working out in mom culture + how everything changed once I did

Over the holidays I overindulged, as one does. Christmas baking all day long, festive drinks every evening, and zero exercise whatsoever. My health had become a really low (nonexistent?) priority and the funny thing was, everyone was cheering me on. I'm not sure if it's us being overly permissive, fear of appearing judgemental, or the one-up-man-ship of mom culture, but it seemed like every time I went back for a fifth cookie or a third coffee, I was met with an encouraging smile or a knowing nod. As if I wasn't really living the real mom life if I had energy. If I wasn't exhausted on my third coffee, I wasn't in the trenches enough, or anymore, which of course made me feel instantly guilty for my apparent heaps of free time. It's as if somewhere along the line, from the good place of wanting to give grace, we set the bar so low for ourselves that we couldn't possibly know what it felt like to be strong, healthy, and rested and simultaneously a loving, hardworking mom. 

And I know this to be true of mom culture because I've witnessed it and I've been on both ends of it. I've been the exhausted mom, talking to the mom who takes good care of herself (exercising and eating well, and dare I say not guzzling coffee) and thought to myself: must be nice for her, but maybe if she had a third kid she's be singing a different tune. Instantly judging her healthy choices and giving myself a pat on the back for not making them. And I've been the mom (albeit very recently) who wears lipstick and works out, and I've got the comments urging me to just relax and rest while you can or the ones that suggest I've got a bit too much free time on my hands. It seems like where there's tons of grace for self care and health, there's no encouragement, and where there's enthusiasm for self care and health, there's judgement and law. Can't we have both?

Last month, right after Christmas, I started working out again. And by again, I mean for the first time since university. Can I still say "again" when the hiatus was a decade? Ahem. Anyway, though over the years I've done active things such as the occasional hot yoga, spinning, or Zumba class, this past month I've been working out for about 25 minutes five times a week. This kind of consistent exercise has never been part of my daily life until now and I can't believe how much has changed. Like everyone else and their mother, I'm doing the Kayla Itsines circuit training, but I'm modifying the workouts as I please (for example I don't always do "real" pushups and I don't always use weights for things like lunges and squats, and I also do her workouts more often than required, generally 5-6x per week). 

After only a week (5-6 workouts) I was totally shocked at the changes in my lifestyle and general health.
  • I was already stronger! This workout will make you strong, not skinny, which I love! I wasn't looking to shed pounds (I've always been a bean stock like my Grandpa) but I couldn't even open jars half the time because I was so weak. No more!
  • I was guzzling water for the first time ever. No more dehydration and all of her unfriendly symptoms!
  • I was craving (yes, craving) healthy food like smoothies, salads, and fresh juices
  • My sweet tooth was almost totally cured. WHAT. I know. I just didn't want sweets in the same way as I once did. 
  • My coffee addiction? Disappeared. I didn't want coffee anymore, like ever. I can't believe I'm typing this, but it's true. After the natural energy I gained from working out, coffee seemed pointless, and also I was never craving the taste. In the past month I've probably had five coffees and I've typically dumped them out half way through my cup because I've lost interest (!!!)
  • Same story with alcohol. Not that I was ever addicted to it, but I enjoyed a glass of wine or a beer almost every evening, and since I've started working out the desire is just not there. 
  • My energy throughout the day was at an all time high. From the very first day of my first workout until today, I no longer have my post lunch lull where I'd give anything to nap, and I'm not tired until around 9pm.
  • My sleep is sound and restorative. No more tossing and turning or waking easily in the night, only to hit the snooze bar over and over again. I go to bed between 9:30-10:30 (much earlier than before I started working out) and wake up, usually before my alarm, at 6am. 
I've tried cutting out coffee, sweets, and alcohol in the past for fasting, Lent, or No Sweets November and it was always hard to break old habits. Now that I'm exercising daily, the desire for those things is just gone! It's not like I'll never have sweets again, in fact we are having red wine chocolate cake tonight (which covers two things I've lost the strong desire for recently, haha!), but I'm not craving these things at all, and I've happily cut them (mostly) out of my diet now in favour of things that nourish me better.

So here's the tricky thing. I'm loving this healthy lifestyle. I'm looking back to those tired days with young babies, when I'd stay awake with cupcakes and coffee, doing no exercise at all and wishing I tried this then. But I also remember how tired I was then and how wholly unwilling I was to take on any new activities, much less ones that caused pain and required an extra shower. Mom life, in any stage has it's challenges. I really believe that this healthy change has altered my life for the better and has given me more energy for my little ones, and really that all moms would benefit from a little less coffee and a little more daily exercise. But you can't just say that to a mom, now can you?

I'm aiming to be a woman who can hear a suggestion that isn't my cup of tea and consider it anyway. Because they might be on to something. Because I'm not always aware of what's best, even for myself, especially with little sleep and full-on mom brain. I'm certainly not there yet, but this process has made me aware of how closed I was to any suggestions about health and wellness in the past (unless said suggestions were eat as many donuts you want today because hey, you're a mom! which I would readily take to heart).

I'm also aiming to be a woman who soothes with grace but also encourages with hope.  Grace without hope can be license. Hope without grace makes you a tyrant. Exercise and health is one small way I see God working on my character, and it's long overdue. I've searched high and low for balanced fitness advice and it's really hard to sort through the uber aggressive drill sergents and the filtered before and after half-dressed shots, but I did like reading this bit of advice on Instagram: "Whether it's in your spiritual life, your exercise, etc, it takes persistence, prayers, a positive outlook, and a willing heart."

So next time I talk with a tired mom, don't worry, I'm not going to throw her my 5lb weights and say "get moving!" I'll probably cook her a meal and bring her some hand-me-down baby clothes, and offer to pray for her. Unsolicited advice is never fun, and that's not my game plan. But if a mom comments about my finding the time to workout with a busy life and three kids in the mix, I'll be the first to say, trust me, it's worth it, and you should seriously consider trying it. When I saw La La Land I told everyone breathing about how they needed to drop, stop, and roll to the cinema to see it. Why not share and encourage about health and wellness, which is much better for them in the long run than a modern musical (though seriously that movie is magic)? My friend recently wrote about how she finds the time to workout with two babies at home and a husband in medical residency (read it here), and I loved reading it.  Some days require an extra coffee or an early bedtime, and that's totally cool. But the exhausting, busy, selfless mom life is so much easier with endorphins, curbed cravings and strength. Give it a try, weary mama. You might just find it's exactly what you needed.


  1. Thank you, Emily, for this post. It is full of love and truth. I completely agree - I've started getting more exercise the past couple of weeks, and it has made SUCH a difference in my energy level. But the weird thing, it feels like this terrible secret - because I feel that if any other mom around me knew or found out, she might either a) think I have "too much" free-time, or b) dismiss me as some sort of super mom who thinks she's better than everyone else. It's so weird, this mom-culture.

    1. You are welcome Lizzie! It's so tricky, but I think we can both agree that it's totally worth it!

  2. I'm currently pregnant and I remember you used a certain prenatal workout video, what was it?- Julia

    1. I didn't do one! Are you thinking of my BFF Morgan?

    2. I am! Thanks for steering me in the right direction.

  3. Anonymous27.1.17

    I have been doing fitness blender videos (on youtube and fitnessblender.com) for the last year and its been amazing. I do them 5x a week and I make it a priority. I lost 25lbs which I didn't even know I had to lose (I was 160 to start and 5'10") and now I'm stronger and healthier than I have ever been. I hear ya on the craving healthy food thing. It's strange! If I went to a christmas party and would have some treats I'd go home and devour a spinach salad like it was a pregnancy craving. Now since I know you are a minimalist I would recommend power blocks instead of all those free weights. I bought mine from Canadian Tire!

    1. Thanks for the tips, Anon! And way to go!!

  4. I am interested in the kayla workout. What did you sign up for and how much does it cost? On the site the App is $20 a month...is that what you did? Thanks for the inspiration!