Tuesday, 24 October 2017

One-Year Postpartum "Transformation"

It always amuses me when I see “before and after” pics of a woman pregnant in one photo, then not pregnant in the other, with the hashtag #transformation. Because it’s like, yeah, when you pull a human out of your body of course things are gonna look a little different! It’s the fastest natural way you’ll ever lose 15lbs. Even in the months following birth, there are changes going on in your body – changes like the shrinking of the uterus and enlarging of breasts – that have dramatic effects on the way you look and feel, yet require no effort at all on your part.

Yet here I am, writing a postpartum transformation blog. What can I say…. It’s a topic many women are interested in! So I thought I’d write out what my approach has been toward postpartum recovery after having three children.  I’ll break it up into “trimesters”, since they are pretty distinct milestones and are perfect little training chunks. 

0-6 weeks
Right after giving birth your body is going through a lot of stuff. And passing a lot of stuff, if you know what I mean. It’s in full-out recovery mode.

1 week postpartum
Diet: Your body NEEDS you to eat well during this crucial phase! However, this is also a time when you’re so overwhelmed by a newborn that you may forget to eat. Do your best to eat as well as you can. Having prepared/frozen meals ready to go is a LIFE SAVER during this time.

I treated this time as an assessment period. When I felt up to it (about 2 weeks postpartum) I got back to the gym and just put my body through some simple movements and stretches to sort of re-familiarize myself with myself.... see what had shifted, what was tight, what felt ok, etc.

Lifestyle: At this point I like to get outside as much as possible. The sunlight and fresh air do wonders for my mood and walking is a great way to ease back into exercise. For my first baby I stayed indoors for most of those six weeks (because it was winter, and because everyone said that’s what I had to do) and I was miserable. So for my next two I made a point of getting outside at least once a day. I also think the fresh air is important for newborn health, and I always felt that being in the sunshine helped establish their circadian rhythm (but that one’s just my own theory).

6 weeks – 6 months
At the six week mark your milk has probably regulated, baby has got the hang of nursing, and you’re getting into a lifestyle groove. Baby is going to start to get heavy now, so make sure your body is prepared!

3 months postpartum

Diet: Most experts will say that this is the point at which you can start thinking about dieting to lose the baby weight. Personally, I never had much to lose so all I did at this point was to eat healthfully, and eat plenty to support breastfeeding.

Exercise: More food, regular schedule, and a body on the mend makes this a great time to rebuild that physique! But I’m not talking about aesthetics. This is the time to work on all those postural imbalances, weakened core, tight hips, and whatever else I’ve discovered during the assessment phase. Let’s call it “rehab”. Keeping in mind also that carrying around a 10+ lbs baby takes its toll on your body, my focus during this time is always on functional movement, and overall health. 

Lifestyle: Sleep is crucial. Without sleep I get sick, my milk supply takes a hit, and I’m a terrible mother to my kids. So at this point if I don’t sleep, I don’t train. Simple as that. Your body needs rest to grow, and at this stage growth and recovery are critical.

6-9 months
Baby is eating solids and sleeping better, and I’ve laid a good foundation of fitness. Now it’s time to work.

6 months postpartum

Diet: I never start actively dieting until the 6 month mark. At this point I’m comforted knowing there’s a little safety buffer in the fact that baby is eating solid foods, so that if my supply does take a momentary dip baby’s nutrition won’t suffer. At six months I’ll start really cleaning up my diet – still not counting calories or macros, but eliminating junk food and keeping track of portions.

Exercise: By now my body is back to a sort of baseline of fitness, and I can start tackling my goals, which are usually to regain any muscle and strength lost during pregnancy.

Lifestyle: Daddy is now fully capable of wrangling the babies on his own, so I’m able to go to the gym for longer periods more frequently. My life gets a lot more structured at this point.

9-12 months
I have had this weird goal of getting into the best shape of my life by 1 year postpartum, so at around 9 months I finally buckle down and get to work on that :P Baby is in a good place with food, so I have the freedom to get more strict.

9 months postpartum

Diet and Exercise: This depends on the program I’m following at the time; with my first baby I prepped for a figure show, and with my second and third I did the Oxygen Challenge. So I follow whatever nutrition and workout program they prescribe. I will say though that around 10-11 months is when I’ll start tracking macros and cutting calories in order to lean out to the level of conditioning I’m aiming for. If and when I cut calories, I do so ever so slowly (about 100-200 calories every few weeks) and add cardio modestly so I don’t hurt my milk supply.

Lifestyle: No change here. Except that I love the freedom of having a mobile baby!

9 months pregnant
We made it! 1 year postpartum!
That's it! Baby comes first. Always. But the symbiotic relationship between a baby's growth and a mother's recovery is undeniable, and often times the things you need to do to keep baby healthy (rest, nutrition, fresh air) are also the things you need to keep yourself healthy. The female body is an amazing thing and as long as you provide it with nourishment and care, it will do the work it was made to do.

Yours in health,

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Dieting (While Breastfeeding)

Before I can see the results in the mirror or even on the scale, I can always tell I'm leaning out when people - friends and strangers both - start approaching me with questions about my program and diet.

For the past 10 weeks I have been participating in an online fitness challenge run through Oxygen Magazine, #Oxychallenge, with Kaisa Keranen as my "coach". The challenge ends next week, so I've been tightening up my diet in hopes of being selected as one of the top 20 transformations. So far I have lost 3 lbs which may not sound like much, but when you're going from 12% body fat to 10%, I promise that does take a lot of work and sacrifice.

June 26th vs August 26th
June 26th vs August 26th

I've been counting macros for years, but only adopted the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) approach two years ago. Now, there's no going back. I love the flexibility it provides me; I can be as planned or as loose as I want. I never understood why when your coach told you to eat, say, tilapia for a certain meal you couldn't swap it for another food with a similar macro profile, like cod. IIFYM is the answer to that question: you can!! I currently use the My Fitness Pal app to track my macros, but I have also used MyMacros+ and like both. You simply search your food, input the quantity, and it calculates how many macros you've consumed and how many you have left, based on your goals.

When I'm not cutting, my calories usually range between 2,300 - 2,600, comprising of 50% carbs, 30% fats, and 20% protein. Those are guesstimates only, as I don't count calories or macros usually.... only numbers of servings (another blog post on that someday). Through years of trial and monitoring, I have learned that I'm a Mixed Metabolic Type, meaning I do best with a mid-range distribution of all the macronutrients. When I'm trying to lose fat I increase my protein and drop the carbs, though still trying to stay in that mid-range, mind you. If you don't already know what kind of macronutrient profile works best for you, I would suggest tracking your food for a few weeks, making note of how you feel a couple hours after every meal, and day-to-day. Consider things like your digestion, energy level, mood, bowel movements, mental clarity, libido, exercise recovery, appetite, cravings, weight, etc. You can also take a metabolic typing quiz to help guide you at the onset.

I need to mention now that I am still breastfeeding several times per day. I have always waited until my babies are six months old and eating some solids before doing any kind of caloric manipulation because I figure if my milk supply does take a momentary dip, I can compensate with a bit more food. It's just what I'm comfortable with. Although I have never been a high milk producer, I have also never had any problems with milk production while I'm dieting. I breastfeed on-demand, which I believe helps keep my supply up (when baby is hungry, she drinks. And the more baby drinks, the more Mommy makes), and I cut my calories gradually. So my very first step before cutting any calories is always to simply clean up my nutrition; not eating as much junk, reducing condiments, drinking more water, and getting into the habit of cooking more often. Kaisa's meal plan for this challenge worked perfectly here, as she's big on eating whole foods and incorporating fruits and vegetables in every meal. Cleaning up the diet inevitably reduces my calories slightly, and I would say when I'm eating freely but eating clean my calories are closer to 2,100 - 2,300. Again, just a guess as I'm still not counting at that point. When my body stops responding to that, then it's time to start eliminating calories, tracking and playing with macros. This is where I pull out the MFP app. Because I've been eating well for a couple months at this point, my actual food doesn't change much - just the quantities. It's amazing how simply measuring and tracking your food makes you eat less! I stick to a modest 500 calories per day, bringing me down to 1,800 calories per day and doing some carb cycling, which means I alternate between eating high carbs, low carbs, and moderate carbs.

*% carb/protein/fat
High carb days: 60/20/20

Moderate carb days: 40/30/30

Low carb days: 20/45/35

Other yumminess 

I try to time my high carb days with heavy workout/activity days because omigosh, lifting on a low carb day SUUUUCCCCKKKKSSSSS!!!! I do re-feed days/meals a couple times per week. I'm sure my friends would say I'm a terrible dieter because they always see me letting loose at get-togethers, but that's because I time my re-feeds with social activities ;) I dieted through my best friend's wedding once, and realized afterwards there's more to life than striated quads.

My next step after another plateau would/will be to increase cardio and play with my macros a little bit more, maybe decreasing carbs on low-moderate days, or only doing one high carb day per week. I'd rather play with those elements than reduce calories further so I have the energy for breastfeeding!  If that doesn't get me to my goal, I'll drop another 200 calories and see what that does. Not sure I'm willing to eat less than 1,600 calories, lol. I have a great goal, but at this point there's not enough on the line for me to make those kinds of sacrifices. I need to also add that I'm not super duper anal about counting every single gram of every food item that passes my lips. The way I see it is this: every day looks different for me. I'm more active on some days, and less on others. Some days I need more than 1,800 calories and some days I need less. Some days my baby eats a lot of milk, other days she eats less. Some days my kids eat half my lunch, so then I pick at theirs. Why should I be so fixated on a number when my body is so variable? If I were doing a figure competition where it was crucial for me to be ripped, then yes, I would get very serious with it. But again, at this point there's just not enough on the line for me to drive myself crazy with those kinds of details.

So I hope that gives some insight into my approach, or "strategy". If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me! And please wish me luck on the final few weeks of my fitness challenge :D

Yours in health, Tess

Monday, 26 June 2017

Fitness Lessons I've Learned From My Kids

I always knew parenthood would be transformative. Everyone tells you that much. I figured I would learn important lessons about love, and patience, and sacrifice, and maybe pick up some survival tactics too ;-) But what I didn't expect to learn about from my kids was fitness! See, children are natural-born athletes - it's completely instinctive, and they haven't yet had the years of social conditioning, illness and injury that adults have to create faulty movement patterns. A child at play is a beautiful thing to behold! Observing them can give us all great insight into the potential of the human body, and how it should be moving in its optimal form. 

Here are just some of the fitness lessons I've learned from my children:

Why walk when you can run? Running feels awesome. Movement feels awesome. Kids don't wait for "running time" to come around - they do it whenever they damn well please (sometimes to the chagrin of the parents) because they just feel like it. We adults are all about that one-hour daily exercise timeslot... I say: if you have the energy and you have the opportunity, just go ahead and release!!!

Variety is the spice of life. Have you ever watched kids play at the playground? Running, jumping, bending, swinging, hanging, pulling, climbing, kicking, crouching, balancing, rolling, spinning, inversions.... they are the ultimate athletes because they do everything! When's the last time you did even half those things?

Strengthen your neck! The very first thing every baby needs to do is learn to support their head. It's fundamental to every movement they learn thereafter. With "text neck" becoming a bigger and bigger issue amongst adults and teens, I think now more than ever we need to go back to basics and strengthen our necks. You can do this by laying facedown with your hands clasped behind your head. Try to lift your head while providing counter-pressure with your hands. Hold for 5 seconds, and release. Repeat 10 times. Don't forget to stretch the front of your neck afterward.

Hang out in Squat. Kids will just get down into a low squat and stay there. They play there. They read there. They rest there. Staying in a low squat like that builds hip mobility, counters the negative physical effects of extended chair sitting, encourages spinal alignment, and relaxes your pelvic floor. Especially if you're a Mom, this one is a must-do.

Be Fearless. Three times now I have had the privilege of observing a baby learning how to crawl then walk. It's both a lightning fast and painstakingly slow process. But from the moment a child decides he or she wants to walk, they go to work. They try it. They fall. They try again. They try and try and fall and fall. They do this dozens of times a day, accumulating to hundreds of attempts over the course of some months, until finally..... STEPS! The pride on their faces is bliss. But the effort and dedication they put forth in the process is truly humbling. Children are fearless. They see what they want and go after it. Relentless pursuit, with little or no regard to what we as adults call "failure". They have every confidence in themselves, as they should. If we as adults attacked every goal with that same fearlessness, imagine what we could accomplish.


Monday, 2 January 2017

I'm Not Back to my Pre-Baby Weight, and That's Awesome!

Today, at 10 weeks postpartum, I have only lost half of the weight I gained during pregnancy. And I. Am. Thrilled! Are you surprised? Surprised to hear that number? Surprised that the person who stayed so active during pregnancy hasn't lost it all already? Don't be! Here's why:

When I was pregnant with our son (baby #1), I was psyched that I had only gained 17lbs; I figured the less I gained, the less I had to lose postpartum, so I was very careful about what and how much I ate during pregnancy. I was also very modest in my workouts, since that was what all the "experts" recommended.  A week after giving birth I weighed 4 lbs less than my pre-baby starting weight, and I was so excited! But the problem was, I now looked VERY different. What gives? I wondered. Well, what I had not accounted for - and what we tend to not address when discussing pregnancy weight gain - was a loss of muscle mass, and a resulting shift in body composition. Although I didn't take any measurements before or after, I would wager that I gained about 2% body fat and lost approximately 6lbs of muscle over the course of my pregnancy.

Let's math that out:
Starting: 131 lbs at 18% body fat = 107.4 lbs lean mass
1 week Postpartum: 127 lbs at 20% body fat = 101.6 lbs lean mass

Pre-baby #1, 131 lbs
1 week postpartum baby #1, 127 lbs

Now maybe that's not a big deal to the average person - in today's society we're so caught up with the scale numbers that body composition has little relevance. Just look at shows like The Biggest Loser! But as a competitive natural figure athlete who had worked very hard for every ounce of that muscle, those 6 lbs were precious! And it would take me months, if not years, to regain it.

When babies #2 and #3 rolled around I decided to do things differently; I ate responsibly, but I did not monitor calories so closely, and I lifted as heavy as I felt comfortable with on any given day (which was usually pretty heavy even by my non-pregnant standards). With this last pregnancy I ended up gaining 22 lbs and 7% body fat. I weigh more today at 10 weeks postpartum than I did four years ago at 1 week PP, even despite a lower starting weight. Yet, I look BETTER! So what gives? Muscle mass, that's what. 

Let's math it out again:
Starting: 119 lbs at 10% body fat = 107.1 lbs lean mass
10 weeks Postpartum: 129 lbs at 16.5% body fat = 107.8 lbs lean mass

Pre-baby #3, 119 lbs

10 weeks postpartum baby #3, 129 lbs
10 weeks pp baby #2, approx 124 lbs

I lost not one ounce of muscle. Heck, I may have even gained a little!

As for the remaining weight (10 lbs of fat): In the past it has taken very strict eating and training to get as lean as I was - something that I've had no interest in doing these past 11 weeks. My body is reflecting that looseness, and that's a good thing! I'm glad I'm not inexplicably shedding pounds, because then I would be losing muscle. And in the world of athletics, especially bodybuilding, muscle is king.

Pregnancy weight gain should never be reduced to simple, one-dimensional scale numbers - there is so much more going on inside than is reflected outside. For an athlete especially, it's important to keep your scope broad and consider how pregnancy is affecting your overall fitness, rather than look at the process through the deceptively narrow lens of weight gain.

Stay strong, Mamas!

1 week postpartum with all 3 kids: 127 lbs, 127 lbs, 129 lbs