Hey Mama, you in the trenches with me? I've got a three year old and a two month old. It's hard to remind myself to focus on me right now. It's hard not to let my needs slip one more tick down the totem pole. It's hard to hear my own body's cues over the noise (and the cuteness) of my kids.
And honestly, it's easy to ignore my hunger, my pain, and my exhaustion right now. Especially when I have a three (almost four!) year old begging to be carried everywhere because he sees me carrying his baby sister, or asking to sleep in our room because his baby sister is sleeping in our room, or asks for yet another snack in the car (and mine was the only one left) it's easy to succumb to the pain, the exhaustion and the hunger.
I constantly find myself having to choose between a shower, a hot meal, a nap or spending alone time with my husband. Then I jump on social to serve my community of moms with nutritional info or advice on how to repair their relationship with food, how to feed their children, or give meal inspiration and I feel a little pang of guilt.
That pang is the reminder that I feel like I'm failing at eating intuitively. I remember how earlier that day I ate my lunch so fast I can't even remember what I had because I knew my daughter was waking up. I remember how yesterday I felt hungry but went to sleep anyways. I remember how I had a pickle and a cup of coffee for breakfast one day because it's all I had time to grab. I remember how I ate even though I wasn't hungry because I didn't know the next time I would have the chance. I feel like a fraud. I'm an intuitive eating dietitian after all and if I can't eat intuitively, who can?
And honestly, that's just diet culture bull crap left over from my old days. The truth is intuitive eating isn't something you can fail at! Even when I skip meals entirely because I choose to grab a nap when the stars have aligned and my babies are napping at the same time, I'm eating (or rather, not eating) intuitively.
Living intuitively is learning your body's cues - not just for hunger, for all things your body needs. Then it's making a choice to trust what your body is asking for is important and learning to give it what it is asking for without judgement. Sometimes for me that's sleeping, or a shower, or a workout, or rest. And that's ok.
Although it would be nice if eating intuitively was as easy as it sounds - eating every meal mindfully and peacefully. Having time to prepare and serve exactly what you're craving while also having it fuel and nourish your body in a healthy way. Having a perfect balance of foods to meet all your needs. Enjoying every single bite until we're perfectly satisfied as per the hunger scale. That's just not real life. There is no perfect way to eat intuitively because it's not a diet. You can't win, you can't fail. It's a constant practice, and a constant choice to trust your body and your body learning to trust that you will honor it's requests.
So exhale mama, you're doing great.
Now that we've let ourselves off the hook a little let's look at tangible ways to tune into our body and honor it's needs when the business of life is making it dang near impossible (which happens with or without kids!)
- Meal Prep - oh my goodness I cannot stress this enough. Meal prepping is something I've LONG tried to prove I don't need in my life. And although I don't NEED it, boy does it make it easy to get in a fast meal or snack that makes me feel good. I've found my most important meal to prep for is breakfast. It's not that dinners are easy - because they're not, but mornings are when everyone seems to need me the most. My daughter wakes up hungry after sleeping 10 hours (thank the Good LORD), my son wakes up hungry and wanting something to entertain him until it's time to eat, even my dog wakes up hungry. And of course I need coffee before I can even think of cooking breakfast. Having breakfast on hand ready to be served or reheated is a LIFESAVER and usually means I get some time to eat too (even if it is over the back of my nursing baby). My favorite things to meal prep are: protein packed muffins, egg bakes, overnight oats, chia seed pudding, and frozen homemade waffles. I also enjoy having ready to eat foods on hand like yogurt, toast, and fruit.
- Menu plan - without a menu plan in place we would eat out daily for dinner I'm sure of it. Which doesn't sound like the worst thing but trust me it will get boring and expensive! Every Sunday I plan the coming week's dinners and every Monday I grocery shop (or have my groceries delivered - a life saver with an infant or a toddler but especially both!). If I ever get an extra minute during the day I may even start prepping that dinner little by little. Even if it's just chopping up the veggies or getting all the ingredients in one place it saves SO much time later. Having a menu planned is key to actually helping me get some time to sit and enjoy dinner with my family.
- Snacks - pack all the snacks. Not only for my toddler but for me #momsnacks. I have a stash in my purse, diaper bag, in the car and even in my bedroom! I'm basically a squirrel. I keep a bin full of shelf-stable snacks in all those places so when hunger hits I have some choices right then and there. I also stash more than I have to because once a toddler hears the crinkle of a snack, they will come. My favorite shelf-stable snacks are trail mix, fig bars, kind bars, pretzels, cashews and dried mangoes. That way if I forget to bring a snack for myself in the car or more likely my toddler decides he would like two string cheeses (his plus mine) I have a backup. Anytime I use one of these snacks I always replace it.
- Learn to say no - it's OK to say no to your toddler or your husband or whoever. It's good for my toddler to know that mama has to/wants to finish eating her meal too before she gets up to get him seconds or find his army guy or what have you. It's important for them to see you eating, making yourself a priority, and fulfilling your needs. I'm as selfless as they come but I'm not doing my kids any favors (or myself) by teaching them my needs don't matter and that one day when they have kids theirs won't either.
- Get good at eating with your lefthand while holding a baby to your chest. If you can master this skill you're my hero. I recommend you start learning with cold foods and avoid spilling the hot soup on your baby's cheek. Also try to learn how to cook, serve food, or grab a snack while nursing this is a serious mom skill that will serve you well for the first few months of your child's life. I've even gotten pretty good at letting my daughter nurse while in a sling - two hands free - Holla!
- Ask for help - get your husband, partner, mom or friend to bring you meals or snacks that are ready to go or help with the kids around meal time - hello, dad can get you more applesauce too Jr! ;)
- It's also ok if you don't eat every single meal together right now. I know the research and how important it is to eat all together as a family but sometimes that doesn't work out and that's ok. Drop the guilt over that. Feed your kids, get them to bed, then enjoy a hot meal with your spouse and maybe crack open a bottle of wine while you're at it.
- In the end know it's just a season. Soon your kids will nap at the same time, or go off to school, or stick to a schedule of some kind. Soon your infant won't be wanting to nurse every time you turn around and maybe one day your kids won't wake up early on the one day you decided to wake up before them to try and get some time to prepare!
You're doing great mama. This stage is all apart of it. You're not failing your body, you're doing the best you can and that's all anyone can ask for in this stage of life. So, for now give yourself some grace, grab a snack or two, eat when you have time, and even eat the crumbs that fell on your baby's cheek (we've all done it). Most importantly keep showing up to remind your self that listening to your body may look different today than it did yesterday but the ups and downs are all apart of it. Because in reality that's life and change is the only thing you can count on.