How my First Pregnancy Taught me the True Meaning of Health: Lessons of a Dietitian
I WAS a health freak and perfectionist. As a former athlete, a personal trainer, and a Dietitian, I used to pride myself in being the epitome of health and sought out to make a career out of helping others achieve “optimal health.” The problem was, however, that I didn’t even know what the true meaning of “health” was for me, and I was actually very unhealthy for a very long time (more about that in a future post)… That was until I became pregnant with my first child and my “perfect” world was thrown upside down (for the better) and I was smacked in the face with the undeniable truth behind the word “healthy.” Now as a Dietitian and recovering perfectionist, it is so hard for me to be so brutally honest about how wrong I had been for so long, but as a new mom I can proudly say that I am utterly imperfect and FINALLY understand what true health looks like for me!
If I haven’t lost your attention yet and you find yourself in a similar boat, read on to learn how my first pregnancy taught me the true meaning of health.
5 Ways my First Pregnancy Taught me the True Meaning of Health:
1) My body is precious and if I treat it as such, then it will be able to carry out incredible miracles.
Now I won’t get into the nitty gritty details, but I used to hate my body for what it couldn’t do and I would punish it by restricting and over exercising. (See, NOT healthy… or smart). When we first started trying to get pregnant, I hated my body for “failing me” when we were unsuccessful time and time again. When we FINALLY got pregnant, I started to FINALLY treat my body right and appreciate it for what it CAN do (like create, grow, nourish, and deliver a beautiful baby boy)! I learned the hard way to LOVE my body and I will never forget that lesson (I am reminded every time I look into my sweet boy’s eyes and see his sweet smile)!
Take home message: Start to change the way you think about yourself, change the negative thoughts and words that you use to describe yourself, and start loving yourself for the amazing woman that you are! Stop comparing yourself to others, for “comparison is the thief of joy!” – Theodore Roosevelt. Trust me, self-love will look good on you!
2) Exercise does not have to be an all-out effort all the time. Exercise is NOT a punishment!
Pregnancy forced me to slow down and take a much-needed break from high-intensity workouts. At first, I was a little upset and afraid to “lose my identity” as an avid gym-goer and afraid of what others would think of me for “slacking off.” In the beginning, I barely had energy to get out of bed (hello all-day nausea), but some days I would be able to go for a nice walk and get some fresh air. That little movement felt SO good (for my body and my soul) and I began to understand that sometimes less is more! I learned to move my body in ANY way that felt good and to not get upset if I “missed a Monday.”
Take home message: Exercise is not just about burning calories, it’s about moving your body and appreciating it for what is CAN do! If exercising is important for you, try lower-impact workouts that leave you feeling energized and balanced (instead of drained and sore) like my Prenatal-approved TRX Full Body Workout!
3) My body is a high functioning machine and I do in fact NEED high quality fuel in order for it to perform at its best!
As I mentioned, for many years I used to restrict my intake (specifically when it came to carbs and fats) in hopes to maintain my “perfect” body (that was actually malnourished and too skinny) and I would purposefully skips meals or snacks because I “didn’t need that right now” even though I was hungry. Well let me tell you, when I started to get the least bit hungry during my pregnancy it was too late – the hunger came on fierce and would knock me over the head with extreme dizziness and nausea. The second I ate an energizing meal or snack, I felt so much better! The funny thing was carbohydrates and fats made me feel the best! I could no longer ignore the hunger pains and it was no longer about ME needing (or not needing) the calories. My baby boy needed the calories and he needed them NOW. Let’s just say I never went hungry after that and now always have energizing snacks on hand whenever my hunger strikes (which is still 24/7 thanks to breastfeeding)! I also no longer fear carbs and fats and have longer-lasting energy since I started fueling my body right with high quality calories!
Take home message: Choose foods and ingredients that will energize you and provide you with the high quality fuel you (and your growing baby) need to thrive! Looking for some tasty ideas of fueling recipes? Check out my recipe for Healthy Southwest Chicken Quinoa Bake or pop on over to Bumps to Baby for more excellent fertility fueling recipes the whole family will love!
4) Intuitive Eating is a real thing and it really works!
I am embarrassed to admit this, but even as a Dietitian I never understood how to eat intuitively (even though I have taught many clients how to practice Intuitive Eating with great success) and would often stick to my usual “safe” meals and snacks because that’s what I should be eating (not what I want to be eating). The funny thing about pregnancy for me was that I no longer wanted my usual “healthy and clean” foods (quite frankly the smell and sight of fish and raw veggies made me want to hurl)! Instead I craved salty, high-carb foods – like French Fries and gluten free bagels – and I couldn’t stomach animal protein or fibrous veggies for a long time. When I tried to force myself to eat “clean” I would feel horrible and often times get sick, but when I listened to my body and ate soft carbs and salty sweet potato fries I felt great! I was actually full of energy and not nauseous! Now, I still tried to eat colorful fruits and veggies, complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats to make sure I was providing my baby boy with the nutrients he needed to grow and thrive inside, but I didn’t fret one bit when I ate French Fries and gluten free pizza on most days! It was so freeing to finally give up control and listen to what my body really wanted! I now eat when I am hungry, stop when I am full, and eat whatever I want at that moment! Hello Intuitive Eating, it’s so nice to finally meet you!
Take home message: Focus more on what your body is telling you (i.e. if and when you are hungry and what you are really craving) not what social media or society is telling you (i.e. you need to follow a specific diet to look a certain way). Looking for some helpful tips on how to practice Intuitive Eating? Check out my friend and fellow RD Emily Fonnesbeck or contact me personally for individual help!
5) Being perfect is NOT possible and there are more important things in my life than trying to meet society’s standards.
This is a big one (and I could write an entire post on this, but I’ll spare you for now)! I am still learning this lesson, but I can honestly say that I have realized that there’s more to my life than looking a certain way, trying to please everyone, and trying to control everything. I am definitely not the same person I used to be before pregnancy – I am not the same size as I used to be, I am not in the same shape as I used to be, I am not always on time anymore, I do not eat as “clean” as I used to, and I am definitely no longer in control of everything … but I have never been healthier or happier and I owe that all to my sweet baby boy! Pregnancy definitely changed me and I will never achieve my pre-baby body or “perfect” lifestyle again, but now I know the true meaning of health and I don’t ever want to look back! I am so thankful for learning these lessons! Because of them (and because of my little boy), I am able to be a better personal trainer, a better Dietitian, a better wife and mommy, and a better person over all!
Take home message: All this to say, everyone is different and our bodies are different. We should treat ourselves and each other as such and give a little Grace along the way! I am not perfect, you are not perfect … but with Grace, compassion, love (for ourselves and others), and a little bit of humor we can find our own true meaning of health and happiness! So I urge you, give up trying to be perfect! You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain!
I’d love to hear from you Mommas out there what you learned through pregnancy! Please comment below if you are willing to share (or send me a private message if you prefer)! And remember, as long as you are taking care of yourself and your little one(s), you are doing just fine. In fact, you are killing the mom-game! Please don’t ever forget that!