Likewise even for post-natal specialists who deal with diastasis recti (where the abdominal muscles don’t close correctly following pregnancy) and pelvic floor issues; with the right education you have the knowledge to help your clients. Heck, you don’t have to be a parent (or even a female trainer) to devise a programme for a women to get back to her old self (or as close as reasonable) after becoming a Mummy.
I’m talking about the details that are hard to envisage unless you’re actually a parent yourself, or unless you spend a significant amount of time regularly with other parents.
The saying goes that nothing can prepare you for being a parent or for the challenges of parenthood. As the eldest child of eight kids and with my youngest sister being 15 years my junior, I’ve never been blinded to what it takes to look after small people. But having my own? My own body being challenged to grow another person, feed another person (I breastfed both my daughters for 2 yrs +), being responsible for their every need – BTW this last bit doesn’t really reduce as they get older, the responsibilities just move on from helping to expel wind to nose wiping to helping backstage at ballet recitals, and so it goes on.
Motherhood (parenthood, I don’t want to exclude Dads here, though statistically it is most likely to be the Mums who are the predominant child carers) is the most amazing feat in the world, but it’s a round the clock job with no holidays, no sick pay, not even time off for sickness, and many challenges along the way that prove to be hurdles that slow a mother’s progress from carrying ‘baby-weight’ to shedding said baby-weight.
Even if your darling slept through the night from 3 months old (darn I envy you), there will inevitably be times – night potty training, illness, nightmares, Christmas morning (hello over-excited kids at 4am!) – when you won’t get enough sleep.
Sleep is critical for all bodily functions including growing and maintaining muscle mass (1), burning fat (2), exercise recovery (1), and appetite management (4). No athlete at the top of their game, either sporting performance or aesthetic (in the case of stage competitions or modelling), will succeed without making sleep a priority. Try telling that to a two year old who has decided that sleeping is not on the agenda tonight. So it stands to reason that a sleep deprived parent will struggle in all of these areas.
You can’t stop it, but you can help manage symptoms. Epsom salts in baths are wonderful for less-than recovered aching muscles. Relaxing essential oils on a pillow may help make the sleep a parent gets at least of the good quality, deep kind, even if quantity can’t be achieved. Emphasising protein, fibre, and quality fats in the diet will help manage hunger. Green tea (or even black tea) is a low calorie pick me up that also contains L-Theanine, an amino acid that is highly relaxing, and the caffeine (note – avoid drinking in excess or near bedtime) can actually be an appetite suppressant in some people too. Green tea contains EGCG which has been shown to boost the metabolism (6), burning fat and providing you with energy at the same time.
People often assume stress is of the ‘bad’ kind – financial problems, fights with a loved one, huge workloads, illness and relationship issues. But parents are some of the happiest yet most stressed people of all. Anything which taxes the body and/or brain is stressful – lack of sleep, poor food, alcohol, exercise, even just having a lot of things to remember (sports kit, book bag, Disney character lunch box, gloves…..). Do not underestimate the power of stress. It is linked to so many medical issues from cardiovascular disease to diabetes to obesity to IBS…..the list goes on.
From a ‘getting in shape’ perspective it lowers our cognitive abilities to make good (healthy) decisions. It also drives people to comfort eat, even without realising they’re doing it, or alternatively lose their appetite and not eat.
These things take practice and consistency to make them habits, but they take no time, no equipment and can be done anywhere, which makes them non-negotiable for pretty much everyone, parent or not.
1) Deep breathing. Take three slow, deep breaths, allowing the air to go deep into your belly – the belly not the chest needs to expand – any time you feel stressed.
2) Lower your shoulders down and back. Elongate your neck. Correcting this will take time as the muscles that are keeping shoulders raised may be shortened, but like any muscle in the body these too can be retrained and lengthened to stay down and relaxed.
3) Get into nature. 5 minutes with a cup of tea in the garden, 10 minutes picking up conkers with the kids in autumn, 15 minutes making daisy chains. Being amongst greenery has been shown to lower stress levels (5). Likewise as has leisurely walking. If you walk to school or work, leave a little earlier so you can take your time and admire your surroundings.
To make decision making easier and avoid decision fatigue (3), don’t have too many options. Schedule and plan what you’re going to eat, what you’ll do for exercise and when, and just do that. The decision has been made in advance, all you have to do is follow the plan. If ‘rules’ make decision making easier, they can help so long as they are in line with your goals and needs. A vegetarian doesn’t eat meat because it fits with their values and ‘rules’. Having your own ‘rules’ like only eating cake on weekends or having at least one green vegetable with every evening meal, can take at least some of the decision making (and therefore stress) away.
Food costs money, takes time and effort to prepare. Children don’t always finish their plate of food, and well done to them – they’re in touch with their appetite and stop when they are full. We also know that waste is costly – waste not want not and all that. And their food is tasty, and hopefully good quality most of the time too. But if you’re nibbling constantly on what’s left on their plates it contributes to excess calories, and this will slow, halt, or even reverse weightloss.
If your kids always leave food then this might sound obvious but you’re probably giving them too much. You have two options – either make less, or make more so there’s enough to have again another day. I find my kids get ‘bored’ quickly so it’s better to give them a not oversized main meal then allow them a health pudding (fruit, yoghurt etc.) too.
Another trick I like is to actually factor those leftovers into your daily intake. Provided the food they’re being given are nutritious; I could think of worse late afternoon snacks than a fish finger and some peas, just have it instead of rather than as well as another snack you make for yourself. Or have a smaller evening meal. It can all be made to add up right in the end.
Having to go from desk to canteen/vending machine takes money and effort and is a deterrent, however small, to purchasing that iced bun mid-afternoon. Stay at home parents are within a few feet of food most of the day. This convenience makes it much harder to resist grabbing half a biscuit here, a few nuts there, a bit of chocolate from an ever shrinking bar. ‘Not having tasty food in the house’ is not an option. Everyone has to eat, even ‘treats’ sometimes, and multiple food shopping trips a week are impractical.
Set an eating schedule – certain times of the day for meals and snacks. Then don’t eat when it isn’t ‘time’. This schedule has to be sufficient to cover your hunger and needs – there’s no point in attempting only 3 ‘traditionally timed’ meals a day if you’re ravenous with low blood sugar at 4pm every day. It also has to be flexible – eating times can move earlier or later according to what you’re doing that day, but sticking to some sort of structure will help curb mindless grazing all day.
If you must ‘pick’ at food – make sure there’s something readily available that will make little contribution to your daily calories. Fresh berries are one of my favourites for this – low sugar, low calorie, nutrient dense, and little enough to ‘pick at’ every so often.
And finally if you are genuinely hungry or have blood sugar problems, consider what you’re actually eating at meal times. A balanced meal with enough protein, fibre, fat and carbohydrates to suit your needs should not leave you hungry or needing more food soon afterwards.
Even if our local establishment has a crèche, who’s to say I’m happy putting my small child in a room of strangers who, even if adequately qualified and capable, are unfamiliar to my little one who resents being left without understanding why (no dig at Mums who make use of crèche facilities, just isn’t for me or my kids personally). Childcare is an added cost, is not always available, and not always preferable for some parents.
Newsflash: you don’t have to go out to exercise! I developed The Fit Mum Formula for this very reason – to give women access to the knowledge and resources they need to get in shape from home. With a few key exercises, you need minimal space, no equipment, and with enough intensity (such as HIIT workouts) you can get a really good workout done in under 20 minutes. My favourites? Push ups, burpees, squat and lunge variations and bicycle crunches. Add a pair of dumbbells into the mix and the options are innumerable.
I’ve never been to a parent and toddler group that didn’t offer tea and cake. I witness on a weekly basis Mums who declare they deserve that homemade brownie with fudge icing because they lost another pound at *insert popular weightloss club here*. The same women are going to the same club when they’re attending school plays and parent-teacher evenings.
Take a snack for yourself – a piece of fruit, a healthy (as in really healthy, not the ‘pretend but actually processed and full of sugar healthy’ snack bar etc.) Then you can eat when everyone else is too.
Another option? Make this a weekly treat. But mind that it has to be in place of other high calorie treats not as well as. Some people prefer weekends as the time to have that ice cream/pudding/cake, so you have to make a decision there.
Ok ‘all over the place’ is not the most scientific term but I don’t claim to be an expert on female hormones. It’s safe to say however that with pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, the eventual return to menstruation and all of the hormone changes that happen along the way, it can feel like your body and brain are a little unpredictable at best, utter chaos at worst, and that’s not even counting things like aforementioned sleep deprivation. To say breastfeeding burns calories is to dismiss the whole picture. Some women find burning fat whilst nursing near impossible, while others can’t eat enough to keep the weight on and milk supply up. Some women balloon during pregnancy with minimal changes to their eating habits, others don’t put on much weight at all yet are constantly eating. Don’t blame ‘eating [cake] for two’ as the problem in every case.
Unfortunately this is part of the biological process that is becoming a mother, but luckily most women’s bodies do return to a more balanced ‘normal’, whatever that means to them. Keeping a diary of how you feel mentally and physically might show up patterns to make life more predictable – if baby is going through a growth spurt and feeding more are you more hungry or tired? Or are you noticing any changes as you cut down breastfeeding (or if you didn’t breastfeed then a few weeks post birth) that make you think your periods could be making a return soon? How do these changes affect your eating and exercise habits?
It’s truly wonderful being a Mum and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s also challenging, exhausting, and all consuming. As fitness professional we can play a part in giving our Mum-clients some of their energy, vitality and sense of self back. Everyone benefits when the right support and strategies are in place. After all a healthy and happy Mum brings up healthy and happy kids too.
If you’re a busy Mum who needs help losing weight, by someone who understands, just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get back to you asap, or use the contact form below.