Ten diet and lifestyle traps for mums to avoid
Being a mum is a wonderful thing, but unfortunately it also seems to be associated with weight gain. This happens both during pregnancy and afterwards. Weight tends to accumulate with each new baby. Being overweight leads to chronic problems such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and is a risk factor for certain cancers such as breast and ovarian cancer. And while I feel that all women should be aiming for a healthy body image, for many of us our self esteem is linked to how close we feel to what our ideal lifestyle and weight should be. We may not need to fit into the prescribed “healthy weight range” for all women, but any weight loss will significantly improve health outcomes – and give you a huge self-esteem boost because you did it.
Having been a mum for a while and struggled with post-partum weight loss myself, I know some of the traps we easily fall into. These mostly have to do with the change in diet when you become a mother – large reviews of the evidence on postpartum weight loss point to diet and exercise being the key factors to weight loss – not exercise alone. If any of these apply to you, try changing them for a healthier weight, lifestyle and example to your kids.
But to start with, the research shows that the best way to prevent weight gain after pregnancy is to prevent weight gain during pregnancy. This is much easier to say than do – pregnancy has a way of weakening your resolve, pummelling you into a blubbering mess that only chocolate ice-cream can revive. But if you are pregnant now, or planning another pregnancy, keep this in mind, and try not to listen to everyone urging you to finish another muffin because “you’re eating for two now!” Really, you’re not (it’s more like eating for 1.2). But I know and can empathise with the reality of it.
Now let’s have a good honest look at some of the traps we fall into:
1. Breastfeeding does not equal magical weight loss.
We’re lulled into a false sense of confidence with this one. Reviews of the evidence have shown inconsistent results. In some studies, breastfeeding appears to result in some weight loss. In others, no weight loss (compared with non-breastfeeding women) occurs. Researchers have suggested that some breastfeeding women may consume more calories than are needed for breastfeeding. Additionally, the post-partum period is also associated with a decreased metabolic rate (contrary to popular belief). But us mums still fool ourselves, thinking “I deserve this second piece of chocolate cake! I’m turning fat into milk after all!” Well that was me, anyway, after my second baby.
It’s difficult to get an estimation of how many extra calories are needed while breastfeeding. The truth probably is that we need few extra calories – our bodies are supposed to be turning existing fat into milk. (You know, those extra kilos you gained during pregnancy… they’re there for a good reason!) Also, just because you were ravenously hungry when you were feeding 8 times a day at 6 weeks does not mean you need the same calories when you’re doing two feeds a day at 8 months.
So, if you’re using breastfeeding as an excuse and are frustrated that the kilos aren’t magically melting away…perhaps it’s time to put that myth (and those cookies) away.
2. Stop serving comfort food.
Having a toddler often means your weekly diet suddenly consists of mac and cheese, spaghetti bolognaise, shepherd’s pie, mashed potato, fried noodles and fried rice… in fact anything that will tempt your fussy eater. Have you fallen into a bit of a “comfort food” habit? Start branching out and serving healthier food that doesn’t involve calorie-laden cheese sauce. Many toddlers also enjoy grilled fish or chicken, steamed vegies, vegie soups and stirfries. Save the comfort food for a weekly meal and revamp your diet.
3. Stop baking.
Somehow, when you’re a mum, baking becomes one of your pastimes. It’s fun to make cookies and muffins with your toddlers, and there are those cupcakes for playgroup meetings. At one stage we were churning out a batch of cupcakes once a week! If you’ve fallen into the habit of constant baking (and eating), try to source some lower calorie recipes (skip the icing on the cupcakes for example), put a brake on the baking for now, or bring healthier morning tea treats instead like fruit salad or veg crudites and hommous. (Seriously, hommous is totally yummy – especially drizzled with a fiery chilli sauce!)
4. Stop finishing your children’s leftovers.
You get the drift… Kids don’t finish their meals, so instead of scraping away the leftovers into the bin, you feel compelled to eat them. Don’t. Serve smaller meals to start with, so they don’t feel overwhelmed, and you don’t have to eat the scraps.
5. Make it count.
Exercise, that is. I walked for 45 minutes the other day. It was my cross-training day – a day to do something to maintain aerobic fitness but to avoid injury – something other than running, that is. It was a brisk walk but I burned 128 calories. If I had done 20 minutes of running, or high-intensity interval training, I would have burned closer to 200 calories or more, and in half the time. We’re all busy people. Let’s make our exercise time work. Bump up the intensity of what you’re doing and watch those kilos burn themselves! My weight loss certainly kick-started once I started doing HIIT!
6. You’re not too tired.
Feeling exhausted? Too tired to exercise? Is that keeping you from doing any form of regular exercise? It’s tough being a mum with all the responsibilities that we have to attend to. But the truth is, exercise can actually make you less tired. It’s been shown to be effective for treating fatigue. At the very least, it won’t make you any less tired than you are now. If you’re not doing any exercise now, start with something small – a brisk half hour walk a few times a week, and you’ll find that your energy levels will probably improve rather than deteriorate. Many mothers run busy households and manage to fit in a lot of exercise into their week without compromising their energy levels. Don’t let this hold you back! You can do it!
7. Sort out sleep issues.
Ahhh sleep, the holy grail of mamas! Who ever thought eight hours of uninterrupted sleep would be such a luxury! Researchers now know that there is a definite link between poor sleep and weight gain. This is thought to be due to physiological and hormonal changes related to sleep deprivation. Obviously sleep deprivation is to be expected in the early months of babyhood. But if you’re struggling with severe sleep deprivation with older babies or toddlers, seek some help. Solving sleep problems isn’t easy, and it depends on your personal philosophy, but if you’re not winning, find out what you could be doing to ensure a little bit more sleep. Speak to your child health nurse or GP, call a sleep school, or read some books. Decide on a method and stick to it. Consistency with night time routines has been found to be one of the key factors to ensuring a good nights sleep for all – more so than the method itself. Chopping and changing doesn’t do any child or parent any good in the long run. And if you’re anything like me and in the habit of staying up too late to get more “me” time after the kids go to sleep – try going to bed half an hour earlier and catch up on your sleep debt. I was amazed the difference this made to my energy levels.
8. Ditto for stress.
Feeling stressed raises the level of cortisol in the blood – a hormone that promotes weight gain and diabetes. If you’re constantly feeling overwhelmed, depressed or anxious about your life, talk to someone, ideally your GP/family physician, and seek help. Being a parent can be an incredibly stressful experience, so don’t be too proud to admit that you’re not coping as well as you think you should be.
9. Watch your cafe habit.
Us mums hang out in a cafes a little bit. It’s our way of coping with caring for small children, dealing with sleepless nights, bonding with our fellow mamas, and generally making life a little bit more enjoyable. But cafes can be a trap for mamas trying to lose weight – a regular chai latte and muffin/cake habit can pile on the kilos unknowingly. You can reduce the kilo creep from cafe habits by going for pram walk with your friends instead, sharing treats, or skipping them altogether (and being judicious with your beverages – a large chai latte can add a whopping 335 calories to your daily intake. Stick to green tea instead, which has no calories and is thought to burn fat!)
10. Stop using food as a reward.
When we were going through toilet training, we rewarded Star with marshmallows if she successfully weed or poo-ed in the potty. You can guess what happened – I ended up sneaking a few here and there. Using food as a reward for children has a double whammy of repercussions – on them and on you!
You know all the talk about being a mummy means setting good habits for your children. If you’re having trouble with weight, would it help to re-examine this and walk the walk (literally and figuratively?) Aim for a slow and steady weight loss and a lifestyle change, not a diet. Journalling your calories for a few days can really help set you on the right track. Eat mindfully, eat for pleasure as well as health, and make exercise part of your routine. Here’s to a healthier, lighter and happier you :) You deserve it, mama!