey of parenthood.
When I was pregnant, I didn’t think much about what my body would look like after delivering my first little rainbow baby.
After pregnancy and delivery, I was prepared that it would take a bit before I didn’t look pregnant. I figured it would take a while before my body began to shift back to its pre-pregnancy state.
Except it didn’t.
At least not completely.
Having children has changed every aspect of who I am, my body included.
My entire life I’ve heard the message that we need to “bounce back” as quickly as possible. I’ve heard things like:
“I just could not never the lose weight after kids.”
“My mom never lost the baby weight.”
“She was so beautiful until she gained weight after having kids.”
Or the seemingly less harmful
“It took me 9 months to put it on, so I’m sure it’ll take at least 9 months to get it off.”
None of these statements or the general cultural sentiment about postpartum bodies taught me how to choose gratitude for my postpartum body.
A Paradigm Shift
If you’ve ever read any of my other posts, you know that I am an eating disorder therapist. I’ve spent years investing in learning and embodying a new paradigm around health, body, weight, exercise, and food. For my clients. For myself.
I am continually in the process. I don’t believe freedom from diet culture is a place where we fully “arrive”.
Instead it’s a place that is my foundation. It’s the place I return to when the diet culture world around me shouts at me that I need to be a “healthier” (aka thinner) version of myself in order to be the best, most moral version of me.
Diet culture especially attacks us moms by telling us that we could play more and longer with our kids if we were only the way we were pre-pregnancy. It tells us we’d be better moms if we just lost weight or looked a certain way or had a certain level of health.
The truth of what I learned about bodies while venturing into the world of eating disorders is that at our core, our bodies are not designed for intentional weight loss.
Throughout life we will gain and lose weight, but intentionally altering weight is not what is designed for our body- one way or the other.
I have learned that the more we fixate on bodies the more likely we are to restrict, which biologically makes us more likely to binge.
Our bodies don’t know the difference between intentional restriction (dieting/limiting portions/counting calories) and starvation or famine (living without access to food).
When we diet our bodies may or may not lose weight, but inevitably 98% of people that diet will have gained the weight (and more) back in 2-5 years.
Diet culture tells us this is due to a lack of willpower.
It’s really the incredible protective mechanisms we’re built with.
Learning and accepting and embodying that fact has been a huge paradigm shift in my relationship with food, exercise, and more importantly, my body.
Probably the single most important thing I’ve learned about bodies throughout this journey has been the true purpose of my body. It’s true purpose is for deep and meaningful relationship.
My body is an essential part of who I am. It allows me to interact with the people I love.
It gives me the opportunity to practice compassion and kindness and love from wherever I’ve been- in a hospital room to teaching my son’s Sunday class at church to taking walks or riding bikes with my family.
My body’s purpose is for deep, meaningful relationship.
And it can fulfill that purpose even when it doesn’t look and even operate optimally.
This paradigm shift has been really important in allowing me the space to learn to give thanks for something I don’t always love.
How to Choose Gratitude for Something You Don’t Love
The body acceptance movement is becoming more mainstream. In a lot of ways that’s great. In others, it’s confusing.
While I think it’s wonderful because it means more support resources and seeing varying types of bodies and mindsets in the media, I think it can be confusing.
This journey started professionally for me. But it quickly became deeply personal.
Early on I knew that I had to either begin working with a different population or I had to do my own hard, uncomfortable work.
I had to learn to that my feelings about my body were actually about something much deeper. When body thoughts arose (and still do), I’ve learned to lean into them and explore with curiosity and openness instead of anger and shame.
I have learned that those body thoughts tell me something about the people around me, myself, and most often, my deepest fears.
The body acceptance movement is about celebrating all bodies. Which I fully, 100% support.
All bodies are good bodies.
Activists for the body acceptance movement promote body love…“falling in love with your body”.
This is not a negative thing and I think it’s wonderful that people love their body, regardless of its adherence to the thin/health ideal in our culture.
BUT this has been really confusing and honestly discouraging for many of my clients, friends, and even family.
Because most people I’ve met do not love their body. They don’t even like their body.
The first problem is that we need to redefine love. We need to move through the definition of love as warm, fuzzy, happy feelings to one of an active decision to appreciate and respect someone else, something or ourselves.
In my wedding vows, I promised my husband that I would choose to love him every day.mI choose to love him when I don’t feel like loving. I make that choice because he is worthy of that daily choice.
Through the process of learning this new paradigm around my body, I’ve learned to make the same choice to love my body.
Making the choice to love body is based on that foundation that my body’s beautiful and rich purpose is to engage in deep and meaningful relationship.
When weight stigma begins to creep into my thoughts or someone makes a comment about my postpartum body, I run back to that foundation.
Sometimes that means I text (or Marco Polo) my safe people. Is anyone else thoroughly obsessed with Marco Polo? Just me. Cool.
Other times it means I journal or pick up an anti-diet, anti-fatphobic book.
Sometimes it means I stand in the mirror and look at whatever body part I’m fixating on. I continue to fixate on this body part from a place of tenderness and awe.
My 2 and half year old loves my body. He finds comfort and warmth in all the things I don’t love about my body. When I see him delighting in the jiggle of my postpartum c-section belly, it shifts the body hatred that can creep in.
Regardless of how comfortable it is or isn’t to roll on the floor with my boys or sit in my office chair for hours on end, I see that my body is truly fulfilling its most beautiful purpose.
From this place, I begin to choose gratitude for my body.
This Thanksgiving, I hope it’s a time that you choose to give thanks for your pregnant or postpartum body.
That no matter how it feels or looks or what your health is like, you can choose gratitude that your body does its absolute best to serve its ultimate purpose well.
Choose gratitude, mama.
On Thanksgiving, yes. Choose gratitude. It’s a great place to start.
Then continue to choose gratitude for your body every day. Even when you don’t feel like it. When you don’t want to. If you’re crying over the jeans you just threw away because you’ll never fit into them again. When you wish you looked like “so-and-so” who has had more babies than you and looks like she never skipped a beat, choose gratitude.
Choose gratitude, mama.
Keep on. And one day, you’ll wake up and it won’t be such a hard choice. It’ll be the foundation on which you stand. The foundation you can run back to when diet culture whispers its tempting lies. The foundation that keeps you stable and grounded.
It’ll be the foundation of body gratitude that we raise our boys and girls on in this hard-knock diet culture world.