I was skinny for all of my early life. In fact, people often called me “Skinny Jenny,” and I absolutely hated it. And, despite eating cake frosting by the tubs-full for breakfast in college, I (inexplicably) remained thin. Then, in my 30s, I got pregnant.
Like many women, I used pregnancy as an excuse to eat with wild abandon. I dealt with the 0-to-60 mph extreme pregnancy hunger by hitting the Taco Bell drive-thru every day for lunch. We still jokingly refer to my daughter as “The Baby That Taco Bell Built.”
Then, something funny happened. After my daughter was born, the weight didn’t just fall right off. In fact, the weight seemed to latch on. Faced with my best friend’s tropical destination wedding (and also wearing a swimsuit for the first time since giving birth) at just five months postpartum, I knew that I needed to get moving.
At the time, the only resource available to me was walking at our neighborhood park, so I strapped my infant daughter into the Baby Bjorn and off we went. I started slowly (and quickly learned that my post-baby bladder didn’t work quite the same as my pre-baby bladder). I also cleaned up my diet. But, for the first time in my life, I felt the frustration of extra weight that didn’t seem to budge. I went to my friend’s beautiful beach wedding, bravely wore a swimsuit, and was asked multiple times when “the baby” was due, which left me dissolved into a puddle of snot and tears poolside.
But, after the vacation was over, the walks at the park continued and became our daily outing. Eventually, I got to a place where I felt better about my body. So good, I suppose, that I got pregnant with Baby #2.
After a much easier delivery with my second baby and easier recovery, I was ready to explore some fitness options outside of the home. That’s when my neighborhood YMCA fell into my lap, with its free childcare and a room full of treadmills with televisions where I could watch anything that I wanted (which was such a novelty, with a toddler and newborn at home).
So, every day at 3:45 P.M., the kids and I would pull into the parking lot at the YMCA where we’d press our noses against the windows of the child watch room until they opened at 4:00 P.M. Then, I’d sign over my kids to the child watch attendants and sprint off to the treadmill for my daily date with Oprah on my personal television (this was 2009). It was my favorite time of the day.
As I got stronger and my endurance improved, I also gained the confidence to try some group exercise classes. I loved the guidance and motivation that group exercise offered, and I really enjoyed the adult interactions with other gym-goers. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that my main motivation in those early days of the YMCA was the free childcare and an hour to myself, but rather quickly, my motivations shifted. Suddenly, I began to see results.
These days, my school-aged kids are older and more independent, so I don’t have to rely on a gym with child care or finding fitness options that fit into my toddler’s schedule, and I’m at a place in my life where I’ve discovered my “inner athlete.” But, I still vividly remember those early days of having little ones at home and wanting to do something to improve my health but not being able to even imagine where to begin.
So, before you start mentally listing off reasons you can’t work fitness into your life right now, consider these three suggestions:
- Start slowly. You don’t have to commit to anything hardcore at first—just get out of the house and walk (and don’t get discouraged if the baby poops up his back five minutes into your walk, forcing you to head back home). Treat each extra step as a victory. Take a walk around the neighborhood with the baby. Then, do it again the next day…and the day after that, until it’s a habit.
- Find your motivation. Maybe your motivation is to be healthier. Maybe it’s better-fitting jeans. Or maybe (like me), it is to have one hour of uninterrupted time to yourself. But, the more you get up and move, the more of a habit it will become. My kids also began to crave the routine of our daily trips to the park and, later, our trips to the gym. If you embark on something like this with regularity, it will become a habit for everyone.
- Schedule your workouts. If you find an activity or class that you like, don’t feel guilty about scheduling everyone else’s activities around your workout. Remember that you can’t “pour from an empty pitcher,” and this applies to fitness too. So, if there’s a class that you really love at the gym, move mountains to make it a part of your weekly schedule. Mama deserves to do good things for herself too.
Getting physically fit has given me confidence that I never had before, and I’m a daily example to my kids of putting my health first. I also embrace exercise as something that I get to do as opposed to something that I have to do. Modeling confidence, health, and a healthy mindset might be the most important gifts that you can give your children…and yourself.