As a disclaimer, I fully acknowledge that I’m fortunate enough to have fairly good genes. No one in my family is stick thin but none of us seem particularly predisposed to gaining weight and that goes for baby weight as well.
However, there are still plenty of people in my genetic background who are hefty midwestern people, and I think a lot of the fact that my immediate family are in the normal weight range is because of family lifestyle choices rather than some kind of genetic lottery we hit. It is immensely beneficial for children to grow up in a household with a healthy lifestyle. It’s much easier to start healthy and maintain it than to be an overweight child and have to relearn habits you’ve had your entire life. So as parents I think we can all agree that the choices we make as a family are important not only for ourselves but for our children as well.
I will say though that growing up in a household where parents (mothers in particular) obsess about weight is not healthy either. Girls pick up very early on the kind of priorities they should have and when Mom is always going on a diet or complaining about how she looks, it’s not surprising that her daughters can grow up with a distorted idea of what it means to be healthy and beautiful.
I strongly believe that your number one goal for creating a positive environment for your children should be to not talk about dieting, or complain about your weight or looks. At least not in front of your kids. Put away People magazine, limit their access to advertisements on TV and in print, and never equate being thin to being healthy.
Lets pretend that youre pregnant. What should you do to help give yourself and your baby a head start to being a healthy weight?
- Don’t purposefully increase your calorie consumption. Yes you are pregnant, yes you use more calories, no you shouldn’t diet. But the thing about being pregnant is that unless you have the willpower of an ox, you are going to over eat anyway. Those pregnancy hormones will make your resolve to eat healthy melt away. So if you’re thinking, “I can eat a little bit more,” at every meal PLUS you’re stuffing your mouth because you needed a cookie NOW, you are going to gain way too much weight. Listen to your body. It will tell you what it needs. Unless you start pregnancy underweight, you don’t need to plan to eat more calories.
- Download a nutrition app. I use MyFitnessPal which is great for showing how my calories are divided and the kind of nutrition I’m getting. Just being aware of how much you’re consuming goes a long way to eating healthy.
- Focus on nutrition, not calories. As I said before, when those cravings hit you are going to want to indulge yourself. Do it. But the rest of the time really focus on eating a healthy diet. Avoid filler foods like corn, bread products, rice, and potatoes, and focus on nutrient dense foods.
- Start exercising. Again, this is obviously not the time to start lifting weights or pick up long distance running. But giving birth is a VERY physical activity and you should train for it, just like you’re training for a marathon. Do squats, go on lots of walks, and take every opportunity you can to get up and be active.
- Drink water. Lots and lots of water. Not only will this help your appetite but staying hydrated is the best way to keep up motivation for being active (nothing is worse than trying to do physical activity when you’re dehydrated) and will help keep a lot of pregnancy sickness away.
A healthy lifestyle isn’t made up of hard daily workouts, and intense diets. It’s made up of lots of small choices, like walking up the stairs to get something instead of sending your kids up, or eating a hamburger but foregoing the bun. There is a lot of time spent, particularly by your doctor, about how to stay healthy during pregnancy, but what about afterwards? Lets say you’ve popped that little cutie out. What now?
First and foremost, spend time with your baby. Don’t worry about getting up and doing stuff right now. The first two weeks especially should be spent just moseying around the house. Even if you feel like you’re ready to get up and back out into the world, try not to. I say this because it’s very easy to strain your body right now (trust me, I’ve overdone it several times, which only adds weeks to your recovery) and you really need to build yourself up. In a couple of weeks things will begin to get more difficult both as your body returns to normal and as your hormones try to level off, and you will be thankful that you took a break and spent so much time bonding with your baby. But when you are ready to start getting out there again,
- Breastfeed. I know some women can’t, and some choose not to, but burning an extra 500 calories a day will go a long way to helping you get rid of all your extra bits. When you start breastfeeding it’s a good idea to avoid dairy products (milk proteins are hard to digest for babies and can cause gas) and to drink a lot of water. Your breastmilk is pretty impervious to your nutrition, meaning your body feeds your baby first with the perfect cocktail of baby building food, but you won’t make any milk without water. I drink at least 5 glasses of water a day. Sometimes I have to force myself. But drinking enough will keep you producing milk (which burns calories), makes you feel well enough to be active (which burns calories), and flushing out your body (which also helps get rid of excess calories).
- Pace yourself. I learned the hard way that losing weight very quickly is not what you want to do. With my first baby I gain 25lbs during pregnancy and then lost 40 in a little over 3 months. It sounds nice but it was more like, “Oh look at how nice and flat my tummy is getting OH MY GOD WHERE DID ALL OF THIS SKIN COME FROM?!!” I purposefully gained weight back to my pre-pregnancy, which is the only time I’ve meant to gain weight. Doing that makes you feel really skinny.
- Build muscle. The best way to combat saggy stretched skin is to put muscle behind it. Simply dieting and losing weight wont do much to help your body bounce back. This is partly why exercising during pregnancy is so important. It helps you keep muscle under there and makes it easier to continuing exercising post pregnancy. I’ve learned what they say about whole body workouts is very true. I’ve spent years trying to work on my stomach with little success but recently I’ve started doing more whole body exercises like planks, and suddenly my stomach muscles were visible! Just because you only have one or two areas that you want to work on, you still need to work your whole body.
- Eat more fat. That doesn’t mean eat more food that is high in fat, it means switch out a lot of your carbs for fat. Normally you want to get about half your calories from carbs, thirty percent from fat, and twenty percent from protein. While youre breastfeeding you want to switch your carb and your fat intake. Not only does a high fat count lead to a healthier baby, studies have also shown that eating more fat leads to burning more fat. This is partly because while eating fat doesn’t “fill you up” like carbs, they actually lead to long term satiety, which helps you eat fewer calories throughout the day. Fat also gives you more energy which helps you to be more active and burn more calories.
- Carry your baby. If you start right after giving birth, carrying your baby isn’t much of a pain at all. Your body adjusts to the weight as your baby gets heavier. But carrying your baby is great for keeping baby happy, which helps keep you happy, and it also adds extra calorie burning to every step you take. Even when you’re standing still. Put away the stroller and buy a wrap.
- Don’t be lazy. At a certain point you are no longer in recovery mode and are capable of doing every thing a normal person can. I usually put this point at when lochia stops. Setting a goal for yourself at this time isn’t a terrible idea. Sign up for a charity walk or plan to do an all day hike or something. Two weeks after my lochia stopped I did a charity bike ride. I didn’t go fast at all but the fact that I was able to do it helped tremendously to keep me motivated to exercise. It just helps remind you that you are “back to normal” and not a frumpy Mom.
- Have high energy days. About every other day I try to take a long walk or go on a bike ride or do something that involves being out and active all day long. Get outside and play soccer with your kids for an hour while the baby sleeps, take everyone to the zoo and carry baby in the wrap, or do an actual workout at the gym. Just try to have a few days a week that are more active than others. I like high energy days as opposed to workout days because it helps create a lifestyle change, not just a good habit of going to the gym.
Eventually you are going to meet your weight loss goal and you want to create a life where the weight doesnt come sneaking back up on you. When things get busy and hectic its much easier to drop working out than it is to drop playing with your children. Being healthy with your children is a great way to not only keep your weight in check but to help your children develop a healthy lifestyle. So my last tip is to not be a sideline parent. Your kids dont have to be on the tennis team for you to all play tennis together. Find an activity you all enjoy and play together. Play tag with your kids, bend down and pick them up as often as you can,