How can you lose weight while maintaining the energy you need? When can you start? And, should you be cutting calories, stepping up your exercise routine, or both? With the help of Toronto-based doctor of naturopathic Medicine Jaty Tam, here are some simple steps to shed that extra weight in a stress-free, safe and healthy way.
Listen to your body
For starters, don't do too much too soon, says Tam, pointing out that an extremely rapid weight loss can do more harm than good for one's health. She says it's particularly important for new mom's to listen to their own bodies, and only start tackling the baby weight once they feel they've regained their strength and feel ready to focus on the extra pounds.
"After going through the physical and emotional journey of pregnancy, labour, and moving on to the phase of breast-feeding, the post-partum time should be focused on celebrating the birth of a new child and of nurturing the baby," she says. "Weight loss should not be attempted until the mother has recovered physically and emotionally from the labour, the exact length will vary for different women."
Focus on nutrition, not calorie restriction
Once a new mom is ready to try losing weight, Tam stresses the importance of maintaining a healthy caloric intake (she recommends between 2,000 and 2,200 per day) to keep your body in top shape and able to support all of your nutritional requirements. This is particularly important if the mother is breastfeeding, as the body requires an extra 700 to 1,000 calories a day just to produce breast milk.
"When a woman is lactating, there are a number of important nutrients as well as calories that go towards breast-milk production," she says. "Going on a restrictive diet, especially one that may reduce intake of essential nutrients, can be harmful to the mother and the nursing infant. Consuming less than 1,800 calories per day will interfere with the body’s ability to produce breast milk."
For a woman who wants to start losing weight several months after giving birth, Tam would recommend a diet centered around eating healthy whole foods which can provide the nutrition needed to support lactation and the woman's health.
"A whole foods diet is exactly as it sounds: eating whole foods like whole grains and fresh fruit and veggies - which tend to be more calorie-light but are chocked full of healthy nutrients – instead of processed foods," she says.
Tam also recommends a continuation of pre-natal vitamins while a woman is breastfeeding, because many of the vitamins needed during pregnancy are also required in higher amounts than normal while a woman is lactating.
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Tam says in addition to a healthy diet, the best way to lose weight is with regular exercise. She recommends hitting the pavement to kick-start your fitness routine and bond with your baby at the same time.
"Walking or running with the stroller can be a great way to spend time with the baby and get in some physical activity," she says. "I also find that practices like yoga and qi gong, in addition to cardio and weight training exercises, are a great way to achieve both stress reduction and increase the metabolism for greater fat-burning potential."
For at-home exercise options check out Toronto company FITMOM Canada's Postnatal Workout DVD which features strength-training and cardio exercises, or streaming online videos from Vancouver-based MY Yoga Online. For mom and baby fitness classes check out your local community centre or fitness studio, or consult fit4two and Mommy and Baby Fitness, to see if they hold classes in your area.
De-stress for success
For women who have had difficulty shedding weight, even years after pregnancy, Tam says the "stress hormone" cortisol may be a factor in holding onto those extra mid-section pounds.
"When we are stressed, our body makes more cortisol to provide us with the extra energy for fight or flight," she explains. "When we need to fight or flight, our body chooses to store back-up energy by depositing extra fat. So, abdominal weight gain can be affected by the amount of stress we are under and the amount of cortisol produced by the body."
To address this, Tam says stress management must become a key part of the weight loss strategy, particularly to tackle those stubborn last few pounds around the abdomen. She recommends exercise, including exercises that specifically target the abdominal area, as not just a great way to burn fat, but a great way to lower stress at the same time.
Additionally, a consultation with a naturopathic doctor can help you identify if there are any other underlying reasons for holding onto that extra weight.
"A naturopath will be able to provide is a full assessment of a person's health and determine if there are any other health factors that may be interfering with a person's ability to maintain a healthy weight," she says. "For example, thyroid and ovarian disorders (like hypothyroidism and polycystic ovarian syndrome) can cause weight gain in women, and make it really difficult for them to lose that weight. Naturopaths are able to address these conditions using natural and safe treatments concurrently with the weight loss program."
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