I often get asked from people who have known me pre, during, and post pregnancy: What did I eat to lose the baby weight after having my two children (I gained almost 80lbs .. twice) and how did I get started back into exercising? There are no short answers to these questions and I have no formal education in nutrition, but I love sharing what worked for me. Note: I had a really hard time finding pictures of me post-baby. I would never let anyone take any pictures of me. All of these are of my daughter or son 4 months old or older. Looking back that is just so silly. Every pound was worth it. I would do it a million times over. I just wish I could say that extra weight didn't bother me during such a happy time, but it did. Especially since the weight didn't start coming off until I got serious about my eating and exercise plan once my daughter was 9 months old.
I was recently re-inspired to share my post-baby weight loss tips after spending the last two weeks helping my sister kick-start her post-baby weight-loss plan. I remember so vividly the challenges of trying to get back into shape post-baby, while feeling like I had no time, and being drop dead exhausted. Like me, my sister gained some extra weight during pregnancy. I wish I could say it is just genetics, but in my case, some Duncan Hines vanilla cakes with vanilla whipped frosting may have had something to do with it. Whatever the case, and whether you have 10 or 50 lbs to drop post baby, I hope these tips help get you started on your way to returning to a weight/size that makes you most comfortable and that gives you all the energy you need to keep up with your little ones. I do always tell new moms, "remember what your body has been through to have a baby and so be kind to yourself and patient with the process of returning to your target weight."
Like many women, I have spent the majority of my life struggling with 10-20 lbs. My weight has always fluctuated and I think my first real diet was at the age of 14. Since that young age, I have failed at pretty much every diet in existence. You name it, I probably tried it -- Calorie counting, Detox diets, Low-fat, No carb, no-sugar…no coffee/no alcohol (total failure on that one) and probably a combination of many of them put together. And perhaps the crème de la crème of miserable diets was when I ate boiled leek soup for 3 days, about the portion of a baby food jar mixed with bland frozen meals lacking any nutritional value. Basically, through all of these diets I was starving, cranky and completely obsessed with what I was eating. The “positives,” I usually lost a quick 8-10 lbs. over a few weeks, but it always came back the minute I stopped following the diet. Not to say that these diets could not work for someone, but they just didn’t work for me. I needed a balanced, real life solution to weight loss that fit into my busy life and allowed me to not become obsessed and panicked by food, but rather enjoy and love my life and the food that goes with it.
What I learned from all of these diets, is the simple truth that losing weight successfully means doing it in a way that fits your lifestyles, your likes and dislikes, and with real food. It also means being realistic about your goals and the time it takes to lose weight. It took me a year to lose all the baby weight I had gained. A year from when I stopped breastfeeding. I did it slowly and steadily. And while I was of course impatient, I was able to do it without starving myself or depriving myself, and by incorporating exercises that made me feel healthy, strong, and most importantly energized. Here is just an overview of what I did:
Food: Again, I have no formal education in nutrition. But I can say, I have been studying food in some way for the past 15+ years – and using myself as a lab rat. I could go on for pages about all I have learned. From all of this, I changed my eating habits that ultimately changed my body. In full disclosure, at this point, I follow the below eating guidelines about 80/20 (I am 80 percent sticking to it/and 20 percent less restrictive). Those that eat with me know that I am the first to order french fries or a treat of somekind at lunch these days. When I first began my “program” I was much stricter with myself, but part of maintaining the success is allowing you to live 80/20.
Food/eating: We each need to find a way to have a happy relationship with food. I used to spend half my day either obsessing about food or feeling guilty about what I had already eaten and trying to plan how I will make up for it the rest of the day by not eating. It’s the biggest sense of freedom not to worry or obsess about what I am eating anymore. I just try to enjoy it, eat when I am hungry, and make healthy choices. I know that sounds too good to be true, but once I started eating real food, real fats, I was satisfied and stopped obsessing. Most importantly, I started to eat a lot more than I had on any diet. Your body needs food and fats. If your caloric intake is too low, you will store the fat because your body starts to think it’s in starvation. So eat!
Calorie Counting: I am not a huge fan of calorie counting, but if you have NO idea how many calories you consume in a day, it’s a great thing to do for a while to get you started. There are great free apps (MyNetDiary) and online (caloriecount.com) where you can log your daily calories, but even more powerful, you can learn how many calories are in the foods you eat. These tools really helped me learn what a portion size is and how many extra unnecessary calories I was eating. When you calorie count, remember, you have to put everything in, including the grilled cheese and pizza you finish off your kids plates. These apps also have guidelines for how many calories you should consume in a day to reach your target weight. If the app tells you you're “OBESE” (like it did when I first registered) you are free to get mad and have one emotional breakdown, but boy will you be happy when it finally says you have moved to the “normal” category. It’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor first, especially if you are breastfeeding. For me, 1600-1800 calories a day was my initial target. You may need to adjust your caloric intake if you are exercising a lot or have a job that keeps you moving all day, most calories counters will help you with that as well. One thing I loved about calorie counting was that I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, as long as at the end of the day I didn’t go way over my target calories. I didn’t eat much during the day, but I would eat a HUGE amount at night, just due to my lifestyle at the time. This worked for me, despite the fact that many diets say no eating past 7 p.m. However, women in France and Spain and other parts of the world are tiny and they usually don’t finish dinner until way past 10 p.m. So, I say if eating late will keep you from snacking even later…eat late. This let me work my “diet” into my lifestyle.
My food philosophy: I really eat. REALLY EAT. I eat carbs, bread, sweets. The only thing that I do not eat is dairy. I try only to eat real food (meaning foods with only 1 ingredient). I do not eat a lot of processed foods. I eat bread and carbs, rice is my favorite carb (and I am sorry only white rice). I try not to eat much gluten. The good news is, gluten free is trendy right now, and there are tons of great gluten-free options out there (e.g., gluten free brownies and gluten free waffles). I try to find as many “healthier” substitutes for things as possible. Chips with safflower oil instead of vegetable oil, almond butter instead of peanut butter…you get the picture. It does take some time and research, but look at the foods you love and find where you can make healthier substitutions. I do not eat ANY artificial sweeteners, or non-fat, or sugar-free foods. These are pure chemicals and much better, in my opinion, to have the real delicious stuff in smaller quantities than binging on chemicals.
I try to always drink a lot of water. It fills you up, it hydrates you, it flushed toxins out of your body and it makes your skin look beautiful – win, win, win!
Not eating any dairy may not be a great option for everyone. For me it has been great, in the year I have been dairy free, the changes I have felt and seen have been huge. Here are a few links to a few articles about giving up dairy. Dairy-Free Challenge and Go Dairy Free.
Example of a typical day for me: Breakfast: Smoothie (protein power, berries, almond milk, a healthy oil), or eggs and avocado wrap, or a Kind Bar, if I’m in a hurry. And of course, coffee with sweetened almond milk or coconut milk.
Lunch: Turkey on regular wheat bread (or gluten-free bread) , with tomatoes, lettuce, mayo (canola oil) and an avocado. A side of chips made with safflower oil. Or I will have a salad with chicken, shrimp or eggs and avocado topped off with an oil based salad dressing (good fats are good for you).
Dinner: Fish, Salmon, chicken, steak or shrimp, with a salad and rice or sweet potatoes.
Snacks/Sweets: I try to limit both, however, when I am hungry I will have fruit or Kind Bars (sea salt and chocolate is my favorite), apple with almond butter, or any fruit.
Exercise: I used to have a love/hate relationship with exercise now it is just love/love. Getting started on a new exercise program and finding the motivation can be a huge challenge, but once you get into the swing of a routine and start to see results, I hope you will LOVE it too. There is also another reason I love/love exercise at this stage in my life. Exercising is kind of like a min-vacation from motherhood. It’s my time to focus on myself and doing something just for me. Even if I can only fit in 30 minutes, I love and cherish that time. The way I started to love exercise is by finding exercises that I actually enjoyed doing. I highly recommend trying out as many different classes, running, biking, boot camps, yoga or studios that you can to help you find what you love. This is how I fell in love with the Barre and Boxing. You may surprise yourself with what you find you really enjoy. Once you find exercises that you like, try and do them or a combination of them 3-4 times a week. On the other days, try to fit in a walk with the kids or other activities that get you moving. Also, I think the key to seeing results is really challenging yourself. When I was in love/hate mode, I would do the minimum to get through the class. Once I made the goal to give 100% and leave those classes sweating and having tried my best, I really started to see a difference. Oh lastly, music. I love working out to great music and I have posted some of the songs I play in my classes on my Jessica Diaz Boston Barre Facebook page, if you need some new tunes.
Making it work with kids: This is tough! Fortunately, I found a gym with a great day care. They have almost a mini-pre-school with great programs. I started bringing the kids there when they were around 6 months old. Prior to that, I would either take long walks (exercising with the kids) or exercise really early in the morning or really late in the evening when my husband was home. Not ideal for me, but it was the only way I could fit it in. I also purchased some DVDs that I could do at home for days when getting out to exercise just wasn't going to happen.
I hope some of these tips were useful. So get moving and get eating!