Break through your roadblocks
How mums can stop stress, emotional eating and life management from affecting their health and fitness.
BY KELLY RENNIE
Maintaining your health and fitness levels on a daily basis can be a challenge for even the most dedicated person. We all have so much to deal with, none more so than mums. With a baby or toddler onboard, you aren’t the main priority anymore, and in many cases your own health can take a backseat to the more pressing issue of raising a happy girl or boy.
You can’t really understand it until it happens. Then when it does, you all of a sudden see your diet go out of the window, your exercise equipment gathering dust and the fat piling on when you look in the mirror. It can be disheartening, which is why many mums never regain that ‘pre-baby’ body they were so proud of only months before.
There are three main factors that block mums from achieving their fitness goals: stress, emotional eating and not being able to manage life very well. All three are interrelated and, as you will see, very common to almost all new mums who are struggling to keep their fitness levels up. Maybe you recognise one, if not all three, in your life already.
Stress is the main issue affecting all fitness routines and diet plans in the world. Stress can put the brakes on fat loss in a heartbeat — if you let it. As a mum, trying to juggle daily life with children, you are subjected to stresses from all angles.
This can take all kinds of forms too, such as lack of sleep, rushing from one thing to the next, dropping the kids off at school and picking them up, as well as trying to balance relationships, family and housework day in and day out. It’s tiring!
Whether we like it or not, stress dictates how we handle every situation life throws at us. If we get too stressed too often, we find ourselves almost incapable of great physical effort and mental discipline, which means no energy to work out and no motivation to cook healthy foods. The consequence is generally lots of takeaways, lots of wine and lots of weight gain — not what we want!
How does this happen? It all comes down to adrenaline and cortisol. Produced by the adrenal glands, these are the two main stress hormones in the human body. Once upon a time, when we were living in caves and trying to avoid being eaten, these would have been useful tools to avoid danger and stay alive.
Now, with modern life taking care of many threats, it is more often than not a hindrance to our emotional and mental wellbeing. In our overexposed way of life, we can find our stress levels going haywire, almost never dropping long enough for us to experience a state of calm and clarity.
In the most extreme cases, excess production of cortisol can lead to adrenal fatigue, which manifests in the human body in a variety of ways, including chronic fatigue syndrome, infections, aches, pains and headaches. Stress has also been shown to significantly increase our appetite for carb- and fat-rich foods, hence the term ‘comfort eating’ and why we always reach for the pizza and chocolate when we’ve had a bad day.
If things weren’t bad enough already, excess stress can also encourage our bodies to store fat in the stomach area. This is because we hold far more fat receptors in this area. It’s closest to the liver, where it can be quickly accessed to be converted back into energy if needed. Needless to say, stress is not our friend!
So what do we do?
Gameplan to beat stress
The first step to ridding yourself of stress and to find a new sense of wellbeing is to start listening to your body again. Go back to basics and learn to rest! This might sound silly, but the number of people who can’t stay still and calm for more than a few minutes is staggering.
If you can, getting back into a proper sleep pattern is also a big part of stress reduction. Or try to power nap through the day if your baby is up at night. Resetting and balancing your circadian rhythm allows the adrenal glands to rest and human growth hormone to be produced, which is vital for optimal health and vitality.
On top of all that, avoiding stimulants and simple energy sources such as caffeine, sugar and heavily processed foods will cut the amount of artificial stress that your body produces. Within a few weeks, the cravings will subside and you will find yourself feeling calmer and more in control for almost no reason at all!
Almost all mums that I have spoken to and worked with over the years have a similar story as to how they got in the shape they are in. Many form bad habits during pregnancy (such as ‘eating for two’) and find food to be the best way to deal with the stress once the baby is born. Other times, food becomes a reward just for getting through the day. You know how it goes: a bar of chocolate or a glass of wine while watching the TV.
There is nothing wrong with this. Remember, we’re all free to do what we want to. But if your goal is to lose fat, you need to be more careful about what you eat and when. The problem with sugary snacks and alcohol is that once you’ve had one, you’re almost definitely going to want more. Once our insulin is spiked, such as when we eat sweets or carb-laden snacks, we are waking up our fat-storing hormone and setting it to work on keeping us overweight and unhealthy.
Unfortunately for us, emotional eating can be a slippery challenge to overcome, simply because we are all so good at denial. It’s very rare that someone will admit that they use food as a crutch in their life, and when they do, it’s very tough to then follow that up with real action that stops it.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible though!
Gameplan to beat emotional eating
To deal with emotional eating, you must first recognise your patterns and be aware of them. Being ‘mindful’ is the correct term and is a great way to uncover your unconscious actions — things that are so ingrained into your way of life that you don’t even realise you are doing them anymore!
Once you are aware of your eating habits and what triggers you to reach for the cookie jar, you can start to dissolve your thought processes and change the way you deal with things. This all sounds much easier than it is in practice, but with persistence you will see huge improvements that you never thought were possible.
For many mums out there, life feels like a barrage of events that we have absolutely no control over and, as such, our hopes of achieving our health and fitness goals are doomed before they even begin. Believe me, I’ve been there too, and I can say wholeheartedly this isn’t true!
Sure, not every day will be perfect, but the main focus should always be on consistency. Train when you can, eat well whenever you can, keep things simple and don’t stress! Once you have a positive mindset, things just seem to work out.
Again, I can’t stress how important it is to practice mindfulness in your day-to-day life. Becoming aware and accepting our stresses and triggers is the most effective way to change our entire way of life. Before you know it, you will know where things have been going wrong and will have a plan in place to tackle it head on.
Gameplan to manage life
Plan your meals ahead of time, so you feel no need to snack or eat badly. Stay hydrated and always do your workouts when you have the time. Not everybody knows this, but you don’t need hours free during the day to work your body into fat-burning mode. Fifteen minutes of high-intensity is more than enough to see big changes over the long run.
Also, don’t forget to sleep! So many mums get into bad sleeping patterns and wonder why they feel so terrible during the day. Make a point of switching off your mobile phone and tablet and drifting off to sleep at a reasonable hour. Even a 20-minute nap in the day will reset your system to some degree, gifting you a burst of energy and alertness when you need it most.
Most importantly, remember to take time out for yourself. This time is for you to relax and reflect on what you want to achieve with your life. It can be as simple as five minutes deep breathing before you go to bed or as indulgent as a nightly candlelit bath.
The happiness and wellbeing you get from putting yourself first, if only for a few minutes every day, will glow from inside and inspire everyone around you to respond positively.
Also, don’t forget to lean on your loved ones if you need them! We all need a helping hand sometimes, and helping each other is one of the best stress-beaters ever. Good luck!