When you first realise you are pregnant there’s a huge temptation to “eat for two”. The problem with that mindset, although technically true, is that for the first few months, one of you is only a few centimetres big and weighs in at a mere few ounces. You need to increase the quality of your diet over and above the quantity. If you didn’t do that and now have some baby bulges you want to get rid of, here is some of the science as to how to achieve that along with some great practical guidelines.
What is needed throughout pregnancy and afterwards, is a nutrient dense diet; one that provides all the nutritional goodies needed for your baby to make healthy cells from which to grow. Post pregnancy you still need a higher than normal level of nutrients to recover from the physical trauma or demands of pregnancy and also to produce quality breast milk, not to mention cope with the physical demands of being a new mum.
Women wanting to lose weight often say they want thinner thighs. After pregnancy is the ONLY time your body will preferentially burn fat from here, but only to turn it into breast milk. You might be surprised to learn that breast feeding is the most natural of all weight loss regimes and the only one where you can “spot reduce”. It really is natures way of helping your baby get what it needs at the same time as helping you regain your figure. The whole reason women store fat on their thighs is for exactly this purpose. That’s why after menopause you will find that you store less fat on your thighs and more on your tummy. This is not good as an increase in fat around the waistline increases your risk of heart disease and other conditions.
So if you are choosing to and are able to breastfeed, then the very best way to lose pregnancy weight is to eat a nutrient dense diet that produces high quality breast milk. Calories are part of that process, but the nutrient density is crucial. If you can’t breast feed for any reason, then of course you can still lose weight but it will just happen in a slightly different way.
There are so many myths surrounding weight loss, but in recent years some exciting research has taught us that the single most important element is our “microbiome”. This term simply refers to all the microbes in your body, most of which are in your gut (gut flora). You actually have more microbes that you have human cells, so there’s more of them than there is of you. This collective has been named your “microbiome” and it’s useful to think of it more like an organ, because it functions as a whole unit.
It’s your microbes that determine how many calories you extract from your food. When you have a wide diversity of microbes in your gut (gut flora), they function really well as a team to keep your body healthy. Only a healthy body can lose weight efficiently as many different systems are involved. Its not just a case of burning calories. Your liver manages your bloody sugar, your kidneys clean your blood, and of course your digestive system breaks down the food itself. When all of your internal machinery is working well and together, you do not get food cravings, there are no fake hunger signals, and you find it easy to stop eating naturally when you have had enough. I am going to give you some practical guidelines to help make that happen.
There is one nutrient that deserves special mention post pregnancy and that’s Zinc. At the end of pregnancy the placenta literally sucks down as much zinc as possible from you to give to baby. This must be immediately replaced in your diet as low zinc is associated with post-natal depression, as well as hair loss and poor skin. If you have suffered post-natal depression before it’s worth taking specialist advice to see if you may benefit from zinc supplements, but in any event eat plenty of zinc rich foods (see below).
Caesarean Section Delivery is a major trauma for the body when you need it least. Your body needs even more nutrients as it has to heal itself as well as give you energy to produce breast milk and cope with the physical demands of caring for a baby. Once again zinc is a key player here as it’s thought to aid and accelerate would healing. Other nutrients that can help accelerate and enhance healing are:
- Protein – essential for any healing process because it helps the body repair damaged tissues. Good sources include:
- Beans (and other legumes)
- Nuts (uncooked)
- Eggs (organic)
- Chicken (organic)
- Vitamin C – boosts the immune system and works as an antioxidant, found in
- Citrus fruits and juices, such as orange and grapefruit.
- Kiwi fruit.
- Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries
- Zinc (valuable mineral and a powerful antioxidant)
- (e.g. chickpeas, lentils and beans)
- Seeds (uncooked)
- Nuts (uncooked)
- Dairy (0rganic)
- Eggs (organic)
- Whole Grains
- Vitamin A (fat soluble)
- Oily fish
- Milk & yoghurt (organic)
- Liver & liver products (avoid or restrict during pregnancy)
- Beta Carotene (converted in the body into VA) rich foods include:
- Red / yellow/ green vegetables
- Yellow fruit e.g. mangos papaya and apricots
You can even get vitamin E capsules, pierce them with a clean pin or needle, and rub it into your wound once you have had the stitches removed, to help the scar to heal.
Quick stock take
When thinking about weight loss ask yourself a few key questions about your food intake during pregnancy to take stock of what you might need to change; these questions are important because you can look in practical terms at what food habits you need to re-set to lose the weight, get and stay healthy and energised.
- Did I eat more than 30% above of my normal food consumption during pregnancy?
If the answer to this is yeas you need to consciously serve smaller portions and eat more slowly and mindfully to reset your appetite. Eating the right balance of nutrients will also help.
- Did I eat more sweet sugary foods?
If the answer to this is yes then cutting out sugar is one of the most important and beneficial things you can do. When you get a sugar craving choose slightly green bananas or some sweet almonds as a naturally sweet alternative that won’t elevate blood sugar
- Did I eat at all times of the day and night?
If the answer to this is yes, then aim to eat all of your meals within a 10 hour window, or less. This will allow your microbiome to rebuild itself overnight, something it cannot do if its constantly having to work to digest food.
- Did I eat more than 6 portions of fibrous vegetables and fruit per day?
If the answer to this is NO then this has to be increased. Use the advice below to make this happen.
- Did I stay fully hydrated ?
If the answer to this is NO then this also has to change. The best way to hydrate is with water, but you can choose naturally sparking water, or flavour your water with fruit, or have fruit teas. Avoid artificially sweetened drinks as these are thought to deplete gut flora and still generate sweet cravings.
- Did I regularly snack between meals?
If you became a habitual snacker, then work to have enough food at mealtimes to last you until the next meal. The advice below will help you to do this. Resting your gut microbes in between meals allows them to perform much better.
The Colour Code System (which is the nutrition element of The Placebo Diet programmes), is a super simple way to ensure the foods you eat keep you satisfied, give you all the nutrients you need, and enhance your microbiome. I will share the key principles here to give you some practical guidelines to aid weight loss and boost health.
PINK foods come from the soil and are the starchy carbohydrates that are most likely to raise your blood sugar, increasing food cravings and energy highs and lows. When this happens the excess glucose is converted into fat. For most of the high starch carbs in this group there are lower alternatives that it’s OK to have in moderation. Aim for a maximum of 2 portions of PINKS per day and definitely only 1 per meal. It’s ok to have less than 2 and have some days when you don’t have any. Every cell in your body needs glucose to function, but you can get all the glucose you need from a high fibre plant based diet. For example easy swaps are courgetti or other veggie spaghetti for wheat based spaghetti.
|Avoid||Replace with (in moderation)|
|White potato||Sweet potato|
|White rice (except basmati)||Brown or wild rice, quinoa or cous cous|
|Pasta (especially quick cook)||Whole-wheat pasta (cooked el dente)|
|White bread||Granary bread|
|Refined cereals||Porridge oats or low sugar granola|
GREEN foods also come from the soil but do not raise blood sugar levels too quickly. They are rich in many different and valuable nutrients and phytochemicals. GREENS include ALL vegetables and ALL fruits. There are a few vegetables that raise blood sugar slightly faster such as parsnips, but generally if you eat a wide variety with each meal then your blood sugar will be stable. GREEN foods also promote healthy gut flora (microbes) especially the more fibrous ones. Aim to have at least 7 portions of GREEN foods per day and some with every meal. Some of the most beneficial GREENS are:
- Dark green vegetables
- Sprouting vegetables (high in zinc which is often low after delivery)
- Yellow/orange/red varieties (high in beta carotene)
- Fermented vegetables ( great source of probiotics)
- Berries (all red/blue/purple varieties) high in antioxidants
BLUE foods are the combined macronutrients Protein and Fats. These take the longest to digest and help keep you satiated (satisfied) as well as giving you the building blocks for healthy cells. Avoid the obvious processed fats and lots of fried foods, but other than that fats are not the bad guys they were once purported to be. Every cell in your body is made up of fat so if you want healthy cells, eat quality fats. Protein is also a fundamental building block and quality proteins must also be consumed. Many people make the mistake of thinking you need meat to get the best proteins, but vegetable proteins are not only good building blocks, but great for your gut flora, so aim to have two or more meat free days per week and your microns will love you for it. Aim to have 1-2 blues with each meal and an average day would be between 5-7 portions. Dairy is also a BLUE but not listed as one of the most beneficial although providing you are not lactose intolerant its fine in moderation. Its worth noting that dark green vegetables are a great source of calcium so drinking milk or eating cheese is not essential to get this valuable nutrient and some people do better on non-dairy alternatives such as nut milks, or goats cheese, which are also a BLUE
Some of the best BLUES include
- Oily fish (avoid farmed if possible)
- Fresh nuts and seeds – must be uncooked
- Avocados and olives
- Quality meat
- Eggs (organic if possible)
Hydration is worth highlighting as sometimes new mums are so busy they literally forget to drink. Whilst not snacking between meals is beneficial, that does not mean not drinking, In fact many people interpret the sensation of thirst as a need to eat. Drink as much water (see guidelines above). A good tip is to fill a jug with a litre (or more) of water and put it where you can see it every time you go into the kitchen, and have a glass whether you think you need it or not. If you are breastfeeding then you will absolutely need to increase your fluid intake. Experiment with drinks you haven’t tried and mix up the flavours, such as different fruit or herbal teas and naturally flavoured (not sweetened) water,. If you wait until you are thirsty, chances are you are probably 30% dehydrated or more. When it comes to dehydration, prevention is definitely better than cure.
If you follow these simple Colour Code System guidelines you will train your body to become more efficient and managing hunger and burning excess fats. You will also have the much needed energy you need to look after a baby or toddler without depleting your energy reserves.
Lastly I have to mention emotional eating. There’s fewer times in your life when you are more emotional, or feel a genuine need to reward yourself for a job well done. If you are trying to lose weight and you regard chocolate or a large pizza as a “treat” then you need to redefine what that word actually means; this is because those foods will give you the opposite of what you want to achieve, so how is that a treat? It’s not, its self sabotage. It might taste good, but if it stops you achieving your goal then that’s hardly a reward. You can either choose nutrient dense foods as a genuine treat, take the time to make a delicious and ultra healthy meal which really is a treat for your body, but given that time may be at a premium that’s might not be an option when it comes to a reward. So ask yourself how you can generate a good feeling without involving food? Maybe it’s a luxurious soak in the bath, maybe book yourself a beauty treatment or massage, maybe invite some friends round and remind yourself you have a life other than being a mum. The simple rule is for something to be a genuine reward or treat, it has to make you feel good in the moment, AND longer term. If it makes you feel good briefly but then has negative consequences later, that is definitely a reward. And let’s face it, you are doing the best and some say hardest job in the world, so make your reward genuine. You deserve it.
More information: www. theplacebodiet.co.uk
About the expert
Janet Thomson combines high level academic achievement (MSc in Nutrition & Exercise Science) with a range of psychological and coaching qualifications including, NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) Master Practitioner and Trainer, a TFT (Thought Field Therapy) Diagnostic Therapist, TFT Accredited Trainer, registered Clinical Hypnotherapist and qualified Life Coach. She combines these advanced skills with over 25 years’ experience working with clients on an individual basis and in groups and seminars. This has firmly established her as a leader in the field of Personal Development and Achievement.