Anna Johnston, 36, blamed her weight gain on her pelvic floor prolapse – then she discovered a solution.
I was always blessed with an amazing metabolism and maintained a slim figure throughout high school and University with very little effort on my part. Little did I know how good I had it. Having kids changed all that.
After the birth of our second daughter I suffered severe pelvic organ prolapse. I needed two major surgeries, which left me in chronic pain and I became afraid to exercise in case I made it worse or jeopardised the surgery and my pelvic floor. I did little more than occasionally walk the dog if I was lucky, and pretty soon I became very unfit.
It made me feel quite low; I was focusing on the pain all the time and it became a real mental barrier to everything I did. I already had chronic neck and jaw pain so this felt like the last straw. As a result of the surgery, I also developed adenomyosis (endometriosis’ lesser known sister) and had to go on medication, which also contributed to weight gain.
After the surgery, I was told by my surgical team and women’s health physio that I would never be able to lift over five kilos, meaning I could never lift my kids again, do any high impact exercises or things that put downward pressure on the pelvic floor – including jogging, crunches, sit ups, deep squats and lunges.
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I often used to get asked by kids (adults didn’t dare!) if I was pregnant three years after the birth of my daughter. I just assumed that was something I had to get used to – that having kids and the prolapse meant my shape had changed permanently.
For me though, it was not as much about how I looked than how I felt. I remember we were at the point of having dessert and a G&T every night and I was just feeling so sluggish, tired and in pain. I had been reading up on how much our mind and thinking affects our pain, and I decided I needed to make a big change both mentally and physically. I wanted to set a better example for my daughters. I simply had enough and one night something inside of me switched gears and I never looked back.
I hadn't watched The Bachelor so had never heard of Sam Wood, but some friends had recommended his 28 program. Having a background in health, I could see how nutritious his recipes were and I dabbled with the program.
I started eating less and cut down on snacks dramatically, but what I was eating was so much more wholesome and nutritious. I gave up refined sugar completely, my veggie and healthy fat intake increased and I cut down on carbs.
I didn’t find it as hard as I had expected it to. It was cyclical – the more I exercised, the more I felt like eating better, and the more I ate better, the more I felt like exercising. It was all about making four decisions each day: to have three healthy meals and do one work out. Breaking it up like this made it achievable.
There was also a great online support group and an amazing crew that responded quickly to any questions so this was invaluable especially during those first few weeks. It’s a real community who are doing it together.
Here's what a typical day on a plate looks like for me now…
Breakfast: For breakfast I normally enjoy a banana smoothie with full cream milk, nuts, oats, seeds and a shot of coffee or homemade toasted muesli and yoghurt.
Lunch: Lunch is usually an amazing salad with protein, or soup with a slice of sourdough toast.
Dinner: We’ve enjoyed amazing variety with dinner. Some of our favourites include shepherd's pie, Japanese sesame salmon noodles and Turkish lamb flatbreads.
Snacks: Some days I don’t feel the need to snack anymore; other days I snack on fruit, nut butter or rice cakes. I’ll enjoy a couple of weekly treats like raw hazelnut cheesecake or raw caramel slice, both of which my husband agrees are better than the traditional, and I have a bit of dark chocolate and coffee every day.
My workout routine
Each morning after breakfast I do my 28 minute workout, often in my onesie pyjamas. I love that it’s that easy. I have always stuck to the low impact stream of the program and even then, modified many of the exercises with the help of a women’s physio, so they were suitable for my situation. On weekends I’ll go for a walk or bike ride.
I’ve now lost almost 17 kilos since my heaviest last year. Most of that has been lost in the last four months – I lost 10 kilos in the eight week challenge.
The biggest lesson I've learned is that it’s possible to reclaim your body after birth – even after prolapse, surgery and lingering post-surgical pain.
Prolapse is an issue that affects countless women and yet people don’t talk about it. Even with my background in health, I had never heard of prolapse until the day I was diagnosed with one. It’s an invisible condition that makes you feel uneasy all the time. I thought my figure, my health and my pain levels were something I just had to live but that is not true. I know now that with the right advice and support, women like me can change their wellbeing, their bodies and overcome their pain. I now know that exercise and diet is therapy for both mind and body – and mindset affects pain far more than I could ever have imagined. I now barely have any pain and was able to halve my medication.
The biggest challenge was working within my medical limitations. I had to be careful to protect my surgery while at the same time not using it as an excuse. I researched the exercises thoroughly, and with the help of a women’s health physio was able to ensure all the exercises were safe for me to do. For women with pelvic floor issues, you can get fit and improve your health and pain even if it seems daunting at first. Seeing a women’s health physio is vital and there are plenty of exercises out there that are completely safe and will help to shed kilos.