This is the second of a handful of posts I’ve solicited from some friends in the ancestral health community whose voices I admire (Part 1 by Tara Grant is here). I’ll be posting these in the days leading up to AHS13. It’s my hope that these dispatches will resonate with others out there and help dispel the notion that everyone in ancestral health have hunter-gatherer physiques and zero health struggles. I’m tired of the apologies and I’m tired of people not feeling welcome. We all come to ancestral health for our own reasons, and this is too important of a movement to let divisions arise over perfectly normal, human experiences.
Here’s my homie, Kendall Kendrick, otherwise known as Primal-Balance.com, with her perspective.
Thirteen years ago when I started having babies at 23 years old, I had no idea what my body was in store for. Up until then I was 5’9″ and at best between 120-125 pounds. I didn’t have curves, just bones with skin covering them. I’d never dieted in my life. I lived off fast food three times a day, coffee and soda, and I smoked. That all changed the moment I got pregnant. I still had a crappy diet for a long time, but I stopped smoking and drinking caffeine. By the second trimester I was putting on weight rapidly. I gained about 80 pounds that pregnancy. I switched to a midwife at 27 weeks pregnant who did a great job helping me clean up my diet but I likely had borderline gestational diabetes. My daughter was a week past dates and weighed ten pounds.
It took two years to get 80% of that weight off. I don’t lose weight fast while breastfeeding so that was part of the issue. By the time I got pregnant again two years later, I was down to about 45 pounds. I had a soft, pudgy belly and I was still nursing so my breast were larger than ever but saggy, resembling the photos I used to see of tribal African women in my grandmother’s National Geographic magazines when I was a kid. But I loved being a mother and was happy to trade the body that could walk into any store and look cute in whatever I chose to the body that had no idea how to dress for this weight and most of the time looked like a frumpy middle-aged woman and not the mid-twenty year old I was.
When I got pregnant with the twins a couple of years after my first daughter, my first husband revealed to me that he was no longer attracted to me. As a woman who’d never had body issues, I became plagued with them. I wanted my marriage to work, I was ashamed that I hadn’t taken better care of myself, I was angry that this man couldn’t see the birthing, breastfeeding, mothering Goddess that I was. At that point I was only a few weeks pregnant and it was months before I found out I was carrying twins. I decided just to focus on having a healthy pregnancy and trying to lose weight as soon as I gave birth. My diet wasn’t terrible but it certainly wasn’t Paleo. Although I had a strict regimen of how much water and protein I took in, I couldn’t get enough nutrients. I was incredibly anemic and miserable. I gave birth at 39 weeks pregnant to 14 pounds of babies. My fundal height was 49 centimeters—that’s a big ass belly! I breastfed the girls for 15 months. I started walking when they were still infants and then joined a gym and did hours of cardio in hopes of losing weight to save my marriage. I grew my hair out, I started belly dancing classes, I tried to wear make up more often. I went back to work in radio part time which gave my ego a boost. But I still felt terrible about myself. I started losing weight only to realize that my stomach had been so stretched with the twins that the smaller I got, the more it was going to look like a Shar-Pei. Once my milk dried up and I lost more weight, my breasts shrunk down to an A cup and were saggy and covered in stretch marks. Here’s the best part! Months later my marriage fell apart and I was single…with this new body that I despised.
I looked great in clothes, but the thought of anyone seeing me naked horrified me. And people did see me naked and no one acted horrified, yet inside all I could think was how disgusting I must look to them. Then I met my second husband who loved my body. He loved every wrinkle and stretch mark. He loved that I’d grown and nourished my children from this body. It made him proud of me. I knew he was a catch! But I still hated my body. When I got pregnant with our daughter, my fourth child, I gained about 50 pounds. I did my usual third trimester give into the donut cravings tidbit. If only I’d known then that my body was missing nutrients and screaming at me! That baby was 9 pounds. I was 31 by then, sharing custody, and generally having a pretty darn hard time in life. My kids were sick all the time and we couldn’t figure it out. Of course it was gluten and dairy intolerances. I lived in emotional turmoil, fighting with family members and unable to reconcile with trauma from my childhood. I nursed that baby until she was two and while I’d lost a little weight I wound up pregnant the month she weaned. I then had a tumultuous miscarriage at 11 weeks pregnant nearly ending my life. Everything changed after that. A near death experience gave me the second chance I needed to see that I could find peace with my life and be who I was destined to become.
Although it’s been a three year process of hard work, lots of therapy, and dealing with my past, I finally learned to love myself and forgive others, even my ex-husband who couldn’t love my body for what it was. I give a lot of credit to going Paleo 2 1/2 years ago. Eating a cleaner diet allowed my head to clear enough to work on my trauma. I lost all the weight I wanted to. But I still had the Shar-Pei belly and the National Geographic boobs that won’t fit into any cute tops or strapless dresses. Even bras fit weird. I’ve considered plastic surgery a hundred times.
Up until very recently I only wore one piece swimsuits. In my work to love myself, all of myself, I decided that I had to start showing people the parts of me that I hated. I want my four daughters to have healthy body images and I never want them to feel like it’s their fault that I don’t like my body. My husband and I went to the Dominican Republic on a much-needed second honeymoon last April. I bought the most flattering two pieces I could find. Figured going to a tropical island where I wouldn’t know anyone would be a lot easier to show my belly than doing it at the neighborhood pool with all my friends. So I did it and it was the scariest thing I’ve done in a long time. No one gawked, I didn’t feel like an ogre. I just decided to own it. The true test was pulling it off at my neighborhood pool. By the time summer hit, I’d had a couple of months of truly loving myself for the first time in my life and no longer being concerned with how others saw me. It turned out to be really easy. Just the other day a good friend told me how much she loved me for wearing a bikini. When I asked why, she said because I was so confident in owning my body even though it’s not “perfect.” It made me feel amazing to hear that.
I know that many people in the Paleo community have body issues and are intimidated to be around others who they feel have “great” bodies and “look the part.” I believe that every person has their own hang-ups about their body no matter how beautiful or perfect other people think they look. Even me for instance, I’m tall and lean, so in clothes who would guess that I have these issues? But I feel like I wear them like a neon sign. I’ll never look like those “Strong is the New Skinny” memes of women with 12 packs and perfect bellies no matter how many CrossFit workouts I do. I don’t think that the Paleo community needs to be aiming for perfection. We need to aim for acceptance of being right where we are and who we are. Do we really want to be the community that creates shame in people? Maybe we all just need to have a weekend at a nudist retreat and get over it! Those folks seem to get it. Seriously though, work on loving yourself and aim for good health. That’s the most important aspect of this life. The rest will fall into place.
Kendall Kendrick is a mom to four girls and a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. She works in childhood nutrition food policy because she’s passionate about creating and expanding school garden programs to help educate future generations about where food comes from. She writes about paleo nutrition, primal parenting, and urban farming at Primal-Balance.com, and enjoys helping others find balance in food, pregnancy, childbirth, raising healthy kids, and sustaining the planet.