Let me tell you a story...
She kept exercising five times a week and eating one salad a day throughout her whole pregnancy like a respectable lady ought to. Then she had a wonderful birth and the next week returned to her pre-baby body so she could continue her life as a professional fitness model as if nothing happened.
Her belly never resembled a cake sagging in the middle from overdoing the baking powder. She never once accidentally shat her pants or peed whilst reaching for a box of cereal in the supermarket, no way. And her baby was perfect and sleeping through the night by zero weeks of age, just in case you were wondering. And she lived happily ever after. The end.
So many normal and necessary changes happen to a woman’s body - and life - during pregnancy and after birth. And yet society and the media gloss over all the (literally) shitty stuff and instead feed us the unicorn fairytale version of what motherhood and parenting is "supposed" to look like.
No where is this more evident than in the whole idea of getting your "pre-baby body" back.
Diet culture is relentless in sending new mothers messages about needing to fix their so-called imperfections - that they need to "bounce back", lose the baby weight, and flatten their newly soft and stretched tummies within weeks.
Sadly, the way many new mums attempt to live up to this impossible standard is through restrictive dieting and over-zealous exercise, often taken on before the pelvic floor and abdomen have had a chance to repair. Neither of which are in the best interests of mum or baby, especially if mum is breastfeeding.
Pregnancy and postpartum are not a time to diet
It’s also one of the three times in a woman’s life when the risk for developing an eating disorder (or worsening pre-existing disordered eating behaviours) is highest, the other two being puberty and peri-menopause.
My biggest gripe is with the fundamental idea that we can even return to our pre-pre-baby bodies at all. The truth is, there’s no going back. We are not meant to have a pre-baby body forever contrary to what diet culture tells us. It's not good for us, nor for our babies.
The only time we’re meant to have a pre-baby body, is before we get pregnant.
Given I'm currently 38 weeks into my second pregnancy, this topic is at the forefront of my consciousness more than ever!
There is so much more to say about this issue that I spent 45 minutes discussing it with Louise Adams from the All Fired Up podcast. We had a fantastic time raging against the way diet culture attacks women at this very vulnerable point in their lives, and why it's so unhelpful.
What we cover in our pregnancy, postpartum & diet culture interview:
- The cultural phenomenon of body scrutiny during pregnancy
- The four most vulnerable flash points in our lives when diet culture strangles women
- How pregnancy and postpartum differ in terms of risk of developing an eating disorder
- The problem with thinking we should get back to our pre-baby (or even pre-pubescent) body shape after pregnancy
- Busting the myth that returning to our pre-baby weight and shape is even possible
- The difference between changing your body, and settling in to your body after baby
- Why dieting might be a distraction from addressing bigger issues in postpartum
- The benefits of a social media detox
- Why more health providers need to be aware of the dangers of weight loss dieting in pregnancy and in postpartum
- The additional stigma experienced by pregnant women in larger bodies
- The problem of prominent health professionals with large media followings who perpetuate the myth of "body after baby"
- Why pregnancy is a great opportunity to discover intuitive eating
- Exactly why Michelle Bridges' 12WBT "Pregnancy Plan" is insanely dangerous, and how her diet plan compares to that of the world's poorest women and WWII death camp rations
- How women can protect themselves, their babies, and their bodies against "Body After Baby" pressure
- How traditional cultures approach the postpartum period
As Louise so nicely sums up during our conversation:
"We need to stop approaching pregnancy with an eating disorders mindset."
With love for all the mamas and mamas to be out there,