One day, while shopping at the grocery store I was congratulated by a stranger and asked when I was due. The answer was "Three years ago." The unsuspecting well wisher went a little red in the face, mumbled an apology and moved on. My feelings were hurt, and I reminded myself once again to never assume anything about another person's weight. I was well aware of the fact that I had not shed the pounds I had picked up during my second pregnancy. I was medically obese and under the impression that it was simply my weight that made me look pregnant.
The truth came in the form of a "before" picture. My sisters and I banded together to support each other in healthy habits, hoping to reach a BMI in the "normal" range. We took some photos as an inspiration to get us started. When I looked at the image, I could not deny that I still looked pregnant. My stomach protruded in the silhouette of someone hovering around six months along. It had been years since I saw a view of myself from the side and it was a shock.
Motivated, I began to clean up my diet - starting small with weaning myself off soda and frappucinnos, moving on to portion control and eventually eating more nutrient dense foods. I also gradually increased exercise starting with walking everyday to running and then adding a weightlifting program. And a few years later I found myself thirty pounds lighter, at the top end of the "healthy" BMI range. I was excited and proud of myself, but my stomach still protruded visibly forward over my hips, less so because there was less weight there, but obvious. None of the crunches I had been doing seemed to make even a smidgen of progress.
Discouraged, I took to the internet where I found information on a condition known as Diastisis Recti. Diastisis Recti occurs when the stomach muscles are forced apart and weakened which causes the characteristic pooch I found myself carrying. It can occur without pregnancy, but pregnancy is the most common cause. I checked to see if I had an abdominal seperation by using this method (https://youtu.be/PvybTZiLqRE) and found that I had a two finger seperation.
The good news is (in all but the most serious cases) it can be corrected through exercise. The bad news is the exercise I was doing in order to build up my abs was actually causing them to tear further and ascerbated the issue. Through my amatuer research I found some hard and fast rules to correcting D.R.
No Crunches. At least no crunches until the muscles have come back together and healed. Exercises like planks, leg lifts and mountain climbers are more effective and safer.
Suck it in. The thing that helps to strengthen the abs the most is to constantly engage them. Engaging your ab muscles while standing and sitting through the day everyday is a simple “exercise” that makes a big difference, I lost ½ an inch from my belly just doing this for a month.
Good Posture. This one goes hand in hand with the prior rule. Good posture helps build your core muscles and makes you look thinner instantly.
Proper Form. When I said don’t do crunches, I didn’t just mean don’t do the exercise but try not to do a crunching motion with your body when doing other tasks. Mothers especially are prone to crunching down to pick up children or fetch a child from a carseat. Instead bend at the hips or squat, keeping your core engaged.
This are good basic rules for life, but to make a large impact on your improving your core, actual exercise is required. Fortunately, there are free plans available, including this one from Breaking Muscle (http://breakingmuscle.com/womens-fitness/12-weeks-of-workouts-to-rebuild-after-diastasis-recti)
Crystal Mackey Free is a writer, digital print operator and mama to two amazing boys who has a love/hate relationship with fitness. She lives with her husband, kids, dog and two cats in the wilds of North Carolina.