Diet culture is very prominent in the postpartum world. There is an expectation to look a certain way, merely weeks after giving birth, and when women can’t measure up to this, they often feel guilt and shame. This adds to the load of motherhood, often causing moms to feel like they are failing. In this blog post, we are going to talk about how we can move away from diet culture, especially when it comes to the postpartum experience.
If we are meeting for the first time - Hi! Welcome to Vibrant Mama Wellness! My name is Megan, and I am a pre and postnatal personal trainer. I am certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, with a specialization in pre+postnatal fitness through PROnatal fitness. I am a mom of 1, and became interested in pre + postnatal fitness as I was going through my own pregnancy journey!
(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or condition. This blog post is based on my own research and experience - please consult a medical professional before starting or making any changes to your exercise program).
First off, let’s talk about what exactly diet culture is. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, diet culture refers to the pathologizing of fat bodies (i.e. determining health based on the size of the body), food rules and restrictions (i.e. food labeling), determining worth based on body size, thin privilege (i.e. airplane seats designed for thin bodies), and suggesting movement as punishment (i.e. prescribing movement to manipulate body size). These 5 elements of diet culture have been embedded into our society for so many years, that many of us don’t even notice it anymore - it has become the norm.
Diet culture affects all types of people, but today we are going to specifically focus on postpartum women/birthing people.
When a woman goes through pregnancy, her body changes rapidly in a short amount of time. Once she gives birth, the general “healing” timeline is about 6 weeks. It is expected that within 6 weeks of giving birth, a woman can return to all normal activity, including exercise.
In my experience as a pre and postnatal fitness specialist, many women do not feel ready to return to exercise at this 6 week mark. They often are still dealing with postpartum bleeding, engorgement (if breastfeeding), severe lack of sleep, and trying to find a new normal with the newest member of their family.
You see it all the time - postpartum fitness programs geared towards “losing the baby weight” and exercises guaranteed to “flatten the mom pooch.” What message is this sending? That postpartum bodies are not desirable or worthy.
There is a societal pressure for moms to return to fitness as soon as possible so that their bodies are acceptable again. If a mom does not lose the weight, she is labeled as “lazy” or people assume she is “having trouble losing the baby weight.” Because of this messaging, mom’s feel so much guilt, shame and embarrassment for not “snapping back” and it only adds to the already heavy load of motherhood.
Woof - do you see how damaging diet culture is for moms?
So let’s talk about 4 ways you can start to move away from diet culture in this postpartum period.
Reconnect to the core: During childbirth, whether vaginal or cesarean, there is trauma to the core and pelvic floor. This can make it difficult to connect to and engage the abdominals and pelvic floor postpartum. One way I encourage my clients to re-establish this core connection is to place their hands on their belly when they are practicing their 360 degree breathing and abdominal exercises. When you can feel your abdominal muscles engaging, it helps the brain make the connection. As you begin to strengthen your core, it will have full body benefits such as managing pain and injury.
Focus on alignment: Alignment is incredibly important in the postpartum period. Pregnancy pulls the upper body forward, placing extra load and strain on the spine. During postpartum, the neck and shoulders are often rounded forward due to holding/feeding the baby. Add in the lifting of the baby with a weak core, and it can do a lot of damage to the cervical and lumbar spine. It is more important to pay attention to your alignment during daily activities vs. just during your workouts, because it is the cumulative effects that matter most (i.e. muscle memory). For more on alignment, download my FREE postpartum guide to fitness.
Celebrate all types of movement! What brings you joy? What gives you energy and makes you truly feel amazing? Is it a walk in nature? Or maybe you love to blast your favorite song and dance around your kitchen! Whatever brings you joy - do that. In order to move away from the diet culture messages that have been ingrained in us since we were children, we have to get back to the idea that movement is enjoyable. We also need to move away from a rigid mindset and recognize that all movement counts. Move your body in a way that feels good, and listen to what your body truly needs. If you have a day where you want something more intense, great! If you have a day where you just want to relax, that is great too! Your body always knows what it needs.
Focus on everything your body CAN do. Whether it is lifting up your 25 lb toddler, chasing your 5 year old at the park, or even walking up the stairs without pain - pay attention to all the things your body CAN do. It is so easy when you are postpartum to focus on the things your body can’t currently do, but that gets you nowhere (except maybe going down that shame spiral). Also keep in mind that your body did something incredible! It created and birthed life, and that is a HUGE deal! Celebrate that! There is a lot of power in positive thinking around your body, so don’t overlook this tip!
If this post spoke to you and you’re feeling like you want more true support when it comes to your postpartum journey, I have an exciting announcement for you!
My new program, Vibrantly YOU, is a 12 Week Postpartum Challenge launching soon! It was created by myself and my colleague, certified nutritionist Caitlin Cipriano. We developed this well-rounded, mind-body program to truly support postpartum moms in a way we simply haven’t seen before. They say it takes a village to raise children, and we believe it takes a village to thrive in motherhood. So we created the 12 week Vibrantly YOU challenge to give you a clear roadmap to feel absolutely vibrant in this transition to motherhood!
To learn more about this challenge and to get on the waitlist, click HERE!
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Disclaimer: This blog does not serve as medical advice. Please consult your medical provider before starting a new fitness routine. This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition.