You're power-strolling with your baby regularly and deskinning your chicken -- but you've still got leftover pregnancy pounds that just won't budge. What's going on? One possibility is that you're expecting too much too soon. "To get back to your prepregnancy weight, give yourself a year," says Fran Grossman, a registered dietitian at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. It can take that long, especially if you're not breastfeeding and you gained more than the recommended 25 to 35 pounds.
Still, if pregnancy weight lingers past your baby's first birthday, it's time to examine your lifestyle for habits that may be unwittingly doing you in, says Grossman. For Ilise Kesslin, a mother of two from Riverdale, New York, her nemesis was old-fashioned deprivation dieting. "I realized that when I restricted the food I could eat, I binged later in the day on snacks," says Kesslin, who now eats whatever she wants, just in smaller portions. As a result, she says, "I'm skinnier than I was before my first pregnancy." Kesslin lost 40 pounds this past year.
What's preventing you from dropping that extra weight? Here, we reveal seven common diet traps -- and how you can keep them from holding you back.
Your mother-in-law always shows up on your doorstep with one of her yummy pies. The other mommies bring treats to playgroup. You help yourself to bites from your child's lunch and snacks, or eat leftovers so they don't go to waste. "This kind of environmentally induced impulse eating is a big trap for dieters," says Daniel C. Stettner, PhD, a weight management psychologist in Troy, Michigan. You eat food just because it's there -- not because you're hungry -- and those unconsciously consumed calories can add up fast, Stettner says.
Food fix: To guard yourself against a "see-food" diet, don't keep edibles out in the open or on the kitchen counter. If you find yourself, say, foraging in your cupboards when you're chatting on the phone, talk in another room. When you're at play dates, mothers' groups, and birthday parties, carry a water bottle so you can take a swig instead of nibbling on something. "Drinking water serves as a reminder that you're doing something healthy," says Stettner. Water also fills you up. If someone gets pushy about asking you to sample her food (Don't you want a piece?), avoid saying "Well, I really shouldn't," which implies you want to be convinced. Instead, suggests Stettner, repeat this concise and convincing phrase: "No, thank you. I'm not hungry right now."
As for finishing up leftovers, make a mental note to prepare less food next time. Meanwhile wrap up the extra rice and peas and put them in the refrigerator immediately -- or toss them. In fact, teach your kids to empty their plates into the garbage once they're old enough -- around age 3. And rather than mindlessly munching at snack time from, say, an open box of Goldfish, have something that's calorie-contained by design, like a piece of fruit or a carton of yogurt. Or consider foregoing snacking altogether. "When my girls have their snack, I tell myself that it's their snack time, not mine," says Carrie Williams, a mother of two in Newport Beach, California.
Fatigue-induced eating is a diet pitfall for all women, and particularly for new moms. According to a National Sleep Foundation poll, women reported being likely to eat more than usual on days when they didn't get enough sleep. "In that compromised state, we often reach for food, especially sweets, because we're looking for a quick energy boost," agrees Joy Bauer, RD, author of The 90/10 Weight-Loss Plan (Griffin). "We also have less willpower and tend to grab food for comfort."
Food fix: If you can't take a catnap, activate your day: pace when you're talking on the phone, deliver a memo in person instead of sending an e-mail, walk on the treadmill while you're watching TV, or go for a stroll with your baby. "Exercise pulls glycogen -- the stored form of carbohydrate in the liver and muscles -- into your bloodstream, which can ultimately make you feel more energized as your blood glucose level rises," explains Neva Cochran, RD, a nutritional consultant in Dallas. Also, use this snacking system, which acts as a kind of nibbling speed bump: "Designate three low-calorie foods you'll eat first before grabbing anything else," advises Bauer, such as two handfuls of baby carrots, a nonfat yogurt, and a 30-calorie fudge pop. "When you're on this system, you'll probably realize you're not really hungry after all."
If your family meals are dictated by kids' preferences for high-fat, high-calorie, low-fiber foods, it's a sure route to weight gain -- for both you and your children. "If they're not good for you, these foods are probably not good for your kids," says Cathy Nonas, RD, author of Outwit Your Weight (Rodale).
Food fix: Make healthier versions of kid classics. Prepare macaroni and cheese with skim milk and low-fat cheese, says Bauer. Serve baked-potato fries or mashed potatoes made with skim milk or even sweet potatoes "they're loaded with disease-preventing beta-carotene. Bake your own chicken fingers so you know your kids will be eating more chicken and less breading. Also, be vigilant about introducing healthy, grown-up entrees like skinless chicken breast, fish filets, and lean beef or pork. Try to prepare two vegetables for dinner each night (such as a salad and green beans) to educate your family's palate. "Studies show women set the pace for healthy eating in a family," says Nonas. "If Mom's eating more vegetables, everyone in the family will, too."
Whether it's at your computer, as you talk on the phone, or when you're standing at the kitchen counter preparing your baby's bottle, munching while doing something else is an easy way to inhale calories mindlessly. Even just listening to a TV program can be distracting: According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 41 women ate 300 more calories while listening to a detective story than they did when they ate in silence. Moreover, on-the-go calories can be dissatisfying on an emotional level; you may not feel like you've eaten, which is an important component of satiety. Then you'll seek that fulfillment by eating more later, says Stettner.
Food fix: When you're at home, schedule at least 20 minutes for eating without the television on or a book in front of you. (Twenty minutes is the time it takes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you're full.) The aim: to make less more by focusing on the food in front of you and savoring every morsel. The one exception to this is breakfast. "Most people don't overeat at that meal," says Bauer. So go ahead and have your oatmeal while watching The Today Show.
As for on-the-go meals, like that nutrition bar you scarfed en route to the pediatrician's office, acknowledge them. "Say to yourself, 'This is half of lunch,'" Bauer says. When you have a piece of pizza while fixing your baby's bottle (and it's your dinnertime, too), say, "That was my main course." You get the idea.
Having easy access to the refrigerator and the option to eat whenever is a danger now that you're at home. "Without a formal lunch hour, you can lose the concept of structured mealtimes," says Bauer. Plus, you don't have coworkers around to scrutinize your eating habits, which may have been a deterrent. If you're a stay-at-home mom and an emotional eater (you tend to nosh when emotions run high), "the stress from it all, or boredom or loneliness, can cause you to eat to comfort yourself," says dietitian Grossman.
Food fix: Before you dig in, ask yourself, "Am I hungry?" If you're not, do something that isn't food-related to burn off steam, such as taking a walk or calling a friend. If you're truly hungry -- maybe you missed breakfast -- "keep grab-and-go foods around that are good for you," says Cochran, such as canned fruit, low-fat cheese and crackers, canned tuna and soup, precut veggies, fortified cereal, and low-fat cereal bars. When you're working in your home office, ask yourself: Would I be able to eat now if I was in a regular office? As a work-at-home mother of two, that's a question I ask myself to fend off the lure of the kitchen, which is about 20 steps away. Often the answer is no, and I keep plugging away.
But by dinnertime -- look out! You'll be eating everything in sight. "Not eating all day is one of the worst things you can do," says Grossman. While you won't technically gain weight just by consuming the majority of your calories in one shot, you will if you eat more than you burn. And that's more likely to happen if you deprive yourself during the day: "To compensate for the lack of fuel coming in, your metabolism will slow down and you'll burn fewer calories," says Grossman. You'll also feel cranky and lethargic. Grrr!
Food fix: To keep your energy high and your temper on an even keel, Grossman recommends not skipping meals -- no matter what. In fact, she suggests stoking the fire by eating something every three hours. Of course, with kids to take care of, eating regularly can be a challenge. One way to manage the situation is to take advantage of naptime. "I have my biggest meal -- lunch -- when the kids are down," says Ilise Kesslin. "It's a calmer meal, and I truly enjoy it because I'm not rushed."
In the U.S., we sip an average of 19 ounces of soda a day per person. Unless it's diet soda, that adds up to about 240 empty calories daily -- or 25 pounds a year. It's easy to guzzle more than you think. With today's supersize cups, even a small is large, says Ann Coulston, RD, a nutrition consultant with Stanford University Medical Center. Even more popular than soda are fancy bottled juices with flavors such as kiwi-mango, but like soda they're mostly sugar. The liquid sugar slides down effortlessly, loading us up but not filling us. In fact, a study at Purdue University found that people who added 450 calories to their diet each day either in soda or in jelly beans gained weight only on the soda. The soda drinkers didn't register the liquid calories and eat less at later meals, as those who ate the solid sweets did. A serious frappuccino habit -- even the small sizes average 300 calories (sans whipped cream!) -- could also be your diet downfall.
Food fix: The best thing you can do is drink fat-free milk. A skim latte is fine, too. Studies show that milk can help keep your weight in check, besides reducing your risk of osteoporosis. "But make sure everything else you drink is low-calorie or noncaloric," says Byron C. Richard, a registered dietitian with the Tulane Center for Diabetes in New Orleans. Richard's suggestions: water, seltzer, coffee, tea, diet soda, Diet V-8 Splash, or Crystal Light. If you're dying for a specialty coffee, says Cochran, "make your own mocha latte by adding a squirt of reduced-sugar chocolate syrup to a skim-milk latte."
Sandra Gordon is a writer in Weston, Connecticut, and the mother of two.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, March 2004.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your won health or the health of others.