More than 90% of UK women are dissatisfied with their bodies. Two-thirds of women believe their life would improve considerably if they were happier with their weight or physical appearance.
I have helped hundreds of women transform their body, mindset and food relationship through my flagship program, Fight the Diet Transformation Project.
From scrolling down your social media feed to seeing airbrushed images in gossip or fashion magazines, there is an overwhelming pressure for women to look a certain way. We are constantly bombarded by ways we should be restricting our diet or and sweating it out in the newest “hot” trend fitness class.
This pressure is the reason why a large percentage of women fall into the ‘binge and restrict’ cycle. When we restrict our diet through either a reduction in overall calories, or following a particular diet protocol, it is often followed by a period of going completely ‘off-track’. A classic and common example of this is eating minimal Monday through Friday, to going completely ‘off-track’ over the course of the weekend.
Rather than a lack of willpower, this is your body's natural response. It does not know that food is abundant, and therefore will be protecting you from starvation by increasing hunger cues and cravings. This is especially important for a woman, who is not designed to have the low body fat we often typically strive for. The female body is designed to protect her in the case she would get pregnant and need to tap into additional fat stores if food were scarce at that time.
When a woman becomes pregnant, some might say that experience is comparable to a nine-month-long weekend (minus the alcohol part!). With cravings going through the roof, the exhaustion diminishing your ability to move as much as you may like to and the hormone change affecting your mental state, sticking to your normal diet and exercise regime can become challenging for some. Whilst the advice is to make sure you keep your diet healthy and nutritious, the urges for large portions, carbs and sugar (or whatever your body decides it wants!) can take over.
Once the baby arrives, there is an immense pressure on a woman’s body to bounce back. A study of 2,000 mums found that while 70% say they are grateful for what their body has achieved, just 7% feel more body confident after having a child.
On top of this there’s the deep-rooted desire to want to be the best mother you can be - a healthy role model who’s physically able to take care of your children. For many women becoming a mother can feel isolating and a drastic change.
As a coach who specialises in women finding food freedom, their ideal body and increasing their body confidence, what would my advice be to navigate this tricky period?
Don’t fall into that binge/restrict cycle
Whilst pregnant, focus on consuming enough. Rather than restricting your calorie intake through eating too ‘healthily’, the aim is to be eating maintenance calories or even a slight surplus with high protein and a variation of vitamins and minerals through consuming your five-a-day.
If you are physically able, keep active, whether that’s through walking or exercise. This is not the time to be losing weight or overly stressing about weight gain, as your body does what it needs to protect your growing baby. When you focus on eating a balanced diet without restricting yourself, you’ll find it easier to avoid the feast and famine cycle and find yourself gaining more weight than necessary as a result.
Once the baby arrives it's important to remember your body did an incredible job at creating a new life, and as a result it may never be quite the same as before.
There are several ways to increase your confidence without even losing weight. Overall, increasing your happiness and self-worth outside of how you look can be done through practicing daily gratitudes and making time for yourself to relax and de-stress (without feeling guilty for it!).
If you choose that you would like to tone up again and want to lose some baby weight, it can be done in a sustainable and healthy way when your body is ready.
The focus again should be on consuming enough protein and not over restricting your calories. Most women need just a 20% deficit of calories and a consistent exercise regime to see incredible physical results and feel more confident in their own skin.
Yet the majority of women diet by drastically slashing their calories in some way (whether that be through counting them, following a diet or meal plan, or just eating ‘healthily’), which is near impossible to sustain. Especially when dealing with the adjustments and stresses of becoming a mum.
Rather than following those ‘body inspo’ pages that make you feel terrible about yourself, try diversifying your Instagram feed with all different types of bodies. Surrounding yourself with more body neutral people can be a great way of realising that you can feel more positive towards yourself, or at the very least – not hating on it! At this isolating time, having peer support can be incredibly helpful – sometimes you just need that extra support and guidance.