How to Get Your Food & Fitness Groove Back After Baby
By Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN
Let’s face it--we’ve all seen countless celebrity moms looking unbelievably fit and trim in photos splashed across the pages of our favorite magazines or in televised interviews within weeks of having a baby. And I’m sure like me, you probably have a few friends who looked like they never even had a baby soon after delivering their bundles. But for most of us, getting our bodies back after having a baby isn’t something that happens overnight. And it’s no surprise that erratic feeding and sleeping schedules and family and work demands (not to mention hormones!) make it a real challenge for mothers to reclaim or develop healthful food and fitness habits and manage their weight.
Unfortunately, failing to lose weight postpartum may not only have negative health effects (it can up your risk of chronic diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers, especially if you’re overweight or obese); it can also take its toll on your self-esteem and feelings of self worth. You may feel badly about your body and, counter-intuitive though it may be, use food for comfort and that can certainly undermine your efforts to get your body back post-baby.
Who Are The Successful Losers?
A new study published in Topics in Clinical Nutrition surveyed 692 women who gave birth in the past 5 years about breast-feeding, physical activity habits, stress level, depression, and work status. Researchers found that the women who had more weight loss success—they lost 50 to 100 percent of the weight they gained during pregnancy within 6 months—were those who reported they:
- went back to work
- had childcare help
- did more physical activity.
The study also found that those who reported a higher stress level or more severe postpartum depression were among those who had less weight loss success. According to registered dietitian Ellen Slotkin, the lead author on the study, “This finding is yet another reminder that new mothers need to take care of themselves, seek out professional medical treatment for postpartum depression, and incorporate stress reduction techniques or things that reduce stress like exercise into their day, even when it seems there aren’t enough hours to do so. If women don’t add themselves to their priority lists, their health and ability to care for their families will likely suffer.”
How to Get Your Groove Back
Whether you’ve just had your baby or started your family years ago, here are 4 simple strategies that can help you once-and-for-all get your nutritional and fitness groove back:
1. Cut yourself some slack.
According to Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, mother of three and author of Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, & After Pregnancy, “It can take several months to lose the "baby weight" so go easy on yourself. Hold off on dieting for at least 6 weeks, but don't go overboard on your eating, either. Your body needs time to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, and slashing calories will sap energy and make it harder to care for your family. Consume at least 1,800 calories a day, and more if you're nursing or exercising.” And whether you’re going back to work or not, forget the guilt, cut yourself some slack, and ask others for help. Although this study found working moms were more successful at weight loss, all moms need some kid-free time to grocery shop, prepare meals, or hit the gym.
2. Give breastfeeding a try.
Although it may not be for everyone, this study found that those who breastfed for any period of time were more successful at weight loss than those who did not. Despite the many benefits of breastfeeding for mother and child, the recent report of the Advisory Committee of the Dietary Guidelines suggests breastfeeding shouldn’t be promoted specifically for weight loss since weight loss may be small and depends on how often and how much women breastfeed and other variables.
3. Slip in fitness fixes.
“You may not be able to get to the gym or run as much as you’d like to, but you can still start to shape up with 10-minute metabolism boosters" says Ward. She adds “You can use light hand-held weights (or even soup cans) to tone your upper body, tune into a free exercise or video music show on TV, or simply take a walk with your baby.”
4. Fill your fridge and clean out your pantry.
According to Monica Bearden, RD and Shara Aaron, MS, RD, co-authors of The Baby Fat Diet, “Since we all have moments of weakness throughout the day, especially when we’re sleep-deprived, don’t trust will power to guide you towards healthier, more mindful choices; instead, keep high calorie, nutrient-poor temptations out of sight and make healthful foods visible and available.” Ward recommends stocking up on healthy foods that can be made into meals and snacks in minutes; these include eggs, whole grain breads and cereals, peanut butter, canned tuna and beans, low-fat milk, yogurt, and reduced-fat cheese.
Were you able to shed weight after having a baby? Share your story here!
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips," "Feed Your Family Right!," and "So What Can I Eat?!." She is also a past national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. For more information, go to www.elisazied.com, and www.nutritionatyourfingertips.com. Follow Elisa on Twitter and Facebook.