Well, here it is the New Year again. And—I have to be honest—I went a little overboard on the holiday cookies, chocolates, coffee cakes, and hors d’oeuvres. (This is starting to feel like déjà vu; despite my best intentions all year long, particularly in dropping the baby weight, here I am January 1 again, feeling full—and looking quite a bit fuller!) In fact, my post-baby belly is starting to look like a Christmas jellyroll. Not good!
But awareness is the first step to change; this is something that’s critical to making the first step to dropping that baby weight (and any other weight you might want to lose as well). So to help you this month—and all year long—with getting your body back after baby, I’ve compiled 31 of the best (and most effective) weight-loss, get-in-shape tips that I’ve learned through my many years as the editor in chief of Shape. The idea: try a new tip every day, and if you skip a day, just put that day’s tip into effect the next day. But try, really try, to incorporate all the new tips into your routines as you move through the month. They’re all designed to help you get back on track with your eating and exercise regimen—and make this the year that you put away those roomy maternity sweaters (I know they’re comfortable…but it’s time for them to go!) and elastic-waisted jeans in lieu of more fitted—and yes, sexier!—attire.
#1. Clean out your fridge (and your cupboards). I know the feeling: you still have half that amazing (and expensive) dessert you bought (or made) for New Year’s Eve—and it’s now sitting, tempting, in your fridge. You can’t throw it out; that would be wasting food. And, in your mind, you won’t eat any of it now that it’s January. But trust me, when the baby starts crying and the phone is ringing and you start to get frazzled, all it takes is one teeny, tiny bite to spin right out of control (and before you know it, the entire thing is gone).
If you don’t want to toss it in the trash, take it to work with you (or have your husband take it to work with him) and leave it in the company kitchen for nibblers. Or, wrap it up tight with layers of plastic wrap, and put it in the back of the freezer. You’d have to be really desperate to take it out and gnaw on a frozen piece! Do the same for any other treats that you’ll be tempted by—in your fridge, cupboards, or that candy dish on your dining room table. Don’t try to give it to your neighbors or friends, though, as they’ll most likely say what all my friends say: “Don’t give it to me; I’ll just eat it!” (It’s comforting to know it’s not just us moms with a waning willpower “issue”!)
#2. Get a good water bottle (or two)—and keep it full and with you at all times. We all know the drill: drink more water; it’s important for everything—from producing enough breastmilk to keeping our skin glowing. But how many of us actually drink enough water? Not many. I know, speaking for myself: if I don’t keep a water bottle with me at all times, I won’t drink.
But water is so important for weight loss, too. A German study—conducted at Berlin’s Franz-Volhard Clinical Research Center—found that drinking about 17 ounces of water (that’s just a little more than two, eight-ounce cups) increased the metabolic rate (the rate by which you burn calories) in the people studied by 30 percent.
What that means: if you were to change nothing else but drink more water (at least 8 eight-ounce cups (does she mean 8 cups a day? Need clarification), you might burn an extra 17,400 calories over the course of a year, for weight loss of about 5 pounds. I bought myself one of those hard plastic, BPA-free plastic water bottles with a built-in straw (which helps you drink even more). Make it a point to keep your bottle with you wherever you go every day this month (and all year round, too) so you drink more!
#3. Figure out an exercise plan…that’s realistic. I’ve always started off January on the right foot, vowing to exercise just 30 minutes a day. And after a couple of weeks of very determined working out, it falls off to four days a week, and then three. That’s where it usually levels off—and I usually feel like a failure as a result. So I say to you: do not vow to work out every day; it’s simply not realistic and not sustainable long term.
While all the experts recommend 30 minutes a day, they actually don’t realize how much movement moms like us go through in a single day (up and down the stairs to check on baby, bending down and picking up baby about 50 times a day, walking in the stroller, etc). In my mind, this movement equals exercise, although it’s not exercise, however, that will get you toned.
That’s why you still need some cardio, so figure out when you can realistically fit in 30 to 45 minutes of cardio three times a week. It might be in the morning before baby gets up, it might be when you know you’ll have babysitting help, or it might be in the afternoon or evening while baby is napping/sleeping. If you have to, mark it on your calendar every week, this month and throughout the year. That way, you can see when you plan to work out—and you’ll be more likely to do it.
#4. Make a brand-new, super-motivating, playlist. Just like you’ve got to mix things up when it comes to your workouts, so too do you have to mix things up when it comes to your music. Choose songs that are fast-paced and will keep you going through your entire workout. (I’ve found that some days, this is the only thing keeping me exercising!) Some of my new workout faves? International Love by Pitbull, Wide Awake by Katy Perry, Whistle by Flo Rida, and for the cool-down: Begin Again by Taylor Swift.
#5. Do not think, or say, the word “diet”! The last thing you need to do is start depriving yourself—or think that you’re depriving yourself. I know for me, as soon as I start to think I’ve got to lose weight and cut down on what I’m eating, I start eating more! That may be the reason a study in the journal Appetite found that women who followed strict diets were more vulnerable to temptation—and weight gain—than those who followed a much less strict eating plan. So less strict and more laissez-faire is the name of the game this month, and every month. You’re changing your lifestyle and making over a few bad habits…that’s it.
#6. Rethink your cardio—do sprints. You’ve finally gotten onto the elliptical for some hard-core calorie-busting, but if you’re like me, you probably set it on the same level (or two) for your entire workout. Change that, starting today. Doing interval sprints—adding one minute of faster, stronger cardio—sandwiched between every three to four minutes of cruising will up your calorie burn, big time. And you’ll see results in less time. Trust me, this works—whether you mix in a fast run with jogging on the treadmill; a jog mixed in with a walk; or just a faster pace mixed in with a slower pace of any exercise you’re doing.
#7. Add in just three more fruits and veggies today. You’ve heard the recommendation to eat 5 to 9 servings of fruits and veggies a day, but sometimes that just seems impossible. I recommend adding just three servings of fruits and veggies to whatever else you’re eating during the day to boost your nutrient intake—and to help fill you up, so you’re less likely to snack on other fattening snacks. (Whole fruits and veggies—not their juices—are high in fiber.) Snack on an apple with peanut butter mid morning to help you last until lunchtime or carrots and hummus mid afternoon (adding protein helps keep hunger at bay longer). Or add an avocado or greens to your sandwich at lunchtime. You get the idea. It’s that simple.
#8. Cut 100 to 200 calories from each meal today—and every day this month. The last thing you want to do is extensively cut calories; then you’ll just feel deprived and want to eat even more. Instead, cutting just a few calories from every meal allows you to approach weight loss in simple, manageable steps—and doing so, never actually feels like you’re dieting. For example, instead of a latté with breakfast, opt for one with skim milk or a plain coffee/tea. For lunch, have the low-fat dressing (and dip your salad in it, instead of drizzling it over your salad) instead of the regular dressing; and for dinner, leave a few bites on your plate (or skip the bread).
#9. Eat soup first. Heading out to eat—or just eating at home? Have a broth- or vegetable-based soup first. Studies indicate that those who eat soup before a meal consume fewer calories during the meal than those who didn’t eat soup first.
#10. Use the salad plate—and limit yourself to just one serving. I’m the first to admit it; whenever I have a big dinner plate, I fill it up. But if you use smaller plates (and utensils), you’ll just eat less (but only if you limit yourself to one serving), according to Cornell University researchers. The researchers found that those who ate with bigger serving plates/bowls/utensils took in about 100 more calories at the meal than those with smaller plates/bowls/utensils. Again, every little bit adds up!
#11. Sit down at a table every time you eat. Ask my husband about this one: I’m famous for standing at the counter and nibbling—from the leftover serving bowl from dinner, from my kids’ plates before I scrape them, from whatever I’m doling out for my kids’ lunches the next day. It is very hard to break this habit, but making this the rule every day this month until it becomes engrained in your daily habits is critical for weight loss. You can take in hundreds of calories a day from just nibbling alone (Note to self!)!
#12. Do not talk on the phone (or work on the computer) while you’re eating. This is all too common when you’re a mom, I get it (and I live it every single day)…the baby just went down to sleep and you have a hundred things you can do, including returning that phone call. Why not just gab and nibble at the same time? The reason: you’ll take in more calories than you would have if you focused on your eating. Researchers from France’s Hotel-Dieu Hospital found that women who listened to a story during lunch ate 15 percent more than those who dined in silence. Not to mention, you’ll enjoy what you’re eating so much more.
#13. Chew gum while you’re cooking dinner. I’m not a big gum chewer, but I think that I’m going to start, particularly while I’m cooking dinner. Researchers at Louisiana State University discovered that people who chewed gum throughout the afternoon were less likely to snack mindlessly than those who didn’t. The kind matters, too: opt for either the spearmint or peppermint flavor. It seems that these scents stimulate the area of the brain that registers fullness, helping you eat less.
#14. Eat an apple a day—before a meal. It seems that doing so can do more than just keep the doctor away. In one Penn State University study, researchers found that women who ate an apple before a pasta dinner consumed 15 percent less (about 187 fewer calories) than those who sipped on juice. It seems that because apples are high in fiber, you stay satisfied much longer.
#15. Try to get more sleep. This is very hard to do when you’re a mom of a baby or teething toddler. But it’s critical to losing the baby weight (and may be one reason it takes women until after their babies are sleeping through the night to start dropping pounds). But research in the Public Library of Science journal found that people who logged fewer than five hours of sleep a night had lower levels of leptin, a hormone that controls how full you feel, than those who snoozed for eight. What’s more, the sleep-deprived also had higher levels of ghrelin, another hormone that stimulates appetite. When you’re exhausted, you just feel hungrier and less satisfied after meals. Ask your husband (or a relative) to do the night shift for you one or two days a week—so you can start getting back some of your sleep.
#16. Mist your pan with oil. I once read this tip somewhere and cut it out and pasted it up: If you mist your sauté pan with oil instead of pouring in oil, you save calories and fat. Free-poured oil comes out at a rate of 1 tablespoon a second, which can add 14 grams of fat and 120 calories. But a spritz from a mister adds only one-third a teaspoon (or about 40 calories and 1 gram of fat).
#17. Skip the “diet” food. “Light”, “Reduced carb”, or “Fat-free” versions of your favorite food won’t satisfy your cravings (I know they don’t mine!). One study from Cornell University found that women who rated their lunch highly enjoyable (and satisfying) said they planned to eat less the rest of the day than did those who weren’t as satisfied. Instead, measure out one portion of what you really want—then step away from the snack cupboard.
#18. Turn up the lights! Mood lighting is always great, particularly when you’re spending some much-needed quality time with your hubby after baby’s asleep. But research shows that the brighter the light, the less you’ll eat! So turn those lights up!
#19. Turn down the music! Sometimes I listen to music—anything from Disney tunes to top 40—on our kitchen radio while I’m cooking dinner. But instinctively I turn it off when sitting down to eat (there’s something so jarring about listening to music while I’m eating; I’ve found that the faster the tunes, the faster I eat—and the more indigestion I have, too). There’s research to back it up: a study at Georgia State University found that listening to tunes during a meal actually increases food consumption (hey, I could have saved them the money and told them that!)
#20. Eat eggs for breakfast. Start off your day with some scrambled eggs (my favorite!). I love to mix up a batch and share them with my one-year-old—we sit together and “read” the paper while we eat our eggs. Turns out, I’m doing something right here: a Saint Louis University study found that people who ate eggs as part of their breakfast felt fuller and actually consumed less the rest of the day (164 calories less) than those who ate a bagel with cream cheese. Over time, these calories add up to weight loss!
#21. Eating out? Ask the waiter to cut your order in half—and put the other half in a doggie bag, before the meal even comes to the table. This is a favorite trick of mine; portion sizes are way too large at restaurants and I will eat everything put in front of me if given the chance. This trick allows me to have my meal (whatever I want)—with leftovers for the next day.
#22. Ordering in pizza? Order a pie with half the cheese. Most people don’t realize they can dictate how much cheese goes on their pizza, but you can…just by speaking up. Depending on what kind of pie you’re ordering, you can save up to 12 grams of fat per slice. (Another trick I learned: dab the oil off your pizza with a spare napkin or paper towel. Sounds obsessive, I know, but you cut off a lot of the grease and can save extra fat. Hey, every little bit counts!
#23. Eat some grapefruit. People who added half a grapefruit to every meal (half grapefruit for breakfast, cut up grapefruit on your salad at lunch, and half a grapefruit as a snack before dinner) lost an average of 3.6 pounds over the course of 12 weeks, according to a study conducted at the Scripps Clinic, in La Jolla, California. It seems grapefruit helps to decrease levels of the fat storage hormone, insulin. (But if you’re taking any kind of medication, ask your doctor if you can eat grapefruit. Canadian researchers recently found that grapefruit interferes with the effects of many common medications.)
#24. Don’t rush through your meals. While I love to sit down with my kids to eat dinner, sometimes I just need to sit alone—in peace—after the kids have been fed and are playing, for an indigestion-free meal. (I find that I eat quickly—too quickly—when surrounded by kids who are always asking me for something…a new fork, a glass of water, more dinner, etc.) It takes 20 minutes for the body to register that it’s full, so if you eat too quickly, it’s easy to eat too much.
#25. Cut out soda—even the diet kind. I’ve never been much of a soda fan, but a recent Brazilian study—published in the journal Appetite—found that eating diet products (like diet soda) with non-nutritive sweeteners, in the form of saccharin or aspartame, led to weight gain….even when total caloric intake wasn’t increased. It’s interesting: no study has actually found that diet soda helps you lose weight; it’s always just been assumed. So do your body a favor and cut it out entirely. If you need a replacement, try naturally flavored seltzers, which have zero calories and nothing artificial. If you need a bit more flavor, add a splash of fruit juice.
#26. Add weights to your workout routine. Invest in a pair of dumbbells and/or a kettlebell (a cast-iron weight resembling a cannonball with a handle)—and start lifting at home while the baby is sleeping or while you’re at the gym. You’ll need to do 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps twice weekly to start seeing results (you’ll look firmer and be stronger). Building muscle also boosts your metabolism, so you’re able to burn more calories all day long. (Half an hour of lifting weights burns about 100 calories, too.)
#27. Swap your whole wheat bread for rye or pumpernickel. In one Swedish study, people who ate a slice of rye felt fuller longer. The reason? Rye and pumpernickel are higher in fiber, which means they’re digested more slowly, keeping you satisfied longer. (Look for brands of bread that have at least 5 grams of fiber per slice.)
#28. Stop eating before you’re stuffed. There’s a cool principle in Japan called hara hachi bunme, or eating until you’re 80 percent full. It’s a good philosophy to put into practice this month. (In Japan, they also wait 20 minutes before heading back for seconds to avoid overeating—another good eating philosophy!)
#29. Tempted to eat the rest of the cookies? Give yourself at least 30 minutes. Make a deal with yourself that you can eat all the cookies you want, but you have to allow at least 30 minutes to pass before you can have them. (Hint: in that time, the temptation will probably go away—saving you a lot of calories.)
#30. Cleaning counts. There are some days when I’m faced with a hour or two of free time (when my baby is sleeping) and I think I should work out on my home elliptical. But I end up cleaning the house instead—and feeling guilty because I skipped my workout. Most people don’t realize but cleaning counts as movement, particularly if you’re doing it nonstop for at least an hour. (You can burn about 200 calories an hour doing it.)
#31. Don’t be so hard on yourself! You gave birth to a beautiful baby—and supported him/her for 9 whole months. In a nutshell, you’re amazing. A single slipup (or two), here or there, won’t cause you to put on 10 pounds. The key is to shake it off, and just get right back on track.
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