Why do mums gain weight?
I was nervous about writing this blog post, because it's not aligned with the current popular narrative and I know that even talking about this will offend some people.
But many women I’ve worked with have found this list to be quite illuminating - and the only way for them to really gain control of their weight is to understand which of these six factors are relevant to them (and then find solutions to them).
Over the years of working with mums, fat-loss is one of the biggest topics that comes up.
It's also probably the topic with the most shame and guilt attached to it.
Many assume that it's JUST to do with self-control and discipline.
It's also the one with the most BULL attached to it. Most women gain weight after having a baby/babies, and then thy get dragged into a lot of complicated explanations of hormones, insulin and metabolism.
And they hear silly tropes that don't actually mean anything, like:
"You have to reset your metabolism"
They are sold lots of nnecessary detoxes and cleanses.
I'm a big fan of the expression "if you hear hooves, think HORSES, not unicorns"
i.e. the simplest explanation will usually do (and most people will look for the most complicated)
"Hormones" and "metabolism" usually get blamed in a very vague and unhelpful way. I think this is a mistake and that there are some more simple factors that we’re not considering.
Have a read through this list of 6 factors:
1. LESS SLEEP
Less sleep means 3 things:
It fucks with your hunger/satiety hormones - so we tend to eat more.
We crave more carbs and sugar.
More hours awake = more hours to EAT in.
It also makes us as grumpy as fuck, so we’re more likely to turn to food/alcohol (especially when the little darlings are in bed)
2. WE ARE LESS ACTIVE
While we FEEL like we’re running around like a headless chicken all the time, often we’re LESS active than we used to be.
We tend to do less exercise.
And we’re less active in our day-to-day lives.
3. DECISION FATIGUE
We spend so much time and energy making sure that our kids (and sometimes partners) have everything they need/like to eat.
Mums rarely pan their own meals and end up grabbing whatever’s there - a piece of cake, last night’s leftover schnitzel, a muffin…
4. PREGNANCY & POSTPARTUM
During pregnancy, most women gain fat.
In evolutionary terms, this would help us survive the next famine.
The same is true of breastfeeding.
The postpartum period is characterised by lower activity levels and often, total overwhelm! There isn’t much time to think about diet or exercise.
5. INCREASED STRESS
Becoming a mum (or dad) is stressful.
Parenting is stressful.
Food (and alcohol) often become an easy go-to way of soothing yourself when you don’t have any energy or the option to get away.
It often becomes a tool for managing stress.
While this may be unhelpful for body composition goals, we need to recognise (and maybe even appreciate?) the role it plays in our stress management.
6. LESS TIME
Less time to plan meals.
Leads to a “grab-and-go” mentality.
Eating too fast (and too much).
Not being mindful of what we are putting in our mouths
These things are often causing us to gain weight, and they can be very hard to spot. Any attempts to lose weight have to start with bringing attention to and coming up with strategies for these problems.
What do you think of this list? Does it resonate? Are there things here that you are doing?
Here's the crux of it: having a child is nothing short of LIFE-CHANGING
Less sleep, more stress, more work, more things to worry about.
Someone else to feed and ensure that all their needs are met before yours.
Less time & energy for exercise and meal prep.
Also less freedom: we're often stuck in the house, we can't get out to just go to an exercise class, the beach or literally ANYWHERE, especially after bedtime. Food + alcohol (+ TV) become the easiest way to unwind.
Blaming hormones is unhelpful. Most of the time it's simply a case of calories in vs calories out.
i.e. there are factors that are causing more calories to go IN.
And factors that are causing fewer calories to go OUT
What about "hormones"?
Hormones are often blamed for weight gain during this chapter. But I find this vague and unhelpful. Hormones govern every single process in your entire body - hunger and satiety, sleep and wake cycles, reproduction, growth, digestion, energy levels - which hormones are we talking about?
Yes, your hormonal profile changes during pregnancy and the postpartum period, and yes, part of that will encourage weight (fat) gain. But that doesn't explain why many women maintain that weight gain many years later.
It also doesn't provide any viable solutions. All you can do is just brush it off and accept that it's part of getting older.
What about metabolism?
There is a lot of confusion about what metabolism is. Metabolism is simply the sum total of energy (measured in calories) consumed by all of your cells for completing various physical processes. So respiration, your brain's functioning, movement, digestion, breathing, protein synthesis, cell repair - it's all going on all the time.
In fact, the vast majority of the calories you burn in a day come from these processes - around 1300. Relatively little comes from movement, and even less comes from exercise.
So it's not sufficient to blame metabolism or say that "you need to boost/reset/fix your metabolism"
You can, certainly, increase your metabolism - by strength training (and increasing muscle mass and bone density), by moving more and doing more exercise, by eating foods that are harder for the body to digest (like unprocessed foods with lots of protein and fibre) and by getting adecuate rest and sleep - but there aren't certain foods that "boost" your metabolism (or foods that you need to avoid).
And terms like "reset" and "fix" are so totally misleading.
I've realised that there are 2 really important steps when working with mums on fat-loss:
1. Bringing AWARENESS to these 6 factors and what is ACTUALLY going IN and OUT (being in denial of or completely ignorant of the facts is unhelpful)
2. STRATEGIES - for automating as much of the process as possible. For making it as EASY as possible
Preparing a Pinterest-worthy meal 3 times a day simply is NOT feasible for most of us. We need simple, reliable, automated systems for eating, then getting on with our lives.
It's not easy, especially with a ton of other stuff on our plates, but it doesn't have to be as hard as you think. It's important to address the BIG ROCKS, and not waste your time and energy on the minutae.