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Pregnancy and childbirth changes everything, including your body, and the sense of loss of control can be difficult to deal with. Workingmums.co.uk spoke to fitness expert Tracey Mallett about how to take back control.
How does who you feel about the way you look and how fit you are affect how well you are able to cope with the demands of being a working mum?
Fitness and wellness expert Tracey Mallett thinks the two are tightly linked and she has personal experience of the struggle many mums face shedding their pregnancy weight and regaining their confidence.
For Tracey, it’s all about taking control and, although you might not guess it to look at her toned physique now, she knows what it’s like from first hand experience. When she had her daughter Amber 12 years ago she gained a lot of weight. “I was always very slim and had never had to worry about my weight as I have always danced,” says Tracey, whose background is in musical theatre and dance. She put on 57 pounds during the pregnancy. Although it did not feel like it at the time for someone whose career is in an industry where appearance matters hugely, she says that in hindsight it was “one of the best things to happen to me”. “It made me understand the feeling of being out of control of your body and feeling you are losing sight of who you are. I learnt not to take things for granted and that just because you have been in good shape it doesn’t mean you will stay that way,” she says.
She managed to lose most of the weight, but it was hard to shift the last stone. Then she got pregnant with her son. Although she continued to teach at her fitness studio in Pasadena, she took a break from the fitness and media industry as she didn’t have the confidence to submit herself to the hypercritical gaze of the media. She had filmed a pregnancy video when she was pregnant with Amber, but shelved it until after her son, now 10, was born. “I didn’t want to be subjected to any negative comments at a time when I didn’t think I would be able to cope,” she says.
Once the video was released, though, it did extremely well and was an inspiration to other women, encouraging them to think that they could also take control of their bodies and get back in shape.
Tracey also started writing books, including Sexy in Six, an exercise programme which is aimed at mums who don’t have a lot of time for exercise. It allows them to fit short exercise sessions into their day. “We’re programmed to think you have to exercise for 45 minutes a day, but if you do the right kind of exercise you can make a difference in regular six-minute sessions,” she says. The programme mixes exercise that is specifically aimed at mothers who have just given birth, such as those that increase muscle mass.
Her second book Super-Fit Mama covers pregnancy exercise, which Tracey says is key to helping the body get back into shape more easily after the baby is born. Her exercises are designed specifically for the pregnant and post-pregnant body, for instance, taking into account the physical demands of breastfeeding and ensuring that the exercise does not push the body too hard and set recovery back. For instance, she says the abdominal muscles separate when you have a baby and if that separation is more than two fingers wide it is no use doing certain forms of exercise that may create more problems than they solve, no matter how much you want a quick route to a flat stomach. “The post pregnancy exercise should be the same as exercise for the first and second trimester of pregnancy, not the same as you did before the baby. Your body is not ready for anything else and you need to take things slowly,” she says.
Although she now lives in the US, has sold over a million copies of her exercise DVDs and has worked in media and with celebrities, for instance, she recently appeared on Ellen where she joined Ellen DeGeneres, Michelle Obama and schoolchildren as part of a campaign to get children exercising, Tracey grew up in a working class family in the West Midlands.
She won a scholarship to the Italia Conti school when she was 16, but wanted to make extra money after moving to London for school and started fitness training on the side. She says that to her dancing and musical theatre were the same as teaching her classes because it was all about entertainment but as a way of encouraging people to move their bodies in the right way.
In 1996 she moved to Los Angeles while she was still doing musical theatre, but in 1997 she auditioned to be the host of a tv fitness show. In the show she fused different fitness techniques, from Pilates to ballet to kickboxing. Now such techniques are more common, but she was at the start of something new. She opened up her fitness studio 13 years ago and since starting up the pregnancy and post-pregnancy sessions has realised that mums of older children also need fitness exercises that fit into their busy schedules. “As your children grow you go through different phases. I saw a lot of mums who have never got their body back after having children and have lost a sense of their sexuality,” she says.
Seven years ago she developed the Booty Barre which brings together her passions for dance and Pilates and her love of fitness. It is a total body workout which works on cellulite, the abs and legs and is mostly aimed at women. “It helps them take control of their bodies, feel sexy and empowered and it’s fun,” she says. “There’s a real psychological component to fitness. It’s a vicious circle. If you feel your body is out of control you can get depressed and eat more. Exercise makes you feel more confident and more in control of your life.”
She launched Booty Barre in the UK recently and is surprised at how well it has done. She’s in the UK this week to promote it and also to visit her family. Her parents lived in the US for eight years, but have since moved back. She comes back to see them regularly and spent six weeks in the UK two years ago for a Lorraine Kelly series. Tracey is keen to inspire women in the UK not just to exercise, but with the story of her own experience of running her own business. “I have lived the US dream,” she says, “and I’d love to inspire people, including children. I come from a working class background. My dad left school at 15 and worked in a factory. A lot of my friends never went to college. In the US I have managed to build my business and become successful in a competitive industry due to a work ethic which is tied to where I have come from. I never want to lose sight of where I have come from. Booty Barre may have been embraced by Hollywood, but I am still very much a Brit.”
She adds that being a businesswoman has given her the flexibility to be around for school pick-ups and to take her kids to soccer or swimming training. “It’s a lot of work, but I wouldn’t do it any differently," she says. "If I did not work I would not be the same mum.”