Not so long ago I had an epiphany of sorts, in the shower, where all good epiphanies happen I believe. I had spent the best part of the last four years either pregnant or breastfeeding, and despite being neither of those things now, my eating habits suggested differently. Okay, my diet wasn’t terrible, but breakfast consisted of cereal or toast, lunch often involved yet more toast, and dinner, as it often does when you have small children, seemed to revolve around large bowls of pasta, albeit with a few veggies chucked in for good measure. It was in the evenings though, that I came undone, sitting and watching Netflix marathons, while mindlessly eating slabs of chocolate, whole bags of popcorn and slices of cheese, while reassuring myself that since I spend all day running after my kids, I had almost certainly deserved it.
I looked down at myself on that day and I saw a body that I was no longer happy with, realising with faint embarrassment that I couldn’t even remember the last time I did something that could reasonably be regarded as proper exercise.
The next day I dusted off my trainers and dragged myself around the block. When I returned home, hot, sweaty and out of breath, I looked at my watch to see that I had been running (well, slowly limping if we’re honest), for precisely eight minutes. But it was a start.
Four months later and I have completed the couch to 5k programme, and am now training for a 10k assault course in autumn. I have restarted my weekly vinyassa class and am taking part in Instagram yoga challenges to keep me motivated. Straying a little further from my comfort zone, I have also added a weekly weights class, and I am loving having (almost visible) muscles for the first time ever. Crucially though, my diet has also been totally overhauled. Thanks to the barrage of online clean eating inspiration, we have been making green smoothies (surprisingly nice), overnight oats, vegetable ‘pasta’ and huge salads. Better still, never one to swerve a cliche, I am well and truly aboard the bandwagon, making sweet treats using natural ingredients such as bananas, dates, honey and cacao. You guys, I am not one to brag (who am I kidding, I am totally one to brag), but at 32, I am in the best shape of my life.
Obviously I am not for a minute suggesting that every woman who is done with having children needs to lose weight or change her body, but for me it was exciting to realise that I could embark on a fitness journey, which would never again be interrupted by pregnancy, birth and all that goes along with it. That said, making time for exercise and eating well, while also parenting small children can be daunting. Here are some of the things that I have found make it easier.
Give yourself permission to prioritise you.
Okay, I admit it, that sounds like a nice hippie sentiment that is easier said than done. Quite honestly, as the mother of two little ones it is easy to feel as if I am permanently aboard a merry-go-round of nappy changes, picking up toys and answering never ending strings of questions about dinosaurs. But, I have to remind myself that I too matter. Nothing makes me a worse parent than when I’m grumpy because I have neglected to make time for myself, so instead of feeling guilty about taking time away from my family for self care, I now embrace it.
Work out a time that best suits you.
I could never be an evening gym goer. By the time the kids are in bed I barely have sufficient energy to open up the laptop and locate the next episode of Orange Is The New Black, let alone consider getting my trainers on. Our youngest gets up the rather uncivilised hour of 5.30am most days, and my husband and I take it in turns to get up with him and put the coffee on. On my ‘mornings off’ I was sleeping in until around 7am, but I found that if I set my alarm, I could fit in a good run or weights session before my eldest was even out of bed. Yes, it’s painful to drag myself up and out, but I much prefer getting my workout done for the day, than leaving it until later and then abandoning it in favour of lying on the sofa with a glass of red wine (priorities!).
Make it a family affair.
I love starting my day by sticking my headphones on and going for a solitary run along the seafront, before returning home to the chaos of family life. However, it has also been important to figure out how to make my family a part of my fitness journey too. Taking my boys swimming each week is a good start, but we also invested in a couple of really great backpack style carriers, so that the whole family can go for a decent hike, with the boys jumping on our backs if they get tired (and they get tired a lot). Making our family life as active as possible has meant that I don’t even consider it as exercise, just a day out, although carrying a 30lb toddler on your back as you climb to the top of the South Downs is undoubtedly a great way to build muscle.
Clean up your diet.
It has always been one of my top priorities as a parent to feed my children wholesome and nutritious food. Hypocritically, I would then wait until they were in bed before I pulled out the take away menus or popped to the shops for a chocolate bar. When I decided that I needed to start eating healthier, instead of going for a short term diet with short term results, I focused on giving all of us the best food possible at every snack and meal time. I have switched nearly all of our packaged snacks for veggies and houmous or apple slices and almond butter. Lunches and dinners are always full of fruits, veggies and salad, which means I have been able to reduce the amount of pasta and white rice I serve up, while still providing filling meals. Our current favourites though, are homemade ice lollies. I made our latest batch by blending up bananas, coconut milk, medjool dates, and cacao and freezing them in lolly moulds. So good.
Keep a balance.
While the recent surge in clean eating gurus is undoubtedly inspiring, it can also be, let’s face it, exhausting. No matter how much kale I eat, or avocadoes I mash onto toast, I have to face facts: I am never going to look as fresh faced as the likes of Ella Woodward or the Hemsley sisters, and it is doubtful if I will find the time to scatter flower petals wistfully about my dinner plate. Theirs is a wholehearted commitment to a lifestyle, while mine is… let’s call it an ‘eclectic approach’. I have made great strides in improving our diet and in fitting regular exercise in between preschool drop offs, various toddler groups and part time work. Admittedly though, some nights you just need to stick a pizza in the oven and call it quits, and no I’m not talking about the kind made with a cauliflower crust. For us mere mortals I think it is sufficient to take aspects of the perfect clean lifestyle, but to also accept that sometimes real life, and real cake, get in the way.