Somewhere around Thanksgiving (the day after?) I looked down at my body and was done. My baby was almost 7 months old, and I was ready for an athletic shape again.
My pregnancy expansion was impressive. People from my hometown used, “Wow! You’re enormous!” as a conversation starter. One person said to me, “At five months you looked like you were about to pop out twins!”
I gained 45 lbs in pregnancy. The next year I lost 60 lbs, including this lump of sugar:
Now I’m basically back where I was pre-baby. Phew.
This is the first time I’ve ever tried to lose weight and succeeded. I was surprised it took as long as it did, but now that it’s over I don’t mind the wait. Here are twelve things I learned in the process:
1. Calories count. Get an app that counts calories – enter your weight and weight loss goal and it will calculate your available calories per day. I used Lose It, the free version, and I liked it. The least I can do is give them a plug. One criticism: the fewer the calories you eat in a day, the more Lose It celebrates you. I got the flu and kept nothing down for two days. Great job! Said this app. If you starve yourself, you’ll lose 20 lbs this week! No thanks. But a calorie counter was crucial.
2. Days, not pounds. They say it takes 60 days to form a habit. I stuck with these weight loss ideas for 60 days, which felt doable and protected my mindset against inevitable plateaus. It did’t hurt that I booked a trip to Hawaii at the end of that window. I took my two-week vacation off and did the calorie counting for another 60 days when I got home. Surprise: I continue to eat well, sans calorie counter, and I might still be losing a little weight without trying. Nice habit.
3. Exercise. A great way to buy a few more calories. I increased my daily walk from 1 hour (160 calories burned) to 1.5 hours (240 calories burned). I also got a 300-calorie credit for breastfeeding.
4. Binge on protein & vegetables. Many nutrition guidelines suggest 1/3 of your daily calories come from protein, but this is actually sort of hard to do. For me, that meant eating over 100 g of protein each day. A change in emphasis from food restriction (don’t eat that!) to intentional protein consumption (add some walnuts!) was a huge help to me in this project. Meat and eggs. Protein shake. Cottage cheese, goat cheese, and greek yogurt every day. Yum.
5. Cut the carbs & the crap. Focus on the nutritional value of food! Carbohydrates do a poor job of filling the belly and don’t last long enough to be worth the calories. I ate/enjoyed them only if they were important in getting food to my mouth (ie. tortilla) or if a food came from the “makes life worth living” treat category (ie. homemade bread Mmmmm.)
A big problem for me is being under prepared, so when I’m starving all of a sudden at 1 pm (nope, didn’t see that coming), I eat whatever’s fast and easy, ie. simple carbs. The more of these empty carbs I eat the more I crave them. A big part of my revolution has been in spending time cooking everyday so that I have healthy food at the ready.
Here is the “no” list: No carb-based snacks. No chips, no crackers, no cereal, no toast unless it’s the weekend and you’re choosing to break this rule. Sorry. Also take vitamins! Drink water! 3L/day! OK!
6. Go halvsies on flavor foods. Little things make a big difference. As far as I can tell, my weight gain or loss depends on a small margin of error – maybe 300 calories a day. I didn’t skimp on nutritious food, but I cut these taste-based items in half: milk/cream, butter, peanut butter, salad dressing, bananas, & carb vehicles.
7. No refined sugar, no alcohol, no caffeine*. My “no” list is probably unpopular here, but keep reading to #8-10! This point was intended to address my adrenal fatigue symptoms: swollen thyroid, red eyes at night, insomnia… It also helped the weight loss project though and I felt better for it. (*Full disclosure, I drank caffeine almost every day but took my latte to half-caf. I also ate dark chocolate.)
8. Upgrade from a snack to a meal. When I’m hungry I’m not granola-bar hungry. I basically ate five meals a day (no, not “smaller meals”), which left me without a budget for snacks. On days when I went over the calorie budget, it was the snacks that did it. With exercise I could basically have 400 calories 5x daily, or 500 calories 4x daily. Meals are the best deal for the calories.
9. Go big breakfast. The more calories I ate at breakfast, the fewer calories I consumed throughout the day. My standard: turkey, spinach, goat cheese omelet with three eggs. No toast.
10. Dairy fat, the silver lining. I’m still muddling through the cost/benefits of saturated fat, but I ate dairy fat and loved it. Fat feeds the brain and cues satiation. And it feels good, like a vice.
At one point I cut too many calories and had a headache for two days. I made halibut chowder with bacon (desperate craving!). One bowl took care of the headache and left my belly happy. Ahhh. Also, I conducted a coffee taste test (thanks dad!) with 60 calories of each 1% milk, 2% milk, and half and half to see which produced the tastiest cup – half and half won, hands down! Baby A helped by emptying the pantry while we taste-tested.
11. Be a control freak. Unspoken social pressures have a big effect on my eating, especially when sugar is concerned. I hate to turn down a cookie, even if I don’t want it, because baking is love. I hate to disappoint a baker by not eating the delicious things. And it makes people eating the cookies feel weird if I don’t partake, as if I’m rubbing my will power in their sticky faces. Noticing this, I kept “no” foods out of the house, and I spent more time alone (just being honest). I’m also working on loving people through healthy cooking.
12. Don’t eat after midnight.
Actually, don’t eat after dinner. I fasted at least 12 hours every night. This was a side-effect of parenting, because all I could do in the evening was scarf some food before A went coo-coo-bananas and needed bedtime. I never got to have seconds. This wasn’t intentional, but it is relevant.
With some effort (ok, a lot of effort) I doubled the couple of pounds I lost each month just from breastfeeding to 5-6 lbs lost each month, and I felt fairly happy and healthy en route. One day I stepped on a scale and the project had ended. It’s not that I “got my body back.” It’s a new body, but I feel good about it.