You’re strolling with your baby regularly and deskinning your chicken–but you’ve still got leftover pregnancy pounds that just won’t budge. What’s going on? One possibility is that you’re expecting too much too soon. “To get back to your old weight, give yourself a year,” says Fran Grossman, a registered dietitian at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. It can take that long, especially if you’re not nursing and you gained more than the recommended 25 to 35 pounds.
Still, if pregnancy weight lingers past your baby’s first birthday, it’s time to look at your lifestyle habits, says Grossman. For new mom Ilise Kesslin, her nemesis was deprivation dieting. “I realized that when I restricted the food I could eat, I binged later in the day on snacks,” says Kesslin, who now eats whatever she wants, just in smaller portions. As a result, she says, “I’m skinnier than I was before my pregnancy.”
What’s preventing you from dropping the extra weight? Here, we reveal ten common mommy diet traps.
The Trap: Having some just because it’s there. Your mother-in-law always shows up on your doorstep with one of her pies. The other mommies bring treats to playgroup. You help yourself to bites from your child’s lunch or eat leftovers so they don’t go to waste. “This is environmentally-induced eating,” says Daniel C. Stettner, PhD, a weight management psychologist in Troy, Michigan. You eat food just because it’s there–not because you’re hungry–and those calories add up fast.
Food Fix: To guard yourself against a “see-food” diet, don’t keep edibles out in the open. If you find yourself foraging in your cupboards when youre chatting on the phone, talk in another room. When youre out at mothers’ groups and birthday parties, carry a water bottle so you can take a swig instead of nibbling on something. “It serves as a reminder that you’re doing something healthy,” says Stettner. If someone gets pushy about asking you to sample her food, avoid saying, “Well, I really shouldn’t,” which implies that you want to be convinced. Instead, suggests Stettner, repeat this concise yet convincing phrase: “No thank you. I’m not hungry right now.”
As for finishing up leftovers, make a mental note to prepare less food next time. Meanwhile wrap the extras and put them in the refrigerator immediately–or toss them. And rather than mindlessly munching from a box of animal crackers at snack time, have something that’s calorie-contained by design, like a piece of fruit or yogurt.
The Trap: Eating when you’re tired. Fatigue-induced eating is diet pitfall for all women, and particularly for new moms. According to a National Sleep Foundation poll, women reported eating more than usual on days when they didn’t get enough sleep. “In that compromised state, we often reach for food, especially sweets, because we’re looking for a quick energy boost,” says Joy Bauer, RD, author of The 90/10 Weight Loss Plan.
Food Fix: If you can’t take a catnap, activate your day: pace when you talk on the phone, deliver a memo in person instead of sending an e-mail, or go for a stroll with your baby. “Exercise pulls glycogen–the stored form of carbohydrate in the liver and muscles–into your bloodstream, which can ultimately make you feel more energized as your blood glucose level rises,” explains Neva Cochran, RD, a nutrition consultant in Dallas, Texas. Also, use this snacking system, which acts as a kind of nibbling speed bump: “Designate three low-calorie foods you’ll eat before grabbing anything else,” advises Bauer, such as two handfuls of baby carrots, a nonfat yogurt and a 30-calorie fudge pop. “When you’re on this system, you’ll probably realize you’re not hungry after all.”
The Trap: A kiddie food diet. If your family meals are dictated by kids’ preferences for high-fat, high-calorie, low-fiber foods, such as french fries, it’s a sure route to weight gain for both you and your children. “If they’re not good for you, these foods are probably not good for your kids,” says Cathy Nonas, RD, author of Outwit Your Weight.
Food Fix: Make healthier versions of kid classics. Prepare macaroni and cheese with skim milk and low-fat cheese, says Bauer. Serve baked-potato fries or mashed potatoes made with skim milk or even sweet potatoes–they’re loaded with disease-preventing beta-carotene. Also, be vigilant about introducing healthy, grown-up entrees like skinless chicken breast, fish filets and lean beef or pork. Try to prepare two vegetables for dinner each night (such as salad and peas). “Studies show that women set the pace for healthy eating in the family,” says Nonas. “If Mom’s eating more vegetables, everyone in the family will, too.”
The Trap: Multitasking meals: Whether it’s in front of the TV or as you talk on the phone, munching while doing something else is an easy way to inhale calories mindlessly. Moreover, on-the-go-calories can be dissatisfying on an emotional level; you may not feel like you’ve eaten. Then, you’ll seek that fulfillment by eating more later, says Stettner.
Food Fix: When you’re at home, schedule at least 20 minutes for eating, the time it takes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you’re full–without the television on or a book in front of you. The one exception to this is breakfast. “Most people don’t overeat at that meal,” says Bauer. So go ahead and eat your oatmeal while watching your favorite morning news program. As for on-the-go meals, like that nutrition bar you scarfed down en route to the doctor’s office, acknowledge them. “Say to yourself, ‘This is half of lunch,’” Bauer says.
The Trap: Not eating all day because you’re too busy. But by dinner–look out! You’ll be eating everything in sight. “Not eating all day is one of the worst things you can do,” says Grossman. “To compensate for the lack of fuel coming in, your metabolism will slow down and you’ll burn fewer calories.” You’ll also feel cranky and lethargic. Grrr!
Food Fix: Grossman recommends not skipping meals–no matter what. In fact, she suggests stoking the fire by eating something every three hours. Of course, with kids, this can be a challenge. One way to manage the situation is to take advantage of naptime. “I have my biggest meal–lunch–when the kids are down,” says Ilise Kesslin. “It’s a calmer meal, and I truly enjoy it because I’m not rushed.”
The Trap: Cooking calories. You’re probably cooking more now than ever. And that means taste testing. Beware: Generous bites of mashed potatoes with a wooden spoon can easily add up to one-fourth cup, which translates into 50 unaccounted-for calories and 2 grams of fat. That’s just one example. And without realizing how much you’ve already eaten, you sit down to dinner and have what you consider to be a normal portion. Uh-oh.
Food Fix: To keep prep-time calories from adding up to mini-meals, check seasoning with a teaspoon or just the tip of your finger. If you’re starving before dinner, have an appetizer, such as three carrot sticks and two crackers with hummus, so calories don’t get out of control. But, says Bauer, be sure to say to yourself, “This is an appetizer,” so the calories get logged into your mental tally.
Sandra Gordon is author of Consumer Reports Best Baby Products and a frequent contributor to many national magazines, including Ladies’ Home Journal, Prevention, Parents, American Baby, and Fitness.