This week, I’m featuring my long-time client, Erica!
I have coached Erica on and off for several years, including during both of her pregnancies. In this second pregnancy, she’s blown me away with her consistency with workouts, her increases in strength, and her balanced approach to healthy eating. All in all, I have been incredibly impressed with her mindset during this pregnancy – her sense of empowerment is tangible!
In this blog post, I’m going to share 6 “ingredients” of Erica’s active, healthy pregnancy lifestyle (and #2 may surprise you!):
#1 Focusing on Getting Workouts Done, vs. a “Perfect” Workout Schedule
Erica says, “When I started working with Rachel, I was worried about not being able to fit in enough workouts per week to make it ‘worth it,’ but even with 2-3 sessions a week throughout this pregnancy (and only 1 some weeks!), I’m feeling a million times better than with my first pregnancy.”
This tracks with my blog post, “5 Reasons You’re Struggling with Consistency (and How to Overcome Them).” The goal is to clock in as many workouts as possible… not to never miss a workout. Once we set up the expectation that we have to follow a plan perfectly, we often sabotage ourselves with perfectionism and guilt. Focusing on “good enough” is a wonderful strategy for exercise adherence.
It’s surprising how little exercise it takes to radically improve your fitness and sense of well-being.
#2 Allowing yourself to say “yes” to treats 50% of the time, and allowing yourself to skip them the other 50% of the time.
Erica has a self-admitted sweet tooth, and often “caved” when faced with a pastry or a dessert. When I work with clients who struggle to find balance with sweets and indulgences (i.e., setting strict rules also triggers guilt-inducing “relapses”), I shamelessly use Josh Hillis’s 50/50 game. For his nuanced explanation, click here. But in a nutshell, the idea is that about half of the time (for example, every other time) you say “yes” to a craving. The other 50% of the time, you find a non-food way to address the craving – sleep, emotional connection, taking a break, etc.
While Erica and I also worked on specific nutrition strategies that would help to prevent cravings (more on that in a moment), the 50/50 game was extremely helpful for her in moderating sugar intake during pregnancy.
Using an approach like this helps to build real eating skills – to look at cravings more closely (“Am I hungry? Am I tired? Am I bored?”), and also to accept the deliciousness and fun of sweets and treats. A strategy like this is far more sustainable than “cheat days,” or swearing off of sugar forever.
As Erica says, she’s “not taking on any restrictive rules that won’t work for my pregnancy.”
#3 Focusing on metrics that really matter (because they influence behavior and health)
With Erica, we didn’t zoom in on every single macro. For most people, this is unrealistic anyway, but for the purposes of pregnancy and maintaining balanced blood sugar, we focused on two numbers/habits:
- Protein intake per meal – at least 30 grams per meal
- Refined sugar daily – 25 grams max per day
I honestly believe that most people can miss the forest for the trees when they start overthinking every single macronutrient and micronutrient.
Protein (eaten on a regular schedule throughout the day) is a powerful influencer of hunger and cravings. On the flip side, excess refined sugar (as in “added sugar”) can distort appetite, affect energy, and – long-term – create or worsen metabolic issues. Objectively focusing on these two numbers is incredibly helpful for creating healthier habits.
As Erica says, “I’ve become better at managing the amount of protein I eat per meal, and am finding that it really does keep me fuller so those pregnancy cravings (and my own normal sweet teeth) don’t win the battle!”
#4 Taking things one step at a time
What’s the typical way people overhaul their lifestyles?
Complete makeover. Change everything at once. Strict diet. Daily workouts. 30-day programs.
But Erica has some wise advice to the contrary: “If you’re struggling with consistency, especially if pregnant, I’d suggest taking things one step at a time, and perhaps lowering the bar in a reasonable way that will still confer benefits. Taking baby steps has also helped, because as a working parent chasing a toddler around during this pregnancy, I’ve had to keep my plans do-able, so only paying attention to added sugar for a few weeks, then adding on thinking about more productive meal prep for the next few few weeks, has helped me make incremental change that I wouldn’t have made if I tried to take on everything at once.”
In my work with clients, I find it to be unbelievably effective to only focus on 1-2 behavior changes at a time. Newer clients are sometimes surprised that I’m not “prescribing” a complete diet (or daily exercise) plan for them. But the unfortunate reality is that strict, “all in” plans have a high adherence rate (and often get great results) right at the start, but they tend to fizzle out as motivation dwindles. Habit change, on the other hand, is “stickier” – you do smaller behaviors more repetitively, allowing them to become part of your daily expectations and routines.
Often, I focus first on exercise adherence more than anything else. It’s often the most beneficial habit that people can cultivate, even if it’s not showy or splashy. Then, nutrition behaviors like eating regular meals with protein can become a focus. And so on. At first, you feel like nothing’s happening. But suddenly, within a few weeks, you notice that you’re feeling a little more energized, your workouts are getting better, your outlook on your health is improved, your clothes are fitter better, etc.
Baby steps are extremely effective and sustainable, especially if you narrow your focus to only a few positive habits at a time, in the way that feels most manageable to you.
#5 Being mindful of mental health
Because it does no one any favors to avoid the topic of maternal mental health, I invited Erica to share about her experiences with postpartum depression after her first baby, and how she’s been feeling during her second pregnancy.
Here is what she said:
“Mentally, this pregnancy has felt healthier than my first… I am putting less pressure on myself this time around to research every developmental stage and know all the right gear to buy, and I’m more confident in my and my husband’s ability to navigate the chaos and tough times with a newborn. I’ve also really noticed that my physical activity is helping me emotionally – because I’m feeling stronger and capable, I’m more able to go with the flow and think positively in other realms. Rachel also guided me through the physical recovery of postpartum last time, so I’m not stressed about figuring out how to get comfortable again in my body and regain some strength.”
Erica makes some incredibly important points here – including the fact that physical activity helps with mental and emotional health. Feeling “stronger and more capable” tends to have a trickle-down effect to other areas of coping. This is not to say that a workout plan replaces the need for professional help if your mental health is feeling low – but it’s almost a guarantee that a professional will recommend physical activity as part of a treatment plan.
Instead of seeing exercise solely as a way to lose weight or change your appearance, reframing activity as a powerful way to uplift your physical and mental health is a key shift.
#6 Setting exciting goals
Finally, I want to emphasize that “lowering the bar” on your expectations doesn’t mean you can’t work on challenging goals! Perfectionism is not the same thing as excellence.
I have been continually impressed with Erica and how much her actual fitness and strength is increasing during this pregnancy. Instead of conforming to traditional pregnancy mores (take it easy, don’t overdo it, be “gentle” with your body), Erica has been absolutely crushing her (pregnancy-safe) workouts.
As Erica says, “I think I’m in better shape now than before I got pregnant! The way that Rachel provides strength workouts really works for my preferences and schedule, and I love that I can track reps and weight for each exercise over time, since it gives me a sense of progress. I am feeling very capable in my body this pregnancy, and I really like the feeling of getting stronger.”
I have several pregnant clients this year, and I remember from my own pregnancy how important it is to be strong – both for pregnancy and for the postpartum period. As long as you pay attention to your breathing, your pelvic floor fitness, and your feelings of exertion, you can absolute gain muscle, strength, endurance, and power during pregnancy (check out an article for PopSugar that I contributed to earlier this year on this topic). You cannot be too strong for the postpartum period.
Erica’s doing barbell deadlifts and squats, as well as a robust assort of machine exercises and home dumbbell workouts. Personally, I’ve been extremely pleased with her increases in strength over the last several months! It’s a testament to her consistency and her empowered mindset.
Doing heavier lifts, even though they can be intimidating, can ultimately be extremely motivating for exercise adherence, because you want to keep showing up and making progress!