Overcoming postpartum letdown to become mom-fit

Jennifer Knight found integrative nutrition so instrumental in her own life that she became a certified health counselor herself, opening her own business this spring. — Photo by Elissa Lash

Jennifer Knight had always wanted to be a mother. Even as she was exploring and enjoying careers in both education and real estate, she knew she wouldn’t feel complete until she was able to add the title mom to her already impressive resume. When her son was born three years ago, she was thrilled. He was “Our calm, joyful baby — our little Buddha.” The first several months of motherhood were idyllic. Then, when she started back to work, something shifted. She had expected to be tired, but she wasn’t prepared to feel completely drained, and uninspired.

She had a baby, so why was she feeling so dissatisfied with herself and her life?

Ms. Knight is a physically active person, but even though her son was now a toddler and sleeping through the night, she couldn’t find the energy or motivation to begin to exercise again. She wasn’t losing her pregnancy weight, and her feeling of dissatisfaction with her body was affecting her confidence and her relationships with people.

“I was exhausted, uninspired by my work, and unmotivated to exercise. I had always been motivated to exercise. It helped me get through my day. I didn’t even recognize this woman I had become,” Ms. Knight said.

She mentioned her malaise to a friend, Roberta Kirn, who had just finished the coursework at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a health counselor. Integrative nutrition is a holistic approach to nutrition and wellness, combining food guidance with emotional, spiritual, and life coaching. Ms. Kirn offered to take Ms. Knight on as a “practice client.”

Even the beginning of the process was an awakening, Ms. Knight remembers.

“As I filled out the initial health history consultation form, I realized just how unhappy I had become. While becoming a mother had been a lifelong dream of mine, I wasn’t prepared for just how much my life would shift. In my desire to be a super mom, I had let my own needs fall completely by the wayside — as a natural caregiver — my needs didn’t even make the list. The result was tired, grumpy, dissatisfied me — and that certainly wasn’t making for the happiest home life. Being disconnected from myself meant that I was also disconnected from those that I loved the most — my son and my husband.”

Over the course of the next six months Ms. Knight worked with Ms. Kirn, meeting, talking, setting goals. They discussed not only what she was feeding herself physically, but also looked at what the Institute of Integrative Nutrition calls primary foods, the activities and responsibilities that made up the substance of Ms. Knight’s life — career, relationships, spirituality.

Together they envisioned small, manageable changes that Ms. Knight could implement to increase her overall sense of wellness.

By the end of their six-month practice, she had regained her energy, felt closer to the people in her life, was sleeping and eating better, and exercising again. She had also lost 25 pounds and found a new career. The changes had been small, manageable, realistic, and gradual. The results were magical. She felt and looked great and people noticed. Other moms wanted to know what she was on. Was it some secret elixir? And where could they get it?

“Working with Roberta changed my life,” she says. “I realized I wanted to bring joy to moms.” She wanted to share her secret with other mothers to help them feel fit, well, healthy, joyful, and fulfilled — to give the gift to others that had been given to her.

Ms. Knight completed the Integrative Nutrition coursework herself and is now a certified health counselor. This spring she opened the doors of her new business, Vineyard Health Counseling, and is accepting new clients individually or in groups. She will offer a free workshop for new moms at the Family Center the last Thursday in June as part of the Family Center’s postpartum health and wellness initiative.

Ms. Knight says she believes she can help women find balance, wellness, and happiness with their bodies and their lives.

“As a result of my own work with a health counselor, I changed from a tired, overweight, uninspired, stressed mom who was a shell of her former self to a vibrant, energetic, inspired, loving, physically fit mom. I still juggle the roles of motherhood, career woman, wife, friend, daughter, and sister — but I do so with an enlightened awareness of how to take care of my own needs first. Living from this place of wellbeing allows me to freely give to others. Healthy living through self-care is the ultimate gift I offer my clients as a health counselor.”

Elissa Lash is a yoga teacher, labor doula, and writer who has just completed her first novel. She lives in Vineyard Haven with her husband and two children.