Let me tell you something personal: I gained more than 40 pounds during my second pregnancy. Then I worked extremely hard and lost it all. Losing that much weight (from pregnancy or not) isn’t an easy task.
Initially, I had difficulty becoming motivated to lose weight. I told myself it was because I’m a foodie. I hadn’t worked out in the last nine months, plus or minus five years. And I was tired from taking care of a newborn and chasing after a toddler. It took a serious wake-up call (literally, from sleep apnea) for me to initiate a weight-loss plan.
But I did it—without diet pills, diet drinks, surgery, starvation or a gym membership. I even ate delicious food. There is nothing magical about my postpartum weight-loss plan. In fact, the plan is simply old-fashioned diet and exercise.
A healthy weight-loss goal for most people is a maximum of one to two pounds per week, but be sure to talk with your health care provider about your specific situation. Here’s my approach to healthy and successful long-term weight loss.
1. Find your motivation.
Everything we do, and do successfully, starts with motivation. If you aren’t consistently motivated, losing weight—and keeping it off—will be difficult. Identify and then focus on the reasons why you want to lose the weight in the first place.
2. Make a plan and commit to it.
Without a plan, it’s easy to let everyday things get in the way: There’s bad weather, you’re in a terrible mood, you’ve got errands to run, you’re fatigued, the baby needs you. The list of potential distractions is endless. It’s important to create a plan that circumvents these excuses, which are obstacles to your weight loss.
3. Be mindful of what, and when, you eat and drink.
For many of us, munching while watching TV is a mindless habit. While out with friends, it’s easy to down a few glasses of wine without thinking about it. Create a new habit: Every time you want to eat or drink, ask yourself, “Am I actually hungry? Or am I just thirsty? Tired? Bored? Stressed?” You might be surprised to discover how often you’d normally indulge when you’re not actually hungry!
4. Eat smaller portions.
Whatever you do, don’t deprive yourself. If you crave something, you can have it; just eat a smaller portion. There will always be barbecues, birthday parties and celebrations. Don’t fret. One bite of cheesecake won’t mess up your plan (although a large slice might). And be honest with yourself about how many little bites you consume throughout the day. They add up!
Incorporate plenty of veggies, lean meats and fish into your meals. These foods contain fiber, protein and healthy fats that help curb hunger longer. Avoid skipping meals; this will help you maintain a steady blood sugar level. Aim to eat three modestly portioned meals a day with one snack in between each meal.
6. When you do eat or drink, enjoy it!
Take small bites and sips, and take your time. Inhale the aroma of that woody red wine. Savor the texture of that creamy cheesecake. Since you’re consuming smaller portions, make them count. Don’t eat anything that you don’t enjoy, such as mediocre low-fat cookies. Eat the real thing—just less of it—and be satisfied.
7. Get moving!
In the beginning, I just wanted to take a nap when I had free time. However, once I started exercising, I actually had more energy. Start slowly and work your way toward a goal. I went from walking half a mile every other day to jogging half a mile every day. Then I lengthened my daily run to one mile, and now I run two miles. Any type of activity helps.
8. Get creative with your exercise routine.
Being a full-time working mom, I have a limiting schedule. I don’t have the freedom to exercise in traditional ways at my leisure. Some of the “exercises” I did: going up and down hilly streets with my newborn in a baby carrier, using my toddler’s step stool to do step aerobics and doing sit-ups while watching TV. There are many ways to fit in exercise, and many of them are free. You don’t need a gym membership or even a jogging stroller, so don’t let those things become obstacles.
9. Grab a pal, try something new, and keep things fun.
Consider no-traditional exercises, such as rumba or salsa dancing, and go with friends. Dr. Maricar Pacquing, a colleague of mine at One Medical Group, works out with her “mommy friends” after their kids go to bed or early in the morning. She says, “It’s hard to get your body back into shape after pregnancy, but it helps when you have good friends to do it with. Plus, it’s social and fun!”
10. Stay hydrated.
Drinking water helps you feel fuller after eating, especially in conjunction with a fiber-rich diet, and keeps your digestive tract running smoothly. You don’t need expensive drinks or bottled water. Tap water is hassle-free, calorie-free and, well, free.
11. Breastfeed, if you can.
Breastfeeding burns calories, plain and simple. If you’re not able to breastfeed (as I wasn’t, due to medical reasons), begin your diet plan early during the postpartum course to achieve similar results.
12. Make small goals and changes week by week.
Allow your body to adjust slowly. The first couple weeks will be extremely hard, but keep at it. After a while, your appetite will adjust to smaller portions, and you’ll enjoy being active again. Keep in mind that many things can trigger weight loss, but only long-term behavioral changes will help you maintain your weight loss.
Alicea Wu, M.D. is a primary care physician at One Medical Group in Burlingame. A version of this article was originally published on the One Medical blog, where you can find more health tips and advice.