Three moms with young kids and no time were able to drop the pounds. You can too!

By Kate Kelly; Photos by Kaysh Shinn
June 11, 2015
Missy Cox, Allison Finnegan, Jennifer Paugh
Credit: Kaysh Shinn

The Baby Weight Challenge

If you're a new mom, you've probably found that your postbaby life is richer than you ever dreamed. If only you felt the same about your postbaby body! You'd love to take off some weight and lose the pooch that wasn't there before, but eating right and exercising take time. And time is one thing you just don't have a lot of. How can you change your routines? We found three new moms who wanted to lose weight, but each had a different challenge. We hooked each of them up with a trainer and a nutritionist who helped them create a routine that would work -- not just for a four-month time span but for a lifetime. While each participant had a different issue relating to her lifestyle, the nutritionists and trainers on the project found common problems -- our moms were eating too much processed food and not enough protein, vegetables, and whole grains. And no one was doing much in the way of exercise. So how did these three busy moms change their eating habits and fit in exercise? What they learned could work for you too!

The Experts

  • New York City nutritionist Keri Glassman, author of The Snack Factor Diet (Crown). Best advice: "Snacking wisely prevents overeating and gives you energy."
  • Des Moines nutritionist Jane Hemminger, RD. Best advice: "Write down everything you eat! Most people have no idea how much they're really consuming."
  • Personal trainer Jamie Norcini, group fitness director at Clay, a gym in New York City. Best advice: "Correct form is everything. You'll get more out of your workout if you stand up straight and engage your abs."
  • Des Moines personal trainer Tim O'Neil. Best advice: "To avoid plateaus, mix up your exercise routines."
Allison Finnegan before
Credit: Kaysh Shinn

Allison's Story

Allison Finnegan, 5'2"

Mom to Ben, 8 months

Starting weight: 172

Ending weight: 148

"As soon as I went back to work, the baby weight I'd lost on maternity leave started to creep back. In the past, when I needed to lose weight, I exercised more. Now I just don't have that kind of time. Three days a week, I leave the house at 7 a.m. and don't get home until 7 p.m. On those days, it's all about convenience. Once I get to work, I have instant oatmeal or a pastry with my coffee. Lunch is pizza or a deli sandwich from the cafeteria. Chocolate usually makes its way into an afternoon snack. On work nights, dinner is easy, like pizza or pasta, and I have a big bowl of ice cream every night."

The nutritionist weighs in. "Allison tends to eat comfort food and snacky things, like chocolate and animal crackers, when she's tired or stressed. By the time she gets home from her two-hour train ride, she's starving and not in a frame of mind to make good choices." Glassman had Allison completely eliminate sugar and white bread and refined snacky foods for a couple of weeks. For breakfast, instead of a pastry to go, she had Allison eat some protein and a high-fiber carb. On work mornings, she could still have instant oatmeal but with almonds added for a protein boost. If she's at home, an egg-white omelet with two-percent cheese provides a high-protein change of pace. For lunch, instead of pizza or a sandwich, she could choose the fish or chicken (grilled or broiled) or have a salad. To keep her blood sugar from spiking and dropping, Glassman instructed Allison to eat a snack containing protein and a high-fiber carb roughly two hours after eating a meal. "This prevents that vicious cycle of being so hungry you make bad choices that leave you hungry and craving sugar a half hour later."

How it went. "The first few weeks were really painful. I missed ice cream and pasta. But after the shock wore off, I stopped craving all that sugar," Allison says. "Every afternoon, I have Dannon Vanilla Light & Fit yogurt mixed with almonds. Salmon and sauteed spinach is my favorite dinner. I eat two peppermint patties right before I go to bed. If I had them earlier, it would probably trigger a binge, but they satisfy my sweet tooth."

The exercise routine. Allison said there was no way she could exercise on the days she commuted. "I only spend an hour with Ben on those days," she says. "No worries," Norcini says. "You don't have to kill yourself. I told her to do cardio three to four days a week, stepping it up as she got in better shape, and one strength workout."

How it went. "My husband and I take turns going to the gym on weekends. I work out at least three times a week. I'm doing spin, and I went running on Christmas and the day after -- something I never would have done before!"

Missy Cox
Credit: Kaysh Shinn

Missy's Story

Missy Cox, 5'5"

Mom to Nate, 6; Riley, 4; and Regan, 1

Starting weight: 174

Ending weight: 162

"With three kids and a 32-hour-a-week job, I'm always on the go. The two older kids play sports, which means we're running around in the evenings, getting them to practices and games. We eat a lot of fast food, whether it's hot dogs at the ballpark or McDonald's on the way. At work, my desk drawer usually has M&M's, pretzels, or chips. I drink a lot of soda -- I might have a 32-ounce fountain soda every day, plus a can of diet soda."

The nutritionist weighs in. "The constant grazing doesn't leave Missy with an appetite for real food. Those big fountain sodas have to go -- that's 400 empty calories right there. She'd be much better off drinking water. Missy needs to spend more time planning meals so she's less reliant on fast food. I suggested fewer dishes with white flour, fewer mayonnaise-based dishes, more vegetables at dinner, and more fruit."

How it went. "Some switches were easy. We started eating whole wheat pasta instead of white. Green beans, broccoli, and salad (lots of it) with balsamic dressing instead of creamy have become a regular part of our dinner. When we have burgers, I skip the bun. I stopped eating bagels once I learned that just one was equal to five slices of bread. I used to have ice cream every night. First I switched to a low-fat version, then I gave it up. I'm drinking a lot less soda (and only diet) and a lot more water, which fills me up. I'm also eating smaller portions. We're eating more meals at home now -- if one kid has a game, I'll stay behind with the other two and prepare a real dinner, then meet my husband to watch the game a little later. The hardest thing for me has been getting my whole family on board. My husband does most of the shopping, and he likes to buy chips and cookies. When I complained, he would say, 'It's for the kids.' My response was 'No one needs this.' It took about a month for my husband to come around, but now there's a lot less junk in the house. I didn't think I could live without M&M's, but here I am -- alive and well! Now I nibble on Cheerios. My big takeaway is that the kids will eat whatever is there. If there are grapes for snacks, they're gone before you know it."

The exercise routine. "The hardest part for Missy was getting started," says O'Neil. "It was hit-and-miss for a while, but what finally worked for her was finding an exercise buddy."

How it went. "Every morning at 5 my neighbor and I take our dogs and go for a three-mile power walk. If I don't get that walk, my whole day is thrown off. Since I've started the routine, I've done three 5K race walks. Every October I used to buy pink M&M's for breast-cancer awareness. This year I skipped the candy -- I did Race for the Cure instead!"

Jennifer Paugh
Credit: Kaysh Shinn

Jennifer's Story

Jennifer Paugh, 5'9"

Mom to Trent, 4 months

Starting weight: 168

Ending weight: 152

"I'm a picky eater. I don't consider salad a meal. Also, my husband and I love to eat out at restaurants. We take Trent and go out for most meals on the weekend and two or three dinners during the week. I am one who has to finish the whole meal. About twice a week, on nights we don't eat out, we might go to Dairy Queen, where I'll have a Blizzard."

The nutritionist weighs in. "Reading Jennifer's food diary, it was clear that she's no fan of fruits and vegetables," says Hemminger. That was one of her big challenges -- to eat more of both. Jen wasn't all that willing to change her habits. She really didn't want to give up eating out, for example. "I could see that what was going to work best for her was portion control -- not changing what she was eating, just how much." If she always eats everything on her plate at a restaurant, that can add up to a lot of calories. "On the upside, Jen's not a big snacker -- grazing is not one of her problems. In fact, she needs to build in more healthy snacks in the afternoon so she doesn't get so hungry by dinner that she overeats."

How it went. "We still go out to eat," Jennifer says, "but I just cut whatever I order in half. Aside from eating less, I'm also trying to cut calories in other ways. If I get a chicken sandwich, I'll have it without the mayonnaise, and instead of ordering fries, I'll get a different side, like cottage cheese. And my Blizzard days are over! We go to DQ much less often, and I order a dipped cone. Fruits and vegetables are still a challenge -- I snack on carrots, along with apples and bananas. I like pears and strawberries, but I don't always eat them. At dinner, I'll eat green beans."

The exercise routine. Jennifer's company has a free on-site fitness center for employees, but she hadn't been making much use of it, notes O'Neil. One of Jennifer's issues is a lower back problem -- she can't do crunches and other moves commonly done in group exercise classes. "I showed her modifications so that she could still do classes and not use her back problems as a reason not to go."

How it went. After a few pep talks from O'Neil, Jennifer started taking classes, such as kickboxing, during her lunchtime. "I work harder in those group classes than I would on my own -- I need the accountability. I've come to like it; exercising midday makes me feel energized!"

Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the February 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.

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