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I Tried That “Mummy Tummy” Exercise Everyone’s Talking About — and Yes, It Really Does Work

Let’s just say, my body has gone through a lot in these last seven years. I’ve grown and birthed three human beings. My hair has dried and fallen out three times. My feet have grown three shoe sizes. And my boobs have gone up and down so many cup sizes that one look in my undergarments drawer would understandably lead anyone to think that multiple women share the same bureau.

But the one change that stuck around for far too long after my first pregnancy was my mom pooch. You know what I am talking about, right? No matter how much you diet, your belly just kind of hangs over your waist band a little, giving you the look of someone who appears to be permanently six-months pregnant. As it turns out, that’s basically a flashing warning sign for a surprisingly common condition called diastasis recti — and according to a study done in Norway and cited by NPR, one-third of moms get it.

So, what is it exactly? In laymen’s terms, diastasis recti occurs when the abdominal muscles separate during pregnancy, creating a gap between them. This gap can be felt and measured by finger width, which can tell you how bad yours is. But it’s not just about aesthetics; the condition can also cause a lot of physical problems for women, most notably chronic lower back pain. To fix that pooch, most new moms turn to the gym, in hopes that crunches and planks will flatten out the offending muffin top bulge. But those crunches can actually make things much, much worse.

Not all hope is lost, though. Earlier this month, NPR reported that a simple exercise program called the Dia Method can cure the mom pooch for good in less than 12 weeks, and with only 10 minutes of work a day. Naturally, moms everywhere went wild. And with good reason.

I’d actually heard of the method last month, and decided I had nothing to lose by giving it a whirl myself. And while I still have a ways to go, I will tell you this: It’s not all hype — my diastasis recti is quickly closing, and I almost can’t believe it.

Here’s how it works, according to the Dia Method website:

“Grounded in science and backed by results, the Dia Method activates your transverse abdominis, your natural corset, to protect and restore the abdominal wall. Through isometric contractions of the transverse abdominis, the Dia Method reinforces the strength, resilience and elasticity of both the linea alba and the rectus abdominis.”

Every day for 10 minutes, I sit in a quiet room. (Okay fine, I’m usually outside in my backyard surrounded by kids, but whatever.)

Image Source: Sarah Cottrell

I take a deep breath in while expanding my belly, and with a quick motion that feels like you’re pulling the air “up and in,” I pull my belly button toward my spine and hold it there while completing breath exercises.

The muscle that I am trying so hard to work out is called the transverse abdominis, and it looks a lot like a corset that wraps around the six-pack. By tightening and strengthening that corset muscle, I can pull the six-pack muscles back together, thus closing the gap and providing my body with more support.

Image Source: Sarah Cottrell

The Dia Method was developed by fitness expert Leah Keller, who told NPR that during a study run by herself and a doctor at Weill Cornell, “100 percent of women achieved full resolution” after using the program. That was enough for me to pay the $12.95 for a monthly membership, which gives me access to a website that features easy-to-follow videos that explain in detail what the movements are and how they are transforming my body.

It’s been a full month now since I started using the Dia Method, and my gap has shrunk from three fingers wide to just one-and-a-half. Plus, I’ve lost a few inches around my waist. I’ve also made other small, but meaningful changes since I’ve started to take my health more seriously: I gave up drinking red wine and eating donuts, and started taking the stairs at work and eating more salads. One small healthy improvement leads to others, right?

But the one big revelation that I’ve learned from this trip down Diastasis Recti Lane is that pregnancy, birth, and postpartum have forever changed my body. Sure, I can still run a 5k, but I will never be able to do a crunch or a classic plank again. The pressure of pushing my organs against my abs would be enough to pop that gap back open, and in the first Dia Method video, Keller advising against bicycle crunches, because those suckers flay the abs out, creating a situation ripe for diastasis recti to come back.

Every movement I make — including how I sit while nursing my child or banging away on the keyboard at my desk — requires me to be mindful of what my muscles are doing. And that’s a good thing. Because as a mom, I often put my needs squarely last, and can quickly lose touch with myself. This adventure in losing my “mom pooch” is putting me back in touch with myself. And perhaps in a way, that’s one upside to having a mom pooch to begin with — it’s forced me to pay closer attention to my own health and happiness for the first time in a long time.

Like many women, I felt pressure to bounce back into shape after giving birth to my three children almost immediately. And that pressure set me up for horrendous self-esteem issues when I saw that no matter how much weight I dropped, my belly just wouldn’t flatten out. It just hung there like a fanny pack for years, making me feel like a failure.

Image Source: Sarah Cottrell

The truth is, I don’t aspire to have rock hard abs like I did when I was in my twenties, but I do aspire to be healthy and to look attractive. For me, this method has totally helped me achieve that — and I’m eternally grateful that there’s finally something out there for us mamas that works.

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