Monday, 1 April 2013

Fit Mom

It is so hard to get back into shape after Baby comes along. And it is so easy to use Baby as an excuse to just give up. But I firmly believe that one of the most important things you can do for yourself as a new mom is to try to get your body back. It may seem shallow. It may seem like vanity. But the benefits are enormous - for both yourself and your baby.

We all know that we should exercise and eat well for the sake of our health. But there are so many more reasons beyond a healthy lifestyle. We feel better about ourselves when we know we look good. We're happier, we stand taller, we smile more, we put more effort into how we dress, have more energy for our kids and feel sexier for our husbands. It's hard to feel good about how we look when we haven't showered or slept, we're carrying twenty extra pounds, our boobs are sagging and leaky, and none of our clothes fit properly so we resort to spit-up covered sweats.

It's almost easier to just give up, to say "well, I'm a mom now" and decide that physical appearance is no longer a priority. But it should be, and not just for the sake of vanity. If we feel like we look good, we are happier - and being happy is everything. We are better people, better parents, and better spouses when we are happy. No-one's asking you to fit back into those size four jeans you wore in high school, or to have the exact same body you had before baby came along. But it's an easily attainable goal to try to lose the extra pounds that crept on while you were pregnant and during those first few months of healing and nursing and basking in the love of your new little one. It's realistic to get back to the pre-baby weight when you were more comfortable in your shape and body size, whatever size that may have been.

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends one hundred and fifty minutes a week of exercise, which can be broken down into bouts as short as ten minutes each. That's not hard to incorporate into a busy schedule, nor does it need to mean an expensive gym membership - walking the kids to and from school, taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work, strapping baby into the stroller for a brisk walk through the neighbourhood, a night-time jog or bike ride with a girlfriend a couple of times a week. We should also eat well, both for the sake of our health and to maintain a healthy body image. "Dieting" is not necessary - a few basic lifestyle changes and simple meal and grocery planning while following the Canada Food Guide can ensure a healthy diet.

Weight loss - rather than simply maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle - does require more. A little bit more. It doesn't need to be a lot more. A little more attention paid to what you're putting in your mouth - just a few less calories each day - and a little more physical activity every day will translate to those pregnancy pounds dropping away. Yes, it takes some effort at first - any life change does. But it's all about scheduling exercise into your life in a way it works for you and the lifestyle you already lead. And once you get in the habit of walking the kids to and from school every day instead of loading up the minivan, taking a half-hour walk with the stroller before baby's afternoon nap, bringing the kids to the public pool for a family swim once a week and popping in a Pilates video in the basement the night your husband's favourite show is on, it won't feel like effort.

Getting started on any fitness program is always the hardest part. Getting started on a fitness program as a new mom is even harder. But if you ever want to feel like a human being again, like a smart sexy woman instead of a shlumpy mommy, you have to take that step. Once you take that first step it gets easier and easier to lead a fit lifestyle instead of a lazy one.

Call a girlfriend and agree to meet once a week for a night-time power walk through the neighbourhood after the kids are in bed. Look up the public swim and skate schedules at the local community centre and plan a family outing once a week. Start taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Figure out what kind of exercise you enjoy - jogging, biking, yoga, pilates - and strap on the sneakers or roll out the mat once the kids go to sleep. Commit to doing something just twice a week to start - at least thirty minutes of dedicated time for moderate to high intensity exercise. After a few weeks of just a few changes you will feel so much better - you'll feel less tired and have more energy, you'll be able to keep up with your kids, you'll feel those muscles you forgot lived just under the squishy bits of flesh in your midsection, you'll look a little tighter and more toned in your jeans - and nothing is better motivation for a fitness program than seeing results.

Make a meal plan for the week so that you're not scrambling at the last minute and tempted to pick up fast food or prepackaged meals. Shop the outside of the grocery store - fresh fruits & vegetables, meat and poultry and fish, milk and cheese and yogurt, whole grains. Avoid the aisles if you can - that's where all the high-fat, high-calorie, high-carbohydrate, high-sodium, artificially preserved prepackaged foods live in boxes and cans. If you don't buy it, it won't be in the pantry; if it's not in the pantry, you won't be tempted to eat it. Keep fresh veggies pre-cut in water in the fridge for a quick grab-and-go snack - baby carrots, baby tomatoes, cucumber & celery slices - rather than prepackaged "convenience" food. Make these few changes and not only will you find those last few baby pounds dropping off, but you will feel healthier and have more energy - and the entire family will reap the benefits of eating healthier.

Give yourself permission to care about your body. Commit to half an hour of activity every day - even just moving, not necessarily exercising; walking the kids to school, kicking the ball around in the park - and make two of those half-hours a session of planned exercise that you enjoy. Pay attention to what you put in your mouth - plan your meals, cook at home, and keep only fresh foods in the house. After only a few lifestyle changes you will notice enormous results - you'll feel less tired, despite still being up half the night with the kids; you'll have more energy to play with the kids and, well, play with the husband; and you'll feel so much better about the way you look and feel - and be well on your way toward a healthy, fit, happier life. It is possible to be a mom and still be fit - and hot.

(Not intended as advice; consult a health professional before beginning any diet or exercise program.)

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