My seven-year-old son is a stickler for rules: We must wear our seatbelts, we must listen to the teacher and we must never, ever answer a cellphone while driving because policemen will come to get us.
“And we have to have our four food groups every day,” he tells me decisively, displaying a tattered copy of a schoolbook displaying the proper distribution of grains, meats, dairy, fruits and vegetables.
I leaf through the booklet, eyebrows raised.
“Do they still teach that stuff in schools?” Corey looks at the pamphlet with disbelief.
“I think they do.” I pick up the book and turn to the last page. The book is paid for by the Dairy Foundation.
“You actually don’t need to drink cow’s milk to be healthy,” I tell my son.
“My book says you do,” he insists.
“Books aren’t always right,” I say. But my kid is being taught in school that cow’s milk is a necessary part of a healthy human diet and it’s pretty difficult for me to explain why we don’t believe that that’s true at all. On the contrary, actually: Corey and I both believe that cow’s milk is actually kind of bad for you.
Nolan’s book about healthy dietary choices makes me think about what we are taught in school, at the doctor’s office and in later life. It makes me second-guess what I accept as truth simply because it’s presented as such.
I recently received a new email from a longtime reader of my online writing, a Crossfitting woman who has discovered she is pregnant with a new baby.
“Do you have any advice on first trimester exercise?” she asks me. “There are so few resources available online.”
She wants to continue to exercise throughout her pregnancy. She could ask her doctor, of course, which is what pregnant women are advised to do. She already knows this, and she’s emailing me — and it’s not the first time this has happened.
Many times, of course, doctors are right. They’re usually smarter than we are, starting way back in elementary school, and then they go to university for years to hone that natural intelligence into something authoritative and definitive. We rely on them to answer the questions that befuddle us, to provide us relief when we feel awful and to diagnose the mysteries of our own bodies. We know they know more than we do, and we know they’re right much more often than we are. But, I think, as I read Liz’s email, they’re not always right. They often prescribe solutions to the average person, and not to the fit minority. Perhaps that’s why I keep getting asked the same question in my inbox; a question that should perhaps be better directed towards a doctor.
When I was newly pregnant with Jude, I stepped into my doctor’s office tentatively, worried that she would tell me to stop exercising altogether. I exercise to combat stress and anxiety, and I worried that nine months of a relatively sedentary lifestyle would rocket me straight into the loony bin.
“I have been very active the last two years,”I told her. “I’d like to continue what I’m doing throughout my pregnancy.”
“And what are you doing?” she asked, eyebrows cocked, surveying my first trimester body. She must be able to sense my worry.
“Well, I’m running,” I say, searching her face for a sign of disapproval. I do not mention that I often sprint, and run 10 kilometres for time and push weight-loaded prowlers up uneven pavement.
“OK,” she says. “But slowly. Don’t ever get to a point where you can’t talk while you run.”
“OK,”I respond. “That sounds fair.” I pause for a second before I blurt, “I also lift heavy weights.”
“How heavy?” Her eyebrows are raised again.
I can’t tell her that I deadlift 240 pounds, or that I often enjoy squatting with 110 pounds over my head, and that I would like to continue to do that on a modified basis.
I’m trying to think of the right answer, an answer that sounds responsible and normal. It’s not coming.
“Small hand weights should be OK,” she says while I’m still hesitating, and I think of the mini pink barbells that used to frustrate me so much in the rec centres I used to work out in.
“So… no deadlifting or squatting with weights I guess?”
She looks horrified, “No, nothing heavy. Jogging, walking, swimming should all be fine.”
I think about asking whether or not handstand pushups are off limits, and then decide silently that I’m going to have to define my own reasonable limits here.
It’s not that I advocate ignoring a doctor’s advice. And I don’t mean to imply that Canada’s food pyramid has it wrong (although, personally, I believe it’s wrong for me and I hope that doesn’t make me sound like a total jerk). But I think it’s just as important to listen to our own bodies as to heed the information we’re taught in school and instructed in the doctor’s office.
I did Crossfit throughout my pregnancy, but I slowed down when my body told me to (and it often did). I switched to box steps very quickly and kept rowing right until the end, because it felt right. I did walk and run and swim, but I also continued to do what my body was accustomed to doing, activity wise, and it helped keep me sane and relaxed while I was growing my baby. I was elated to learn that my body told me quite clearly what I could do comfortably and what could wait until I was postpartum.
So, listen to your doctor when you’re pregnant. But also listen to your heart, and stir in some common sense and a bit of the experiences of other people that you trust. Everyone is different.
Here are some online resources that helped me astronomically when I was contemplating just how much fitness to incorporate into my pregnancy.
- One Fit Mom: This post totally reaffirmed my decision to keep lifting (relatively) heavy weights while pregnant.
- Crossfit Mom: Has challenging daily exercises modified for the pregnant Crossfitter.
- Amanda’s Fit Pregnancy: This Aussie woman had an amazing physique pre-pregnancy, and a stellar one postpartum. I read her for inspiration throughout my pregnancy.
- The Globe and Mail: Discussion on whether or not extreme exercise is OK during pregnancy.
Also, in case you’re wondering, I consumed no milk and very little dairy while pregnant. I continue to drink almond milk instead and obtain my calcium intake from kale, almonds, spinach, etc. I’ll keep telling my son that he has to listen to his teachers and read his books, but I’ll also encourage him to do a little independent research and listen carefully to his own body before accepting wisdom about what’s good and healthy.