A decade ago, I was in nursing school, smoking cigarettes, drinking, and living off junk food. I had little time to even think about the gym because when I wasn’t in class, I was working at the mall trying to afford tuition. It wasn’t until one day when I was trying on clothes at a local store (and they did not fit the way I wanted) that I knew I needed to make a change.
Around the same time, I also watched the documentary Food, Inc., which really opened my eyes to the way I was hurting my body with bad food. So I threw out my junk food and began teaching myself the principles of clean eating.
Over the next nine months, I lost 20 kilograms without stepping foot in the gym. I thought dropping extra weight instantly was what it meant to be healthy. I was eating 1,200 calories a day and got down to 47 kilograms. But I was weak — losing fat doesn’t make you any stronger. And, even though the scale had gone down, it left me “skinny fat.”
I knew I needed to start going to the gym. I always thought lifting weights makes women bulky or manly, so I stuck mainly to cardio. I was a sprinter on my high school track team, so I took up running on the treadmill again. Over time, I starting trying out the machines on the gym floor. I was so new to fitness and I had no guide or trainer telling me what to do, so I had to figure out literally everything on my own. I liked the strength I was gaining from machines like the leg press and thigh adductor, so I started eating more to sustain new muscle growth.
Then, I got pregnant with my first child.
MY FIRST PREGNANCY
I stayed active throughout my first pregnancy, but I was still cautious. I didn’t want to lift too heavy and I was working out just three days a week.
I only gained about 13 kilograms throughout my pregnancy, but I didn’t practice any pelvic floor work either. After 22 hours in labour, my son had ripped me pretty good. I needed rest.
I didn’t return to working out right away, but when I did, I dropped the baby weight rather quick. Some might argue that because I was a young mum, at 25 years old, recovery was easy.
By the time my son was 6 months old, I had abs and I was tiny again. But once again, I got a lesson in how skinny is different than healthy: I still remember one specific day, I was struggling to carry my son around Lowe’s. I was weak—I had zero arm strength. I couldn’t make it from the car to the entrance before asking my husband to hold him. I hated feeling that way.
So the next day, I went to the gym and started upping my weights—and I haven’t stopped lifting since.
MY SECOND PREGNANCY
When I found out I was pregnant again a year later, not much changed. I stayed so active during those nine months. I hardly ever slacked off, and my last workout was the day my water broke!
I was only in labour for nine hours this time and I credit weighted squats with helping me be prepared to push.
Even though labour was easier, recovering from my pregnancy was a little more difficult the second time around. Still, I was determined. The first week after delivery, I started getting active again with some light walking and pelvic floor exercises (pelvic tilts, heel taps, kegels).
Working out during pregnancy kept my muscle memory intact for the most part, which allowed me to get back into lifting faster. But my belly was soft for a good few months. And even though I lost the baby weight pretty quickly, I had also lost a ton of muscle tone, especially in my booty.
Most importantly, though, I learned to avoid the trap of trying to “get back to normal.” I realised that I would never be “normal” again, and that I hadn't been normal since the birth of my firstborn. My body had changed totally. I developed stretch marks on my sides and butt, and my hips were now wider; even my boobs were different.
No, my goal now was to appreciate my body for what it has done and to improve it. That meant embracing—and showing off—my scars, stretch marks, cellulite. I started preaching body confidence on my Instagram. You aren’t who you used to be after having a baby—and I wanted other women to know that was okay.
It was scary at first, but it was something that I had to mentally accept and appreciate. I kept faith in my workouts and my eating plan and the fact that I would reach a stronger version of myself—different than before, but perhaps even better. I trusted in my hard work to get me there. Eventually, it did!
Women will ask me how many *hours* a day I work out and I always laugh at this—I would die if I spent more than an hour in the gym! I spend 30 to 45 minutes sweating, five days a week. Luckily, HIIT workouts burn double the calories in shorter amounts of time, so I generally spend 20 minutes doing HIIT moves such as burpees, star jumps, mountain climbers, and squat jumps and then I will move onto lifting—barbell squats, dumbbell overhead presses.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I typically focus on lower body and core while on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I normally train upper body. My favourite move is the barbell squat because it is the absolute best way to build a butt. You need to squat heavy and low if you ever want to see a change in your glutes. HIIT is the way to burn fat while strength training is the way to gain muscle. You need both!
I don’t count macros or calories because I feel this takes away from my time and my life. I prefer to eat intuitively, which means listening to my body and what it craves—eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and don’t see food as “good” or “bad.” I make sure my meals are well balanced, but I do leave room for indulgence.
I was a little more relaxed the second time around when losing the baby weight because I knew my body wouldn't fall apart if I had that donut or a piece of cake. I breastfed both kids and that in itself burned so many calories!
Now, breakfast is usually oatmeal with berries and for lunch, I normally meal prep to stay on track. Lately my family and I have been loving HelloFresh meals for dinner. But my favorite indulgence is pizza! Nothing is off limits—not even wine! I believe in eating what you want, when you want it—though you won't see me pulling through the Burger King drive through anytime soon.
It took a year, training legs three days per week and eating around 2,400 calories, to build my booty back. It doesn’t happen overnight. But now, I love my strong thighs! Even though my body changed from childbirth, I’ve made it sexy from lifting weights and eating clean. Most of all, though, now I’m strong. That realisation after my first pregnancy that I wasn't even strong enough to carry my son through the parking lot? Now, I’ve gained 7 kilograms and can carry both my kids around at once!
SIA’S NUMBER-ONE TIP
Many mums aspire to have the same body that they had before kids. For most, that’s just not possible—and that’s okay. Focus on how you feel, not how you look. Before kids, I was so focused on having abs or looking fit, but those things really don’t equal healthy. Health is the overall balance of your lifestyle and even includes how you feel on the inside and what is going on in your mind—and that’s way more important than being skinny.
Follow Sia’s journey @DiaryOfAFitMommyOfficial.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US