Saturday, February 10, 2018

What 3 Babies Taught Me About Weight-Loss

Unlike my mother or my daughter, I was never really skinny.  As most people can do, looking back on my size in high school and college, I was just fine and would gladly return to that size again if given the choice.  When you're living it, though, that unique and specific-to-you shape gets ripped to shreds by society and their version of normal.  So like an adolescent girl is prone to do, I proceeded into adulthood with shame and insecurities surrounding how I looked and how much I weighed.  Enter marriage and pregnancy to make things really interesting!

If you know Mr. Butler, you know his second home is the gym.  To an insecure newlywed, that can result in more pressure and sensitivity.  I always wanted to look perfect and be viewed as perfect by everyone but especially my young husband.  Yet, exercise and dieting weren't exactly something I loved.  Ice cream, treats and Friday night fun I could get motivated for, but it took way too much baby weight that wasn't going anywhere to teach me how much exercise and clean eating would become one of my greatest tools in life.  Still, J was 6 or 7 months old before I had really begun that journey.  There was a mountain of judgement and criticism that I just couldn't get around and that was just the stuff in my head.  On the one hand there are supermodels and air-brushed magazine covers convincing me that my imperfection should be my shame.  On the other hand, there are other voices in the media that pounce any time someone suggests that a person should really work at losing weight.  Body-shaming, they call it.  And, goodness those voices can get so ugly.  In either case, I'm not buying it anymore.

I am 10 months postpartum after my third baby and about 50 lbs over my (1st) pre-pregnancy weight.  The rollercoaster has been real, but being on this end of it, I have certainly learned a few things I wish I could share with my pre-motherhood self.

1) View weight and body image through the lens of health.  Early on Mr. Butler encouraged me to exercise not because he saw me as flawed (like my inner voice tried to convince me all. the. time.), but because he wanted me to feel good about myself and stay healthy like he had learned.  Diabetes and heart disease may have very well been in his near future had he not made some major changes when starting college.  Thus, his commitment to healthy living was born.  He knew I was insecure and he also knew the motivation that came from a great exercise program!

It is in this point that I have a real problem with most people claiming that a concern for someone's weight is body shaming.  There are bullies and very cruel people in the world that say mean things and terrorize those with insecurities.  Encouraging someone to maintain a healthy weight is not the same thing.  I agree that no two bodies are the same and your healthy weight may be heavier/lighter than mine.  But if you have health complaints (other than how your clothes fit) like joint pain, labored breathing going up a flight of stairs, or depression, I do not agree that you should ignore your size.  A combination of any of those symptoms are signs that your body needs some attention for long-term survival, not to fit some society-built expectation.  When someone develops pneumonia, it is serious.  Any caregiver worth anything isn't going to start in ridiculing the person for being sick.  Instead, they just want them to survive without any permanent effects.  A major weight problem should be viewed the same way.

After the first pregnancy, losing weight was 100% about how I looked.  I was self-conscious about everything around everyone.  Now, after the third pregnancy, losing weight is about getting my health back where it needs to be so I can be the mom and wife I need to be.  What I look like and how my clothes fit is just a physical manifestation of where my health is at and how much further I have to go.

2)  Don't Use Another Person's Experience to Shape Your Expectations.  When it comes to weight-loss, most people fall into one of two categories.  They either must work at it to lose weight or they don't.  It is a rare unicorn of a person who has to work only a little bit in order to lose weight.   The two really can't be compared  and yet that's what we do.  Having babies is the perfect example.  Everything surrounding your first child is a brand new experience and that includes losing weight after pregnancy.  'They' say that if you breastfeed your infant, then the weight will just fall off.  Yeah, that only works for people who the weight just falls off anyway! I have two sister-in-laws and a handful of friends who just didn't even think about it and they were back to square one in no time.  I had really hoped that it just wouldn't be a big deal after J, because I tried to eat well and exercised some thinking that would be enough.  As you know, I fell into the category of having to really work at it.  And now I'm here again at 10 months postpartum and it still requires a ton of work. Honestly, it is probably more difficult this time because of how much busier I am with three kids.  Busyness translates into less time to exercise, less sleep and more stress which are all recipes for weight gain in my body, certainly NOT weight-LOSS.

After J, I let what other people (different body types and different circumstances) experienced determine what I expected my circumstances to be.  When I was obviously wrong, the despair, judgement and self-loathing just about ruined me in more ways than one.  In retrospect, it was all just so silly.  Healthy weight-loss is really just a science experiment anyway that takes patience and tweaking along the way.  What ratio of diet changes and exercise program intensity does it take to decrease your weight?  Spending all your time comparing yourself to where others are at is just taking time away from getting further along on your own path to a healthy place.  For probably the first 6 months of J's life I was just insistent in my head that what I was doing should be enough to get my desired results because of what anyone else was or was not doing.  And we're not even talking about the subject of what recovery after having a baby really means.  I had no clue.  Just stop comparing.  Period.

3)  There are many things worse than extra pounds.  When your health is clearly in danger, it will be a different story, but life is filled with more than just numbers on a scale.  Especially after children, life becomes more complicated.  Having healthy and whole children is a luxury many parents don't have.  A loving marriage, financial security, a hope of heaven and peace of mind are all things that don't just happen.  Many families struggle with so many things.  After miss Z's birth and difficulty sleeping through the night, I learned that I'd Rather Be Fat Than Crazy. The season of having babies and small children is short and losing weight is something you can always pursue later too.  At this stage there's just so much demand being put on your body that an aggressive weight-loss plan may not be possible, not yet anyway,  Be patient and be thankful for the good.

Mr. Butler has been so supportive of me this past year and it has really taught me to be kinder to myself in this area.  My blessings are many and my children deserve to see gratitude instead of a whiny state of being that only breeds unhappiness.  By the end of 2018, it is my goal to be well on my way to my former weight, but these three babies have taught me how to be content in the mean time.

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