As you can likely tell from the title of today’s post, we’re veering off my usually straight-and-narrow path of DIY and organization to chat about a more personal topic. I don’t do this very often, but when I asked you all a few months ago if this topic was something you’d be interested in, many of you piped up and said “YES!” (and since you’re a pretty quiet bunch, that means a lot!!!). So today I want to wade…briefly…into the subjects of diet, weight, and lifestyle and share how I lost the last 15+ pounds of my baby weight after having Sam early last year. Whether you need to lose the baby weight too or are carrying around a few extra pounds you’d like to see gone, I think these easy-to-implement dietary changes and my no-drama approach could help you too!
First…I have a few disclaimers to make 🙂
To start, although this topic isn’t something I talk about here on the blog all that often, it is a topic I am very educated on. In fact, I could probably claim to be more of a health, exercise and nutrition expert than I am a DIY or organization expert. I’ve been a group exercise instructor for 17 years, a personal trainer for 12; and I have masters degrees both in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition. (If you’re wondering why I don’t write a health or fitness blog, you can read about that choice here.) So while I make no promises or guarantees about everything I’m about to share in this post, I’d like you to know my habits and recommendations do come from a place of sound research and training, not just personal opinion or experimentation.
I’d also like to set out there that I’m not going to dive into detail about everything we do and do not eat. In general…I’m a pretty healthy individual and we are a pretty healthy family (as you’d expect from someone with my background and training). No, not everything in our home is organic or pure or homemade; and yes, we do order pizza every Friday or grab fast food on super busy nights. But overall, our dietary habits are sound and healthy. If you want to get a sense for how we eat, this is the book I read years ago and generally model our family’s eating habits after. It’s also the book I used to recommend to clients who needed to majorly overhaul their approach to food. The habits I am going to outline in this post build on and/or get back to some concepts outlined in Pollen’s book.
On that note, you will also notice that I won’t be mentioning anything about counting calories in this post. Yes – the only way to lose weight is to create a calorie deficit; and there are certainly times when counting calories is necessary. But not only do I not have time to be counting calories right now, that also tends to be a trigger for me to either under-eat or overeat. I’ve learned that about myself over the years so I avoid counting calories at all costs. As such, the easy and “mindless” habits I’m about to outline below are an easier and more successful way for me to create the calorie deficit necessary without making myself crazy.
My final disclaimer is that I want you notice my post title says “diet changes” that helped me lose the weight, not “diet and exercise changes…” This is both important and intentional. Exercise has been for me and will always be an important component of a healthy and fit lifestyle. However, when it comes to losing weight, the main focus needs to be on diet. When I first had Sam, I lost the first 20 or so pounds in about the first month just from him being out, fluids, and nursing. But then for the next 6 months, my weight didn’t budge despite around-the-clock breastfeeding and walking/exercising 4-5 days/week. I knew I wouldn’t lose the last 10-15 pounds unless I changed my diet. And sure enough, once I implemented the changes I’m about to outline below, the weight came off in about 3 months. I am not giving you an excuse not to exercise (because it has so many other wonderful benefits), but if you want to lose weight, it’s time to get real about what you’re putting in your mouth. (Getting off my soap box now 😉 )
Okay…phew! With disclaimers out of the way, let me share with the 7 main dietary changes I made to lose about 15 pounds in 3 months.
These are the only “after” photos I can find…from my Crafsty shoot back in November (which may have been one of the major motivating forces to finally lose the baby weight 😉 )
1. Cut out refined grains.
I am listing this one first, because this was the biggest one to implement and (I believe) made the biggest change. Throughout pregnancy and during the first weeks of postpartum, a lot of extra “snacks” had crept into my usual diet (which was fine because I needed the calories!). A lot of them were relatively harmless…as in, they weren’t causing me to gain weight. But I knew these were empty calories I was consuming day in and day out; and by eliminating them, I could easily create a calorie deficit that would allow me to lose some weight.
What specifically am I talking about? The pile of pretzels with my sandwich at lunch. The handful of crackers while making dinner. The extra rolls with spaghetti dinner. The tortilla chips during Sunday afternoon football games. The 3-4 Oreos for dessert each night. The half-a-donut after Mass each week. I am not saying I cut out carbs…far from it…but I did completely eliminate anything that had “empty” calories – as in, it provided no nutritional value to my overall diet. What did I eat instead? I’ll tell you in #3.
2. Back to brown.
Years and years ago, I shifted our family from white foods/grains to brown (or whole) foods and grains. Our main staples were brown rice, whole-wheat breads, and quick-cooking barley. But as kids arrived and our lives got busier, I found myself cooking with and relying on more refined grains such as white rice (because it cooks faster), pasta and couscous (because the kids will eat it), potatoes, bread, and chips to occupy the “starch” part of our meals. Not only do whole grains have more nutrients than their white counterparts, but they also satiate you longer over time. So…out went the white grains and back in went the brown. Our meals are now again centered around brown rice, whole wheat couscous, and potatoes on occasion. The only white grain I can’t swap out is pasta (I just can’t do whole wheat pasta!)…so we only eat pasta once every other week or so.
If you’re curious about some of my favorite meals, I list them out here.
3. Replace “dry and crunchy” with “cold and crunchy.”
So far, I’ve talked a lot about cutting out. But I promise you I didn’t go hungry day-in-and-out because I replaced all those white and refined grains with smarter, healthier options. You know…those foods that I knew I should be eating but was choosing the rolls and pretzels and cookies instead. So I implemented a new “rule” for lunch and dinner: all side dishes need to be “cold and crunchy,” as in…fresh. So instead of pretzels for lunch, I have baby carrots and an apple. Instead of a roll with dinner, I have a salad or veggie sticks. This “cold and crunchy” rule might not work perfectly for you (in general, I don’t like warm vegetables) but I think you get the idea: replace all empty, snacky-type foods with items that are fresh, nutrient-packed and whole.
4. Eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials, but friends…oatmeal really is magic. I got back into eating a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast while I was pregnant with Sam because my blood sugar tends to be super sensitive when I’m pregnant. I’ve stuck with it all these months because I find that by eating a (big) bowl of oatmeal each day, I am not as hungry throughout the rest of the day as I am when I eat other breakfasts (even protein-packed meals). Sure…I still need a 10am snack, but there are many a days when I can get by with a small late lunch or no afternoon snack because of the staying power of my oatmeal breakfast.
I realize that eating oatmeal may not be one of the most appealing ideas to many people, but I do think it’s something you could/should train yourself to like. If you search for oatmeal ideas on Pinterest, you’ll surely come up with a zillion different ways to make it and I am sure you can find one that appeals to you. While I do love a good overnight oats combo with Greek yogurt and soy milk, my usual go-two is two (yes, two!) packs of Instant Plain Oatmeal with natural peanut butter coating the top. The fiber in the oats combined with the protein, fiber and fats in the peanut butter truly keep my hunger at bay all day long! (Note – that doesn’t mean I’m not hungry throughout the day…it just keeps me from feeling ravenous at regular intervals and mindlessly snacking on empty calories!)
5. Standardize snacks.
I am a snack girl, and always have been. Despite a hardy breakfast, I usually need a little something around 10am and 3:30 everyday. When I was pregnant and nursing a ton, my snacks ballooned into mini meals with very lax portion control. Then with the chaos of kids coming home from school and running to/from sports practices and errands into the evening, it felt like I was munching all day long. Cutting out snacks wasn’t really an option for me so instead, I standardized my snacks into very specific foods in very known portions. Every mid-morning I have a protein bar, and every mid-afternoon I have nuts or trail mix in pre-portioned bags. Orchard Valley brand are my favorite, and I usually rotate among these, these, these and these! By training myself to rely on very specific snacks to curb my hunger and regulate my blood sugar, I eliminated the possibility of mindlessly snacking too much and thereby getting too many calories to allow for weight loss.
6. Find a dessert.
I may not drink soda or alcohol, but I do like my desserts; and cookies after dinner were one of the main reasons I wasn’t able to consistently create a calorie deficit day-in and day-out. So, when I finally got real about my eating, I swapped my usual cookies for another dessert that wasn’t as calorie dense and (more importantly) didn’t “trigger” me to overeat. My dessert of choice? Dove Chocolate Promises (I usually rotated between Dark, Mint, and Almond). I have three of these chocolates after pretty much every lunch and every dinner. They are sweet enough to be that “treat” I need after each meal, but they don’t leave me wanting to go back for more and more and more. If you have a sweet tooth, I encourage you to find something that satisfies it, but doesn’t put you in a willpower battle day in and day out (ahem – I’m looking at your Girl Scout cookies!)
7. Simplify meals.
Simplify is a word that keeps coming up for me….and I’m finding that it is applicable and appropriate in many areas of my life including my diet! When I say simplify meals, I don’t necessarily mean plain grilled chicken with a side of rice and broccoli every night (although that’s not a bad meal!). Rather, simplify and streamline what you are making day-in and day-out. Find meals/recipes that are “safe” (I hate using that word with food, but I think you know what I mean) and learn the right portions for that specific meal. Then stick to those meals for a while. When you tire of the meals, find another set of healthy meals and use them until you need another change. By honing in on a set of recipes and/or meals that are healthy and satisfying that you can rely on without even thinking about it, you again eliminate the need for that mental will power so often in short supply when you’re trying to lose weight!
When I made the choice to clean up my eating habits, I sat down and made a list of 10-12 dinners that were healthy, satisfying, kid-friendly (enough), and easy-to-prepare…and I pretty much cycled around those 10-12 recipes for a few months (with breaks for pizza night every Friday). Not only did this keep my grocery bill and pantry stock in check (less recipe variety = less ingredients!), but it really allowed me to eat healthier without even thinking about it!
I have had times in my life when I had a lot of weight to lose, and it felt impossible. I’ve also worked with a lot of people who have struggled to lose weight…so please know I don’t mean to make light of the weight loss process by painting anything here as quick or easy. (Remember, weight loss should be anything but quick!!!) These days, “diet” (and all its various synonyms) is a pretty big buzzword. And I truly believe that if you are on (or need to be on) a big weight-loss journey, that making it public, joining a class/challenge/team, and having people hold you accountable can be a very, very sound strategy (heck, that is why I went into fitness!). I too have been there, and I have done that…very successfully.
But friends…if you don’t want that, it doesn’t have to be that! Weight loss is one of those things that small changes can really add up to big results. This time around, when I decided to kick the last of the baby weight, I didn’t want to feel deprived and I didn’t want to make a big production of it. I didn’t want to make drastic changes, count calories, keep a food log or spend hours at the gym. I intentionally chose to keep it drama free, easy, and obtainable by focusing in on simple (yet valuable) daily swaps that added up to big changes on the scale. There may be times when the big weight-loss production is necessary…but if that hasn’t worked for you in the past, perhaps try this lower-key, one-habit-at-a-time approach instead!
I hope this glimpse into my weight-loss journey after baby has given you some food for thought (ha!) or at the very least provided some motivation and encouragement if you too have some extra weight you’d like to shed. Thanks for letting me share this post with you, and we’ll return to our “regularly scheduled programming” back here on Friday!