Postpartum Weight Loss

I remember thinking before getting pregnant that I would continue working out throughout my pregnancy. I wanted to stay in shape the best that I could so that losing the baby weight wouldn’t be too difficult. Up to that point I was in pretty good shape, working out 3 days a week doing strength training or running. Little did I know how sick I would be from weeks 5-18, or that I would have a dislocated pelvis the remainder of my pregnancy. Needless to say I definitely did not workout throughout my pregnancy. I continued my regular training until I got sick, did some light training on the days that I felt okay, then really only did walking and stretching once my pelvis dislocated—and even walking was hard at that point! And when it came to my diet, my sweet tooth magnified by like 10 billion, so even though I was generally eating healthy I gave in to my cravings a lot.

I ended up gaining a total of 38 pounds throughout my pregnancy, which is just a tad over the recommended weight gain of 25-35 pounds for women who start at a normal weight (referring to BMI). Because I started on the lower end of the normal weight range for my height, my doctor wasn’t concerned at all with my weight gain.

Within two weeks of giving birth to our baby boy, I lost 20 pounds. This is pretty typical weight loss right after giving birth—made up of the actual baby, placenta, water weight, etc. The remaining “baby weight” is mainly fat stores that built up throughout pregnancy, meant to support you and your baby during pregnancy, as well as breastfeeding after giving birth. After losing the initial 20 pounds, I lost another 3-ish pounds without much effort over the 6-week postpartum healing period. After getting cleared to work out again, I started walking. I had lost the majority of my endurance during pregnancy so I figured walking was a good place to start. Then my weight loss plateaued for a good month and a half until I buckled down and started implementing different methods of weight loss.

It took a while to determine what worked for my body. I saw the number on the scale go down and then back up again countless times—and it got frustrating. But eventually I started seeing progress. I am going to share with you some tips on what worked for me. Keep in mind that everyone’s body is different, so doing what I did to a “T” may not work for you—though implementing one or two of my tips may help.

I apologize in advance for how scatterbrained this may be—I did my best to keep it organized as I wrote, but I had so many things come to mind!

  1. Don’t Starve Yourself

I hate feeling hungry, so when I decided to buckle down and lose the remainder of my baby weight I refused to cut calories significantly. Anyone else feel me? Plus people that create a high calorie deficit or “crash diet” are the ones who often can’t maintain their weight loss. So do yourself a favor and gradually decrease your calories to a level where you are not starving.

After losing those first 23 pounds I was eating about 2,800-3,000 calories per day and that was maintaining my weight. Mind you I was (and still am) breastfeeding and have been overproducing basically since day one—producing up to 60 oz. per day—so I needed those calories.

You can estimate how many calories you burn breastfeeding by using this formula:

(20 x oz. you produce)/0.8

Each ounce of milk is approximately 20 calories, then dividing by 0.8 accounts for the energy it requires to produce the milk in the first place. Because I was producing 60 oz. per day, burning 1,500 calories, you can imagine why I was eating so much.

But I wanted to lose weight so that meant cutting at least some calories. I started by dropping my caloric intake to 2,600 calories per day, and worked my way down to 2,000 as I got to my pre-pregnancy weight. Here is the thing though. I don’t eat the same amount of calories every day. I noticed early on that my body was getting used to a certain amount of calories, and therefore would continually plateau my weight loss. So I started doing what is called “zig-zag” dieting…

  1. Zig-Zag Dieting

Zig-zag dieting is when you do not consume the same amount of calories everyday, but instead set a minimum and a maximum of calories that you will eat, and then go up and down on that range throughout the week so that your body does not become accustomed to a set number of calories. What I really love about this method is that it aligns with how your caloric needs vary daily, depending on your activity level and other factors. When I was first starting out, my range was 2,200-2,600 calories. My range now that I am down to my pre-pregnancy weight is 1,800-2,200 calories.*

*Side note: As time has gone by I have worked on reducing my breastmilk supply, and am now down to producing around 36 oz. per day. For those of you wondering how I know how much I produce, I used to be an exclusive pumper—so I knew I was producing 60 oz. per day, then I worked my way down to 40 oz., and now that I breastfeed exclusively and pump just once or twice a night I am estimating that I am still producing 36 oz. per day.

  1. Nutrition and Macros

I wish I could tell you that you didn’t have to keep a food journal to lose weight, but… you should probably keep a food journal. It makes it so much easier, and the fact is that your weight has SO MUCH to do with what you eat. You are what you eat, right? So before you even do anything, start keeping track of what you normally eat, and how much you eat. Measure it—don’t just eyeball it—because calories add up quick. I personally use the MyFitnessPal app to track my food.

In terms of nutrition, my biggest words of advice are to:

  • Eat whole grains—wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, whole wheat cereals (frosted shredded wheat, raisin bran, etc.)
  • Eat more veggies and fruits
  • Throw in protein where you can (peanut butter with your apple or celery, a tuna sandwich, etc.)

The things listed above were no problem for me. I have always eaten relatively healthy—my problem has been more in portion control and sweets. Something I personally had to do when starting out was completely cut out sweets like dessert, chocolate, etc. This is because I have a major sweet tooth and when it comes to chocolate I am all or nothing. So for about the first month and a half of my buckling down I had to choose nothing. I needed my body to basically reset. I ate normally besides that though, and made sure to measure everything.

After that first month and a half I started putting some sweets back in my diet, like a handful of chocolate chips here and there—because the fact is that I love them, and there is no way in heck I am going to live my life without them. If you have something you eat that is equivalent to sweets for me, then consider cutting it out completely for a time while you gain control of your diet.

I also have been keeping track of macros, though I don’t always stick to them. I aim for 60-20-20, carbs-fats-proteins. I can usually meet them without too much effort, and if I don’t reach them it is because I ate too many carbs. I don’t feel too bad about it though because my carbs are mainly whole grains anyway. If you decide to track your macros, just keep in mind that carbs are humans’ preferred fuel. If you choose to drop your carbs significantly and increase your protein, you are more than likely going to feel fatigued and probably hangry. So find a balance that works for you, keeps you full and most importantly HAPPY. Work with a nutritionist if you have to. But your “perfect” ratio will also depend on your body type and how carb tolerant you are.

On a side note, make sure you are drinking lots of water. I drink a gallon per day most days. I did it pre-pregnancy, during, and now. I have always been a big water drinker. I know many people aren’t though, so just do your best to get it in, even if that means cutting out soda or some other sugary drinks. This is especially important for breastfeeding mamas because your breastmilk is about 80% milk—so staying hydrated will help keep your milk supply up even while you are losing weight.

One last thing here… FIBER! If you are eating the amount of fruits and veggies that you should be, and sticking to whole grains, you should have no problem getting to the minimum of 25g of fiber per day. It will keep you regular and you will feel ten times better! I average around 40g per day. If your body is not used to fibrous foods then increase your fiber intake gradually so you don’t end up bloated and uncomfortable.

  1. Exercise

So here’s the deal. You could probably lose a lot of your baby weight without exercising. Maybe even all of it. But exercise will help you lose it faster, and it will help you achieve body recomposition—which is where you get rid of fat and increase muscle, leading to overall smaller body measurements. PLUS, muscle burns more calories than fat, which is a bonus!

Like I said earlier, my workout after postpartum healing was walking. This is a great place to start. If your goal is weight loss, keep your pace consistent and do not stop in the middle of your walk. Continual movement leads to more fat loss. Set a goal to go walking 3-5 times per week for 30 minutes. When you begin feeling stronger, add in a strength training session once per week and drop a cardio session, and keep doing that until you find a balance that you like. At this point I am doing 3 strength training sessions and 2 cardio sessions per week.

At 4 months postpartum I started using the Sweat app, which is a paid-subscription fitness app. It also has recipes and meal plans, though I haven’t ever used them because I want to eat a diet that is sustainable for me. But Kelsey Wells has a postpartum program on there that I have been using and it has been excellent. I tried some other free fitness apps previously and I just couldn’t stay motivated—so the fact that I am actually paying for this one is more motivating because I am too frugal to let my subscription go to waste. If you can stay motivated without the economic factor, then just go find a free app! But I do have to say, the Sweat app has various programs and some other neat features that make paying for it worth it.

  1. Find Foods You Like

I cannot emphasize how important it is to actually find foods that you LIKE to eat! If you don’t like what you are eating while you are trying to lose weight, you probably won’t like them after you lose the weight, and will end up falling back into old habits and gain the weight back. So find some healthy meals and snacks that you enjoy eating that still fit in with your nutrition goals! The key is finding a diet that is sustainable for YOU, and creating a lifestyle out of it. Sure, I cut sweets out of my diet for a bit while I was regaining control, but I introduced it back into my diet because I know I would be so miserable if I didn’t allow myself a cookie every once in a while.

  1. Don’t Give Up—It Takes Time!

Seriously though. Healthy postpartum weight-loss takes time. It took me 7 months in total to lose all of my baby weight and it was HARD. I still don’t even fit in my pre-pregnancy pants! So at this point I am continuing to work on body recomposition (again, more muscle less fat). If the number on the scale isn’t budging for you, try something new.

  1. Random Tips

These are things that worked for me that may seem weird, but give them a go if you are looking for something new to try:

  • Load up on whole-wheat carbs in the morning

To stay on track throughout the day I have to eat a lot of whole grains first thing in the morning, or else I get hungry again 2 hours later and crave those carbs later on. So my go-to breakfast ranges from a big bowl of oatmeal (plain oats, craisins, honey, and fat free milk), to two servings of frosted shredded wheat, to a big breakfast burrito (whole wheat tortilla filled with 2 eggs, diced ham, sautéed peppers and onions, a tiny bit of cheese, and salsa). All of these options keep me full for a good 4 hours.

  • If you are hungry, eat

I tried the “stop eating 3 hours before bed” thing for a while, but again, I hate feeling hungry. So I started ignoring that tip—though of course I avoid eating right before bed. The key is choosing a snack to eat that will tide you over. Just don’t starve yourself! If you are constantly feeling hungry while trying to lose weight, you are way more likely to end up binging and ruin all of your progress. Eat foods that keep you satisfied and don’t deprive yourself if you are genuinely hungry.

  • Stay busy

I eat when I am bored. I eat when I am tired. Anyone else relate? So I have to keep myself busy to avoid eating just because I feel like it. You know you are REALLY hungry when you are willing to eat broccoli or an apple. If you won’t eat them, you probably aren’t actually hungry. Go find something to do. Take a nap. Read a book. Keep yourself busy!

So there you have it! A mish-mash of things I have done to lose the baby weight. For the most part these tips have become habits for me, so I don’t feel like I have to go out of my way to do them. I hope something I discussed can help you lose the baby weight, or at least encourage you to find other ways to do it. The most important thing is that you are healthy!

Feel free to drop any questions or comments about your postpartum weight loss journey below!

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