My earliest memory of identifying with my body is at the age of 10.
It was a sticky summer afternoon in July at my family's quaint lakehouse in North Carolina. I ran barefoot in the backyard with my friends, laughing, being the wild and uninhibited kids we were. We wore bathing suits from sunrise, snacking on watermelon and jumping into the water to clean off.
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My memory is as sunkissed as the day until I went to the bathroom only to discover blood.
Scared, I yelled for my mom, who took one look, then a deep breath, and explained I had started my period. She said I wouldn't be able to swim the next few days, I'd need to wear a pad, and that if I was uncomfortable, to let her know, and she'd find me a heating pad.
I remember looking at myself in the mirror, confused by this 'new me' and suddenly acutely aware of my bloated stomach and swollen breasts. I was propelled into a stage of life where all I wanted to do was join my friends for cannonballs off the dock — but I was stuck on the sidelines.
Throughout my teenage years and early adulthood, I continued navigating different seasons of body confidence and insecurities. I seemingly could never be thin enough or then too thin. I was afraid of carbs — and then I embraced them too much.
And then I entered an entirely new chapter following the birth of my daughter.
How Pregnancy Changed My Feelings About My Body
Pregnancy is an experience in and of itself — one where we are encouraged to eat well and stay healthy but also rest and give our bodies lots of TLC. Many people see their ob-gyns more frequently as their pregnancy continues, with careful monitoring and attention.
However, following birth, there is typically one standard checkup at the six-week mark… and that's it. Usually, this is to ensure healing from vaginal or cesarean delivery is going well and to provide the green light to resume exercise or sexual intercourse.
What typically isn't discussed is how you're feeling in your new body — because, let's be honest, it's not the same.
When I reached the six-week mark, I was barely sleeping, covered in stretch marks, about 30 pounds heavier than my pre-pregnancy weight, two cup sizes larger in my breasts, generally uncomfortable — and highly insecure about my appearance.
In all honesty, I wasn't ready to have any kind of conversation about my body then.
I started to navigate the cliché 'lose the baby weight' goal around 11 weeks postpartum when I finally felt enough like me. Because I was raising a daughter and wanted to set a good example from the start, I wanted to be mindful of a slow, body-positive approach to improving my nutritional choices and exercise routine.
I dedicated myself to counting macros (and not calories), and I refused to give up food groups or categories to shed pounds (eating four Oreos each night felt like an act of rebellion to diet culture).
As I made healthier food choices, I had the pleasure of introducing my daughter to solids. I tried my best never to label any foods as 'good' or 'bad' when I talked about them in front of her, and when she sweetly offered me bites of yogurt-covered cheese slices, I happily nibbled.
I also eased into fitness instead of going full-speed ahead like I often had in my 20s. I tried to remind myself the goal was to be strong enough to chase my girl around — not to be the thinnest mom at daycare pickup.
I accepted that progress would be slow — and it was. It took me eight months to lose 25 pounds, averaging a little less than a pound a week.
But as my pre-pregnancy jeans came into sight, I found myself obsessing over the natural ebbs and flows that bodies have with weight, like weighing more when I was premenstrual. I fretted over meeting my 'goal' before my daughter's first birthday, and weighing myself each morning became triggering. The weight wasn't budging, and I was becoming anxious.
That's when I found a postpartum nutrition coach to help me heal my postpartum relationship with my body.
How I Found My Postpartum Nutrition Coach
As I continued spiraling (and began restricting specific foods), I knew I needed extra help to push through this roadblock. As most manic moms do, I turned to Google.
I somehow stumbled across Kathryn Gantt, RD, LDN — a local nutritionist in my zip code specializing in pregnancy, postpartum, disordered eating and intuitive eating. Her website and approach instantly made me feel less alone, and I reached out to book a session.
Like many entrepreneurs, Gantt started her practice after becoming a mother five years ago and recognizing a need. She struggled with adequately nourishing herself, loving her postpartum body and intense postpartum anxiety. While working through these postpartum struggles, she became passionate about supporting other people in similar situations.
"Navigating nutrition in postpartum is a complicated process that can feel very overwhelming," she says. "It often comes with addressing old patterns and belief systems around food and our bodies that keep women stuck in a cycle of hate or shame. While putting down these often tightly held beliefs can feel scary, it often comes with a new sense of freedom and acceptance that makes life so much better."
When searching for a postpartum nutritionist in your area, see if they share testimonials from pregnant and postpartum people. And if they don't, ask about their expertise and for recommendations for other professionals they trust.
Seeking advice from your trusted ob-gyn or doula is also a smart place to start in locating the right nutritionist for you.
Though it was important to me to have someone local, in case I wanted to meet in person, you may have luck finding someone who offers telesessions, too, giving you more options if you live in a small area.
What I Learned From Working With a Postpartum Dietitian
When I hired Gantt, I felt stuck in a rut. What was previously working to lose weight wasn't anymore. I was consistently feeling pressure (from myself) to fit into a specific size, and I was starting to withdraw from social events for fear of gaining back the weight I'd lost.
When I started working with Gantt, we would meet every other week to talk about what I was struggling with, what I was eating and how I was feeling. She helped recommend food choices, analyze sensitivities and challenged me to listen to my body differently.
Throughout our time together, I definitely felt like I had nutritional coaching — and a part-time therapist, too. Here's what I learned:
1. I Need to Address and Heal My Relationship With My Body
Gantt says with most of her clients, the nutrition part feels like the easy piece or what brings women to the practice.
"It is more common than not that when we start exploring how they relate to food or body that we realize the mindset and relationship to food are actually what we need to tackle," she says. "So much goes into our relationship with food and our body: the home environment growing up, how they heard parents and peers talking about food and body, genetics, messaging within the social norms, our culture's obsession with thinness and sometimes trauma."
Our first session felt like a lengthy intake form with more thoughtful questions. We went through the expected medical background, then explored other topics.
While my mother is wonderful, she always struggled with her body and food — and we never ate rice, pasta or any carb in my home.
When I was younger, I watched my friends quickly shed weight, and I felt terrible about myself that it was taking longer and, at times, felt stagnant.
While I'm lucky to have a very supportive partner, I also wanted to feel sexy again — and I thought the only way to do that was through returning to my honeymoon weight.
In reality, this isn't something I 'fixed' by working with Gantt. In many ways, it was merely the beginning of a new chapter in this lifelong experience of being a woman. I continue to address and heal my relationship with my body — but now, at least, it feels much more comfortable to be in my skin and to recognize triggers as they bubble up.
"We are no longer pre-baby and never will be, so why should our bodies look like they never grew a human?"
2. I May Never Have My ‘Old Body’ Back — and That’s OK
I recently had a conversation with another mom, and we talked about how surprised we both were that we cared so much about the pre-baby number on the scale. It felt like it had a hold on me, and yet it was just an arbitrary figure.
Gantt says many women feel this way, and part of her work is challenging the idea of getting back to a 'pre-baby body' — which is an unrealistic expectation to set in the first place.
"We are no longer pre-baby and never will be, so why should our bodies look like they never grew a human?" she says. "By figuring out what specific areas influence a person's food choices, we can start to make changes. Generally, we begin with identifying flaws in thoughts related to what a woman is 'supposed' to look and be like after having a baby."
Though I've continued to make strides, I haven't lost every last pound. I can't fit into all of my old clothes. But by working with my postpartum dietitian and doing some hard mental work, I've started to find ways to love this new body.
My stretch marks have faded, but they are still there, and when they catch the light, I try to remind myself of the gift this body gave me. My breasts may never be as round and perky again — but I can chest press more weight than before I got pregnant.
I have a little extra everywhere — but I also have a little girl that brings much more to my life than I had when I was my smallest.
3. I Needed to Eat More Food — Not Less — to Lose Weight
Candidly, I already knew I wasn't eating enough before my first session with Gantt. I wasn't starving myself by any means, but I was hyper-strict on what I ate and when I ate it, and I rarely made exceptions.
Gantt pretty much threw all of that out the window and encouraged me to eat more to counterbalance my fitness schedule and to dig into how I related to my food. And how it made me feel in my body, how it gave me energy — and lastly, how it gave me joy. Yep: Food should make us happy, not fearful.
"Within the work, we talk about how to balance food choices for overall health and nutrition and just for pleasure," she says. "This is often hard for people to know how to do mindfully and intuitively; it takes practice around allowing all foods while also removing shame and judgment from food choices."
Rather than eating eggs and a sprinkle of cheese for breakfast, I now make a whole-wheat quesadilla with avocado, sour cream and pico de gallo. Instead of telling my husband I can't enjoy a few glasses of wine with him on a Saturday afternoon because I'll hold onto the weight, I allow myself to enjoy a solid bottle of bubbles.
Sorry, 1990s society — plenty of things taste better than skinny feels.
"I'm learning to accept my definition of beauty — becoming less focused each day on fitting into a predetermined box that never bothered to ask for my measurements."
Where I’m at Now — and Where I’m Going
One of the first commonalities Gantt and I shared was our role as mothers to daughters. And while this definitely extends to mothers of sons (men can struggle with disordered eating and body confidence, too), my greatest goal was to be a good example to my girl.
"Children learn food behaviors and how to feel about their bodies from their parents," Gantt says. "Mirroring a positive and balanced relationship to food can be a lifelong skill for little ones and will dramatically decrease the risk for them developing a disordered relationship for themselves."
I continue to go through ups and downs, but I give myself much more grace. I haven't weighed myself in months and don't plan to. I celebrate when I feel confident in my body and try to be patient when I'm feeling insecure — like all parenting stages, I know this will pass, too.
To help continue my 'education,' so to speak, I've been reading helpful books from experts, like How to Raise an Intuitive Eater by two dietitians, and most recently, I started Fat Talk by Virginia Sole-Smith.
I want to do my part to break generational norms and pave a better runway for the ones who come behind me. I'm learning to accept my definition of beauty — becoming less focused each day on fitting into a predetermined box that never bothered to ask for my measurements.
Most importantly, I receive my inspiration and motivation from my girl: I want to be kind to myself so that, as she grows, she'll treat herself kindly, too.