Bye-Bye Baby Fat
If you're like the average new mom, you look at your baby and can't believe the perfection you've created. Then you look in the mirror and think, "Oh, what's happened here?" On the one hand, you'd love to get your body back. On the other hand, you're tired. And pulled in 20 different directions. Who has the time to head to the gym, or whip up spa cuisine? When baby's napping, it's just easier to flop onto the couch and munch on whatever's around. (Leftover mac and cheese, anyone?)
The Good News
Sometimes all you need is a little push and a plan. We found three new moms who wanted to lose weight -- but couldn't quite get started. Each met once with nutritionist Sophie Pachella and trainer Eric von Frohlich, both of New York City, to come up with a diet and exercise plan. They checked in periodically for progress reports, but each mom was on her own to make the plan work. Here's what happened in 12 weeks.
Pachella, who specializes in sports and pre- and postnatal nutrition, is the founder of eatstrong.com. She bases her advice on what she calls "clean eating" and emphasizes that it's a lifestyle, not a diet. Pachella encourages clients to cut out processed foods in favor of lean protein paired with complex carbs like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, plus three daily servings of low-fat dairy. Simple carbs such as white rice and pasta are limited, along with the usual suspects like cookies and full-fat dairy. That's not to say you can't eat the foods you love. "Everyone has something she's reluctant to give up. You can work around that -- as long as you understand the trade-offs," she says.
When it comes to exercising for weight loss, von Frohlich says you have to commit to working out at least four days a week for 45 minutes at a time. If he's training a client, he'll mix resistance work (weights) with cardio, but if you're on your own, it's pretty basic: Find an activity -- one you like -- that gets your heart rate up, and do it. His big piece of advice for new moms: "Don't always put your baby first -- you need to take care of yourself too. You can find the time to exercise. And you need to get enough sleep." You can't work out if you have no energy, he says, and lack of sleep slows down your metabolism. And it's no fun being a mom when you're running on empty.
5'5", 33, mom to Gavin, 1, still nursing
Starting weight: 159 pounds
Ending weight: 134 pounds
- Bridget's story: I can't seem to take off the 30 post-baby pounds I'm stuck with. I've never been up against having to lose this much weight before. I quit my job to stay home with Gavin, and now I'm around food all day. Help!
- The big issues: "Bridget was a mindless muncher, snacking on whatever was around throughout the day -- a handful of pretzels here, a bar of chocolate there," Pachella observed. She ate an energy bar breakfast; lunch was leftovers from dinner the night before, which all too often was takeout pizza or Chinese. On nights she had a low-cal dinner, like a Lean Cuisine entree, she tended to snack into the night. After she put Gavin to bed, Bridget liked to wind down with a few glasses of red wine and was up-front about the fact that she didn't want to give that up. Nor could she see life without chocolate.
- The plan: The energy bar breakfast doesn't fill up Bridget, causing her to be hungry an hour later. Breakfast needs to be high in protein: an egg-white omelet, high-fiber cereal with milk, or a yogurt and almonds. A midmorning snack could include string cheese and fruit. Since Bridget is home, Pachella suggested chicken and steamed vegetables or a salad (with at least five 5 vegetables, lean protein, no cheese, and light dressing). Dinner should be lean protein and vegetables. If she wants takeout, order carefully -- a burger with no bun and a baked potato, for instance.
- How it went: Bridget is the type of person who loves a plan. She starts off her day with an egg-white omelet. For lunch, Bridget switches between salad and grilled chicken and vegetables. Dinner is usually some kind of meat with vegetables, but she's careful about portions. To satisfy Bridget's chocolate fix, Pachella suggested VitaMuffin tops -- dense chocolate to the tune of just 100 calories. And a glass of red wine at night is fine, too, as long as Bridget is careful not to also indulge in pasta or cookies during the day.
- What's hard: "It's just not that fun eating out. Why get Chinese takeout if you're ordering chicken and steamed veggies?" asks Bridget. "The upside is that we're spending less money on restaurants, a bonus since all of the fresh foods I'm eating are more expensive."
- The exercise: When Bridget met with von Frohlich, she said, "I have to wear a strapless bridesmaid's dress in three months. My upper body needs work." She added that she refused to join a gym. "It's a waste of money -- I know I won't go." Von Frohlich was fine with no gym, especially since Bridget had a treadmill, which hadn't been used in two years. "I just can't find the time."
- The plan: Since she hadn't worked out in a long time, von Frohlich wanted her to go easy in the beginning. In fact, he urged Bridget to get a heart-rate monitor to make sure she didn't overdo it at first and not push hard enough as she got into better shape.
- How it went: "I decided I would hit the treadmill during Gavin's nap at 10 a.m. I strapped on my monitor after figuring out what my target heartbeat should be if I was to stay in the low-intensity range. It felt too easy. But I made it to 40 minutes. I felt good the next day! My usual pattern was to go too hard the first day, wake up really sore, then use that as an excuse to not exercise. It wasn't long before I felt cranky if I couldn't get my workout in." Once she had the treadmill down, Bridget added upper-body exercises using a medicine ball.
- The outcome: Bridget lost 25 pounds and a total of 22 inches. She looked fabulous in her strapless dress. The bonus: Her husband lost 20 pounds too!
5'4", 35, mom to Ella, 2, and Noa, 4
Starting weight: 144 pounds
Ending weight: 132 pounds
- Sue's story: A mother of two girls, Ella, 2, and Noa, 4, Sue has just written a book on real estate investing and is crazed working with the publisher to promote it. She eats out constantly and has little control over her schedule. She loves good food, fresh vegetables, and ethnic cuisine.
- The big issues: While Sue likes a lot of healthy foods, she's addicted to sugar. "And there's no way I can avoid restaurants and catered lunches -- it's part of what I do for a living."
- The plan: As Sue noted, she was consuming way too much sugar (and simple carbs). "On one day she had a bagel, a croissant, and 11 cookies before noon!" says Pachella. Too often, Sue was fueling her body with sugar, filling up on cookies and other junk, when she was truly hungry and needed real food. "Have something sweet as a taste at the end of the meal, but don't make it your meal," says Pachella. As for eating out, Pachella said that shouldn't be a problem: "You can always find something that will work." For instance, if chicken's on the menu, you can ask to have it broiled with no sauce, even if that's not the way it's normally prepared.
- How it went: Sue got off to a slow start -- after her first month she hadn't lost any weight. "I had the best of intentions but did not realize the amount of planning required to change my eating habits. I love salad and would have all the ingredients sitting in the fridge -- spinach, tuna, tomatoes, cucumbers, and beets. But I'd walk into the kitchen, starving, and eat whatever I was craving." Dining out also continued to be a challenge. "I just couldn't follow the advice to make the restaurant cook everything plain. I found it depressing. I wanted to eat like everyone else." The zero-pound loss at four weeks was a sobering wake-up call, alerting Sue that she needed to make some changes fast. First, she realized that just having the ingredients ready to go for a healthy meal wasn't enough. To prevent her from making bad choices in a fit of hunger, the salad already had to be assembled. The second big change was reorganizing her schedule so she could be home for more meals, where she had more control. In other words, she cut down on the number of catered lunches and restaurant meals in a given week. For the ones that were unavoidable, Sue would make a salad and eat beforehand. Then at the restaurant, she would order what she wanted, making sure that it included vegetables. But because she'd had the salad, she wasn't hungry and would eat just a few bites.
- What's hard: Keeping my food healthy and predictable when my schedule isn't -- that's my ongoing challenge. And when I want sugar at 2 o'clock, it's not easy to tell myself, 'You'll have your muffin top at 4.'"
- Exercise: Although Sue had no problem with gyms in theory, she had no time to get there. So she decided she would exercise to tapes in her living room. What she liked to do was non-aerobic strength-training videos involving hand weights, but von Frohlich explained that such a routine wasn't going to get her heart rate up. Instead, she needed to find a tape that mixed cardio with weights. Now she does The Firm workout series, a fast-paced body-sculpting routine, after she drops her girls off at school.
- The outcome: Sue lost 12 pounds and a total of 12 inches. Her daughters are asking for hand weights for their birthdays!
5'8", 28, mom to Olivia, 13 months
Starting weight: 137 pounds
Ending weight: 120 pounds
- Her story: Despite the fact that Kelly gained almost 50 pounds during pregnancy, she had lost most of it by the time her daughter, Olivia, was 13 months old. What she's unhappy about is her pooch. She hasn't exercised since the birth of her daughter. She's a third-grade teacher and has to be up and out early in the morning. After work, she likes to spend all of her time with Olivia.
- The big issues: "I'm a picky eater -- don't make me eat fish or eggs!" Her diet contains almost no dairy and not nearly enough protein. And although Kelly likes vegetables, her husband does not -- and he's the one who does the cooking. She skips breakfast and often eats takeout for lunch with the other teachers. Dinner is usually meat and some kind of starch (bread or rice), sometimes with a salad. Kelly wasn't a big eater. "She's just eating a lot of junk," says Pachella.
- The plan: Breakfast in the morning is a must! To avoid the high-fat takeout trap, Kelly needs to bring her lunch. For dinner, Pachella suggested more vegetables and less starch.
- How it went: "Eating healthy isn't as hard as I thought. I'm addicted to Fiber One Honey Clusters with Skim Plus and a half cup of berries. For lunch I'll take turkey on whole wheat or a low-fat frozen meal. My husband still makes steak or chicken for dinner, but now I cook vegetables for myself, and I limit any starch to a fist-size portion. I can't believe how much more I'm eating than before, yet I'm losing weight."
- What's hard: "Getting up earlier to eat breakfast. Also, giving up the package of sour candies I ate every day. Now I have a VitaTop brownie or Smart Pop popcorn for a snack, and I always carry around a small bag of almonds."
- The exercise: Kelly actually belonged to a gym, which she had joined while she was still pregnant. The gym offered childcare, yet she had not gone even once. "My schedule is too hectic for the morning, and once I'm home, there's always something going on. Plus I feel guilty exercising instead of hanging out with Olivia."
- The plan: Kelly's got to do more than ab exercises to lose the pooch. "It doesn't matter what kind of muscle she builds -- no one will see it unless she loses the fat," says von Frohlich. Kelly vowed to do 20 minutes on the treadmill, 20 on the elliptical machine, plus the three ab exercises von Frohlich gave her to do three times a week.
- How it went: "I put my workout clothes in the car so I could pick up my daughter from daycare and go straight to the gym after work. I also made myself a chart and gave myself a sticker every time I went to the gym. If the week was coming to a close and I only had two stickers, I knew I had to get moving. In addition to the 40 minutes on the machines and the 10 minutes of ab exercises, I regularly took a kickboxing class."
- The outcome: Kelly lost 17 pounds -- and a total of 14 inches. "I'm thinner now than I was before I got pregnant -- and I have so much more energy. I thought I'd feel guilty about not spending the time with Olivia, but I felt so much better after just one session at the gym that I realized Eric was right: I'm a better mom if I take care of myself too."
Originally published in American Baby magazine, October 2006.