Monday, September 16, 2013

Pregnancy and body image

Total steps yesterday:  12,528
Exercise for today:  strength training

In December of 2011, I went shopping for a wedding dress.  It was a wonderful experience and I was surrounded by my favorite people in the world.  I found an amazing dress and was so, so happy with it.  Until, that is, I looked at the pictures of the dress fitting.  The dress was beautiful, but I wasn't happy with how I looked.  And thus began the weight-loss journey that turned in to the health and fitness journey that I'm still on today:

December 2011:  186 pounds
Like many women, I had the ideal weight that I wanted to be at, which for me was 150 pounds.  This figure wasn't based on anything in reality, but it served as a goal, and one that I had almost met 8 months later on my wedding day:
September 2012:  152 pounds +3 pounds of champagne
What's telling to me, as I reflect on this, is that I remember so keenly my exact weight on both of those days.  While I wasn't particularly obsessed with that little number on the scale, I was obsessed enough that I remember my weight to the exact pound on two random days.

I've since transitioned to having other ways to track my fitness progress (and started thinking of it as fitness, rather than weight-loss).  I take measurements of different body parts, calculate my body fat percentage, and still weigh myself, but most of my progress is measured in adding mileage to my runs and pounds to the weights I lift, rather then the weight I've shed.

But still, I probably think way, way too much about my physical appearance.  It's been nice with pregnancy to not be so aware of it, but it's still on my mind.  Today, I stepped on the scale and weighed in at 164.  That's 14 pounds up from the beginning of my pregnancy, and I felt a little bit of that old judgmental voice creep back in.

Now let me say this:  I know, logically, that my weight gain is perfectly in line with where I should be at this point in pregnancy.  I know that part of that weight is, ya know, another human being.  I know that when my body told me to eat 4 breakfasts today, I did the right thing by listening to it.  But man.  Seeing that number on the scale again after working so hard to lose it was oddly demoralizing.

So, I've come up with a four part plan to regain some healthy body image:

1.  Pay attention to the parts of me that look awesome.  You know what's great about having a small honeydew currently taking seed around my midriff?  My thighs have never looked smaller.  Ditto my arms, which in comparison to my stomach look totally ripped.  And I was admittedly worried about getting puffy pregnant woman face.  There's still plenty of time for this, but for today, I'm going to appreciate my still slender face.

2.  Buy maternity clothes.  I'd kept some of my clothes from my heavier days and figured I could make it most of the way through pregnancy by just going back up in sizes.  I maybe could have done that, but I think I would have felt crappy about myself.  I went to Target over the weekend and bought enough maternity clothes to see me through a full work week.  And when I put on one of the shirts yesterday, I felt cute for the first time in weeks.  By nipping in at the waist before expanding for the stomach and going longer than regular shirts, maternity shirts actually fit my body correctly and help me look pregnant, rather than fat:

Regular shirt: looks like I ate too big a lunch
Maternity shirt:  look like myself, just bumpier
3.  Don't be afraid to ask James for affirmation.  Rocking my first maternity shirt yesterday, fresh off of a good run, I felt really cute.  And I mentioned that to James, who confirmed what I was feeling - I looked good to my husband, which feels good in its own way.  This is perhaps the most important step to remember, whether pregnant or not.  James doesn't see the number on the scale.  My parents and my siblings and my friends and my coworkers don't see the number.  No one actually cares, so if I feel good, am eating well and treating my body right, then people will see that.  The scale should be like my Fitbit - just one other way to measure a step on this lifetime journey toward better health.

4.  When in doubt, eat a pumpkin spice M&M oatmeal cookie.  Because they definitely taste better than skinny feels.  Just don't eat them all, because I'll want another one for tomorrow and who wants to bake that much?

I used this recipe and halved it to make a batch of dough, then halved that again to make half with pumpkin spice M&Ms and half without, because James doesn't like pumpkin spice and if it weren't for #3 in this list I would question why I ever married him.  I added half a cup of M&Ms which was a bit too much.  If (and by that I mean when) I make them again I'll only use a third of a cup.

I feel like the above list could apply just as easily to someone who wasn't pregnant.  We all have things that make us self-conscious, body parts we hate or something we can't change about how we look or how our bodies perform.  But by concentrating on our strengths, buying clothes that actually fit, asking for affirmation when needed, and occasionally treating ourselves so we don't go crazy, I think we can all be happier, healthier, and better able to tackle the world (or at least the daunting task of searching for childcare, but that's a post for another day).

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