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8 Tips for Losing Weight After Pregnancy

Load Up on 'Super Foods', Find Time to Exercise, Consider Breastfeeding to Help Shed Excess Pounds

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Now that your new baby is here, you have a lot to think about: when to feed her, what to do if she cries -- and how to get rid of those extra pounds you packed on during your pregnancy.

If you started out at a normal weight and gained the 25-35 pounds your doctor probably recommended, it shouldn't take you more than a couple of months to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight if you watch what you eat and exercise.

If, on the other hand, you were overweight before your pregnancy or you put on more weight than your doctor advised, it could take much longer -- up to a year -- to get the weight off. Any baby weight you don't take off could stick with you for a long time.

"It's very critical that you do get the weight off, because if you don't it has been associated with overweight and obesity 15 to 20 years later in life," says Debra Krummel, PhD, RD, endowed professor in the University of Cincinnati department of nutrition.

And although every new mom is eager to look like her old self again, one of the most important things to remember is to be patient with yourself. Your favorite celebrity might have gone straight from the delivery room into her size 0 jeans, but she may not have done it in a way that was good for her body.

"All the magazines ask, 'How did she do it?' The more important question is, 'Why did she do it?'" says Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). "They do this with very, very strict diets, and a lot of them do it by getting back into activity before their body is really ready for it."

Johnson advocates a more gradual approach to weight loss. "The number one thing new mothers have to have is a certain amount of patience with their body," she says. "It took nine months to get there. It should take at least that long to get back to their fighting weight."

With that in mind, here are some tips to help you lose weight after pregnancy and fit back into your old jeans -- whatever their size.

It may sound strange, but going on an official "diet" could derail your post-pregnancy weight loss goals. Feeling deprived of your favorite foods while you're already stressed out by your new role as mom could actually cause you to gain weight, Johnson says.

"If you go back to eating healthy and eating for your hunger, most women find that the weight comes off pretty naturally," she says.

Instead of dieting, she recommends eating a well-balanced variety of foods. Keep different snacks in the house to keep you from feeling hungry and give you energy throughout the day. Apple slices, carrot sticks, and wheat crackers are all good for noshing.

No matter how much you want to lose weight, try not to dip below 1,800 calories a day, particularly if you are breastfeeding. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPyramid site can help you design a personalized eating plan based on your age, activity level, and weight loss goals. The site even has a special section for breastfeeding moms.

Load up on "super foods."

When you're a new mother, your body needs maximum nutrition, especially if you're nursing. Choose foods that are heavy in the nutrients you need and light in calories and fat.

Fish is one of these "super foods" because it's packed with DHA, an essential omega-3 fatty acid that helps your newborn develop a healthy brain and nervous system.

And, this is an ingredient we’ve seen time and time again.

The best sources of DHA are cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, and tuna (stick to canned light tuna because albacore tends to be high in mercury).

Milk and yogurt are also super foods because they're high in the calcium you need to keep your bones strong. And don't forget the protein. Lean meat, chicken, and beans are low in fat and high in protein and fiber. They're good for you, and they'll keep you feeling full for longer.

Breastfeed.

Whether breastfeeding can actually help you lose weight is still up in the air -- some studies find that breastfeeding exclusively can help you return to your pre-baby weight faster, while others find no difference in weight loss between women who breastfeed and those who bottle feed.

What is for sure is that breastfeeding is good for your baby, boosting immunity and providing a number of other important health benefits. And nursing exclusively lets you add about an extra 300 calories a day to your diet (you can add slightly more calories if you have a really big eater or twins). Just make sure that if you do breastfeed, you don't use it as an excuse to eat whatever you want.

Drinking plenty of water throughout the day prevents you from getting dehydrated. It also fills you up so that you don't eat as much, and some research has found that it may speed up your metabolism.

Whether you need the often-recommended eight glasses a day isn't certain, so Johnson recommends using the color of your urine and how often you need to go to the bathroom as guides. If you're drinking enough fluids, your urine should be relatively clear, and you should be going to the bathroom about every three to four hours.

Diet is important, but it's only one part of your post-pregnancy weight loss plan. You also need to incorporate aerobic and strength training exercises after pregnancy to burn calories and keep your muscles and bones strong. "Exercise, beyond helping you lose weight, provides so many benefits to a new mom," Johnson says. "It helps with depression, it helps with the sleep issue . it helps in relieving stress -- and having a new baby in the house can definitely be stressful."

You don't have to hit the gym to get back in shape after pregnancy -- taking a brisk walk with your baby in the stroller is enough to get your heart pumping and muscles working. "You want to shoot for at least 150 minutes a week," says James M. Pivarnik, PhD, FACSM, professor of kinesiology and epidemiology at Michigan State University and president-elect of the American College of Sports Medicine. With a new baby, finding 30 minutes in a row might be impossible, so Pivarnik suggests breaking up the time into 10-minute increments. Then try to work your way up to 20- or 30-minute sessions.

Lugging around a baby all day is itself a workout, but you still need to add some strength training. Use light weights -- or even a couple of soup cans -- as resistance. Many health clubs and community centers offer "mommy and me" classes that will let you incorporate your baby into your workout routine. But before you start any exercise program, get your doctor's approval, especially if you had a C-section.

Get some sleep.

It may seem impossible to get a full eight hours of sleep when you have a baby summoning you like clockwork throughout the night, but being sleep deprived could make it harder for you to shed the baby weight. In one study, new moms who slept five hours or less a night were more likely to hold onto their extra pregnancy weight than women who slept seven hours.

Researchers found that patients who controlled multiple factors of an effective weight loss regiment such as dieting, exercising, nutrition, to be most effective in overall weight loss.

A lot of people do this and still experience astounding results, making these supplements even more desirable to those who wish to lose weight without the hard work.

When you're tired, your body releases cortisol and other stress hormones that can promote weight gain. "Also when you're exhausted, you don't feel like taking good care of yourself," Johnson says. "You're less likely to choose healthy food. You're more likely to grab something through a drive-through. You're also less likely to get physical activity."

Your friends or family members may have told you to "sleep when your baby sleeps," and that's good advice. Catch as many naps as you can during the day and go to bed early -- at least until your baby starts sleeping through the night.

Ask for help.

If you're struggling to lose the weight, enlist the help of your doctor and a dietitian. The dietitian can help you design an eating plan that will let you lose weight safely and effectively, while the doctor can guide you on how much weight you need to lose and when you can start exercising.

Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association.

Gunderson, E. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2008; vol 167: pp 178-187.

Boschmann, M. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2003; vol 88: pp 6015-6019.

Hatsu, I. International Breastfeeding Journal, 2008, vol 3.

Pediatrics, 2005; vol 115: pp 496-506.

James Pivarnik, PhD, FACSM, professor of kinesiology and epidemiology, Michigan State University; president-elect, American College of Sports Medicine.

Haiek, L. The Journal of the American Board of Family Practice, 2001; vol 14: pp 85-94.

Debra Krummel, PhD, RD, endowed professor, University of Cincinnati department of nutrition.

Lose 21 Pounds in 21 Days: The Martha's Vineyard Diet Detox

The Promise

The Martha's Vineyard Diet Detox promises to peel off a pound a day and rid your body of toxins. But is it a good idea, given that your body detoxes itself, regardless of what you eat?

On the plan, you drink liquid every 2 hours, take supplements that have a laxative effect, and do enemas.

The plan boils down to three principles: rest, reduce, and rebuild. The rest comes from not chewing food and not working out. The reducing is the weight loss from being on a liquid diet. Rebuilding is what author Roni DeLuz says will happen to your cells after 21 days on this plan.

DeLuz, who is a registered nurse and naturopathic doctor (not an MD), recommends a 21-day detox each year, a 7-day detox each season, and a weekend detox every week. She says it's great for metabolism and energy levels. The plan also calls for an organic coffee enema once a week, supplemented by more traditional water enemas on other days.

What You Can Eat and What You Can't

DeLuz has detoxers stick to water, herbal tea, juices you make from organic vegetables and fruits, homemade soups, and powdered antioxidant berry and green drinks she sells on her web site.

In a typical day, you will drink 40-48 ounces of water, 32-40 ounces of herbal tea, 16 ounces of vegetable-based soup, and 32 ounces of either a green drink made from vegetables, vegetable juice, or a berry drink.

Not allowed: Anything that has to be chewed, processed food, meat, cow’s milk, alcohol, salt, or coffee (except in that weekly enema).

Level of Effort: High

Besides limiting what you can eat, the plan also calls for getting a "high colonic" at the beginning of the plan and recommends getting lymph drainage massages, cellulite treatment, liver flushes, body wraps, and detoxifying baths.

Oz, but they create inferior products trying to cash in on unknowing consumers.

Again, there's no proof that any of this helps your body.

Limitations: You're probably going to eat very differently than you did before this diet or after it ends.

Cooking and shopping: You need to keep organic fruits and vegetables on hand, juicing and blending them into drinks and soups. If you don’t have the time to do all that juicing and soup making, DeLuz sells supplement powder that you mix with distilled water to create a shake.

Packaged foods or meals? Not required.

In-person meetings? No.

Exercise: DeLuz recommends doing very specific forms of movement, including using a Chi Machine and bouncing on a small trampoline called a rebounder to drain lymphatic fluids. Yoga, stretching, and 1-mile leisure walks are also part of the plan.

Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?

Vegetarians and vegans: These allowed foods would work for you:

  • Juiced, pureed, or powdered garlic
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Celery
  • Collard greens
  • Eggplant
  • Kale
  • Beets
  • Onions
  • Radishes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Summer squashes
  • Most green vegetables
  • Tomatoes
  • Purple cabbage

Gluten-free: You'd need to check the diet's web site to see if the kit of products is gluten-free.

What Else You Should Know

Costs: If following the plan to the letter, you would also take enzyme capsules, an herbal cleansing formula, and aloe vera. DeLuz sells all of this on her website in a kit for $199 plus shipping and handling.

A better, cheaper, and less punishing path to weight loss and good health, say nutritionists, is to eat a variety of fresh produce, lean meats, low-fat dairy, and whole grains while avoiding processed foods, salt, and too much alcohol.

What Dr. Michael Smith Says:

There are no known health benefits to the diet, supplements, products, and techniques that DeLuz recommends in her book, such as not chewing, coffee enemas, and laxatives.

Despite the popularity of “colonics” in recent years, they don’t make you healthier. There’s no reason to detoxify your body, as it takes care of that on its own. It may even be harmful for some people.

You won’t have the energy to do much on this program, but the recommendation to avoid exercise is counter to everything experts know about exercise and health.

You'll likely lose weight on such a strict plan. But much of that will be water and muscle, since the plan offers very little protein.

Your metabolism will also likely plummet, making it even harder for you to burn calories throughout the day. Any diet that promises you’ll lose a pound a day is not a healthy approach and not one you’re likely to stick with. You'll likely regain the weight after you go back to eating normally.

You also may have headaches and feel fatigued during this detox plan. Overall, you probably won’t feel very good.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

If you have a medical condition, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes, or heart disease, this is not the program for you. You need to find a program that you can stick with and that will help you manage your health.

If you have diabetes, this diet could be harmful. If you take diabetes medicine, your blood sugar could fall to dangerously low levels.

Before starting any strict diet program such as this, it’s important to talk to your doctor to make sure it’s right for you.

The Martha’s Vineyard Diet is not a healthy approach and may leave you worse off than before.

On the quest to looking thin and more slim, many people try to approach weight loss from a more natural and healthier approach.

Such a strict program will leave you frustrated. It will not deliver the long-term effects you’re looking for.

The only positive thing that the diet has going for it is the focus on vegetables. Eating a wide variety of vegetables is an excellent strategy for getting your health in order.

But skip this plan and find another that focuses on lowering calories through a well-rounded diet and exercise program that works for you.

DeLuz, R. 21 Pounds in 21 Days: The Martha's Vineyard Diet Detox, Harper Collins, 2007.

Jim White, registered dietitian, nutritionist; spokesman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; owner, Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios, Virginia Beach, VA.

Bender, D. Biologist, December 2011.

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