Welcome to part six of The science behind weight loss, a Conversation series in which we separate the myths about dieting from the realities of exercise and nutrition. Here, Caroline Homer, Professor of Midwifery from the University of Technology Sydney, examines the pressures on women to lose weight after giving birth:
Women are often bombarded with contradictory advice after childbirth – from health professionals, family, friends, and other new mums on social networking sites – about how to shift the weight they gained during pregnancy.
Some of this advice is evidence-based and centred on eating a variety of nutritious foods and getting regular exercise. But much of it is based on fad diets, unrealistic claims and outdated information.
There is also a constant barrage of stories in the media about celebrities losing weight quickly after giving birth.
To assess the influence these stories have on women’s post-pregnancy body image and expectations, Heike Roth (a UTS Honours student), Professor Jennifer Fenwick and I recently analysed how the Australian media portrays the childbearing body through the use of celebrity stories in women’s magazines.
One of the most distinctive messages we found was that after giving birth, women should strive towards regaining a pre-pregnant body shape with the same effort they would employ when recovering from an illness. The implication was that changes to the body during pregnancy were unnatural, unhealthy and weak.
The stories glamorised speedy post-pregnancy weight loss and centered on three specific themes: “racing to bounce back”, “breastfeeding to bounce back” and “pretending to bounce back”.