Please don’t hate me for saying this, but over the past year, I’ve had to gain ten pounds so people would quit accusing me of eating disorders.
And I’ve thought long and hard about whether I should write this post at all. I know how easily it could seem like one big, giant, obnoxious humblebrag (“Oh, poor baby, she has trouble keeping her weight up after a couple of pregnancies. That must be so rough.”)
But the thing is, I kind of accidentally learned some weight loss secrets while I was trying to shed my baby weight and I’m thinking those secrets could really help other people who are trying to get into shape.
So here it goes…
Never, not in a million years, did I expect to have problems getting “too thin.” Especially after pregnancy.
I come from a family with really efficient metabolisms, the kind that probably kept us alive through all kinds of brutal winters and potato famines, but are a real hassle in this modern day and age.
And I’ve been struggling with mine for years. While I’ve never been more than around fifty pounds overweight, I’ve been dieting off and on since junior high school.
I’ve done low fat, low carb, portion control, Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach, vegan… you name it, I’ve tried it.
I’ve also tried a billion different forms of exercise. I’ve walked, ran, cycled, fenced, done yoga and aerobics, and lifted weights, just to name a few.
Through loads of discipline and self-denial, I always managed to ride the bucking bronco of starvation up until about the last ten or fifteen pounds or so, then I would struggle for a while before being thrown off. I would get my bearings, jump back on the horse, and repeat the same cycle.
Over and over again. Those last ten pounds never budged, no matter how hard I tried.
Then a few years ago, when I was first pregnant, I gave up dieting in the interests of the growing baby. Predictably, my weight exploded.
I gained way more than I was supposed to and was routinely lectured by healthcare professionals about how I needed to get a handle on it. They told me to use fat-free dressing, drink diet soda, and stop eating fruit, dairy, and nuts (!!!).
It was scary. I’d worked very hard for many years to avoid obesity, and there I was, helplessly watching the numbers on the scale blow up to ever greater heights, day after day. Knowing how tough it can be to lose the baby weight, I didn’t know if I’d ever turn things around.
After my daughter was born, I got on the Weight Watchers breastfeeding diet plan, because I wanted to drop the weight but needed to make sure I could breastfeed. It was very important to me.
I ended up not only losing the pregnancy weight, but those resistant last ten pounds I could never shake before, and then another twenty pounds (about eighty altogether).
Then I did it again after having my second daughter.
Why would I have an easier time keeping my weight down AFTER having children than before? It sounds crazy, right?
But I don’t think it’s a fluke.
Because of the babies, I changed my dieting approach and found I was having a much easier time.
This wasn’t even the first time I had done Weight Watchers (or the second). This time, however, I did several things differently:
- I ate a lot more fruit
The Weight Watchers diet lets you have as many fruits and vegetables as you want for free (except potato, peas, and avocados). Even though the idea was scary (I had been a low-carb dieter for years and was afraid of sugar spikes), I took full advantage of the opportunity.
I ate fruit like crazy, in addition to regular meals, often eating several bananas in a row then topping it off with an apple and a bunch of pineapple. Calorically speaking, this should’ve made a significant dent in my success.
But it didn’t. No matter how hard I pounded the fruit and veggies, my weight just kept dropping.
I’m firmly convinced now that our bodies don’t metabolize fruit the same way they metabolize simple sugars and that calories are only part of the picture.
Maybe it just comes down to how much harder it is to eat 500 calories of produce than candy, but whatever it is, I think you can eat fruit to your heart’s content (assuming you’re not diabetic).
Plus, eating fruit means you aren’t eating doughnuts. Fiber fills you up.
- I didn’t try to rush the process
I used to get impatient when I was dieting. I’d get tired of always watching what I ate and having to measure everything, and just wanted to hurry up and lose the weight already. Especially when I was struggling through a plateau.
If my weight hadn’t budged, or god forbid, had gone up after a week or so of diligent dieting, I’d start playing hardball by dropping my calories even further. I’d force my weight down, using any means necessary.
But this time, I was breastfeeding my baby, so I couldn’t risk dropping my milk supply by not getting enough calories.
How horrible would I feel if my baby went hungry just because I wanted to drop a couple pounds? I owed it to my child to make sure I stayed healthy, so instead of starving myself, I’d just stick to the plan and eat everything I was supposed to. I thought it might take longer, but be worth it.
You know what? I stopped having those long plateaus. Many weeks, my weight held fast or even went up slightly, but eventually it would drop again. My weight came off much faster, in the long run, when I just held fast and ate everything I was supposed to.
Water weight changes all the time. You can bloat because of hormones, salt, swelling after exercise, or even the weather… I think when you crash diet, you start freaking your body out, so while you might initially lose a couple more pounds, you’ll hurt your weight loss over time because your body goes into revolt.
Just stick to the plan.
- I didn’t try to overcompensate when I “fell off the wagon”
No matter how disciplined you are, most dieters lose control at some point. Maybe there was a potluck at work and someone brought some nachos, and you love nachos, so you find yourself diving headfirst into a bucket of cheese before you had the chance to think straight (maybe that was actually me, not you. Okay, that was me).
Or maybe it’s a holiday or vacation (I personally won’t diet on holidays or on vacations, by the way, because I believe the sense of deprivation will do more harm than good) and they drop the diet for a bit.
But whatever the reason is, after dieters have eaten a bunch of stuff they’re “not supposed to” in unreasonable amounts, they tend to have one of two reactions:
- They figure they ruined their diet, so they throw in the towel, or
- They try to make up for their transgression by starving themselves until they get back on track
I tended to go with the second option, but again, I had babies to breastfeed and I didn’t want to sabotage that. So I just resumed the normal diet again, waiting it out.
And I found that my weight would stall for that week, then be right back on track by the next. I didn’t fall into my typical vicious cycle of starvation and binging.
- I exercised regularly more frequently but less intensely
Whenever I used to exercise, I tended to push myself too hard, too soon. “No pain, no gain,” right?
Partly, I figured you had to work hard to get anywhere, but mostly, it was about feeling self-conscious. I didn’t want to look weak or super out-of-shape in front of everyone.
Because that’s embarrassing.
I’d start a new class or routine with great intentions, get overzealous about it, then quickly burn out.
But just having had a baby is the perfect excuse to take it easy. You can permanently injure yourself if you push yourself too far, because your body has been through a lot and needs to recover. Plus, everyone knows you just had a kid, so they’re impressed you’re even trying to do ANYTHING.
Since I already felt ahead of the game, I just pushed myself a little bit and took a break whenever I needed to. Since I didn’t get injured, I kept going back, and grew stronger and stronger over time.
I learned that exercising regularly is more important than exercising intensely, because the intensity will come in time. Even if you start with a light walk, just keep doing it, and eventually you’ll get into shape.
- I focused more on health instead of thinness
Losing weight used to be all about vanity for me. Sure, being healthy sounds awesome in theory, but I really just wanted to look better in my clothes.
My focus changed, however, after having kids. I cared less about how I looked in a swimsuit and more about having enough energy to handle sleepless nights or play with my kids as they became rambunctious toddlers.
This shift in perspective may seem subtle, but its implications are great. If all you care about is weight loss, for example, you might as well eat doughnuts for dinner, as long as the calorie counts add up.
If you care about your health, on the other hand, you’ll make sure your meals are nutritious enough to fuel your body properly. You’ll actually care about getting enough protein, fiber, and a variety of nutrients. You’ll have an easier time controlling your appetite because your body is getting what it needs.
You will exercise because you know it’s good for your body, even without the instant gratification of dropping pounds. Over time, you’ll have more muscle, better energy levels, and have an easier time keeping pounds off.
And this stuff adds up in the long run. Getting in shape is a marathon, not a sprint.
I hope these tips will be helpful to someone who is struggling. I may have learned these things by accident, but they have made my life so much easier.
If you’re having trouble losing weight, even with diet and exercise, the problem might be that you’re actually trying TOO hard.
Pregnancy taught me that your body is a complex machine that needs love and nurturing. You’re better off gently steering it into a healthier lifestyle than trying to force it at breakneck speed. Start gently, and keep going.
I guess if I had to sum them up in a phrase it would be “try easier.” It’s the long game that counts, not reaching a certain scale weight or hitting a new exercise goal by the end of the week.