I’ve never been a “little girl.” I was a chunky kid and I grew into a chubby teenager. By the time I graduated from university, I was downright fat, tipping the scales at about 200 pounds. I didn’t wear it well. I joined Weight Watchers and as I shed all that unwanted weight, I found the confidence to get the rest of my life together.
Fast-forward seven years. Relatively speaking, I’ve got it together — great job, a cute husband, three beautiful children. But with each new little bundle of joy, the scales tipped further toward the old me and I’m now struggling to get my pre-baby body back. I know I’m not the first mom to watch bulges crop up in new and unexpected places. Through my blog, Losing It: Saying Goodbye to the Baby Weight, on Todaysparent.com, I’ve become acquainted with many other women who are struggling to lose their baby weight.
I’m not sure how much of my own personal battle is because I can’t say no to imported chocolate and how much of it is because my body is permanently misshapen after three pregnancies in four years. As with so many aspects of being a mom, everyone has an opinion, so I went to the experts to find out what’s true, what’s hooey and how to take it all off for good!
Breastfeeding helps you lose weight
Fact(ish). The weight we gain during pregnancy has a purpose — besides driving you crazy: It gives your body some fat to feed your baby with. Theoretically, breastfeeding helps with gradual weight loss because it burns about 500 calories a day (approximately a bagel with cream cheese), says Rosine Bishara, a perinatal dietitian at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. If you eat exactly the way you did when you were pregnant, those excess pounds should slowly melt away. There’s a catch, though: You’ll only lose weight if you consume fewer calories than you burn, and nursing can make you hungry. That, coupled with your newfound exhaustion, can actually lead to weight gain, as you’re more likely to overdo it on easy-to-grab treats such as chocolate and chips, says Bishara.
To lose weight you need to restrict your caloric intake. Period.
Fiction. Not so, says Joey Shulman, a registered nutritionist and founder of the Shulman Weight Loss Clinic in Thornhill, Ont. Shulman emphasizes the role of hormonal imbalance caused by pregnancy and nursing — not to mention our normal monthly cycles — in women’s battles with their bulges. “Choosing the wrong foods can cause your body to produce too much of the hormone insulin, and excess insulin facilitates an increased storage of fat.” Shulman says her patients often stop craving sugary snacks in about a week by limiting carbs, choosing whole grains, and including protein at every snack and meal.
It’s harder to lose weight after you have a baby
Fiction. The fat itself isn’t technically any different, but life sure is! Life after baby is full of challenges that can make losing weight harder than ever before, says Nur Akalin, Quebec territory manager for Weight Watchers. New moms are sleepless, strapped for time, and eat whatever they can grab quickly, whether that’s the crusts of their child’s grilled cheese or a bag of chips. Akalin urges new moms to stock their kitchen with healthy easy-to-grab food (see Foods to stock your kitchen with).
It’s tempting to treat the weight we gain during pregnancy like a cockroach — super-resilient stuff that could even survive a nuclear disaster — but it really is just fat. What’s different, says Bishara, is that we let ourselves go a bit crazy when we’re pregnant.
It takes a year to put it on, so give yourself a year to take it off
Fact. (I really hope so!) Women who gain the recommended 25 to 35 lbs. will get their pre-baby bodies back a lot faster than women who consider pregnancy an excuse to eat cake for breakfast (moi?). But that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up.
“One of my biggest complaints is people who assume their post-baby bodies are their destinies,” says Isabel DesRoches, mother of three and a personal trainer in Burlington, Ont. She suggests new moms take exercise slowly at first and urges them not to get discouraged if they’re a little more out of shape than they expected to be. DesRoches, who is fitter now than she’s ever been, says it’s because she treated getting back in shape after her pregnancies like a job. “The bottom line is I’m a better mom because I work out. I’m happier when I look good and I get to be a role model for my kids.”
But if your body’s holding on to those extra pounds despite your five-day-a-week workouts, you can blame genetics. You’re much more likely to walk out of the hospital in your pre-baby jeans if your mother did. Is there anything we can’t blame mom for?
Do’s and don’ts
• Schedule your workouts to the point that they become routine for you.
• Take it slowly. Aim to lose four to five pounds a month. Rapid weight loss could affect your milk supply and even your heart. Plus, you may not be able to maintain it.
• Plan ahead. Have healthy, convenient choices on hand.
• If you’re breastfeeding, feed your baby before you work out. You’ll be far more comfortable. Also, layer your bras — anything one can do, two can do better, especially if you’re nursing.
• Eat protein-rich foods at every meal and snack, especially breakfast.
• Write down everything you eat. It’ll keep you accountable.
• Choose foods high in energy density. Foods that weigh more fill you up faster and keep you going longer. (Fifteen grapes will make you much fuller than 15 raisins will.)
• Brush your teeth after you eat. You’re less likely to “cheat” with a fresh mouth.
• Restrict calories too much, especially if you’re nursing. Ask a nutritionist or doctor to help you make changes you can live with.
• Use having a baby as an excuse not to do it.
• Eat past 7 p.m.
• Skip meals. It wreaks havoc with your metabolism and you’ll feel like bingeing later on.
Foods to stock your kitchen with
• prewashed/chopped veggies (carrots, salad, green beans)
• low-fat dairy products
• low-calorie, portion-controlled snacks
• green tea
• grab-and-go fruit, such as bananas
• frozen fish
• frozen fruits and vegetables
• canned beans
Originally posted in October 2008.