My relationship with food has been complex to say the least. Asthma left me with a fear of exercise as a teen and the weight piled on. I lost almost 3 1/2 stone using weekly meetings and counting everything I ate. It felt rather like re-educating myself with what was healthy or how much I should eat. Low fat, hi fibre, low carb became the norm. Although I didn't know it at the time, the tricks I learned to avoid the calories would last a lifetime. I buzzed from feeling 'thin'. Sometimes I would purposely avoid eating before a big event so that I felt good about myself. Working out became a big part of my life, I could run miles and bend in any direction imaginable. I was a fat shamer.
When it comes to how we talk about our mumbods, there are very few mothers who will tell you they like their body more now they've had a baby than they did before. I'm one of them. Don't get me wrong it's not been plain sailing - I've had to learn to change the way I think about my body and my health. What we seem to be forgetting while we tuck into a raw carrot on three hours' sleep is that being healthy and being thin are not the same thing. This was brought to my attention upon the arrival of my son. At birth he was described as a 'whopper'. It wasn't until visitors started to tell me that I should want a chunky, healthy baby that it dawned on me, being thin hasn't always been a good thing. What changed? Why do we measure our worth by the size of our bodies? Furthermore, why do we measure our worth as mothers by how quickly we can look like birth never even happened?
After a year on maternity leave, coming to terms with the absolute one-eighty your life does as soon as you give birth, I thought long and hard about the type of example I want to set for my son. I started to really question whether trying to conform to media stereotypes was something I wanted to do. It's not. Not at all. Accepting that my body has changed and continues to change has been necessary. My son needs to see that women can be happy and they can be healthy without diet and exercise routines that take over their lives. He needs to grow up to respect women for more than their bodies, to see past the skin and bones or lumps and bumps to the person.
The longer I am a mother, the more proud I am of my mumbod. Those amazing abs are long gone after a consultant cut straight through them. It's as if when they made that cut, they inadvertently cut the ties to that meticulous diet and that 'skinny' mindset. I feel liberated. I love that we sit down as a family to eat a meal together. That means everyone has the same food on their plates. Dairy, meat and carbohydrates all appear on our plates. I sometimes feel as if I'm the only one who eats every food group. Every day there's a new recipe for dairy free, sugar-free, gluten-free meals flying around social media.
What I've learned is that we don't have to conform to be happy. I'm moving away from dieting. It's about doing what's right for YOU. For me that's growing my own food, eating the things that I love with my family. By moving away from what's expected of me by the ever critical outside world, I can see my body for the miracle it's performed. I would encourage mums all over the world to shy away from how the media tells us to feel and to eat what makes you happy. Eat a balanced diet, eat the cake, the fruit, the bread. Enjoy exercise, dig the allotment, walk the dog, chase the kids. For goodness sake, can we please start appreciating what wonderful machines our mumbods are regardless of their shape or size before or after birth?
HuffPost UK Parents is running a week-long focus on 'Mumbod' to empower mums and mums-to-be to feel confident about their bodies pre- and post-baby. We are launching a section on the site that focuses on all aspects of mums' bodies and highlights the amazing things they are capable of. We'd also love to hear your stories. To blog for Mumbod, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To keep up to date with features, blogs and videos on the topic, follow the hashtag #MyMumbod.