Rebecca Cooper on Ask the Experts at Parenting OC
Q: [Mom] I recently had my first baby and the weight is not coming off fast enough. I find myself having thoughts about drastic weight loss options. What are some healthy ways that I can lose the weight and feel OK both physically and mentally?
A: “Drastic” can have several meanings, but I have had patients who have dieted, restricted, exercised to extreme measures, purged and have had bariatric surgeries trying to lose weight. None of these options held long-term results for my patients.
Being a new mother can be one of the hardest times to take care of you. You have a baby that needs all of your time, energy and attention. When you give your baby more than you have, you become depleted and resentful because you are giving past your abilities and time. I call this “abandoning yourself.” One way that you may compensate for this is to use food as a reward or to soothe the stresses of life.
Some people unconsciously use the thoughts of food, weight, diet or body image to shift from the unpleasant feelings they are experiencing. Using these thoughts and behaviors becomes a way of coping. You become hard-wired to turn to food whenever the feeling rises to the surface, but you may not even know what the feeling is any more. You just think, “I’m hungry.” Since you use food to avoid feelings, the feelings never get resolved. You become stuck in a habit that can be very hard to break. Using food for emotional reasons is one of the key indicators of weight gain.
For some people, starting a diet can lead to long-term consequences such as weight gain, yo-yo dieting for a lifetime or eating disorders. Dieting disconnects you from your appetite. Most people who start a diet think they will lose a few pounds quickly and that they will begin to eat healthy to maintain it. This does not work. The way to lose weight and keep it off is to start eating healthy while you are losing weight. This way, you will not slow the metabolism and you see that you can lose weight by eating normally.
Some people have addictive reactions to certain foods—especially sugar-dense, refined flour, high fat or processed foods. When they have one bite of their trigger food, there must be more. There are two self-assessment tests that you can take if you think this may be a problem for you. The first assessment is the Yale Food Addiction Scale. You can also assess your sugar intake and research about excessive sugar intake at www.SugarAwareness.com.
Being in alignment with your appetite and eating healthy is caring for yourself. When you are eating mostly healthy foods and abstaining from foods or substances that negatively affect you, you can be in sync with your appetite. You eat when you are hungry and stop when full, knowing you will have more food when you are hungry again. You will even know what your body needs. Sometimes this takes some time, but it is amazing what baby steps can do over time.
Another way to help you drop the baby weight is by breastfeeding, which is important for a multitude of reasons. It is nature’s way of losing the baby fat. Not only does breast milk provide the best nutrients for the baby, but it also seeds the immune system. There are also some fun exercises you can do with your baby, which can be healthy for you and also a time of bonding with your child.
The most important thing to remember is to be patient. The weight will come off naturally if you eat when you are hungry, stop when full and make healthy food choices. Quick fixes can start a multitude of problems. Take care of yourself—especially after having a baby. This can be very hard to do, but remember that if you are coming from a healthy, calm place, it will benefit your baby too.