More Thoughts on the Postpartum Body Project

I wanted to add a few more thoughts on Operation: Getting My Body Back. I think I’ve mentioned countless a few times before that I have a very sordid history with disordered eating. I spent a decade loathing my body and tethering my happiness to the number on the scale and on the tag of my clothing. It was a dark time, and there were moments when I saw my life as a series of days stacked up like dominoes, each one looming as nothing but another 24 hours period during which I’d do little more than obsess about food.

During my year abroad in Spain I brought my weight down to 125 (a European size 4) and I was officially the skinniest I had ever been. I was also the most miserable. That year taught me an invaluable lesson–being skinny does not guarantee happiness. After that, I stopped my obsession with food, and while I did initially gain more weight than I wanted to, I eventually settled at a size I was happy with.

I spent the next ten years specifically AVOIDING dieting because I didn’t EVER want to go back to that place of severely disordered eating. I was so lucky that after my first pregnancy I was able to lose the 55 lbs I gained almost effortlessly, I assumed through breastfeeding. This postpartum experience has been different. Despite pumping 36-40 ounces a day for six months, I stayed at a steady 165lbs–a full 20lbs over my pre-pregnancy weight. I’m not sure if this was due to hormones or an increased appetite. Either way, the experience was totally different than before.

I would normally not take my weight loss to the deliberate place of counting and restricting calories with a specific weight loss goal in mind (and I do want to add that I don’t expect to lose two pounds a week, I’m just following the calorie amount that MFP suggests for a two pound weight a week loss), but when I began this project I was a full 25-30 pounds over my target weight (and again, I don’t usually fixate on a number on a scale, but I know that I won’t fit into my clothes (my real goal) until I’m at that target weight). I knew that if I just focused on healthy eating I would only lose about a half pound a week, which means it would be a full year before I would be able to access my wardrobe. Normally this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but I am on a very strict budget and buying clothes I’ll only use for a (hopefully) limited time just isn’t an option for me right now. For that reason I’m trying to get down to a weight where the size 10 clothes I saved (specifically for during and after pregnancy) fit, so that I can revert back to my healthy eating attitude to lose the final weight required to get back into my full wardrobe. Mostly I just really need to not be wearing my maternity clothes anymore.

I guess the short way to say it is, no, I’m not thrilled to be formally “dieting” right now–I wish I could fall back on the attitudes that got me through the last decade–but between the amount of weight I have to lose, the severe lack of clothes I have to wear and the inability to buy clothes during the interim, I’m making the choice to count calories and track exercise.

I will say that I’ve found calorie counting to be a productive exercise. I noticed that I had lost track of serving sizes and portion control during pregnancy and breastfeeding, when I basically let myself eat what I wanted, when I wanted. The sheer amount of what I’ve gotten used to eating, both in the different things I consume throughout the day, and the amount of food I consume at each sitting, will never be conducive to even maintaining a healthy weight, let alone losing slowly over a prolonged period of time. In the first three weeks of tracking my calories I was immediately reminded of how quickly it all adds up, and even now, when I’m not being as dedicated to tracking my calories, I can think back to the weeks when I was and make more educated decisions accordingly. I know that I only need to eat half a burrito in one sitting to be sated (and I have another meal ready and waiting! Bonus!), and that if I have a whole thing of fries with my In-n-Out burger I’ll have consumed 700+ calories. I’ve also been reminded that sometimes just a few bites of something is plenty satisfying, and I don’t have to finish a serving just because it’s there. These are valuable lessons, and I know I’ll carry them with me as I move from more restrictive calorie tracking to an attitude of more relaxed healthy eating.

I also think being aware of my daily steps is a valuable tool; it’s good to know there are days I can barely take 3,000 steps if I don’t do something specifically to get my butt in gear. I want a moderate level activity to be a part of most days, and having my fitbit holds me accountable to that goal. I’m learning how to incorporate movement into my daily life, making decisions I wouldn’t have made before. Like today I’m at a training so I’ll get home later than usual and it will probably be impossible to pick up Osita by the time I get home. I also have a ggmg magazine meeting in the evening so I can’t use the elliptical (I’ve been using it after Monito has gone to bed and so far it’s been quite successful! He doesn’t wake up!) so I’m going to go for a walk during the 30 minute lunch break. I never would have done that before, but knowing I won’t make my step goal today is helping me being proactive in finding opportunities (like my lunch break) to move my body.

So that is where I am on weight loss right now. I suppose I want to make this clear, both to others and to myself, because I am SO TERRIFIED of returning to a place of disordered eating. I want to make sure I’m doing this for the right reasons and in the right way. If you think I’m making an missteps, please tell me.

What is your personal history with body image and weight loss? What philosophy do you want to live by moving forward?


10 responses

  1. I’m of the mind that tracking calories and exercise is not actually disordered behavior. I’ve been using both MFP (on and off) and physical exercise as a way to keep my weight down for a number of years now. It works really well, actually: whenever I gain weight it’s because I’ve fallen back into my bad habits, believing that I can eat whatever I want whenever I want. And at nearly 40 years of age, that’s just not correct anymore – even if I AM regularly running!

    That said, I toyed with disordered behavior last summer, when I was pushing to get that last 5lbs off so I could have a body fat percentage less than 20%, since I thought it would help my marathon hopes. I basically overrode my own body’s signs in the hopes of losing that last bit of weight. I was hungry all the time, tired, angry, and would have anxiety on my rest days from running, worrying about fueling for my long run the next day – because OMG I’d go over my calories. And that’s bad. Very bad.

    It wasn’t until my therapist pointed out that I seemed to have more trust in a database than I did myself that I was able to let it go. I do have days here and there where I realize I am emotionally and/or mindlessly eating. But over the long term I have been able to self-regulate, and my weight has consistently (well, relatively, +/- 5lbs the weight I’m at now) for the past year.

    I think if you’re looking at MFP and your exercise information as a way to gather data on your eating and exercise habits so that you can figure out what is reasonable for the you in the here and now in terms of calorie consumption, then you win. Calorie counting isn’t BAD – sometimes it’s the only way to figure out what your calories on a given day SHOULD be. I think you’re doing fine!

    • I absolutely agree with you that tracking calories and exercise can be very positive. I didn’t mean to imply that I think what I’m doing now constitutes disordered eating. I just worry that I will take it to an extreme and it will become disordered eating. I’m very comfortable with what I’m doing now but I don’t want to start becoming fixated on losing more and more weight, as I have in the past.

      • I definitely get what you mean about worrying about taking it into the disordered territory. It’s really good you’re aware of it, too!

        I just think this idea “I have to be doing it for the RIGHT reasons” is not necessarily the best way of looking at it, that’s all. It’s OKAY to want to lose weight, no matter what the reason. If it’s for vanity, that’s okay. For health, that’s okay too. For fitting into pants because you have no budget to get new clothes? Also okay.

        I think it’s easier than you think to monitor your feelings around tracking calories. If you start to obsess on it, or focus too much on it, or you have feelings of anxiety (going over calories) or relief (being under calories) around logging the data – that’s when you have to worry about spiraling back into your destructive habits again. Until then, though, just do what you’re doing, but look at it as you’re teaching yourself what your body needs to be healthy as it relates to food intake and calories. That’s important stuff too.

  2. I can relate to so much of what you say here about your past and disordered eating. My particularly dark period was much the same I was very thin , for me, and obsessed with my calories and exercising but it was really all related to anxiety and depression I can see in retrospect.

    When I started dating G I stopped paying attention to what I ate and also my lifestyle changed radically having moved from the mountains back to the city.

    Now I also know that with PCOS there is added difficulty losing weight. My body only ever responded to a very strict and low calorie count coupled with dedicated exercise. By the time I married I was a solid size 12 edging towards 14 where previously I had been an even 10.

    An internal medicine doctor I saw well embarking on the infertility journey marked me as obese and sent me into a spiraling depression… She even went so far as suggested I see a bariatric surgeon. When I arrived at his office he just laughed at me and said why on earth are you here… He referred me to a weight-loss psychologist and he informed me that what I saw as unhealthy behaviors before… Obsessive calorie counting, journaling, were actually or could actually be positive and adaptive. That’s how I try to think of it now with MyFitnessPal.

    Infertility and the depression they are added at least 15 pounds of that by the time Zoe arrived my pregnancy weight was I think almost 250 pounds — I can carry 200 pounds on my frame and still be a size 14 it’s just the way my body is. Through breast-feeding and exercise by the time she was two I was down to a low for me of about 173. The difficulty is that my body seemed to have a new setpoint. It was now most comfortable at probably 185? After my friends death in January after all I was up 20 pounds and decided to embark on a hard-core committed to health regime. I’m now just below my body’s setpoint at a size 12. I worked with a nutritionist focusing on low carbohydrate high-protein — heavy weightlifting alternated with high-intensity activity. It still seems like a long road to get back to where I wanted to be which was 145. That puts me in a size 10 and turns back the clock for me to about 2001 the last time I was ever at that weight.

    After my friends death I really got scared about carrying extra weight not for the vanity which has had always been before but really about my health. Recently the woman I’ve been working with (and I know it’s a privilege to do that so I hesitate to even write about it ) but I said I just didn’t think I could keep going and that I wasnt making the best healthy choices and she just said “well do it for your friend” and really that’s what I’m trying to do. I am doing it for myself of course but I will never take this body for granted again.



  3. At my lowest weight I wasn’t eating much at all and certainly not healthily in the least. I too find it’s a very fine line to walk between healthy observation and healthy exercise and obsessive control of food and excessive exercise. I’m trying to choose high fiber, high fruit and veggie meals so I am happier and feel more satisfied after I eat rather than higher fat and sugar foods. So far I’m quite unsuccessful but the real start date is Monday so hopefully I can get on track.

  4. “I don’t have to finish a serving just because it’s there.” <– I struggle with this SO MUCH b/c I hate thinking of "throwing money away." I hate to think of how much weight I've gained b/c of this cheap way of thinking. *sigh*

    I definitely struggled with disordered eating in my early 20s, and there will always be a little part of me that struggles with it. I love MFP, but there is a fine line for me of it being helpful / me getting neurotic.

  5. When I first started trying to lose weight I’d put how much food I wanted on my plate, then I’d put half of it back. It was HARD. You get all panicy, I’ll still be hungry, it’s not enough! I could go back for seconds if I was still physically hungry, that was it. I was amazed at how much I had been overeating. I never cut out junk food completely, I feel like this is how I’m living my life, and if that doesn’t include peanut butter cups I don’t know if it’s worth it. So I eat awesome during the day, and I have my treat. I always go for less the the serving size on the label. I do pretty well at sticking to it, and I don’t get overwhelmed with never having dessert again and eat my weight in licorice whips.
    As for exercise, after being a lazy but luckily thin teenager, I discovered ballet and was very active and fit in my 20s. A knee injury and being hella poor kept me from classes and after about a 4 year lapse I’ve rediscovered my love of exercise, just not ballet, and I am so so grateful. I am in love with weight lifting right now, and when people ask my fitness goal I tell them I want to be able to shot put my husband across the room. I figure it’s totally doable in the next 40 years or so.

  6. Oh, my this may be a really long comment. I was brutally abused growing up my grandmother and part of non physical abuse was that she constantly told me I was fat. I suspect this started from birth when I was an almost 2 month preemie at 4lbs 11 oz, but I of course don’t know and she went to GREAT lengths to hide this from my mom. Nothing broke my mom’s heart more than finding out her with of a MIL had done these things to her baby. So, I was conflicted about weight and had disordered eating from as far back as can remember. And when kids would call me fat, well it fed right into that. Looking back at pictures I don’t think I actually was fat, but I surely felt like a cow with these sources in my life.

    By high school I was very active in sports and no longer called fat but never stopped feeling fat. And in my twenties when I got down to a size 4 and looking back look emaciated ( I really shouldn’t be that thin, I look sick) I still didn’t feel anything except “not as fat”.

    Now here I am at 40 (can that be right????) and one off hand remark by my father a few weeks ago made me obsess to the point that I almost don’t eat, and I’ve been making sure to work out at least 30 minutes a day. I’ve lost 8 lbs in those 2 weeks and am down to 154 lbs. Another 9 and I’ll be at the weight that seems to be my body’s natural set point. At that weight I’m a size 6 in pretty much anything and I can eat pretty much anything I want. But, while it’s not hard for me by myself to do this I battle because my husband has never in our 15+ years together thought I eat ENOUGH . And telling him I want to lose weight is met with harsh looks and efforts to tempt me into MORE FOOD. And while I have no problem leaving food on my plate (I’m easily someone who can say “throw it away” he grew up hearing “there are starving children in Africa” which leaves us a bit conflicted.)

    For today I had dental work and there will be no eating. Even some of those awesome berries which have been a mainstay of my diet the past few weeks are too painful to chew. And I apologize for the length, I felt passionately but I’m also still drugged from the dentist. Good luck to all of us.

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