Saturday, March 29, 2014

Exercise and Body Image After a Loss

Any time I stepped out in public after Caleb died I felt terribly ashamed of my body. What a joke it was! I knew that most moms were carrying extra weight after they delivered the baby-but to have to carry the weight and not have a cute, sleeping baby in your lap to hide that weight-that made me angry and ashamed.

At first I ran. I would be gone for 2-3 hours at a time just running and walking anywhere I could get to. Looking back I feel like this was more of an attempt to just "run away" than exercise, but hey it still burned some calories. I really, really detested my body and wanted to look nothing like a "mother."

But then I got pregnant again and with it came the first trimester where I could not exercise. I'm always pretty sick during that first trimester so it was back to the couch for me. Except I was still 20 lbs up from my "normal" weight because the baby weight from Caleb had not come off. And I didn't care at that point. I spent Abigail's pregnancy eating whatever sounded good. I had zero willpower and what little I did have went to staying sane, not watching my weight.

After she was born I really did not recognize my body. I felt like it had become a victim to grief and two full term pregnancies just ten month apart. My body was worn, stretched out, and BIG. I thought maybe breastfeeding would help lose the weight (because that is what I had always heard=false), but for me it seemed to just stall my metabolism and made me more hungry.

When I got cleared to exercise at my 6 week appointment, I started running again. It hurt to run-as in my knees hurt because of all the extra weight I was carrying. I was angry because I had the weight of two pregnancies but only one baby to show for it. Everything with my body seemed like an uphill battle and I continued to hate dislike my body.

When Abigail was six months old I knew I had to get serious about getting this weight off. The emotional and mental toil it was taking on me and my family was a lot. On average it took me at least 30 minutes to find something that fit to leave the house. Since losing Caleb I had developed a real PTS relationships with maternity clothes and immediately put them up once Abigail was born. So that left me with a small choice of clothes, and specifically ones that were not flattering. My husband was so sweet as he encouraged me each Sunday as I tried to find something to wear to Church through tons of tears.

I tried to go to a gym but grief and the lack of sleep from a new baby had changed me. It's hard to make decisions in grief and when I went to the gym I was like a lost puppy. I had zero initiative, motivation or desire to be there. I couldn't decide what equipment to use or for how long and everything felt overwhelming. I left with the realization that I could not do this on my own.

So I talked with my husband and we decided to set aside a bigger chunk of our budget than planned that would allow me to join a group exercise program. I joined Guardian Fitness with the hope that maybe this program could help me get my body back. I was right, but it also gave me so much more.

Guardian Fitness (or G-Fit for short) is a special group exercise program that is run by a military sergeant. We did things like push trucks, take sledge hammers to tires, and hit baseball bats against hanging bags. It was not your ordinary work out. And I loved it! I began to see results immediately but what I didn't expect were the results I saw emotionally. I began to have less anxiety, less breakdowns and less trips to see my counselor. Each work out (twice a week) I would envision my anger over losing Caleb and take it during class. I was literally beating the grief out of me! And the best part-the military sergeant in charge is a devoted Christian. He mentioned Christ often during the workouts and was not afraid to let his faith show. It was the best of both worlds-faith and exercise.

G-Fit helped me lose 27 lbs. in a year and made me recognize my body again. Just recently I decided to leave G-Fit to join weight watchers and focus on my eating. Our budget could not afford both, so I've had to do them in separate chunks. I felt my body was where it should be, but I was still too attached to food. Ever since Caleb died I have leaned heavily on food. There is this voice in my head that whispers, "your son died, you deserve ________(insert whatever bad food I'm craving)." And 9 times out of 10 I gave into that voice. I don't think I would have been strong enough to part with food any earlier than now, 3 years out. Food was a great comfort to me after Caleb died and some days it was the only thing I looked forward to. But it feels like its time now to cut the cord so to speak and regain even more control back.

Exercise and body image can be so hard during grief. What I've learned is that you have to find what works for you and start slow. I truly believe that a big part of my healing emotionally was due to being able to exercise intensely, but I needed to do that with others because I wasn't structured enough on my own. Be gentle with yourself and don't set time limits. I'm still not at my "pre-pregnancy" weight and its been almost 3 years since Caleb. But I'm getting there and that's the point. I think losing the weight and getting back in shape have also helped me to reconcile with my body. I've spent so long hating my body for killing Caleb. Whipping it back in shape has been good because it puts me in charge again.

So for all those grieving moms out there who don't recognize their bodies and have no living baby to cover the body up, I hear ya. It sucks and its not fair. But don't give up, in time you will get things back under control, one step at a time.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, RyAnne, this is definitely something I've been struggling with as well and it's good to hear what has helped you. :-)