A silent house.
A long run.
A quiet mind.
A silent house.
A long run.
A quiet mind.
Someone, somewhere started this saying, “Nine months to put it on, Nine months to take it off.”
Ha, I say.
For both of my pregnancies, it took a solid 15-18 months to get it all off.
And it took the magic of intermittent fasting to get the last 10 pounds off.
First, disclaimers. Everyone is different (duh) and I’m not a medical professional (obviously).
But here’s what I experienced.
Basically, the experience of pregnancy and birth puts your body into metabolic overload.
Then, after birth, your body continues in its highest gear for a period time, before it completely powers down. It takes a while for your body to figure out it’s new normal metabolism. We’re talking months. Even if you’re eating well and exercising.
I’ll detail it out here:
Birth – 6 Months Postpartum: The Engine Slows to a Crawl
It’s too bad that I was too sleep deprived to fully appreciate how quickly I lost weight in that first month postpartum. Pretty sure I’ll never lose weight that quickly ever again in life.
I started keeping track of my measurements around this time.
Why? I’m sure some of you are asking. Why would you do that to yourself?
A few reasons. First, any change in my measurements gave me motivation to keep going–especially since I started out with six inches to lose from my hips.
Undoubtedly, six months postpartum was my peak dissatisfaction with body. I mean. Really. Lost 0 pounds.
When the dust settled and my body figured out that it wasn’t carrying another human being anymore, my metabolism settled on a nice comfortable rate of losing 1/4 pound per week. It wasn’t the rate that I wanted, but at least I was moving in the right direction.
7 months: Second Gear
At 7 and 8 months postpartum, I had recovered enough (Kegels, ahem) to get back into my higher intensity aerobic training. It was a gradual ramping up of intensity, being careful to avoid injuries. This higher intensity training helped to kick start my metabolism again and begin the path back to my previous fitness level.
8 months – 13 months: Figuring Out How To Keep the Engine Going
Over time, I saw my metabolism slow again. At 11 months postpartum, I was still 10 pounds away from my pre-pregnancy weight. And I just wanted to be done with the whole thing.
Nevertheless, I just couldn’t stomach counting calories at all anymore. I had been pretty laissez-faire about it from eight months postpartum onward, but at this point, I just cringed at the thought of keeping any more tallies of calories. Instead, I would just eyeball what I was eating and try to keep meals in an acceptable range.
My husband recommended adding more protein to my diet. So I added some peanut butter to my oatmeal. I didn’t change anything else. Just added the peanut butter.
It turns out that adding the peanut butter was not such a great idea. So I went back to my old routines.
This is the month when I was ready to do something drastically different. ANYTHING different.
Enough already! I’m running 3.5 miles three times per week! I’m eating healthy! I’m tired of just dropping 1 or 2 pounds a month!
This is when I heard that one of my friends (Thanks, Cate) was doing intermittent fasting. She said that for two days per week, she was restricting her calories to 500 calories. On the other days, she would eat normally.
Oh brother, I thought. That can’t be good for exercising.
“You can exercise,” she told me, after I asked.
“Yeah, look it up.”
So I did.
What’s really funny is that I had been reading The Secret Life of Fat by Sylvia Tara for several months–but I stopped reading just before I got to the section about intermittent fasting.
There are different ways to do intermittent fasting, and eating 500 calories two days a week didn’t really fit in with my need for daily consistency.
But there was a version that would work great for me: Fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8 hours.
For me, that would mean skipping breakfast. Then eating lunch and dinner.
The idea behind intermittent fasting is to extend your body’s natural fat-burning mode, which happens when you sleep. While you sleep, your body consumes its energy from the day before. When it runs out, it starts burning your fat reserves. As soon as you start eating, your body stops burning fat and starts working on the food. If you can keep your fast going for a few months hours, you give your body a chance to burn more of your fat reserves.
And if you exercise in the morning on top of intermittent fasting?
14 months – 18 months: Intermittent Fasting = Quick, Permanent Results
So here’s what happened to me:
And I’m still going. At almost 18 months postpartum, I’ve returned to my pre-pregnancy weight–and I’ve lost an additional 2 pounds.
If you’re thinking about intermittent fasting, I will say that the first week is probably the hardest. I was extraordinarily hungry until I would eat at 10:00 a.m. But drinking water helped. After a week or so, my body had re-adjusted to a new normal and it’s not nearly so hard to make it to 10 a.m. now, several months later, as it was then.
Not only did I lose weight, but I think that the fasting helped to reset everything in my body.
Read: PMSing and periods have been pretty tame and I haven’t really been sick at all–even though my petri-dish children have given me plenty of chances to travel into the depths with them.
Furthermore, allowing myself to feel hunger for a period of time helped me realize that I was still thinking about hunger from a pregnant mindset. During pregnancy, hunger = nausea. And when I was pregnant, if I allowed myself to go hungry, I paid for it with wanting to throw up.
But not anymore. Now, I can feel hunger again, without the nausea.
More than anything, I’m just thrilled to be back at my old weight, wearing my old clothes, feeling like my old self. It definitely didn’t come easy.
So if you’re out there, trying to lose the baby weight, I’m with ya, girl. It sucks. It really sucks.
My advice to you when you first get into (or back into) exercising: Embrace humility.
No one looks great exercising when they’re first starting out.
And it’s not about “looking hot” anyway, right? You’re over that, right? You just had a baby come out of you. Remember how crazy that was?
Tell yourself you’ve been through harder things then this.
High five to you for hangin’ in there.
I think you’re amazing.
Someday, things will get easier, right?
Until then, here’s a playlist of recent songs that I’ve enjoyed while running
at Early Hours when No Human Should Need to Wake Up Just to Have Some Time Alone
“Lex” by Ratatat
“Snow (Hey Oh)” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Help, I’m Alive” by Metric
“Lake Michigan” by Rogue Wave
“Secret Garden” by Bruce Springsteen
“Rivers and Road” by the Head and the Heart
“Let’s Be Still” by The Head and the Heart
“Growing Up” by Run River North
“Mhysa” by Ramin Djawadi
This time was a doozy.
I’ve been up and down the scale four times in the last 18 years, losing a total of about 130 pounds over the years. So I’m fairly accustomed to the changes that need to be made and the habits that need to be formed in order to be successful at weight loss.
I’m great at commitment. Fantastic, even.
But it’s true what they say about age–the older you get, the harder it is to lose it.
Which is why I’m so damn proud of myself for having reached this goal.
In a future blog post, I’ll go into further detail about how I lost the postpartum weight this time. (Mostly because I’m too overwhelmed with Life and Work right now to do the topic justice. But in time, I will.)
In the meantime…
15 months later
50 pounds lighter than the end of the pregnancy
37 pounds lighter than the beginning of the postpartum period
Now time to lose the last five pounds that I never lost from the first pregnancy.
A woman’s best friend in pregnancy isn’t ice cream. Or pickles. Or brownies. Or whatever other non-sense popular media tells you.
No. Her best friend is stretchy pants.
And I was lucky enough to have two best friends.
They weren’t yoga pants.
They weren’t maternity pants.
They were actually Victoria’s Secret Pillowtalk Pajamas.
These pants were truly made of magic and grace. Magic, because they transformed from Smalls to Ex-Larges, right along with me. Grace, because they didn’t make me feel like any of these changes were inconvenient for them. They moved out of the way. They said, Oh, excuse me for not accommodating you more quickly. Here you go.
I wore them so much they frayed at the bottom hems.
I wore them mostly around the house.
I admit, I may have worn them to the gas station.
Maybe also Target.
I’m now about 8 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight (which means I’m 37 pounds lighter than my last days of pregnancy. Woot.) One more inch off my hips and I’ll be back in my pre-pregnancy pants and a whole new section of my wardrobe opens back up.
When it’s all stacked and folded like this, it feels like a geological record of the last 21 months of my life.
So I say good-bye.
Good-bye to all the postpartum clothes that have served me in all the hard In-Between Phases of transformation.
All those months of looking in the mirror
and not seeing myself at all
and then not really seeing myself
and then not quite seeing myself
and then kind of seeing myself
seeing that first glimpse of the the version of me that I used to be
You know how you feel when you wake up one morning and you see an enormous zit right in the center of your chin?
You think, Ick. This isn’t how I look.
Maybe you meet someone for the first time on this day that you have this huge zit on your face, you end up thinking, Oh, please don’t think this is the way that I always look. I usually look a lot better than this.
When you’re in the bathroom washing your hands and you look up in the mirror, you think, No… That’s not really me.
That’s how I feel about the baby weight.
At two months postpartum, the uterus is done shrinking. You’ve lost the baby, the placenta, and all the excess fluids. And what remains is officially “the baby weight.”
In this pregnancy, I gained 45 pounds.
Pregnancy books will reassure you not to worry. A lot of women lose up to 25 pounds in the first few weeks!
I’m only down 23 pounds.
Trust me, it doesn’t feel so stupendous when you’re still carrying around another 22 extra pounds.
The first pounds are always the easiest.
After the birth, I was already down 12 pounds.
At two weeks postpartum, my body went into flush-the-system-out mode and I started shedding pound after pound. Sure, it was mostly water weight, but God, it felt good every other day to look down and see my weight another pound closer to my pre-pregnancy weight.
This is awesome, I thought. Keep on going!
Then at four weeks postpartum, my weight stabilized. I started walking 30 to 40 minutes every day and I enjoyed that. It improved my mood, for sure, but it didn’t do much for dropping more weight.
Then, at five weeks postpartum, I noticed that most of my maternity pants weren’t fitting very well anymore. (Okay, one pair of leggings got a huge snag in them and I had to throw those ones away, but nevertheless.)
A good sign, I thought.
So I went to Macy’s and grabbed a few pairs of black stretchy athletic pants. Sweatpants? Perhaps. Yoga pants? Sure. Running pants? I was open to it. Whatever made me feel like I somewhat possessed an inkling of the figure that I had before this pregnancy.
Now, you have to remember, I had no idea what size I was anymore. I hadn’t worn anything but maternity leggings, yoga pants, pajama pants, and dresses for the past six months.
Staring at the sizes, I thought, Okay, be liberal here. Get a size above what you think you are.
So I did. And I got the size above that one.
I pulled on the smaller size first. When the waistband hit my thighs, I thought, Oh, sweet Jesus…
I should have stopped there, but I thought, Go ahead and see if the second larger size fits.
Another bad idea. I got them up over my hips, but really, who was I kidding? My entire midsection was shaped like a shitake mushroom.
Defeated, I went back out and picked up the next larger size.
At least they’re on clearance. And I’ll be able to use my 20% off coupon that I got in the mail.
“Sorry,” the cashier said, “You can only use that offer on sale and clearance items.”
“Isn’t this a clearance item?” I asked
“Oh, actually this is a Last Chance item.”
“Oh good God,” I said.
“I know, it takes a while to know the different kinds of sales.”
“Yeah, I don’t speak Macy’s.”
“Will you be using your Macy’s card today?”
After I swipe my card, I see a screen of available offers come up. Oh! There’s the 20% off one!
“Look at that!” I point it out to her.
“Oh, yeah, that won’t work,” she says as she folds my pants and puts them in a bag.
“Why is it being offered to me if it doesn’t work?”
“I mean, you can try, but it won’t work on this item.”
I try. It doesn’t work.
“Well, that’s just cruel,” I say.
“Yeah…” she agrees. “I keep telling them they need to fix that glitch.”
I’ve lost the baby weight before.
Okay, all but the last five pounds. But still.
I remember that it took until ten months postpartum for my thyroid to stop going completely bonkers and for all the cardio kickboxing and portion controlling to finally eat away at that stubborn extra layer week after week after week.
I remember telling my husband that I wish I had been kinder to myself at two months postpartum, when it felt like I should just stop caring. The rationale went something like this: You’re not getting much sleep, but at least you can look forward to eating all day.
Another part of me cared tremendously about seizing opportunities to return to my pre-pregnancy physical condition. And when I fell short of my own expectations, I would get upset at myself.
Today, the rational side of my brain tells me, Your body is amazing. You just sustained another life for three-quarters of a year. You gave birth to a healthy baby (without tearing!) and lost 23 pounds in eight weeks. Give yourself a break.
It is hard to keep this all in perspective, but I try.
I tell myself that people don’t usually stare at the big ol’ zit. While we think they’re looking at all our flaws, they’re usually looking at the whole package of who we are. Smile. Confidence. Congeniality.
In the meantime, I’m doing the daily work of exercise and portion control. It’s hard. Especially when I need to get up at 4:00 a.m. to exercise. And all my exercise clothes are tight. And I’ve gone two weeks without any change in weight or inches.
The truth is, exercise improves my mood. So even if I don’t lose weight, I know I’ll keep doing this.
But I’ll still have to acquire a transitional work wardrobe while I’m dropping the weight.
And that means a lot of time in fitting rooms, learning to love myself through this.
Disclosure: I’m a bit of a data nerd.
Not in the sense that I like to design studies and collect data. Just in the sense that I like to look at charts and graphs and timelines and other visuals.
Call it “data-nerd-light.”
I began wearing a FitBit Charge HR last February, shortly after I started running as a regular form of exercise.
At first, it was useful for keeping track of my exercise. Having information about my sleep patterns and steps was just fun information to use to challenge myself.
Then, in early May 2016, I got pregnant.
Over the course of my pregnancy, I regularly wore my FitBit and amassed loads of interesting data about how my body changed and responded differently to exercise over the course of my pregnancy.
The FitBit Charge HR will monitor your heart rate and calories burned, as well as your number of steps, floors climbed, and miles traveled. Then, it spits out all of this data into usable and easy-to-read charts. (UPDATE: My Charge HR started separating around the display and I had to replace it after 16 months of use. I recently upgraded to the Charge HR 2. It’s just $20 more and much more durable. The bands are replaceable too, so the same problem can’t happen on this model.)
I started this pregnancy at 147 pounds (at 5′ 7.5″) and my ending weight was 192 pounds, which is a 45-pound weight gain. My pre-pregnancy condition was quite good. I was running about two miles in the morning every day and lifting weights once or twice per week. I was maintaining my weight. I had good energy. I could climb several flights of stairs without getting winded.
So what does pregnancy do to a healthy body? Let’s take a look.
Resting Heart Rate
My pre-pregnancy resting heart rate was about 56 beats per minute, a sign of a fairly athletic lifestyle. You can see my heart rate climb steeply in the second trimester when I have my first major growth spurt, and then again in the last trimester during the last month of growth. Both time periods correspond to an increase in blood volume in my body.
Fun fact: at the end of pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume increases 40-50% throughout pregnancy.
I put on most of my weight during the second and third trimester growth spurts, and just a few pounds gained in the first trimester. This is a healthy weight gain curve, although, I assure you, it didn’t feel healthy at the time. I remember that I kept thinking, No! Four pounds in a week! This baby is going to be twelve pounds by the end of this!
Daily Calories Burned: Pre-Pregnancy
On the left is a typical day of exercise on a pre-pregnancy day, which includes a two-mile run in the morning and regular movement at work.
On the right is a day that I’m proud of: the day that I ran six miles around the National Mall in Washington D.C. Included in this number are the other calories that I burned throughout the day, just by existing. See the number of calories burned? Keep that in mind as I show you how many calories during the late third trimester.
Daily Calories Burned: First Trimester
In my first trimester, I continued to run whenever I felt well enough. (Weeks 7-11 were Nausea City, so I limited my exercise to walks during this time.) But I took it easy. I didn’t exercise in the peak heart rate zone if I could help it. I monitored my run pretty closely so I stayed in the lower heart rate zones.
Daily Calories Burned: Second Trimester
I continued to run in the second trimester. In the early second trimester, I incorporated more indoor aerobic exercise because it was so damn hot outside in late July to August. In this screenshot, you see the end of October, when I was 24 weeks pregnant, right at the end of my second trimester growth spurt.
The important difference is my resting heart rate, which has jumped to 70 beats per minute. Because of that elevated resting heart rate at this point, I was more likely to reach a fat-burning heart rate for daily activities, beyond the time when I was intentionally exercising.
Daily Calories Burned: Early Third Trimester
I continued to incorporate running in my exercise all the way to 32 weeks of pregnancy, but over time, I slowly decreased my running in favor of walking. By 33 weeks of pregnancy, I was done running. This screenshot is from Week 30. It’s not terribly different from my second trimester stats. Notice that my resting heart rate continues to rise.
Daily Calories Burned: Mid-Third Trimester
This is when pregnancy becomes an outright test of endurance. This screenshot is from Week 36 (which, for my 41.5-week pregnancy, was mid-third trimester). On this day, I walked for 30 minutes. And I existed. End of story.
I mean, it’s the day after Christmas, for goodness sake. What could I possibly have done? I’m sure I was doing things like eating my fifth sugar cookie and picking up bits of wrapping paper and rogue pine needles. Along with a rousing game of “Ketchup or Mustard?” with our three-year-old. (What? You’ve never heard of that game? You just ask the person if they want ketchup or mustard over and over and over again. That’s it. Fun, huh?)
So that’s why pregnant women say, “God, I’m so tired” at the end of the day. Not only are they carrying around a lot of extra weight, but their resting heart rates are elevated, causing them to be burning loads of calories for hours.
But wait. It gets harder.
Daily Calories Burned: Late-Third Trimester
Okay. So here I was at five days past my due date. At this point, I was desperate to get this kid out of me. So I decided to go for two thirty-minute walks, which you can clearly see on the graph. My pace was much, much slower than normal because my hips were so gelatinous and my gait was off. But pace isn’t important. It’s getting the heart rate up there that counts.
With just two thirty-minute walks and existing for 24 hours, I burned as many calories as I did when I ran six miles and existed for 24 hours. Courtesy of an elevated resting heart rate and additional body weight.
In addition, my body’s center of gravity was off, it was difficult to move, and I had an assortment of new aches and pains to deal with just to get through the day (and night).
What were your calories burned on the day you gave birth?
So glad you asked.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. That peak heart rate must have happened during my pushing phase.
That was when I started hemorrhaging after the birth. Obviously, this wasn’t part of the plan and it isn’t a typical part of the birthing process for most women (thank God). Only about 4% of women will experience a postpartum hemorrhage. (The most likely cause of my PPH was an “overdistended uterus” due to my baby being over 8.8 pounds.)
As a result, my heart rate soared in the peak heart rate zone for close to an hour. As blood poured out of me, my heart pumped loads of fresh blood to the affected tissues and organs. All of this put my body into metabolic overload and it was the main reason I ate like a crazy person for the first five days post-birth.
Most of my labor raised my heart rate into a low fat-burning zone rate, so it was still important that I ate and drank during labor. This is what I will never understand about typical hospital policies regarding labor. Is it really worth it to deny women the right to eat during labor simply because of the minuscule possibility that 1) she’ll have a C-section and 2) during that C-section she aspirates?
Labor burns a lot of calories. And if you’re restricted to clear fluids, you’re pretty much relying on the sugar in Sierra Mist to pull you through. I think that if you have the urge to eat, you should be allowed to eat. The risk of eating harming a woman in labor is just far too small.
I mean, really… When you are awake for days and laboring for hours and hours, you burn a lot of calories.
So there you have it. An inside look at one slice of what a woman goes through when she carries a child and gives birth. It is a test of strength and endurance simply to carry a child to term and give birth.
The fact that women give birth so often might make the process seem ordinary, but it is truly an extraordinary feat for both mother and child to come out on the other side, whole and alive.
UPDATE: Just wanted to thank you for stopping by this post, which has been gaining a lot of traffic lately (probably because this post shows up in Google searches that include “pregnancy” and “FitBit.” Ha!) If you’re a new reader, please check out my book, Becoming Mother, available in print ($12.99) or Kindle ($2.99) editions.
I suppose there are worse foods that I can be obsessed with right now.
With Felicity, I ate about 35 tomatoes in the span of four days. My husband had a bunch of tomatoes leftover from some cooking event for our church and I just went to town on them. At first, I ate them on salads and sandwiches. Then, I thought, Who are you kidding? Just go for it. Then it was just tomatoes. Tomatoes upon tomatoes, with nothing in my way.
I have no idea why.
Last week, I was looking at the fruit bowl, pondering what to do with a bunch of apples and pears that were getting too ripe.
I will make apple crisp, I thought. I’ve never made it before, but I can figure this out.
To the Internet.
I got some good ideas and then looked around our cupboards. And because it brings a smile to my face to make something that I can share with Doug, I got some ideas from him about how to make it gluten-free so he can enjoy it, too.
Apples, oatmeal, some brown sugar, some rice flour, cinnamon, and a little safflower oil.
In the past week, I’ve made two 9″ X 11″ pans of it. Doug has eaten some of it, but really… I’m doing the damage.
I just can’t get enough of this stuff.
Here’s the recipe I’m using if you have any interest. Proportions of sugar and cinnamon are flexible, depending on what you like.
Apple Crisp of Destruction
Apples in an ungreased pan first. Then, cover with topping.
Cover with foil. Put in the oven at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove foil. Finish baking for another 25 minutes. Check to make sure the topping doesn’t burn.
I saw this image on Pinterest and couldn’t help myself.
I believe I’m at the “Welcome, Muffin Top” stage.
In my first pregnancy, I didn’t reach this stage until about 20 weeks. I was kind of proud about that. Hey, look everyone! I’ve only gained 10 pounds so far! And I’m not really showing much at all.
Occasionally, I’d find myself in a conversation with another mom. A smirk would cross her face and she’d say something like, “It’s because it’s your first. You show a lot earlier with your second.”
Those words haunt me.
As I dressed for work at nine weeks pregnant, I thought, Oh… That’s a little tight.
At ten weeks, I thought, Hmmm… Think I’ll need to dress strategically. I wore larger pants that I had stashed away from those months when I was losing baby weight last time. I wore well-placed cardigans at work.
At eleven weeks, I realized that my profile had actually changed. I tried to suck it in. Ha!
In my default state, I have some floppy abs above my belly button, but it’s normally no big deal. I don’t do mid-riffs and I exercise enough so that I can still wear fitted dress shirts comfortably. Exercise has helped, but it has never made the flobby abs go away.
At twelve weeks, my uterus has just compressed my floppy abs, much like a push-up bra. Only, this shape isn’t very appealing. To be clear, I’m not talking about a rounded, pregnant belly. That’s not what this looks like.
This is more like a two-hump muffin-top.
This past Sunday, I put on a boxy, long tunic and some black leggings. I looked in the mirror and thought, Come on. You still have a bit of a figure left. Enjoy it while you can. It’s not time to completely lose your waist.
So I put on a black, chunky belt over the tunic. Kind of like this one:
I thought it looked okay. It brought my hips back into view and I thought, Yeah. We’ll go with this.
That was until I sat down.
I sat on the couch and felt self-conscious about the way my boobs and my two-hump pregnancy bump crowded around the cinch point.
Then, my daughter turned to look at me. Her eyes zeroed in on the belt. She couldn’t look away.
“You, you, you…” she started pointing.
Oh, God, she’s even stuttering. Here it comes. The moment my daughter says something that makes me feel humiliated.
“You, you…. You got your seat belt on, Mommy?”
Oh, sweet child of mine.