Q: I recently had my first child and gained a lot of weight during my pregnancy. I’m nursing and want to continue that for up to a year, if I can. What’s the healthiest way to trim back down now? —Jade L., Wichita Falls, Kan.
It’s a good idea to start thinking about this now, because pregnancy weight that isn’t lost within a year of delivery often turns into long-term extra baggage, especially if further pregnancies—and additional weight gain—occur. And that can cause a variety of health concerns.
The problem for new mothers is that harmful toxins, ubiquitous and unavoidable in our environment, get stored in fat. So when you start to burn excess fat, you release these stored toxins into your bloodstream. And the only way to lose weight is to expend your excess fat fuel. When not pregnant or nursing, you would hopefully flush out these toxins with 2–3 daily bowel movements, lots of clear urine, and a good sweat at least six times per week. A nursing mother, however, may rightfully be concerned about releasing these toxins into her bloodstream—and breast milk.
The good news is that the breasts are very effective filters, and baby is much better off nursing than not nursing, even if you are losing weight. And if a mom is nursing, she needs to keep on an extra 10–15 pounds in order to produce rich “hind” milk. This isn’t an excuse, however, to hold on to an extra 50 pounds. Within nine months of delivery, postpartum moms should be pretty close to their pre-pregnancy weight. If not, it’s time to think about reducing portion sizes, stopping night eating, cutting way back on processed carbs, and other sound weight-loss strategies.
Sample Menu for Weight Loss
Any healthy diet, especially one that will help you trim down, should be low in carbs and animal fat, and high in vegetables and low-sugar fruits. Don’t drink juice or alcohol; stay away from anything made with flour; and avoid “popped” grains such as popcorn and rice cakes, which are high in carbs. These items can wreak havoc with your blood sugar and promote hunger. When this happens, you’re much more likely to reach for that wickedly tempting, unhealthy snack. Eating foods low in sugar and carbs, however, helps to prevent roller coaster swings in blood sugar, making it easier to stick with a healthy food plan.
Here’s a sample menu for a healthy weight-loss diet:
Breakfast: Low-fat organic yogurt (½ cup) with ¼ cup ground flax seeds and ¼ cup blueberries (frozen is fine; other berries are also fine); OR 2 soft-boiled eggs chopped up on a bed of arugula, drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice, and paprika; OR one can of sardines in water layered onto endive leaves and topped with tomato slices. Tea or black coffee.
Snack: An apple, or ¼ cup of nuts. Be sure to measure the nuts!
Lunch: Several cups of raw, steamed, or roasted veggies. In cooler months, prep roasted veggies by the baking-tray full (e.g., sliced eggplant, red pepper, zucchini, mushrooms, sweet potato, plantain, beets, and jicama). Place all on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, and cook for 2 hours at 200°F. Delicious! Add fish, chicken, or eggs to complete your lunch.
Snack: Another ¼ cup of nuts and a whole pickle without preservatives (my favorite brand is Bubbies); OR another apple, orange, or pear. Avoid pineapple, mango, papaya, banana, or other tropical fruits—they’re very high in sugar.
Dinner: Clean protein (e.g., non-farmed fish, organic chicken or turkey, eggs, organic tempeh) with 2 cups of veggies—a mix of raw or cooked, never fried.
Safe Nighttime Snacks
Who needs dessert? Not a dieter! If you have a snack attack after dinner, try one of these tricks:
- Brush, floss, water-pick, or otherwise clean your teeth, so you won’t want to eat again.
- Drink water. Before putting food in your mouth, have a glass of water and assess you hunger level. Simply acknowledging that you’re not really hungry (maybe you’re just thirsty, for example) often helps foster good food choices.
- Have another apple.
- Have a pickle, or ¼ to ½ cup of Kim Chee or sauerkraut. These foods contain a lot of healthy probiotics and
- Munch on some celery or similar vegetable.
If you are having difficulty losing weight despite dietary changes, have your thyroid function checked, especially if there is a family history of thyroid issues. (Thyroid imbalances are common after pregnancy.) Too little sleep and too much TV viewing can each impede weight loss. Limit TV to one hour daily, and mute the commercials. The food advertised on TV is typically hideously bad for you. Who ever saw a TV ad for fresh steamed broccoli? Often people—new moms included—eat at night to fuel a “second wind.” Go to bed instead.
Within nine months of delivery, postpartum moms should be pretty close to their pre-pregnancy weight.
Need more inspiration?
Check out wellnessmama.com,a blog with fresh and friendly natural health advice, recipes, parenting tips, fitness ideas, and much more.
Emily A. Kane, ND, LAc, has a private naturopathic practice in Juneau, Alaska, where she lives with her husband and daughter. She is the author of two books on health, including Managing Menopause Naturally. Visit her online at dremilykane.com.