Monday, August 04, 2014

You've (not) Come a Long Way, Baby Weight

Several eons ago in internet time--last month, maybe--Facebook was filled with a happy little meme on the theme of "Let's End the Mommy Wars," with women holding various signs showing that they can be friends despite different parenting styles and achievements.

Being the sort of person I am, I can hardly let such harmony and goodwill go uncriticized. So I'd like to hone in on one of the pictures, the one where one mom is holding a sign that says, "I lost all my baby weight," and the other mom is holding a sign that says, "I'm still working on losing the baby weight."

In other words, guess what is still *not* an acceptable option in this love fest of moms who do and don't breastfeed, co-sleep and eat organic? That's right--it's not caring about the baby weight. You don't have to lose the baby weight, necessarily, but you have to *try.* If you cannot return your body to its mythical pre-baby state, you at the very least should have the decency to feel badly about it.

(And before someone starts droning on about the Serious Public Health Problem of Obesity, let me point out that the mom holding the "I'm still trying" sign is not, by the most extravagant stretch of the imagination, fat in any way that threatens her health or even would be noticeable to another human being. It's the scale and the idealization of the Pre-Baby Body that is driving her quest.)

In the interest of honesty, let me say that I am, by the official government numbers, overweight. I never lost the baby weight, and carrying twins full term packs on a good bit. I breastfed for a year, I eat a well-balanced diet of whole foods, and I exercise moderately but regularly because I like to. Doesn't make a difference. This is the weight I am (I'm not going to say a number because comparisons are exactly the thing I'm trying to get away from here) and, barring extravagant measures, this is where I'm going to stay.

Yes, I'm noticeably heavier than I was pre-children. I also don't melt down into a screaming lunatic at 5 p.m. if I haven't eaten. Or need to take a nap in the morning despite an uninterrupted night's sleep and working at a desk. In other words, I'm healthier and stronger. And heavier and bigger around. (Ironically, although it never bothered me much, I really did think I was on the chunky side back in those days, when any sane person could, and sometimes did, tell me I was borderline emaciated. My family runs to large bones and dense muscles and the BMI doesn't really apply.)

Increasing stoutness with middle age, and especially with child-bearing, is not, after all, anything new or tied to our evil modern lifestyle. It's the normal human condition, in settings with adequate food. There are always a few naturally slim folk who avoid it, but it is not especially virtuous or healthy to try to dodge it if you aren't one of those. (And I'm not going to call them lucky. They're not luckier, they're just different. There are tradeoffs to everything. As you get old--which I'm sure we all want to do, given the alternative--less fat just means more wrinkles.) 

If we really are seriously concerned about problematic obesity, then the *last* thing we should be doing is encouraging mothers to worry about how their body will look after the baby. Because restricting a mother's diet before the baby is born sets the child up for metabolic syndrome and truly serious weight problems.

It's good to encourage people to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and to exercise regularly, because those things really are beneficial. But they won't necessarily make you thin, especially not if you've been through an event that may have reset your base weight, like pregnancy. It's important to be honest about that. As soon as thinness becomes the goal, people start being lured into diets and exercise programs that are not really healthy and not really sustainable.

Please don't tell me about how you have found the one common-sense dietary program that really works. In five years it will be discredited and you yourself will have forgotten about it. They always are. They all boil down to some combination of (1) not eating specific kinds of food; (2) not eating enough food; (3) not eating often enough; (4) following rules for eating so complicated that it's just too much trouble. All of those have problems in the long run.

And exercise is fine, but intense programs that lead to injury and then inactivity are not good for your long-term health. Better to do something moderate and unimpressive (but fun) that you can keep doing for the next 50 years.

Guess what? It probably won't make you thin. It will help you live longer and leave you free to laugh and enjoy the time you have and eat ice cream occasionally without making a big deal about it.


Diary of an Autodidact said...

Doggone it! Now that you mention it, I have lost my baby weight either! Thaaaaanks...

I sympathize about the uselessness of BMI. I have a long torso and ridiculously short legs, so I have been "overweight" in the technical sense for a number of years, despite having a body fat percentage which is in the healthy range.

You are absolutely right about regular moderate exercise. If you are hurting yourself or can't sustain it, it is not much good. For what it's worth, I find that if I don't keep moving, my genetically defective knee joints bother me. That and my love for food keep me exercising even when I don't feel like it...

Great post.

Carrie said...

I got such a (good!) chuckle out of this. Enjoyed it thoroughly. Agree completely!!!

I haven't lost it either. And I'm starting to feel less guilty about it (still working on that part) because I've come to realize that the guilt is getting in teh way of simply ENJOYING the life God has given. So I needed to read this blog post as much as I just plain enjoyed it.

Wendy said...

There seems to be such pressure in our society to look as though you never had a life.

I am working on losing some weight right now, but "pre-baby" was never even a concept.

With parent's health and husband's health and 6 kids, I'm not going to be able to do what I need to do if I don't start exercising more and eating a bit less.

I think your approach is very sensible, particularly in that "exercise" needs to be something moderate and fun. Thanks for the timely encouragement!

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

This is the most sensible post on weight I've read. Thank you!

thejoneshome said...

Good stuff. As usual.

I did lose about 20 pounds a couple of years ago because I ate mostly vegetables and limited carbohydrates, and I just ate LESS in general. And it was nice and I felt good... but I never did get "thin." I'm round and lumpy. And since it's hard to maintain, my weight is back up.

But I found the same thing you did: after babies, with my "extra weight," I am actually healthier than I was when I was thin (and I WAS thin, too).

-- SJ