The Mommy Diet: Tips and Tricks for After Baby
Calling on a team of pros, Alison Sweeney has compiled some fabulous advice, plus her own personal experiences as a real-life mom and host of The Biggest Loser, into a how-to guide for mamas and mamas-to-be called The Mommy Diet.
Photo Credit: Robert Trachtenberg
Bond with Your Baby
Regardless of how much you long for your old body back, chances are you’ll be so exhausted caring for your little one that you won’t have time to even think about hitting the gym, which is a good thing. Take the first month to enjoy the new little love of your life. “I was surprised at how quickly I bonded with my kids and how quickly I got into the rhythm of being a parent,” says Sweeney. “That first moment when the nurse leaves you alone with the baby … even with the second child, I totally forgot what it was like to have a newborn infant. But you settle into it so quickly and remembering that this is what you have to do. I never really saw myself as someone who had a ton of maternal instincts and they shined through when I needed it. I think you have to listen to your gut and go with what those instincts are telling you. It’s such an unsung and very important part of being a parent.”
Add Activity to Your Routine … Slowly
First, make sure you get clearance from your doctor before you start working out again. Then, when you do get the go-ahead, start with light exercise, like walking your baby around the neighborhood or bouncing her on an exercise ball. “You have to give yourself a few months after pregnancy before you really dive back in,” says trainer and chef Jesse Brune. “The reason for that, for waiting after the pregnancy, is because we keep a lot of our toxins stored in our fat. If you start exercising a lot right after pregnancy, those toxins get into your blood stream and get into your breast milk. Just breastfeeding alone should help you start dropping weight in the first few months. If you were active before, you don’t have to worry about it too much, just slowly start to get back into your program.”
Choose Treats Wisely
As a new mom, you’re working so hard to provide the best life you can for your baby that it’s easy to fall into the trap of indulging yourself with comforting sweets. After all, you deserve it, right? Sweeney admits she keeps a bar of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate in her dressing room on the Days of Our Lives set, breaking off a small piece every now and then to soothe her sweet tooth. “Dark chocolate has so many great healing elements to it,” adds Brune. “You don’t have to be afraid of that.” Cancer-fighting antioxidants are just one benefit of the candy’s deliciousness, which is as good a reason as any to steal a bite or two of the stuff once in a while.
Don't Count Calories Just Yet
Your baby may not be living inside of you any longer, but if you’re breastfeeding you still need to keep your caloric intake up by about 500 more calories than you normally would consume each day. Nursing is a major calorie burner, which is why you typically need to add more food to your breastfeeding diet to sustain your own health and that of your little one. Don’t binge on fatty foods—simply eat healthy, sensible meals and make sure you are getting the good nutrients from fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
Keep Healthy, Portable Snacks Handy
Meg Werner Moreta, a registered dietician who contributed nutritional advice to The Mommy Diet, offers up this advice now that you’re a mom on the go: “I want people to eat some form of carbohydrate with a protein. So, things like taking a green apple and putting thin slices of parmesan cheese with it, or a red apple with almond butter. Take a wheat tortilla and put turkey, lettuce, tomato, and pesto on it—things that you can roll and carry. I’m always trying to work on carbohydrate and protein just because it really helps balance not only blood sugars but energy level. I also like edamame because that’s a carb
and a protein … It’s really planning ahead, like how you do with your baby. You take your diaper bag and you bring some snacks for yourself.”
Keep Taking Your Prenatal Vitamins
It’s important to keep putting those nutrients into your body so that you can pass them to your baby through your breast milk if you choose to nurse. Continuing to take those prenatal vitamins you used before and during pregnancy can help. You’ll also want to stock up on calcium, iron, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids to aid in your baby’s health and development (as well as your own, of course). Go big on milk, yogurt, dark greens, “safe fish” like wild-caught salmon (stay away from the farm-raised stuff), and shrimp.
Get Cleared for Exercise
By Baby’s second month, your doctor may have given you permission to get back into a fitness routine, which could be good news or bad news depending on how much you enjoy it. Sweeney understands the difficulty of squeezing gym time into your new mom schedule, but she offers up some flexible options: Walk with baby, try exercise videos that you can do at home when you have a moment to spare, invest in a Nintendo Wii Fit, or check out mom-and-baby fitness classes. This way you’re within close proximity to your newborn and still getting much-needed you time.
Simplify Your Beauty Routine
You may be tired, frustrated, and feel like you’re walking through a fog, but if you try to take a few minutes to do something for yourself, it can give your self-esteem a little boost. Your old beauty routine went out the window as soon as you went into labor, but figure out what small steps it will take to make you feel like a girl again, even if it simply stars with babying your skin. “My biggest campaign in the world is sunscreen—I think it’s so important to protect yourself from the sun,” says Sweeney. “So that’s the number one thing. I would also say that you do have to learn, with kids, how to apply makeup super quickly. For me, it’s just a foundation that also has a sunscreen in it so that it’s like a two for one, then mascara and lip gloss.”
Make Time for Yourself
In The Mommy Diet, Sweeney recalls meeting contestants on The Biggest Loser who gained weight after becoming moms because they simply didn’t make their own health a priority. “What’s so important is that women see not only are you a better parent when you’re capable of doing what you need to do, when you’re there for your family longer, but it’s also what you would want for your child,” she says. “It’s setting the example for them that they need to put their own health first, it’s giving your child a better chance of having you around longer, and it’s making you that much more capable of caring for your child because you are committing to your own health. I think those are three really valid reasons for taking an hour out of your day to help yourself be physically fit. And even more important than the gym are those choices that you make at meal time. The extra 10 minutes to avoid fast food and cook something at home is crucial.”
How to Survive Your "Ugh" Moment
Sweeney defines the “ugh” moment as that point when you catch yourself in the mirror and wonder if—and when—you are ever going to shed those leftover baby pounds and return to the true you. She encourages new moms to cut themselves some slack and recognize that, while it may be frustrating, you have to work with what you have now and not set unrealistic expectations for yourself. “It’s such a good point that when you’re setting goals for yourself not to think about going backwards like, ‘I want to be the way I was before I got pregnant,’” advises the actress. “You can’t go back again. In some ways it’s like saying, ‘I want to be 20 again.’ It’s never going to happen. So you have to deal with the body that you have now and what you’ve lived through and what you’ve accomplished. It’s something to be so proud of that you made this child. Now get the best body that you can have today, at this age, with the life that you lead now and set a new standard for yourself of what you can accomplish now.”
Refuel Throughout the Day
“When I work with my clients I really try to have them look at their day, then the timing of their meals, and focus on meal balance,” says Moreta, who also served as the nutritionist for Oxygen’s Dance Your Ass Off. “If they’re eating every three or four hours, and eating a balance of some healthy carbohydrates, some lean protein, and vegetables throughout the day, including an afternoon snack and then dinner, you have that carbohydrate in and out of your system. It takes 30 to 90 minutes to break down carbohydrates and then protein takes three to four hours. So when you’re having breakfast and then lunch and then snack and then dinner, if you’re eating throughout that period of time, you’re going to feel better energy than if you eat breakfast and don’t eat anything until 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”
Build Stamina and Endurance (and Have a Back-up Plan)
When it’s time to up the intensity a bit on your workouts, Sweeney explains that it doesn’t mean doing a complete 180. Instead, just step it up by maybe walking at a faster pace or changing your route so that you’re climbing some small hills. She also recommends keeping a back-up plan in mind for exercise if your initial plan falls through (like missing that 9 AM yoga class because the baby had a rough night). Just as important as upping your cardio is taking time to stretch. Picking up, putting down, and carrying baby all day has done a number on your body and it needs that special attention.
Plan Meals in Advance
While you may be wondering when you’re going to find the time to do this, planning meals ahead of time will not only help you eat healthier, but it can also help you find ways to make healthy meals. “If you just take five or 10 minutes on the weekend and really jot down what you predict you’re going to be able to make, you can do it several times and then all of a sudden you have three weeks of menus,” says Moreta. “Seeing what you can make ahead of time is really helpful, especially if you’re trying to do the double thing with feeding your child and finding what you can chop up or puree for them, too.”
Cook Just Once—For the Entire Family
If you’re attempting to make your own baby food, it can be helpful when you only have to cook once to feed the entire family, as opposed to making separate meals for you, your husband, and your child. Moreta offers up some examples of dishes that can help you double up: “Soups are really great because you can make a chunky type of soup with vegetables and beans and then you could puree that for the baby. Do some purees of squashes or different types of potatoes.”
“I’m not a big fan of the Russet potato,” adds Moreta, “because it has a lot more sugar than the little ones like the Yukon Gold, Fingerling, or New Potato. All of those little ones have less sugar in them. Roasting those [is] great for both you and the baby. The whole wheat pastas work really well because you can chop them up into little pieces and you can do more vegetables for yourself, then throw some lean protein, like chicken, in there. And then you can puree the chicken for the baby by adding some broth.”
Watch Your Ingredients
We want our kids to eat healthy, which may seem difficult to do once they get a taste of comfort foods like macaroni and cheese or the beloved grilled cheese. Brune says you don’t have to be afraid of these kid-friendly meals, it’s more important to be aware of what’s going into making them. “Really make the attempt to use whole wheat pasta rather than the regular pasta that comes in a Kraft box,” he advises. “You can get a really simple recipe for mac and cheese and make it yourself. It doesn’t take that much time. I think there’s a misconception about how much time cooking actually takes. Use whole wheat multi-grain bread when making a grilled cheese sandwich. Back off of the butter and use some more natural oils or maybe just a little less olive oil to grill the bread on. It’s very subtle but just be conscious of what you’re using, where the ingredients are coming from, and how it’s made.”
Start Your Own Shape-Up Week
When possible, take one week every few months to go all out in the name of fitness. Sweeney came up with the idea for herself when she had one, single week off from both of her television shows about two months after she gave birth to her daughter Megan. “The Shape Up Week totally came from there being this one week of time before The Biggest Loser finale where I didn’t have work and I thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s my week,’” she remembers. “I thought, I have to give it everything I have that week because I have the time to do it. I built up to it and said, ‘This week I’m going to do these workouts every single day, I’m going to make sure I eat really clean.’ I had the time to make the meals for myself and even build up stuff for the following week. I talked to my husband about my plan and just really set myself up to succeed. Because of the one week time limit, I really busted my butt and did it. It gave me an extra little jumpstart.”
Give Yourself Tune-ups
Congratulate yourself on the efforts you’ve made to be healthy and fit, and remember to mix up your workouts to keep yourself interested. Sweeney makes a great analogy about recommitting yourself to the cause: “A marriage is not just that one moment where you say ‘I do,’ and the rest is only that happily ever after part. You recommit to that person on a daily basis. You have to make that choice again every morning when you wake up that this is what you want and I think your health is exactly that. Not, ‘oh, I had this revelation and now I never have to worry about my nutrition again’. Every time you go to a party, you’re going to see dessert—and you’re going to want it—and you just have to recommit to that decision you made every single time.”
About Alison Sweeney
Sweeney, who is busy taking care of two children and juggling two jobs herself, hopes to remind moms that you can be physically fit, look great, take care of yourself, and still be a wonderful parent. For more from Alison Sweeney, visit alisonsweeney.com or follow her on Twitter.
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