Mental Roadblocks That Sabotage Postpartum Weight Loss

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When I got pregnant with my oldest daughter, Little Bo, I weighed the most I had ever weighed in my life. 33 extra pounds doesn’t sound like much, but it stuck to my 5′ 1″ frame like glue and took me from a size 2 to a size 10. I was officially “overweight,” and I didn’t have the luxury of height to hide it.

For months prior to conception, I worked on trying to get my weight down. I was exercising 4-6 days a week, everything from HIIT workouts to walking to lifting. I tried counting calories. I tried watching my carbs. I tried Paleo and keto and had a brief affair with veganism. I cut out entire food groups. It felt like I tried everything. 

Eventually, we decided there would be no “perfect” time to have a baby. My health was in otherwise good shape, my blood sugar was extremely well controlled, and although I hadn’t lost any weight, I was definitely in the best cardiovascular shape of my life. I felt good. 

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Nine months later, I felt nothing but exhausted. I desperately needed a shower, but I was nervous about gingerly cleaning my C-sectioned body, and I dreaded the sight of my fluffy, tiger-striped midsection hanging over the “shelf” of my scar. 

I wish I could say I didn’t let it get me down, but the truth is I struggled with my body for a while. But in a different way than before. Before, I obsessed over trying to fix it, trying to diet and exercise it into a shape that I liked. This time, I ignored it.

Mental Roadblocks That Sabotage Postpartum Weight Loss

I have type 1 diabetes, so of course I ignored my body only to the extent that I reasonably could. I still took insulin, and I didn’t go overboard with food that would make my blood sugar go crazy. But weight loss and exercise completely fell off my radar. When I saw the deflated tire that used to be my reasonably well-proportioned ass, I made a point to not think about it. To try to remind myself that I was probably the only person who really noticed. To tell myself it wasn’t a big deal.

While I don’t generally advocate ignoring your body, it was ultimately a strategy that–surprisingly–worked really well for me. By not focusing on my postpartum imperfections the way I did pre-pregnancy, I was able to bypass some significant mental roadblocks that keep so many moms from loving their postpartum selves on their journey towards health and fitness post-baby. 

By side-stepping these mental roadblocks, I wound up losing 68 pounds–including all 33 pounds of extra fluff that plagued me before pregnancy–without even really feeling like I was trying. I thought it might have been a fluke, but I took the same approach after my second pregnancy, during which time I gained 53 lb. And a few months later, I had the same positive result: All 53 pounds lost without killing myself at the gym, calorie counting or going “on a diet.”

Before and After Comparison of Postpartum Weight Loss After 2 C-Sections

Exercise is an important part of health and fitness, so I don’t advocate a life devoid of physical activity. But personally, it’s hard for me to get back into “working out” after I’ve had a baby. I have found it isn’t absolutely necessary to meet my fat loss goals, so it’s not something I stress over immediately postpartum. Abs are made in the kitchen, as they say! Regardless, exercise is an important habit. Be sure before you start any exercise postpartum that you get the okay from your healthcare provider. Generally it is recommended to wait at least 6 weeks before starting any kind of regular exercise program in order to let your internal injuries–the placenta leaves a wound about the size of a dinner plate–heal up.

These mental roadblocks affect more than just your ability to lose weight postpartum or how you feel about your body after having a baby. They can actually affect your entire postpartum experience. 

Have you found yourself falling prey to these faulty ways of thinking?

MENTAL ROADBLOCK #1: “THINGS WILL BE THE SAME”

I think somewhere deep down we know that nothing is going to be the same after having a baby, but too often we try to live like this isn’t true. And while there is indeed a measure of societal pressure to “bounce back,” a certain amount of that pressure is–if some of us are totally honest–self-imposed. We want to fit in our old clothes. We want to get a full night’s sleep. We want to put the baby down. We want to spend time doing whatever we want again. And there is nothing wrong with wanting those things!

But sometimes unrealistic expectations make the sting of postpartum reality extra painful. 

The truth is, human infants are born underdeveloped compared to other mammals. We need to be born when our brains are still small so our heads can fit through a pelvis and squeeze through a vagina. Which means babies are born pretty helpless. It’s an irritating reality, at least until you consider the alternative: Could you imagine birthing a baby who was ready to walk hours after being born, the way other mammals do it? I don’t even want to think about the aftermath of that vagina war zone.  

The point is, life with a newborn isn’t going to be like it once was. And that’s okay. Make peace with it. 

It took 9 months to put on the weight, so give yourself at least that much time for it to come off. Or more! There is no prize for fitting in your old jeans faster than your friends did. You don’t need to hit the gym right this second. Your body is amazing for what it is and what it has created. Don’t be afraid to give your body the rest it deserves for a while.

And while you’re at it, consider adjusting your expectations about other aspects of postpartum life, too. For example:

Infants are wired to wake frequently at night. This isn’t a defect: It actually protects them. Your baby is normal. Don’t be afraid to ride those waves even though everyone is saying you need to fight them. You may find you both get better sleep. 

Babies thrive on touch. All they have known for the short time they’ve been Earthside is the warmth of your body, the smell of your skin, and the beat of your heart. Your arms, your chest, and your breast are an intensely powerful source of comfort, not a crutch or bad habit you need to break

The truth is, postpartum life won’t be like life before baby for a long time. Work with this reality, not against it. 

Why I Let My Baby Sleep Train Me

MENTAL ROADBLOCK #2: “THIS CHANGE IS JUST UNTIL I GET MY BODY BACK”

When I had to cut out dairy to continue breastfeeding my oldest daughter, I had no idea how long I’d have to live that way. Cheese was life, but I was willing to set aside my dietary preferences if it meant my daughter could continue to get my milk. And I wanted her to have it for at least 2 years. So I embarked on the biggest diet change journey I have ever been on. 

And for the first time, there was no real end to this “diet” in sight. 

I didn’t realize it, but the first 3,761 times I had tried to lose weight before, I was making diet changes that I had no intention of keeping long term. That the change would only be temporary wasn’t a conscious thought; however, in retrospect, it was a basic assumption I was making without realizing it. I just needed to eat this way and work out until I lost the weight. And then I could be done. 

Treating diet and lifestyle changes like short term inconveniences make them inconveniences. Treating them like the permanent shift they should be makes them permanent.

They stop being something you need to tolerate until you meet your goals and become something to accept as your new normal. And it can be a lot easier to accept a new normal if you aren’t still pining away after old habits you secretly look forward to picking back up again. 

Don’t let your diet or lifestyle change be a promise to yourself you don’t intend to keep. If you’re going to make a change, make the change, and make it permanent. Like a breakup: Don’t keep seeing your ex when you know it’s not going to work out. Move on. 

These are the kinds of diet and lifestyle changes that ultimately make a difference long term.

After 10 months of shunning cow’s milk products like the plague, I slowly added dairy back into my diet, mostly in the form of cheese and yogurt. But the overall shift in food choices that I had made–no fast food, limited sweets, and virtually no processed, packaged or restaurant food, because so much of it had dairy–was now my new normal. 

And it wasn’t difficult to keep eating this way; in fact, I wanted to. The sunk cost fallacy was working in my favor: I had already spent a good deal of time and energy getting used to this new way of eating, so I might as well continue investing in my health!  

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MENTAL ROADBLOCK #3: “CHANGE WILL HAPPEN QUICKLY IF I WORK HARD ENOUGH”

When you start seeing the way you eat as more of a lifestyle change and less of a “diet,” it’s a lot easier to overcome the next mental roadblock, which has to do with the part of our brain that craves instant gratification.

We don’t just want to just get our body back. Want want to get it back now.

There is a reason experts recommend against weighing yourself too frequently when you’re trying to lose weight. Typically, one of two things will happen:

Most often, we don’t see the results we were hoping for as fast as we were hoping to see them. Best case scenario: we wind up feeling disappointment but begrudgingly keep at it. Maybe we gift ourselves a cheat day to stem the tide of demoralization. Worst case scenario: we are so discouraged we give up entirely. 

And if we do see positive change? We might gift ourselves a cheat day anyway, this time rationalizing it as a celebration rather than a consolation. 

Now I’m not saying that cheat days are universally bad or “everything in moderation” is invariably poor advice. But it might be for you, and it certainly is for me. Cheat days have historically always been a slippery slope. The next thing I know, I’m right back where I started, yelling at my dismayed scale à la Ross Gellar: WE WERE ON A BREAK!

My point is: Expecting–or hoping for–change to happen quickly can be a dangerous game. 

But when you start looking at changes in your health and physique as a bonus–a pleasant side effect of feeling better and living a healthier life–they stop holding so much power over your emotions, your ability to keep going, and the drive to achieve your health goals. 

MENTAL ROADBLOCK #4: “I NEED TO CONSUME LACTATION FOODS & DRINKS TO KEEP UP MY MILK SUPPLY”

This last one won’t apply to every mama, but if you’re a breastfeeding mama like me, hear me loud and clear: You don’t need to consume lactation foods or drinks to maintain your milk supply long term. 

Yes, I know Karen said [insert the latest lactation trend here] tripled her pump output. But I don’t know Karen. I only know what the placebo effect is and what the research says: 

There is no research to support that sports drinks increase your ability to produce milk (sourcesourcesource). Most of them are full of sugar or artificial sweeteners, or artificial colors, and no research has found that sports drinks generally or electrolytes specifically actually increase supply. 

Pink drinks from your favorite national coffee chain? Same thing. Lactation cookies? Lactation brownies? Lactation smoothies? Same thing! These things are often packed with extra calories–most of them empty–you probably don’t actually need. 

I know that SO many moms swear by these as cure-alls, but the unfortunate truth of the matter is, more often than not, they simply distract moms from doing what actually needs to be done to increase supply–the only thing research has proven to increase supply–and that’s nursing and/or pumping more often (source).

Bad Breastfeeding Advice We Too Often Follow

Are you struggling with milk supply? You aren’t alone! Be sure to seek out in-person lactation support from a reputable IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) in your area for best results! Free support through organizations like La Leche League and Breastfeeding USA are also great options.

It actually takes a surprisingly large calorie and hydration deficit before milk supply starts to be affected, as demonstrated by research on women in war-torn or third world countries who are still able to breastfeed (source). 

So eat and drink to satiety. Listen to your body, and nurse on demand. Consult with a Registered Dietician to determine how many calories you should be consuming in a day to meet your weight loss goals. And try not to binge on lactation treats!

MENTAL ROADBLOCK #5: “LET’S GET THIS OVER WITH”

This last mental roadblock is perhaps the most significant of them all, and it’s all about your why.

Now for some people, the drive to look great in skinny jeans is enough to get them motivated to hit the gym and do what it takes to meet their health goals, and that’s awesome. But for a lot of people, this “why” isn’t big enough. It wasn’t big enough for me.

Mental Roadblocks Related Post: How to Find Your Why and Create Habits You'll Keep

You have to have a why that is bigger than whatever is holding you back–or whatever has held you back in the past.

For me, that why was my girls. If I never needed to change my diet to continue breastfeeding my oldest, I’m not sure any of the positive changes I’ve experienced since then would have ever become a part of my life.

That why was the first domino. It made me realize I had what it takes. And that first little taste of success was a gateway drug: I wanted more. And then I needed more. And for the first time, my mindset switched from “Let’s get this over with” to “Let’s do this.”

Abs might be made in the kitchen, friend, but I’m telling you: Health starts in the brain.

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Have you struggled with your weight loss goals in the past? What was the turning point in your journey? Tell me in the comments!

LOVE,
GABBY