It’s not hard to gain more than 40 pounds during a pregnancy. Losing that much weight—from pregnancy or otherwise—on the other hand isn’t an easy task.
It’s tough getting motivated to lose weight. You’re hungry all the time from breastfeeding, you haven’t worked out in the last nine months, and you’re tired from taking care of a newborn. But you can do it—without diet pills, diet drinks, surgery, starvation, or even a gym membership. There’s no magical secret to postpartum weight loss. In fact, the plan is simply old fashioned diet and exercise.
With one exception (number 11), the following 12 principles apply to most people who are trying to lose weight, not just new moms. A healthy weight loss goal for most people is a maximum of one to two pounds per week, but be sure to talk with your health care provider about your specific situation. Here’s our approach to healthy—and successful—long-term weight loss.
1. Find your motivation.
Everything we do, and do successfully, starts with motivation. If you aren’t consistently motivated, losing weight—and keeping it off—will be difficult. Identify, and focus on, the reasons why you want to lose the weight in the first place.
2. Make a plan and commit to it.
Without a plan, it’s easy to let everyday things get in the way: there’s bad weather, you’re in a terrible mood, you’ve got errands to run, you’re fatigued, the baby needs you—the list of potential distractions is endless. It’s important to create a plan that circumvents these excuses, which are obstacles to your weight loss.
3. Be mindful of what, and when, you eat and drink.
For many of us, munching while watching TV is a mindless habit. While out with friends, it’s easy to down a few glasses of wine without thinking about it. Create a new habit: Every time you do want to eat or drink, ask yourself, “Am I actually hungry? Or am I just thirsty? Tired? Bored? Stressed?” You may be surprised to discover how often you’d normally indulge when you’re not actually hungry.
Don’t miss 7 Steps to Mindful Eating and help curb mindless eating.
4. Eat smaller portions.
Whatever you do, don’t deprive yourself. If you crave something, you can have it—just eat a smaller portion. There will always be barbecues, birthday parties, and celebrations. Don’t fret. One bite of cheesecake won’t mess up your plan (although a large slice might). And be honest with yourself about how many little bites you consume throughout the day, they add up.
5. Make nutritious food choices.
Incorporate lots of veggies, lean meats, and fish into your meals. These foods contain fiber, protein, and healthy fats that help curb hunger longer. Avoid skipping meals; this will help you maintain a steady blood sugar level. Aim to eat three modestly portioned meals a day with one snack in between each meal.
6. When you do eat or drink, enjoy it!
Take small bites and sips, and take your time. Inhale the aroma of that woody red wine. Savor the texture of that creamy cheesecake. Since you’re consuming smaller portions, make them count. Don’t eat anything that you don’t enjoy like mediocre low-fat cookies. Eat the real thing—just less of it—and be satisfied.
7. Get moving!
In the beginning, it’s easy to just want to take a nap when you have free time. However, once you start being active, you’ll find that you actually have more energy. Start slowly and work your way toward a goal. Start small by walking half a mile every other day, then jogging half a mile every day, then one mile, and so on. Any type of activity helps.
8. Get creative with your exercise routine.
If you’re a full-time working mom, your schedule is probably very limited. Devoting a chunk of time every day to going to the gym and getting a traditional workout might be out of the question, so try turning everyday things into a workout. Go up and down hilly streets with your newborn in a baby-carrier, use a step stool to do step aerobics, and do sit-ups while watching TV. There are many options for fitting exercise in no matter how busy your schedule is—and many of them are free. You don’t need a gym membership or even a jogging stroller, so don’t let those things become obstacles.
9. Grab a pal, try something new, and keep things fun.
Consider non-traditional exercises, like rumba or salsa dancing, and go with friends. Maricar Pacquing, DO works out with her “mommy friends” after their kids go to bed or early in the morning. She says, “It’s hard to get your body back into shape after pregnancy, but it helps when you have good friends to do it with. Plus, it’s social and fun!”
10. Stay hydrated.
Drinking water helps you feel fuller after eating, especially in conjunction with a fiber-rich diet, and keeps your digestive tract running smoothly. You don’t need expensive drinks or bottled water. Tap water is hassle-free, calorie-free, and, well, free.
11. Breastfeed, if you can.
Breastfeeding burns calories, plain and simple. If you’re not able to breastfeed, begin your diet plan early during the postpartum course to achieve similar results.
12. Make small goals and changes week by week.
Allow your body to adjust slowly. The first couple weeks will be extremely hard, but keep at it. After a while, your appetite will adjust to smaller portions and you’ll enjoy being active again. Keep in mind that many things can trigger weight loss, but only long-term behavioral changes will help you maintain your weight loss.
Editor’s Note: Are you pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant? Be sure to read How to Exercise Safely During Pregnancy.