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Postbaby belly fat is tough, but not impossible to lose. Yes, you need exercise and discipline, but you also need food – the right kinds of food, the kinds of food that can help you shed those postpartum pounds and turn you into a bundle of energy to keep up with your bundle of joy.
Vancouver actress Kristin Lehman, who you may recognize from the TV show "Motive," says she avoided the pressure of that tight turnaround time by taking two years off after baby Sammy was born.
"I don't know how actresses who go back to work right away [do it]," she says."I didn't bounce back easily at all, not in three weeks, not even in six months."
When she did return to work, she did so in a supporting role on the locally shot murder mystery "The Killing," which not only gave her time out of the spotlight to trim down, but also gave her the luxury of easing back into being a working mom.
"When I came back to work it was in a role that I didn't have to be sexy or show off my body or look perfect," she says. "In fact, they didn't want that. So for two years I didn't have to worry about whether I looked like Jessica Rabbit. I had gained 35 pounds during my pregnancy, but I didn't think about what I was gaining. I was confident that I would gain the appropriate amount of weight that would grow the perfect-size baby for me and I just wasn't worried. I think if I needed or wanted to get back to work right away I would have been more aware of it, but I just trusted that it would be OK and that my body would know what to do."
Now that her son is nearly five, Lehman felt it was the right time to return to acting full time, so she took the lead in the new CTV crime series "Motive," which shoots in her own backyard, which is a plus with Sammy in preschool. She was attracted to the character: a straight-shooting homicide detective who is unapologetically flawed because she feels no pressure to be perfect, just like Lehman herself.
"I'm a 40-year-old woman and I simply want to be proud and be myself," she says. "I want to be a woman who takes care of herself as best she can, not constantly having a battle with what my body looks like. And there are a lot of moms and women who have contacted me to say they relate so strongly to the character, and I'm hoping it's because she accepts herself."
The long, gruelling hours on set leave no time for exercise, so Lehman focuses more on diet to keep down the pounds and keep up her energy.
"I cut out any and all refined carbs, dairy and any sugar," she says. "I try to bring my own food to set, which is a lot of vegetables and protein, like fish. For snacking, I like nuts, peanut butter and celery sticks. It's kind of boring but it works well for me. I just make sure that what I'm eating is good quality and not high caloric intake. It's simple, really: you take in less than what you need and you lose weight."
It's a lesson Calgary mom Danielle MacDonald, 35, learned after having her daughter. She initially sought out a trainer, but to her surprise, he told her he couldn't help.
"He told me I could do crunches for hours a day and it wouldn't do a thing," she recalls. "He said diet accounts for 80 per cent of belly fat."
So she turned to registered dietician, author and Calgary Herald columnist Samara Felesky-Hunt, who designed an eating plan to help her resist the jelly rolls and lose the belly rolls.
"The most important thing when you're trying to lose inches off your waist or reduce belly fat is finding foods that really make you feel full and satisfied longer, so you don't find yourself raiding the cupboards when you have that energy drop or when you're tired," says Felesky-Hunt, who counsels clients at Calgary's The Downtown Sports Clinics. "Often we'll look for foods that are loaded with sugar – a bagel or cookie or granola bar – for that quick energy boost. The next thing you know, you've increased your calories from sugar and fat and sodium, and then you don't feel as good. You see your waistline not changing and it gets frustrating."
Calgary lawyer Terri-Lee Oleniuk, 34, can relate. After putting on 50 pounds while pregnant with her first son four years ago, she found the first 25 came off really quickly, but the last 25 were a struggle. So she, too, turned to Felesky-Hunt for help.
"Snacking was my downfall," she admits. "I was constantly hungry. I was snacking at work on whatever was around, then I ate a pretty substantial supper and did nothing for the rest of the night. Samara helped me to focus on eating more substantial lunches and healthier snacks so I'm not prowling the kitchen at night."
After having her second son in November 2011, she says she's eating a lot healthier – fewer processed foods, and more yogurts, soups, fruits, vegetables and nuts.
"I didn't find it was hard, I just found I had to be mindful," says Oleniuk. "We tend to run on autopilot and stick with our old habits." One trick that magically made a difference, she says, was switching to a two-plate system. "I eat from two small plates at dinner instead of one large plate. One of the small plates is strictly for vegetables and the other plate is half-and-half carbs and protein. I eat all the vegetables first, which helps take the edge off, then I eat less of the protein and starch. My portion sizes have gone down and I'm still feeling satisfied."
Both Oleniuk and MacDonald got great results by following Felesky-Hunt's advice to focus on foods that provide long-term fuel energy and keep blood sugars regulated.
Legumes: Black beans, navy beans, lentils and chickpeas are all excellent sources of fibre, protein, folate, B-complex vitamins, iron, potassium and calcium magnesium. They're also low in fat and have no cholesterol.
"Next to bran cereal, legumes have more fibre per serving than any other food, and they really increase that fullness factor," says Felesky-Hunt.
Top tips: Add chickpeas to a leafy green salad, brew up some lentil soup, throw together a bean salad or sauté a combo with spinach, kale and tomato.
Cereals: The right kinds of cereals make you feel fuller for longer and keep that belly flab at bay, says Felesky-Hunt. These include oatmeal and other hot cereals, like Red River, which is made of wheat, rye and flax from Manitoba's Red River Valley, as well as shredded wheat with bran. They're all excellent sources of soluble and dietary fibres, and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.
Top tips: "I batch-cook steel-cut oats at the beginning of the week and refrigerate it so it lasts all week," says Oleniuk.
Add antioxidant-rich berries or seeds – such as hemp, chia, sunflower, sesame, flax or pumpkin seeds – to your oatmeal, cereals, smoothies, yogurts and salads for an extra hit of fibre.
Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage and kale all contain phytochemicals, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and keep us fuller for longer.
"They do cause bloating, but if you cook them they're much easier to digest," says Felesky-Hunt.
Top tips: Make cabbage rolls stuffed with brown rice, cook up a stir-fry with bok choy and kale, substitute mashed cauliflower for potatoes or roast your broccoli with olive oil and herbs as a side dish.
Peppers: A rainbow of red, yellow, orange and green – they're all filled with vitamins and minerals, including B and C. As a bonus, the capsaicin compounds in hot peppers boost your metabolism.
"We do lots of raw at our house – cherry tomatoes, cucumber, broccoli, snap peas, all different colours of peppers," says Oleniuk.
Top tips: Slice peppers into a salad or stir-fry them with lean protein. Cut them up with other raw veggies and serve alongside a low-fat dip. Stuff them with quinoa or another healthy whole grain. Sprinkle cayenne or chili pepper on cooked foods.
Avocados: Yes, they're relatively high in fat, but it's the good fat, the kind that makes you feel full without dragging you down. They're also packed with heart-healthy folate, nutrients and antioxidants, as well as that all-important fibre.
Top tips: Slice avocado into a salad, stuff it with seafood, spread it on toast or make a yummy guacamole. Ole!
Butter: Not the cholesterol-spiking kind, but the nut butter kind favoured by Lehman. Peanut butter, almond butter, chickpea butter and sunflower butter are all delicious, and they're also all excellent sources of protein and potassium, and have added satiety benefits.
Top tip: Munch a rice cake topped with almond butter or rice chips with hummus for a perfect pick-me-up. "A great afternoon snack," says MacDonald.
Nuts: Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts and pistachios are heart-healthy, cholesterol-lowering superfoods that are packed with antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. They're also high in fat, so it's important to practise portion control with these little gems.
"It's really easy to eat a couple hundred calories worth of nuts without noticing it," says Oleniuk.
Top tips: "I make sure to count out 10 raw, unsalted nuts, put them in a baggie and bring them with me to work," says Oleniuk. "I make sure I don't have a huge bag of nuts open on my desk. It's that mindless eating you have to avoid."
Tea: "If you're dehydrated, you'll find you're tired, and when you're tired you're going to grab the wrong food," warns Felesky-Hunt. "So drinking fluids with every meal and snack is super important. Nine cups, or 2.2 litres, is ideal, and it doesn't have to be all in the form of water, it can be through decaf coffee, low-fat milk, soy, almond milk, herb tea. Avoid vitamin waters as they're typically loaded with sugar."
Caffeinated tea revs up thermogenesis, the biochemical process that turns fat into energy. Green tea is steeped with antioxidants that also burn (and even inhibit the absorption of) fat.
"I buy flavoured teas from DavidsTea, like Banana Dream Pie and Forever Nuts. They're sweet, but with no calories," says Oleniuk.
Also try South African red tea or rooibos, which is high in antioxidants and has no caffeine.
Top tip: Sprinkle your tea with cinnamon, which metabolizes sugar faster, lowers blood sugar levels and curbs bloating.
Milk: The nut kind, not the cow kind. "Dairy can have estrogen in it," says MacDonald, "so if you're gaining weight because your hormones are out of whack, you don't want to be adding more estrogen to your system."
Try almond milk (which is really an almond "beverage," since it doesn't contain any real milk). While low in fat and calories, almond milk is also low in protein. It's also a great milk substitute for those who are lactose intolerant, as is rice beverage.
Top tip: Whirl up an almond milk smoothie with low-fat yogurt and a banana.
Wine: A recent study from the University of Connecticut revealed that white wine can have the same positive heart health benefits as red wine, thanks to chemicals called tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol – which is good news for Danielle MacDonald.
"One of the hardest things for me was limiting my wine to one five-ounce glass a week," she says. "But Samara suggested splitting it in half and making a white wine spritzer. So you can have two glasses and feel like you're splurging twice!"
Top tip: Mix a half glass of wine with a half glass of soda water and top it with a fresh strawberry. Cheers!
Read more about losing that postbaby belly in 5 ways to get killer abs when you're a mom and find out what our mom community has to say about toning your stomach after having kids here in 5 post baby secrets for a flatter tummy.