We talk a lot about how to support postpartum recovery and as a dietitian, usually those conversations focus on food, rest, and other behaviors that can influence this process. These are all very important and today we’re adding another perspective. Have you ever thought about how language can play a role in postpartum recovery? It actually has a bigger impact than you may think.
How can words affect the postpartum recovery process?
Language is so much more powerful than we often acknowledge. The way we describe our body or food can have a direct influence on the behaviors we engage in. There is so much connection between the mind and body. The way we think and speak can shape how we behave. It’s really challenging to act in a caring way towards the body when our thoughts are critical and negative.
Consider some of the following examples:
“Why can’t I stop eating cookies, what is wrong with me?!”
“I completely overate at breakfast, I should skip lunch”
“I cannot be trusted around chips, get them out of the house”
“I was so bad today, can’t eat anything else until I workout”
These aren’t “just words”. This way of thinking can easily lead to poor body image, restricting foods, feelings of guilt and shame, and more stress around eating. All of which make it really hard to nourish your body to support recovery and feel confident about your nutrition.
If you have found yourself saying (or thinking) these phrases, you are far from alone. It’s a product of diet culture and of our society with unrealistic expectations of mothers. The pressure around regaining the “pre-baby body” starts to permeate postpartum from the very beginning and only builds as time goes on. When the focus is on shrinking and restricting and doing anything to see the scale move, postpartum recovery is threatened.
Postpartum recovery requires more nutrition, not less. To read more about why you should be eating more and which nutrients are especially helpful, check out these articles [link to past article on eating enough and nutrients for recovery]. The abundance mindset allows us to explore how we can add in more supportive habits, targeted nutrients, and mindful practices that provide a nurturing environment for healing and growth which is exactly what’s needed in postpartum.
It’s not about blaming ourselves for the current language we may be accustomed to using, but rather taking the opportunity to start gently shifting the conversation to one that’s more supportive. It’s not easy to change our language overnight. Start by just observing how often you use critical or negative phrases when talking about yourself or your eating. It might be something that has become so automatic that it isn’t even conscious right now.
Once you’re noticing it more, you can start to incorporating some changes. One powerful strategy that can help to start this shift is by practicing a role play.
What is the language you would use if you were talking to:
- Your best friend
- Your daughter
- Your childhood self
- A stranger
Often it feels more effortless to speak with compassion and empathy to others (even strangers!) than it does in our internal monologue. Consciously thinking about how you would alter language if a loved one was in your position can make it easier to show the same care to yourself.
Let’s revisit the initial triggering statements and try reframing it into a phrase with more compassion.
“My body is really wanting more cookies right now. I wonder what it’s trying to tell me? How can I address this need?”
“I’m still figuring out the balance of food that feels best for me. My body still needs nourishment no matter how I ate before, I’m going to practice tuning in at lunch”
“I enjoy eating chips a lot. All foods can be part of a nourishing lifestyle, I’m going to work on proving to myself that I can eat chips any time that I want in a way that feels good for me”
“I don’t need to earn my food. Movement is a way to take care of my body, not to punish it.”
You’ll notice that these phrases allow for curiosity. What can we learn about the body from a given situation? There is also acknowledgment that perfection doesn’t exist and that discovering the best way to support your body through postpartum recovery (and for the rest of your life) is an evolving process.
Just as perfection doesn’t exist in our behaviors, it won’t be possible in our language either. It’s not about getting caught up with using the perfect words. But by turning our attention to the language we use and opening up the possibility for injecting more compassion, we can have a powerful influence on postpartum recovery and beyond.