Pregnancy Week 36: Body Image

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2016/06/23 by nikkiledford

36 weeks pregnant

Pregnancy and Body Image.

I’ve had this topic in my blog queue since my first trimester. It’s a huge topic for women in general. For pregnancy, its a potentially endless conversation. Keeping that in mind, I decided to leave it on the shelf until the end of my pregnancy so I could move through ALL the emotions and ALL the phases (except for postpartum which I feel like needs its own space to be discussed.)

If you’ve been following my posts for the past couple of years, you would have noticed that I began to open up about my personal struggle and the journey towards healing my mindset around body image. Check them out here for a refresh:

The Weight Series Part I, Part II, Part III

As I walked towards the pregnancy experience, I knew that the body changes could resurrect a lot of these struggles or at the very least, seriously test my ability to cope. In this post I wanted to address the fact that pregnancy offers up some significant challenges for those who have had a history of negativity surrounding their appearance. I would also like to explore the possibility that pregnancy can offer a unique opportunity to take a hiatus from the constant feelings of beauty inferiority that creep into the female psyche day in and day out.

Starting with Weight Gain.

If you get pregnant, you will gain weight. It’s a fact. A necessary side effect of growing a person inside of your own person. With the constant onslaught of weight loss propaganda aimed at the female species, you can imagine that the threat of significant weight gain would cause a bit of trepidation for the typical lady.

I walked into this season of my life with a fair amount of acceptance and positivity towards my pre-pregnancy body but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit concerned about the forthcoming scale number.

Now that I’m a full nine months pregnant, I can say that I felt pretty disconnected from the experience of watching that number go up over course of this process. Not sad, not happy… just generally uninterested in the results. In the beginning, the bloating, huge boobs, and tight clothes really pushed my ability to accept the changes occurring. There were tears, frustrations, and hours of outfit changes. As the months went on and I figured out how to work around my new shape, I felt a lot more confident about the changes.

To date, I’ve gained about 22 lbs. total which I guess is considered a “normal” amount of weight gain for a healthy mother. So in all fairness, if that number were higher I might be singing a different tune. I can’t confidently say that my “okay-ness” with weight gain would exist if I weren’t still able to fit in most of my clothes or if I looked in the mirror and saw tons of stretch marks. All I can say is that I feel pretty indifferent to the weight gain itself.

A lot of it is due to the fact that I’m acutely more interested in what my body is DOING rather than what it LOOKS like. What is my body doing? Well for starters, it’s supporting the creation of a brand-new human. That’s incredible. Not only that, but I have managed to maintain a pretty impressive amount of fitness throughout my pregnancy. Not that you should be impressed, but I’ve impressed myself. I had no clue how active I would stay during these months. I’ve lifted weights, walked a ton, hiked, practiced yoga, moved houses, and ultimately been able to maintain a bit of strength and flexibility throughout the whole process. Amazed. Impressed. Thankful. Even outside of pregnancy, one of the best things we can do to encourage a positive body image is to focus on the things our bodies can accomplish vs. how they look in yoga pants.

And then there’s the food…

Berres and Yogurt

The Good, The Bad, and the Carby.

As with weight gain, eating is a necessary part of pregnancy. Dieting really has no place in anyone’s life, but especially not the expectant mother’s. Now is not the time to cut macros, sign up for a 21 Day meal plan, or engage in a juice fast. It’s just not. And this is for a few reasons:

  1. I had very little control over what, when, and where I wanted to eat.
  2. Baby wants sustenance.
  3. You need ALL the nutrients.

My relationship to food has been the easiest part of navigating the pregnancy body drama. I have not felt the slightest bit of pressure to adjust what I’m eating, shame myself for eating things that I usually avoid, or a compulsion to overeat or consume a bunch of junk just because I’m “eating for two”. It’s taken a lifetime, but I’ve finally learned what it feels like to eat like a NORMAL person. I’ve discovered normal eating.

Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it -not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life. In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.

-EllynSatter Institute

Sure, there have been days of too much toast, too little protein, and the occasional deep-dive into sugar but overall I’ve managed to maintain a pretty healthy, nutrient-dense, paleo-ish diet.

The biggest struggle with food was in the beginning months when food sounded like the most disgusting substance on earth (see my first trimester post here). As far as tracking or counting goes, for the first 6 months or so I kept a food log just to maintain some awareness of what foods were making me feel good and not so good. This was really helpful because I began to see patterns which helped me to avoid too much nausea and fatigue.

Body image is a really complicated subject and pregnancy is a complicated time in a woman’s life, but I feel really blessed to have gone through this process and seen what it’s like to gain weight and feel happy at the SAME TIME. I feel thankful for the opportunity to watch my body do something magical and incorporate so many new feelings into how I form my body image.

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