My Postpartum Fitness Journey: Why I Focus on I Feel, Not How I Look

FitnessThe other day I was sitting at the gym thinking about what was ahead of me.

It had been a week of so-so workouts. I was lacking energy and motivation. I showed up physically, but I wasn’t there mentally — and I couldn’t figure out why.

For lack of a better explanation, I didn’t have the fire in me like I’d grown accustomed to over the last year or so. 

And that was ok.

These thoughts didn’t leave me feeling guilty or unsatisfied with myself. Instead, I mustered up some serious self-compassion.

I reasoned with myself that this was just a phase that would pass. That showing up was better than nothing.

I spoke to myself like I would have spoken to a dear friend. 

This internal dialogue got me thinking back to a few years ago — when that conversation with myself looked very different. When it was more negative than positive, lacking the self-compassion I have now. 

I’ve learned a lot about myself, my relationship with exercise, and my body since giving birth.

And as a mother to a young daughter, I’m hopeful my experience will help me support her. That what I’ve learned can help her navigate the complexities of body image and self-esteem. 

The Youthful Approach

Growing up, I was always active. You’d find me at multiple practices a day, with my teammates who I considered family.

It was my number one commitment. But it was fun and didn’t feel like work.

As I graduated high school, exercising was more complicated. I had to make an effort to wake up early or find time between other commitments to devote to my physical well-being.

While I viewed working out as stress relief and did enjoy moving my body (for the most part), there was no denying that it also directly correlated with my weight, clothing size, and overall appearance. 

There was guilt when I didn’t exercise. And an expectation to exercise more when I ate or drank something that I had negative associations with.

I also didn’t understand what my body needed exercise-wise. And I felt frustrated when I didn’t see results in weight loss, muscle gain, etc. 

Thankfully, things changed after becoming a mom. 

Postpartum Journey

As a mom, I discovered a new appreciation for my body.

After giving birth and being the sole food source for my daughter, I felt empowered. Overall, I was proud of what my body went through and what it was capable of.

About a week after giving birth, I couldn’t wait for the six-week mark. And not because I wanted my “body” back like society expects. I wanted to exercise, to gain some strength back. And I also desperately wanted some time to myself.

When I got the go-ahead to exercise I was ecstatic, but I started slow.

I looked forward to this time, even when it was a mad dash to finish before my daughter woke up.

Those workouts made me feel good.

It’s Wasn’t about Appearance

I didn’t give too much thought to my weight or size of clothing. Also, I didn’t “diet” or restrict certain foods. I simply focused on moving my body for 30-40 minutes a day. 

Month after month went by and slowly, but surely, I came to the realization that at 27 years old, I was the strongest version of myself yet.

My body isn’t perfectly toned. I have some stretch marks and other areas that are less than perfect. But the cool thing is, these things really don’t matter as much as they used to.

I felt strong, capable, and pretty dang proud of myself.

Now you might be wondering, how? Honestly, I really didn’t have a plan. But here are some small changes I made that helped me change my mindset on exercise and my body.

Make Exercise a Priority

Exercising while on maternity leave was pretty easy most days. But when I went back to work, it became more complicated.

However, I knew that working out made me feel good, and I wanted to prioritize it.

Exercising became a non-negotiable. I just needed to find a time that worked for me.

Being a sleep-deprived mom, mornings were out of the picture. And I felt guilty taking time away from my daughter and my husband after work. So that left one time frame — my lunch break. 

Honestly, I never understood how people worked out over lunch. The thought of being all sweaty for the remainder of the day grossed me out. But, I gave it a whirl. And I loved it. 

Exercise gave me energy in the afternoon, a time where I usually fell into a slump. It got me away from my desk and mindless internet scrolling. It didn’t take any time away from my family. Plus, I found ways to deal with the sweat and it wasn’t that bad.

Having a consistent time to exercise really made a difference. And I encourage you to find a time of day that works for you.

Follow a Plan

This may seem like a no-brainer for some, but I had never consistently followed a workout plan for more than a month. In the past, I would bounce from various programs, or just do my own thing at the gym. 

After I gave birth, I decided to try a new program. It was free and ran on a monthly basis. 

I won’t lie and say I followed everything to a T. But I tried my very hardest to follow the program in order and to finish each workout, modifying as needed.

And the results were astonishing to me. In addition to small physical changes in my body, I felt good. I felt strong. And I had more endurance and energy while exercising and in other areas of my life. 

I knew this was working. I thoroughly loved the programming. And as a Type A planner, it was nice to know what timeframe I needed to reserve for the upcoming day ahead. 

Following a plan might seem intimidating at first, (it was for me), but it’s nice to have some structure.

If you’re looking for a place to start, my favorite program is by Sydney Cummings Houdyshell on YouTube. Check out her playlists for each monthly program to get started, or follow her on Instagram

Don’t Quantify

While this might not work for everyone, it didn’t make sense for me to stress over calories burned or eaten, or the number of minutes I was exercising a day. I also didn’t weigh myself much (maybe once a month).

I tried to pay more attention to how I felt, rather than how I looked. 

Focus on moving your body in ways that feel good to you and nourishing your body with healthy foods.

Along with that, most importantly, enjoy food — without guilt. If you want a treat, have it!

If you have one treat, your day isn’t ruined. Eating something you don’t consider healthy doesn’t automatically open the door to eating “bad” foods the rest of the day because you decided to treat yourself once and the day of “good” eating was therefore ruined. 

Allowing myself to enjoy treats on a regular basis ensured I wasn’t desiring them in an unhealthy way or overeating them on the weekend. Balance. 

Listen and Be Kind to Your Body

The journey to loving our bodies is hard, especially as women, and maybe even more so after giving birth. But it’s possible, and dang it feels good when you get there! 

While holding yourself accountable to your own well-being is incredibly important, being kind to your body and your mind is also crucial. Be proud of your body and what it’s accomplished. Know that it is capable of doing things that may seem impossible.

On that same note, listen to your body. When it’s hurting, rest or consult with a professional. 

As moms, we’re relied on in so many capacities to take care of others, but we can’t perform at the highest level unless we’re truly taking care of ourselves — mentally, emotionally, and physically. 

If you’ve been itching to feel better physically — whether that be strength, endurance, energy or something else — I challenge you to just get started.

And start small while not making unrealistic expectations for yourself. Focus on what makes you feel good and be kind to yourself, just like we’re teaching our children. 

And if you’re interested in checking out some local workout options, see Boutique Fitness: Smaller Workout Studios in Fargo-Moorhead.
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Hannah lives in Fargo with her husband, Tyler, and their daughter, Harper (October 2020). She was raised in East Grand Forks and spent most of her time growing up playing soccer, figure skating, and babysitting her cousins. She attended NDSU (Go Bison!) and earned her degree in Management Communication with a minor in Public Relations. After graduation, Hannah met her husband when he graciously offered to help her sweaty-self move a couch into her apartment. The rest was history! Hannah is fortunate to work at BIO Girls, an organization with an important mission of increasing self-esteem in adolescent girls. When she’s not hanging out at home with Tyler and Harper, she enjoys reading, working out, golfing and spending way too much time shopping. She’ll never turn down a margarita, fried pickles or a competitive card game with her large extended family.


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