New mom – Amanda Graydon – is on a mission to help moms around the world stay fit, healthy and sexy during (and after) their pregnancy.
In this article she shares her top strategies for avoiding fat gain and stretch marks while staying healthy and ensuring a safe environment for baby.
Cafe Dolce, 9 AM
I turn as two moms walk into the cafe and stand in line behind me to order. They look to be in their early 30s, but I don’t ask. It’s rude.
Each carries one of those baby baskets, the kind with the handle, and I can see two little heads poking out. The babies are three months old. (That one I did ask. Moms love to talk about their babies.)
I order my coffee and head back to my table where, coincidentally, I’ve come to write this piece about how new moms can stay healthy and fit, whether they’ve worked out all their lives or have never set foot in the gym.
On my computer screen is the interview I did with Amanda Graydon. A new mom, Amanda had the same fears most new moms have — fears the two moms at the cafe may have had too.
She was afraid of getting sick. Of not being able to stay active and eat healthy food. Of gaining a lot of unnecessary weight… and of not being able to take the weight off after she delivered her child.
Mothers she met had dire warnings. “Yeah, I looked just like you before I got pregnant,” they’d say. “But it’s all downhill from there. I hope you’re ready.” It seemed, from these reports, like motherhood involved a future of poor health and aggressive gravity.
But she didn’t let that get to her. By leaning on friends and family, Amanda turned her fears into a positive plan of action, focusing on the things she could control while letting the rest take care of itself.
Early in our interview, Amanda told me something that set the tone for the rest of the conversation.
“Before my pregnancy, I was worried,” she said. “But eventually I learned that my body wasn’t doomed. I wasn’t necessarily destined to gain excess weight or suffer negative health consequences.
“Now, I did realize that the outcome — what actually happens to me — is always beyond my control.”
Hormones, after all, can do powerful things to a woman’s body and emotions. Carrying a baby is a big job for the body, and one never knows what might happen. If new moms focus on trying to control an inherently uncontrollable situation, it’s a recipe for a lot of anxiety and worry.
This energy is better spent elsewhere, as Amanda says. She focused on what she could control — her actions and behaviours.
“These are the things I can change. I can control what I eat and how I move my body. I directed my energy toward that, instead of worrying about body processes that I can’t control.”
Meet Amanda and Amalynn
Amanda Graydon is eating a boiled carrot and trying to imagine what it would be like to only have two teeth. Could she actually eat this? Or would she just suck on it and spit it back out?
Her 15-month old daughter Amalynn watches her and sticks her hand out, her fingers clasping air. Amanda hands her a carrot and watches as the baby puts it in her mouth. She sucks and sucks then spits it out.
“She doesn’t want baby food anymore,” Amanda tells me. “She watches John and I eat. And I can tell she wants our chicken and sweet potatoes. She wants Big Girl food.”
But she’s not quite ready for Big Girl food just yet. So she gets something in between. Protein muffins, pureed sweet potatoes, scrambled eggs in small pieces, greens+ (for kids) mixed with natural fruit juices, organic baby food, and all kinds of soft veggies.
But Amalynn wants food with substance, something she can pick up with her hands and feed herself. Yet, even then, she still isn’t past spitting it out.
Amanda understands. She knows what it’s like to spit up food, too. Amanda got sick so often during her pregnancy, Morning Sickness should have been renamed All Day, Every Day sickness. She struggled with even basic foods like fruits and veggies.
Amanda takes another carrot and puts it in her mouth. This time she uses all her teeth. This carrot is for her.
“I was very sick during my pregnancy. I kept a diary. It shows I threw up, on average, 2 times a day for the entire pregnancy. That was a long 9 months.
“Nowadays, it just feels great to be able to chew and eat without having to run to the toilet,” she laughs, then touches her daughter’s nose with the tip of her finger.
“Let’s get you another tooth on top so you can start chewing,” she says to Amalynn.
“Tooth?” says baby Amalynn, smiling with her little two-tooth grin.
Conquering new mom fear
Let’s make this clear: Amanda was in awesome shape before she had Amalynn. A former high-level athlete with a long competitive career, Amanda had recently competed in figure shows, which meant regular, intense training. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she’s married to PN’s Dr. John Berardi.)
In terms of her nutrition and exercise skills and history, Amanda’s not exactly the average woman. Yet even she wasn’t immune to New Mom Fear. She wondered things like:
“Will I still feel attractive?”
“Will I gain weight too fast and not be able to take it off?”
“Will I ever be able to get back to my fit and healthy pre-baby body?”
After all, almost every woman she talked to would emphasize the inevitability of her body’s demise. And while pregnancy can be a challenge for every woman, it can be especially so for athletes who are accustomed to their bodies obeying their every command. One’s identity and capability change… a lot. It’s tough to adjust to day-long vomiting and a growing belly if you’ve gotten used to banging out a zillion tire flips and burpees.
So, after the initial rush and joy of discovering she was pregnant, Amanda was torn. She liked her body. She liked what she could do with it. She didn’t want that sense of fitness to go away.
“A lot about what women know about pregnancy is socially conditioned,” she says. “We look at what other women are doing — sometimes what they’re being told to do — and start thinking: Maybe I have to eat a lot, not work out at all, and just sit on the couch. Maybe that’s all I can do.”
Amanda tried to find examples of women who stayed healthy, fit, and exercised during pregnancy. But there were few “fit moms” for her to emulate. So, shortly after learning she was pregnant, Amanda started to ask some difficult questions.
“What if all these moms are just following socially reinforced ‘rules’? What if I did the opposite?”
True, Amanda was eating for two now. The well-being of her unborn baby was the first thing on her mind. But she just had to believe there were strategies for staying healthy and fit while pregnant. And ways to get back in shape quickly, and easily, after the baby is born.
There had to be strategies for holding true to who she was: a healthy, fit female athlete who thrived while moving her body and eating good food.
There had to be.
Amanda’s solutions to new mom fear
New mom fear #1: Body weight
I’ll gain too much weight while pregnant.
Becoming aware of a) the type of food you eat and b) the amount of food you eat can help you minimize fat gain.
Amanda knows how easy it is for moms to gain extra fat when they’re pregnant. 30 healthy and normal pounds can turn into 50, 60, or more very quickly.
“You need to set up an environment for the baby that’s conducive to growth, love, and protection,” says Amanda. “But it doesn’t mean your body needs thousands of extra calories.”
That’s why Amanda ate enough to supply healthy nutrients to her and her baby, but not enough to gain a lot of extra fat.
She did so by eating foods that were nutrient dense instead of calorically dense. Her menu revolved around eating veggies (at least 5 fistfuls per day), lean meats (one palms’ worth with every meal) and good fats, including fish oil, mixed nuts, and avocado.
She did throw in a few extra starchy carbohydrates per day as well. But only a few as she lowered her exercise volume and intensity when she learned she was pregnant. Any additional carbs simply aren’t necessary unless you’re burning a lot during exercise.
In addition, she ate slowly, sometimes taking up to 20 minutes to finish her meal. This allowed her body enough time to signal to her brain that she was full.
And once per week she’d have ice cream or chocolate, but she always went out for dessert instead of keeping the sweets in the house. Temptation or not, you can’t eat it if it’s not around.
Of course, Amanda still got sick a few times per day. But she didn’t give up; she continued to do her best. With support and encouragement, she stuck to her eating plan.
[For specifics on what to eat- and avoid – during pregnancy, check out Dr. Berardi’s Nutrition and Pregnancy article.]
New mom fear #2: Exercise
I can’t work out while pregnant.
Working out consistently and intelligently is not only safe, but it’s a great way to boost the health of both mother and baby.
Yoga’s cool. So is Pilates. And most moms who choose to work out go that route. (Many more moms don’t do any kind of exercise at all.)
Amanda showed you can still push it in the gym and cross train. She lifted weights 3 times per week, swam once per week, did weekly yoga, and just kept moving as well as she could — whatever that looked like to her on a given day.
“You can still challenge yourself as long as you do it intelligently,” she says.
That’s why well into her pregnancy, Amanda was still deadlifting 135 pounds for reps and doing squats, push-ups, and pull-ups. She even ran a 5K race a month before she gave birth. (“I didn’t go to compete,” she says. “I just wanted to run at my own pace.”)
The only thing she didn’t do was lie on her back — like, say, to do a flat bench press — since the increased weight of her uterus would have pressed on the vein that returns blood from her legs to her heart, making it quite uncomfortable (and potentially dangerous) for both her and the baby.
Instead of letting that deter her from working hard, Amanda simply switched to incline bench presses, which didn’t affect her blood supply at all.
Every morning, she’d go for a walk outside – or on the treadmill at a slight incline – for 20-30 minutes.
Interestingly, her best meals came post-exercise, when she was less frequently sick. So that provided some extra incentive for working out.
[For specifics on how to – and how not to – exercise during pregnancy, check out Dr. Berardi’s Exercise and Pregnancy article.]
New mom fear #3: Stretch marks
I’m going to have stretch marks!
You can significantly reduce the likelihood of stretch marks by taking fish oil, rubbing almond oil on your skin, and activating your stomach muscles.
The first thing Amanda did when she found out she was pregnant — aside from getting excited and hugging her husband — was triple the amount of fish oil she was taking, to about 15 g per day.
Of course, fish oil does awesome things for the baby, including increasing brain development. But it also has wonderful benefits for Mom.
Amanda believes the increased fish oil improved her mood — it’s been shown to combat depression — and helped keep her skin elastic, making it less prone to stretching.
She also rubbed almond oil into her skin religiously – up to 5 times per day – to make it supple and smooth.
Finally, she became more aware of her stomach and how she was standing and sitting. Many women find they experience back pain as the lumbar spine is pulled forward from the baby weight.
“If I wanted to relax my stomach muscles, I could push my growing belly really far out,” she says. “But the more I activated my abs and pulled my stomach in, the more I engaged my core and kept my posture strong.”
To help remind her to keep her stomach engaged, Amanda wore a specially made pregnancy belt while she went about her daily activities. And at the end of it all – no stretch marks.
New mom fear #4: Getting back in shape
It will take me forever to get back in shape after my baby is born!
Setting a goal and working toward it will help you get back in shape quicker than you imagine.
The day she gave birth, April 21, 2010, Amanda weighed 151 pounds. (And baby Amalynn weighed almost 7 pounds). That means she gained about 30 pounds during her pregnancy.
But thanks to the eating and workout habits she followed during her pregnancy, she was confident she could get back in awesome shape.
She also had another thing: a goal.
Amanda wanted to compete in a figure show exactly one year after her daughter was born. That goal gave her motivation to train and eat well while nursing.
“It doesn’t have to be a figure competition,” says Amanda. “That’s just what worked for me. I had the background to manage that. It’s definitely not for everyone!
“But I think any goal — running a 5K, reaching a certain bodyfat percentage, scheduling a mom and baby photo shoot — even just taking a class once a week to get you out of the house and have some time to yourself — can motivate you to work out and eat well to get in great shape.”
She emphasizes that each woman’s goal will be unique, and that new moms need to go at their own pace. After all, a new baby is a big responsibility, and understandably a new mother’s focus can be somewhat… distracted. (Or exhausted.)
For many women, the goals should be moderate, do-able, realistic, tailored to their own abilities, and most importantly — fun. There’s a lot of pressure on new moms already, so Amanda recommends that they find something to suit their own interests, skills, and routines instead of worrying too much about being “perfect”.
However, she also encourages women to be creative and inventive — to simply move, as well as they can, as often as they can. And baby can get in on the act.
It was Amanda’s first workout since giving birth.
Back in April 2010, newborn Amalynn lay on a soft blanket on the home-gym floor and watched her parents train.
She and JB did bench presses, air squats, and ab exercises. In between sets, she’d come over to the colourful baby blanket and nuzzle her daughter with her nose, nursing her when needed.
Thanks to a good fitness regime and a speedy recovery, it only took Amanda 4 days to get back into the gym after delivering baby Amalynn. And after only a few weeks, Amanda was back down to her normal weight of 125 pounds. (Each mother, of course, will go at her own pace.)
But she kept her goal of competing. For Amanda as a former athlete, it was hard to beat the lure of the competition stage.
About one year later — after 12 months of care-giving, working, training, and eating well — she stepped on stage at the Ontario Provincial Championships. Surprisingly to almost everyone in attendance – except Amanda and JB – she showed up in even better shape than when she competed pre-baby, in 2008. No small feat for a new mom.
She even walked away with 3rd place in the contest, qualifying for the National championships. But on the car ride back home from the figure show, Amanda decided to stop competing.
“I think I’ve achieved the best I can unless I want to make this competing thing a full time job,” she says.
“For that to happen, the focus would have to be on me, which doesn’t work for our family. I have a child and a rich, full life. I want to spend that extra time with my daughter, my family, and my friends.”
But don’t mistake Amanda’s retirement from competition for a lack of training. Amanda is currently walking around in great shape, exercising 4-5 days per week and including baby Amalynn in her workouts.
She also has a new goal: to help moms everywhere look and feel their best during and after their pregnancy.
“I know what it’s like to be fearful about your body and health once you’re pregnant,” she says. “However, I learned that you can look great and provide a healthy, safe environment for your baby.”
Of course, she says, not every woman will have the same experience she did. Women can easily struggle with a difficult pregnancy. They can do their best to eat well and exercise, and struggle with health and body weight issues anyway. Amanda feels pretty lucky.
And this is why, she says, she chose not to focus on her own outcome but rather her actions and behaviours. She also recruited lots of support from family and friends.
“I think the most important lesson is to focus on what you can control, whatever your own circumstances. By moving as much as you can, and focusing on healthy foods, you’ll create a safe environment for your baby to thrive in. Then, after the pregnancy, you can get to the task of getting healthy again, as well as you can.”
After all, motherhood demands strength, flexibility, and endurance… just like the gym.
A snapshot of mom and daughter
Amanda’s in her home gym walking on the treadmill. 15-month old Amalynn walks on her little baby treadmill beside her mom, arms spread wide, tiny fingers gripping the handles, her little feet powering the belt.
It’s early morning and the sun is shining through the big plate-glass windows.
Momma blows kisses in between strides, and baby blows them right back.
Editor’s note. After this article ran, we got a lot of questions about breastfeeding. Specifically, readers wanted to know if Amanda nursed during her figure preparations. No; Amanda nursed Amalynn for 9 months. Then she naturally stopped producing milk. That’s when Amalynn switched to formula and food; and Amanda started dieting and training for her contest.
Also note. Some of the very same strategies Amanda used while pregnant can also help women post-pregnancy. For more, check out Kia’s story. Kia lost 61 pounds post-pregnancy in our Lean Eating Coaching Program for Women.
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