This post is about the seasons I’ve experienced as a mum and the pressure I’ve felt with my diet and exercise; especially being in the health and fitness industry. This post is specifically targeted to parents but the underlying message can be applied to any season we go through. The trick is just working out when we are in one.
Before my twins were born I was very fit and healthy. I was running 7km a day 4-5 times a week. I was also doing circuit training and ate a pretty healthy diet (or so I thought). Then I fell pregnant with the twins and, hello all-day-every-day sickness. I was floored. I felt like I had the world’s worst hangover. Every. Single. Day. Everything made me sick; smells, foods, my husband, eating, not eating, sleeping, waking up, water bottles, driving in the car – everything!! But, the car was the worst!! I would have to drive with my head out of the window to stop myself from vomiting in my lap. In winter it meant having the heat up full blast on my feet with my face freezing as I hung it out the window like a dog. I tried anything and everything to make the nausea stop. I tried medication to the point where I was taking wafers that cancer patients take during chemo treatment. But those wafers came at a cost of $90 for 10 and I needed 3 a day to stop the sickness, so I decided to grin and bear it. There was some light though. I found out pretty early on that eating crackers and other savoury biscuit-type snacks kept the nausea at bay. So I ate and ate some more then ate a little more. But, it’s all fun and games until your pants don’t fit (and apparently there was some clause in my work contract about the need for pants – who knew?!) By week 9 of the pregnancy, nothing fit and I was in maternity wear. I wasn’t sure if I should be proud or embarrassed (I later decided on proud). Anyway, as I found out, this is pretty normal for a multiple pregnancy and so my weight steadily climbed. I weighed myself fastidiously (but not for the reason you might think). I was anxious to make sure I gained enough weight for my babies and then, as I realised I wasn’t having any trouble gaining weight (thank you crackers), I watched to make sure I wasn’t going total cray cray and putting us all at risk by gaining too much weight. I was finally induced at 37 weeks and 1 day. This is considered full term for not only twins but also singletons. Apparently my girls were happy as pigs in mud (maybe not the best analogy) but seen as Sarai (twin B) had stopped growing they decided to induce me. I can remember on the morning of being induced, I weighed myself out of curiosity. I had gained almost 25kg. I wasn’t especially worried and in fact I was just pleased to have made it through a high-risk pregnancy without any serious medical issues. I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with the price of eggs and what I’m getting at (besides giving you my life story)? Well my twin pregnancy was a season. During this time, I just survived. I’m not kidding. I did whatever I could to get through each day without killing anyone (apparently I’m moody when I’m pregnant – there’s no-one alive who can confirm this though). In terms of the food I ate, I actually can’t remember too much of what I ate but I do know that this is where my high-fat journey began. I can distinctly remember reading my ‘multiples’ pregnancy book and being told to eat high fat and thinking, “giddee up”. After I had the twins, I found myself unable to breast-feed them solely due to a breast reduction I’d had years earlier. This meant I had hungry babies who wouldn’t sleep so for the first 2 months of their lives I was surviving off about 2 hours sleep a night. I ended up with post-natal depression and anxiety and unfortunately, the anxiety has still persisted to this day. This was another season that I went through and despite it being incredibly hard and something I never want to experience again, it changed my relationship with my husband for the better. That alone was worth the pain. During the time of sleep deprivation, I was fortunate that I had done some pre-baby dinner prep which meant I had meals in the freezer ready to go. If it had not been for this, we may have survived on takeaway those 2 months. My focus during that time was simply to adjust to the babies and work out how to get them to sleep. This season quickly passed and after I started sleeping again, I put together a 12-week challenge for me and my friends based on the low carb high fat diet. It was incredible. Completely and utterly changed my life. By the end of the 12 weeks I had lost all my baby weight (and then some), got down to 16% body fat whilst maintaining all my muscle tissue. I was exercising regularly and felt fantastic. It wasn’t long after the completion of the challenge however, came a little surprise. I noticed I’d not been well for a few days and had gone off coffee. I thought I’d do a pregnancy test as a “just in case” but not really thinking too much about it. Well, hello all-day-every-day-constant-blow-your-mind-sickness and hello pregnancy number 3. I was back in the twin pregnancy season again and doing whatever I could to just survive. Seven months later though, it was all worth it and we welcomed our precious son Felix into the world. Ever since his birth I’ve been in another season. I’ll just call this ‘mum with 4 kids’ season. It’s a hard season to be in but it’ll be an even harder one to finish. I’m torn between wishing it were over and wishing it would never end. I’m tired all the time, I rarely get to go to the toilet without an audience, I never eat a full meal, hot meals are a luxury and if there is something green on the plate at dinner time – I consider that a win for the week! I take everything a day at a time and between juggling 4 kids, a husband, 3 teaching jobs, a business and a master’s degree I figure some things will have to take a back seat. I haven’t been able to get completely back into structured exercise since I fell pregnant with the twins, which is going on 4 years now. I managed 3 months between pregnancies but that has really been it. I’m not thrilled about it but my babies and husband have been my first priority for the last few years. Oh and sleep. When you don’t get a lot of sleep, you tend to take every opportunity to get it. So is my diet perfect? No and it hasn’t been for a while now. My exercise has only just started again this year but I am not worried. I am in a temporary season and I’m ok with that. When I get unbroken sleep again I know I’ll function better. In saying this, there are those who would say I am offering excuses for lack of exercise and what they would consider a sub-par diet. I’d happily have this to say to them, “You’re an idiot.” Really, I would. I’d probably then beat them for a while with my nappy bag. Seriously, it’s time we recognise when we’re in a temporary season and not worry about it. The stress of worrying is going to be worse than not having that extra bunch of broccoli or getting to the gym. Trust me. Stress is a significant contributor to just about every disease known to man. We need to stress less and enjoy life a little more. People who will hassle you about not exercising enough or getting every single aspect of your diet right often don’t know what the research says about diet or exercise. If you ask them to support their position with said research, they often can’t because what they’re doing has very little scientific merit. The excessive exercise regimes flooding the industry that have people busting themselves 6 times (or more) a week whilst drastically restricting their diets are absolute craploa. There, I said it (and man that felt good). There is nothing that says you have to bust yourself in a gym every day of the week. In fact there’s nothing in research about even having to go to a gym full stop. We can get exercise by doing so many things (many we don’t even think of). Consider the life of a toddler; pick them up, put them down, pick them up, put them down (repeat until you blow your top), wrestle with said toddler who doesn’t want to get in the car, get out of the car, get in the shower, get out of the shower, leave home, go home (do you get my drift?) – you’ll realise you’re very physically active by being a parent. I hardly sit down when I’m with the kids and I’m sure many parents can relate. Plus then there’s the house-work – cleaning, cooking, washing, making beds etc. – it’s tiring because it’s physically demanding!! Going to the gym is a relatively new phenomenon and there is zero research saying you must attend one. There’s loads of research saying we need avoid being sedentary but that’s where most of the specifics end. There’s lots of research indicating the more we do, the better BUT only to a limit. High fitness does not necessarily correlate to high health and there is a point at which high fitness starts to have an inverse relationship with health. This is because too much exercise can be BAD for us. So what’s my point? Well, it’s already tough enough being a parent so do you really need to add in the issues of immunosuppression (from too much training), injuries (from too much training) and the guilt of not enough training (according to someone who’s never even heard of the American College of Sports Medicine let alone actually read their suggestions for exercise prescription).
So here’s what I think (which is backed by research – otherwise I wouldn’t think it). If we do a bit of exercise and eat well most of the time and then enjoy life without stressing so much, guess what happens? You get a massive dose of something called ‘health’. Go figure. To prove my point, I recently had blood tests done and I’m in great health. My only issues are that my calcium is a little low (too much caffeine and too many babies too quickly), I’m anaemic (genetic) and my lipoprotein levels (aka cholesterol) are so low they’re not on the scale. Some would say that’s a good thing but then I would say they don’t understand about lipoproteins and cholesterol. But that’s another story. All the other tests were normal and I am free from disease so please explain my supposed lack of health. We can do well on wide and varied diets and our body can adapt to varying diets for indeterminate periods of time when it has to. At the end of the day am I suggesting that we stop exercising and eat as much crap as we can? Certainly not. This is what I’m saying:
- Being a parent to young kids means you never sit down (this means your getting lots of physical activity)
- We don’t actually need to be killing ourselves at the gym most days of the week
- 1-2 higher intensity sessions each week for 20 minutes is plenty (you could do this by chasing your toddler for a while)
- You can get all the results you need from surprisingly little exercise (some research suggests as little as 20 minutes a week)
- Each day try to not sit for too long (again no issue with small children)
- Your family is the most important thing in life – not the gym. Spend less time at the gym and more time with them
- If your diet is mostly good then smile and relax – nutrition studies are great for showing correlations but terrible for proving causation. Sometimes correlations are totally random and people make way too much out of a tiny study. If you eat fresh fruit and veg, lots of naturally occurring saturated fat, drink lots of water, eat sugar as a treat you’re on the right track.
Before I finish, I do want to re-emphasise how bad stress is. It literally kills us. It creates an inflamed state in our body, and inflammation is evident in most diseases that kill us today (i.e. cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, atherosclerosis etc.). Therefore people who make you stress and feel bad about the season you’re struggling with are also bad for us and you should stop allowing them a voice in your life. When we’re in difficult seasons, we need people around us who will encourage us to enjoy the season (if possible/appropriate), remind us it’s not for forever, keep us focused on the important things, give you strategies to make the most of the situation, give you helpful pointers and tips to stop you from totally derailing and love you no mater how badly you may seem to be coping.
Be encouraged. Whatever season you’re in, there will be an end and you will move onto a new and exciting season. Take into that new season the determination to be the healthiest you can but always stay focused on the most important things in life.