I’ll be honest – I hate the phrase “losing the baby weight”, it makes my skin crawl. I do not want to be another blogger who makes women feel like there’s something wrong with them if they haven’t lost every pound of pregnancy by 6 weeks out, or even 6 months out. I’m 16 MONTHS out and haven’t lost every pound.
There are lots of “gurus” out there who claim that if you do exactly what they did to lose the baby weight, you will have the exact results they have. In fact, they may even unknowingly cause you to feel guilty, assuming that those who did not get their same results must be doing something wrong, or are lazy, or have “no excuses”. But that is not how bodies and hormones and metabolism work, EVER, but ESPECIALLY after having a baby. Add nursing into the equation and you’ve really got a wild card (read more about breastfeeding and fat loss here).
However, so many of my coaching clients say “I just don’t feel like myself.” I have felt this way and I am so empathetic to feeling like life has changed SO drastically, why does my body have to be so different too? I hate that women are so hard on themselves and I REALLY hate that there is this crazy pressure to look like we never had a baby.
In the year after this fourth baby was born, I tried everything that worked for me in cutting fat pre-pregnancy, and have learned that either because of hormones or aging, those same techniques are not working. What IS working is a) changing my mental state about post-pregnancy bodies, and b) eating more than I think I need. I’ve detailed these lessons I’ve learned in the 10 steps below.
1. Eat well and exercise during pregnancy.
If you eat a healthy, balanced diet and continue exercising during your pregnancy, science says you will likely lose the majority of your baby weight pretty soon after birth. Staying in shape during pregnancy sets the stage for a faster postpartum recovery, although it isn’t a guarantee. Even if you’re not making big gains or improving strength, you’re maintaining your previous level of fitness, and you’re also bridging your habits from pre-pregnancy to postpartum so that you don’t lose them. Grab my Fit To Be Pregnant Ebook here.
2. Give yourself a full year to recover.
Relax and take a deep breath. You JUST HAD A BABY. You formed another human being and then birthed that child into the world, and now you may be feeding that child from your body. You now have a whole new person in your home, a new sleep schedule (if you’re lucky, you’ll sleep at all), and your relationship with your partner will take new shape as well. This is a major, major event in your life. Give yourself an entire year to just do your best and adjust to it, whatever form that takes. Don’t put any added pressure on yourself – anything you do should be from a place of self-love and self-care. If running that marathon by 6 months postpartum is what is going to make you feel good about yourself and training for it won’t push you over the edge, then that is what you should do. If waiting until your baby is older and has a more regular schedule is what you can handle, then do that. You’re the only one who knows what you can handle.
3. Eat ENOUGH calories.
Not eating enough calories sends your body the signal to reserve the fat on your body, which of course, is the exact opposite of what you want. This is especially true if you are nursing, and your body wants those fat reserves for the baby. Eat enough calories and your body leaves “danger” mode, giving the signals to drop the fat as the energy demand increases.
Eating enough calories also means cravings and binges will cease (low calorie diets always end in a jar of Nutella for me), you’ll have the energy you need to function as a new mom, and you’ll feel great.
If you don’t want to count calories, eat whole foods as often as possible, and eat when you are hungry. I recommend the book Intuitive Eating for anyone not wanting to count calories – this was a life changing book for me.
4. Don’t overdo exercise.
So many women who are trying to lose weight jump into exercise full force, burning themselves out and overtraining until they start to experience negative effects (lowered energy levels, depression and anxiety, insomnia, irritability, hormone changes). I was in top shape when I became pregnant, worked out through my entire pregnancy, and it still took me 5 months to work back up to my pre-pregnancy exercise routine, and another 6 months until I reached the level I had previously been at. In reality, most adults only need 2-3 strength training sessions (or HIIT, etc) per week, and can add additional cardio as needed or to stay active. This can be walking, running, biking, anything that you enjoy.
5. Eat 80-90% whole foods.
Your diet should always consist of:
- around 100 grams of protein (or .8g per pound of bodyweight) and 4-5 servings of vegetables a day, including leafy greens
- 80-90% whole foods (lean meat, fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, dairy, nuts and seeds)
- 10-20% of food you enjoy – anything! Make it fun or you won’t stick with it.
Giving your body the nutrients from whole foods will help stave off hunger, will make your metabolism more efficient, and will give you the energy you need to be a new mom.
But that 20% is important too. Being too extreme in any direction is not healthy or sustainable. Just make it fit into your weekly calorie budget and you will still lose weight.
If you need help with these steps or creating your own plan, I can help you.
6. Do not slash calories; cut in 50 calorie increments.
If you’re like most of the world, you think that to lose weight, you have to slash calories. But slashing calories rarely works and if it does work, the results are temporary. I know all of us want to get our bodies back like, yesterday, but slashing calories is actually counterproductive. If you’re eating at more than a 15% deficit, ESPECIALLY after childbirth when hormones are fluctuating, your body will likely go into starvation danger mode, holding onto whatever fat is on your body for energy reserves. Your metabolism will downgrade, making it less effective. You won’t have any room left to cut calories when you hit the inevitable plateau. You will also be more likely to binge-eat, have more cravings, and feel like you’re struggling all the time. Who needs that, especially right after having a baby?
Start by finding your maintenance calories. Use this calculator, then choose the recommended 15% deficit. If you are nursing (at least every 3-4 hours), add 500 calories to this number (or use our Breastfeeding Calorie Calculator). This number is probably shockingly high to you, but please trust me and START here. You will be amazed at the energy you feel, and if you’re nursing, your milk supply will be safe. You won’t feel hungry and have the urge to binge nearly as much. Next, every week that you don’t lose weight or inches, lower your daily calorie intake by 50 calories, no more than 100, in the form of fat or starchy carbs. This is a slower approach, but the most effective and permanent way to lose fat.
7. Eat a balance of protein, fat and carbs. No extreme diets.
Again, anything extreme is NOT sustainable. Think of your diet as a pendulum – if you swing it really high in one direction, it will inevitably swing back with just as much velocity in the other direction, at some point. Deprivation never leads to anything good.
Thanks to popular diets and celebrity testimonials, you might look at a certain food group as “the devil”. It sometimes feels empowering to have a food group to blame for your weight loss issues. But I promise, it only boils down to calorie balance and food quality (mostly whole foods), and creating a small, sustainable deficit. I am currently losing the last few pounds of pregnancy weight by eating 50% carbs, 25% fat and 25% protein. I used to believe that starches and dairy were off-limits if I wanted to be lean, and I’m just now realizing how much grief I caused myself.
8. Use other methods besides the scale to measure progress.
I have been a size 8 and 125 pounds, and I have been a size 2 and 135 pounds. How is that possible? Weight is not an accurate measurement of fat. Lean body mass increases when you begin a workout program or increase workouts, eat certain foods, put on muscle, or have hormone fluctuations. It’s all about body composition, which is why if you’re going to weigh yourself, you should also take tape measurements or body fat measurements (pick up a pair of body fat calipers here). Take pictures of yourself and notice how your clothes are fitting. Recently, over the course of 1 month, my weight stayed exactly the same, but my body fat decreased by two full pounds. I know this because I took body fat measurements. The two pounds of lost fat was offset by a two pound increase in lean mass (I had just started running long distances and was likely holding on to glycogen/water). The scale is not the whole story, so don’t let it upset you.
9. Relax and focus on your health.
Looking good is a by-product of fitness and nutrition, but it is NOT an instant gratification. You won’t look in the mirror the day after you begin a new fitness routine and see outward changes, and that sucks because the inward changes are infinite and immediate. Internally, you are what you eat RIGHT NOW (not yesterday or last year), and you also reap the benefits of exercise immediately. You will feel better, your body functions will improve and begin working just as they should, you’ll have more energy, and you’ll be preventing future illness. And these are just the physical changes. Mental health is also immediately improved – confidence, strength, and a natural high that combats anxiety and depression.
Focusing on your appearance is setting yourself up for failure. It’s normal to think about it, but let it go when it enters your mind and shift your focus back to how you feel.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to start looking at your body in a completely new light. This body brought you your baby, it’s stronger than you ever imagined. Try gratitude and everything will change for you.
10. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Another way to set yourself up for failure is to compare yourself to others. The problem with this is that we’re comparing our behind the scenes selves to the “best self” that others are putting online, on tv, for photoshoots, etc. The truth is that no two lives are the same even though they may appear to be. No one knows what it’s like to be you, no one has your body or your brain or the same family and friends. Our DNA is different, our circumstances are different. You can strive to be the best version of yourself but you also need to remember that you are enough, right now, no matter what.
I could have run my half marathon last month and come home and thought about all the people I know who run full marathons and completely wiped out my own sense of accomplishment. F- that. I worked hard to get there and I deserved to be proud of myself, and so do you.
I hope these No BS tips helped you feel better about your postpartum journey and give you guidance for your future.