You've heard about the "Freshman Fifteen," that weight gain young women often undergo when they leave for college due to an over-consumption pizza and beer, right? I'm coining a new term: the Toddler Ten. For a lot of women with young children, weight is a big issue, and I am convinced that in most cases, the kid is to blame. I am living proof. No, I don't want anyone to give their two-year-old a hard time about this. What I mean is that a lot of aspects of having a little kid in your life that not only make it more difficult to lose weight but also probably contribute to weight gain. Until you identify how these factors play into your lifestyle, you will never be able to make the changes necessary to stop gaining weight and, hopefully, start losing.
I know that most of you who know me in person are rolling your eyes and groaning right now. True, as an adult, I have always been thin and haven't had to think much about my weight. Even trying to gain weight during pregnancy, I only managed to pack on 15 pounds. Yet, I realized something was wrong when I looked at some pictures of myself about eight months ago. To my horror, I discovered that I still looked pregnant. The scale said the same thing. Though I was down to my pre-pregnancy weight about six months after delivery, I didn't stay there. What was happening?
Pondering the changes in my lifestyle and eating habits, I realized that it was all the little man's fault. Here's why and how I changed things for the better:
1. Lack of time for exercise. Especially for those of us who work, there is little flexibility in our schedules to carve out time to exercise. I used to be able to get up super early in the morning to get my workout in, but when you're waking up at night to care for a baby or toddler, any extra sleep you can squeeze in is important. For those who don't work, unless you can do everything--exercise, clean, cook, etc.--during naptime, you need a sitter for you to get some exercise, and most don't have that luxury. Joining a gym with childcare might be an option, but with all the kid expenses, that might not be in the budget either. Things get even harder as your baby become a toddler and cuts back from two naps to one (and on bad days, none). And not to burst anyone's bubble, as tiring as it can be, chasing a toddler around the house does not count as exercise from a fitness or weight loss standpoint.
I had grand plans before I delivered. Somehow I was under the delusion that I would have a kid who would love to ride in the jogging stroller while I ran every day. I think the folks at my office suffered from the same delusion because they gave me a BOB stroller at my shower. As it turns out, I actually fear running with my antsy kid because I'm pretty sure he will lose his mind two miles away from the car, and I'll have to find some way to get us both back there without losing my mind as well. I needed an alternative.
The reality is that your child needs you to be healthy to care for him, so you need to find a way to take care of yourself. In my case, solo runs are great, but only if I don't have to spend a lot of time driving to my starting point. Unfortunately, my house is at the top of a big hill, and my legs simply can't tolerate running that hill day in and day out, so the hubby and I started looking into home exercise programs. "Insanity" was as hard as the name implies, but I could do it at home without any special equipment, so I could do it easily during kiddo's naps. Recently, I also rearranged my office schedule so that I have time at lunch to squeeze in a run on the flat land near my office at a time when I already have childcare. Hubby does the same thing. On the weekends, we each take shifts so that the other can exercise or do whatever else is important at the moment. We might not get out as much as some families whose weekends are packed with activites, but we're healthier for it.
2. Toddler snacks. Little kids like to eat a lot of starchy, fatty, sugary foods. So do adults. The difference is that kids actually need fat and calories in these foods; you and I do not. If your pantry is full of cheese crackers, fruit snacks, and worse, it's natural to be tempted by these things. The easiest way to avoid this stuff not to buy it in the first place. Your child can still have plenty of tasty, easy snacks. Try cheese, fruit, toast with peanut butter, cereal with milk. There are a lot of ways to provide good snacks without tempting yourself. My kid eats hummus with a spoon. He loves my healthy creamed spinach. Toddlers aren't biased the way we are. They are naturally drawn to a lot of foods that we dub "health foods" as adults. Let your kid eat health food (just don't limit his fat and natural sugar intake). Get the junk out of the pantry. If your child is older and protests when the chips and cookies disappear, be strong; you are the adult and get to call the shots. Remember that teaching your children to appreciate healthy food is helping them make better choices later in life. If you show them that eating well is important, they will carry on your legacy.
3. Dinner time. Many studies show that families who share meals produce healthier, happier kids in the long run. From an adult diet standpoint, eating as a family is easy when babies are eating purees; once they can handle table food, it's a whole new ballgame. I found myself trying to find meals that my boy would/could eat (his teeth have been slow to come in and at nearly two, he is just starting to get his canines and still needs a set of molars), and they all revolved around a starch--mac and cheese, spaghetti, fried rice. I'm not anti-starch, but it's hard to get really full on a meal of mac and cheese without eating way more calories than you actually need. I started thinking about things a new way: prepare and serve what the adults eat and let the kid learn to eat that way too. Now we have a more balanced meal. Lots of veggies and protein in addition to the starches. I try to make sure that all of our meals have some component that he will eat, but I don't make the meal revolve around his preferred diet.
[Note: studies show that it can take at least 20 tries for a child to willingly eat a new food, so if your kid protests at first, try again!]
4. The tempting tray. We ALL start snacking off our kids' plates at some point. I'm not sure why this is. We probably serve bigger portions than a child can eat and don't want to see so much waste. We are also serving our kids foods with more starch, sugar, and fat than we generally allow ourselves, so there is a huge temptation to eat the leftovers. I have never seen a parent who doesn't do it, though some patients deny it. If you want to get rid of those extra pounds, stop eating your kid's food, or at least factor that into your own daily intake. This is especially important if you don't eat your meals together. Because I know I'll probably finish my son's dinner for him, I serve myself a lot less than I used to, and as absurd as it sounds, there are times that I literally talk myself out of "tasting" what's left on the tray.
5. Starving yourself. If you aren't eating throughout the day, your child's food is going to look especially tempting. You'll eat fewer calories and more healthfully if you keep up with your meals and snacks. When I'm at home, I feed myself when I feed Asher. At work, I stick to the same schedule. This reduces the chance that I will overeat because I'm not starving when I am around food. Also, your internal clock knows when it is used to eating and will tell you your hungry at certain times of the day, even if you've just had a high calorie meal. I know a lot of people who will eat a big breakfast on the weekend and
say they'll skip lunch. Not sure how well that works for them, but I
personally am always hungry when lunchtime rolls around. If you're anything like me, it helps to keep your meal and snack times relatively consistent.
6. Not doing unto yourself.... We all take better care of our families than we do of ourselves. How many moms spend a good chunk of time each week packing lunches for their kids but rely on a run to the closest fast food joint for their own lunch? I always make sure we have plenty of cut up veggies and fruits for the little guy to snack on when I'm away. One day I caught myself thinking that I should bring a snack to work but not wanting to take "Asher's food." Weird, right? It occurred to me a second later that I was spending a lot of time on food prep every week but didn't personally benefit from all that work. Increasing the number of peppers and cucumbers I cut up each week took minimal effort, but now there was plenty for the whole family to enjoy. Now Asher has veggies for his snacks, and we have veggies to throw into salads to take for lunch.
7. Stress with a capital S. Moms and dads are stressed people. We have a lot more responsibility and worries than childless people. Stress contributes to weight gain. Whether it's because of hormonal changes triggered by stress or simply the over-eating for comfort that stress promotes, I'm not sure--I'm guessing the latter because despite a lot of stress in college and med school, I was always under-weight due to not eating as a coping mechanism. Either way, a lot of people gain when stressed, so if only from a weight perspective, it is important to find an outlet. Exercise is a great one, but if that doesn't do it for you, try meditation, journaling, baking...whatever gives you a moment to breathe.
I'm not saying that any of this is easy--it is serious work--but before you start calorie counting, think about where those calories come from and the barriers that are preventing you from burning them off. Consider the little changes you can make to your current routine that might make a big difference. Do this before you try the newest fad diet or ask your doctor for a weight-loss pill. Your children will learn from you and will be healthier and happier people for a lifetime, and so will you.