In our Listen to Your Mother (or Father) series, we ask moms and dads working at Highmark to share the wisdom that can only come through the experience known as parenthood. Children (of any age) have a great deal to teach the rest of us. In this month’s lesson, Keren Gifford shares how her priorities have shifted since becoming a mother and how she’s planning to get back on track and lose some more of the weight she gained during pregnancy.

Here’s the truth: Being an awesome mom is not really about counting almonds, spending an hour in the gym every day or achieving minimal body fat. Once I had my first baby this past December, my priorities changed!

Keren Gifford

Shopping with a snuggly baby.

Let me be honest: I am obese. I’ve always been overweight, but only since having a baby have I passed the 30+ BMI mark. Yay milestones.

There was a time in my 20s when I did all the right things and managed to be just “overweight.” Since then, my good lifestyle habits have gradually fallen by the wayside. From my overweight baseline, I gained 45 pounds during pregnancy, and now, at over 6 months postpartum, have lost about 23 pounds, almost entirely in the time immediately after giving birth. Becoming a new mom has made it difficult to care for myself, and admittedly my bad habits have escalated.

I fed my baby exclusively breast milk for the first six months, then started introducing solid foods, though the majority of his nutrition still comes from breast milk. Here’s what breastfeeding does for me: It helps keep my baby healthy and growing, it’s cheaper than formula, and it’s turned me into a ravenous food-crazed monster!

I’ve heard that breastfeeding helps women lose weight postpartum. So far, this has not been the case for me. Many women find they cannot lose weight until after weaning, if at all. I feel I need to step up my game.

Finding the Motivation to Change

Having been overweight all my life, I have many experiences with successfully losing weight only to gain it back, plus extra. I keep thinking that one day I will lose my excess weight and keep it off. Better to keep on trying than give up hope, I suppose.

working out with baby boyHowever, all the things I’ve done in the past to be successful don’t seem to fit into my new-mom schedule. There doesn’t seem to be a spare millisecond for anything. I used to find ways to fit in activity, even if it was just taking the stairs or parking farther away. Now, it seems those things would take more time than I have. But I still find time to go to a café and buy a bagel some mornings!

Since it has been my personal lifelong struggle, I studied health behavior change in graduate school. I looked at the healthy things people do in their spare time of their own volition, since those are exactly the things we do simply because we want to, because we have the inner motivation to do so. I have a passion for researching motivation in the hopes that I can get myself to change. Everyone wants to be healthy, but somehow that just isn’t enough.

The question is how to increase motivation. There’s research that shows if enough inner motivation is there, people will overcome almost any obstacle to do what they want to do. In fact, overcoming obstacles in itself bolsters confidence and motivates people even more. 1-6

It Starts With Confidence

So what is the key? How do we get from unhealthy behavior to healthy behavior? Some evidence points specifically to our confidence in our ability to use resources that help us overcome obstacles.3 As you gain more confidence in your ability to successfully use resources to overcome obstacles to healthy behavior, it increases your motivation and effort to overcome those obstacles. Then, once the obstacles have been successfully overcome, your participation in healthy behavior increases.

Each time someone goes through this process, it adds to mastery experiences (that “I’ve done it once, I can do it again” feeling) and increases confidence and motivation and thus participation, resulting in a positive feedback loop capable of sustaining healthy behavior.

Young family running

For example, I want to lose weight while continuing to breastfeed, but I haven’t been able to make the necessary diet and exercise changes to make that happen. It’s not that I don’t want to be healthy; there is motivation, but there’s a lot getting in the way. However, there are a whole host of resources I could be using to help negotiate my way around these obstacles. Right now, I heavily doubt my ability to make use of these resources and still honor my higher priorities (like my baby). If I could increase my confidence in my ability to use the available tools to help me participate in healthy behavior despite my new-mom obstacles, I could likely be making some healthy behavior changes. And if I were to do so, it would increase my confidence and effort and I would participate in even more healthy behavior, which would increase my confidence again and so on.

So, how do I begin? How can I increase my confidence in my ability to overcome obstacles to healthy behavior? Once I start seeing some small successes in overcoming obstacles to healthy behavior, I will be on track for a positive spiral leading to sustained healthy behavior.

That’s why, for some of us, having a personal coach is so vital in our quest for better health. It helps to provide that initial nudge in the right direction. It helps to have someone direct us to available resources (including the ones within ourselves) and remind us that we have the power and ability to use them successfully.

I recently began speaking with a health coach through Highmark every week. I am optimistic I can make a change for the better. Stay tuned for an update in about six months on how my health coaching experience is going.




  1. Hubbard J, Mannell RC. Testing competing models of the leisure constraint negotiation process in a corporate employee recreation setting. Leisure Sciences. 2001;23:145-163.
  2. Jackson EL, Crawford DW, Godbey G. Negotiation of leisure constraints. Leisure Sciences. 1993;15:1-11.
  3. Loucks-Atkinson A, Mannell RC. Role of self-efficacy in the constraints negotiation process: The case of individuals with Fibromyalgia syndrome. Leisure Sciences. 2007;29:19-36.
  4. Mannell RC, Loucks-Atkinson A. Why don’t people do what’s “good” for them? Cross-fertilization among the psychologies of nonparticipation in leisure, health, and exercise behaviors. In: Jackson EL, ed. Constraints to Leisure. State College, PA: Venture; 2005:221-232.
  5. Son JS, Mowen AJ, Kerstetter DL. Testing alternative leisure constraints negotiation models: An extension of Hubbard and Mannell’s study. Leisure Sciences. 2008;30:198-216.
  6. White D. A structural model of leisure constraints negotiation in outdoor recreation. Leisure Sciences. 2008;30:342-359.