Why Do so Many Parents Gain Weight Post-adoption?

August 16, 2012
Post-adoption weight gain
Post-adoption weight gain

I've written before about how I gain weight during the adoption process, but the thing I never came clean about is that I also gain weight after my children come home. I'd hoped that it would be something that was isolated to Zinashi's case, but it turns out that it's not. It's definitely not, fifteen extra pounds worth of not. And the more adoptive moms I talk to, the more I hear that I am not the only one to experience this, and furthermore, there are common causes. The first is stress, and the second is a change in the basic rhythm of your life, which affects eating habits, exercise, and sleep.

It's tough adding a new member to your family, regardless of how they come to you. In the experience of many adoptive parents, there are additional factors involved with getting settled as a family, and that can cause additional stress, and for those of us who don't lose our appetites during challenging times, this can lead to tighter trousers. I'm writing here today to say that it's okay if it happens to you. It's happening to me right now, and while I am uncomfortable with it, I don't think I should be. I am working hard to be all right with it, because in the grand scheme of things that matter when you bring your new child home, whether or not your body is a certain shape and size is not one of them.

Related: 15 things you should NEVER say to an adoptive parent

I find it comforting to find that I am not alone, even though this is not something I heard much about before I adopted. Sue, who gave birth to her first child and easily lost the baby weight, said that the post-adoption weight gain when she adopted her second son caught her by surprise as well. "I was swimming laps twice a week and doing yoga on the weekends before he came along, but have found it hard to get back into that routine with two boys - so the combination of stress eating, less exercise, being six years older and not breastfeeding have definitely all contributed." Virginia, who gained weight when she adopted her last daughter, talks about a scenario I'm all too familiar with, which is sleep deprivation. "I was so sleep-deprived that I just grabbed anything handy to eat," she says. Once she figured out how to solve her daughter's sleep issues that were keeping her up at night as well, she lost the weight.

For me, emotional eating is definitely a factor. I have recently been re-reading The Connected Child to refresh my adoptive parenting knowledge and strategies, and there's a segment about the brain connections made when we eat when we are babies. It makes a lot of sense to me that so many of us find comfort in food even as adults. There's a physiological response to eating that has nothing to do with filling our bellies, and everything to do with our emotions. Craving a certain food when we're stressed doesn't make us people in need of therapy; it just means that we're human. I personally have chocolate cravings; with Elvie in the hospital, it's even worse than usual. Add in sleep deprivation and a sudden aversion to most salads, and you can see why lounge pants are a good choice for me right now, even if I weren't sleeping in them at the hospital.

Related: 10 things EVERY woman should do before having kids

If you're newly home with an adopted child (or children), I'm not giving you (or me) a free pass to dive into a pan of brownies and never come up for air, but I do think that in our weight-conscious society, we can often make a big deal out of something that simply shouldn't be important. We can also use excuses to ignore our health because we feel defeated. I'd like to take a more balanced approach.

First, it's important to recognize that this is just a season of life. The work that you do when you bring home children who need emotional and physical healing is intense, especially in the beginning. Some things are going to fall by the wayside, and for some of us, healthy eating is one of them. Exercise may be another. It's okay to reserve your energy for parenting for awhile. If it adds stress to try to fit in cooking healthy meals, then you're not going to want to do it. If you don't have time to exercise in the beginning, well, you just don't have time to exercise. And when you do feel like cooking well and exercising, chances are that you're going to have to figure out a new way to accommodate both in your life. Give yourself time, and start small when you feel ready.

Related: 12 things your kids MUST see you do

The good news is that in my experience with Zinashi, and in the brief period of normal we experienced with Elvie between hospital stays, I found that I could slowly work toward a new normal, in which I was eating well again and exercising. It's different than it was before - in this adoption, there's a lot more crock pot cooking and baby in the sling while I walk on the beach, and a lot less chopping all my fresh ingredients just before dinner and going for a run while Zinashi and Jarod play afterwards. With Zinashi's adoption, I never quite got back to my pre-Zinashi size, but I also didn't have the time and energy to run six miles every day. And while I still hope that someday that's a possibility in our life with two kids, I also am aiming for the same thing I aimed for last time: to be healthy and feel good.

That may or may not include fitting into my skinny jeans. And that's okay.

- By Mary McBride
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