Healthy Post Pregnancy Diet
Rebecca McPhee with Credit to Diabetes NSW & ACT
Healthy eating post-pregnancy can be a challenge if you rely on Google to provide you with answers! There are so many diets and programs out there promising instant results (and often at a price) which can make it virtually impossible to know where to start. Firstly, we want to abandon the idea of following a strict diet or getting back to your pre-pregnancy weight in an instant. It's just not realistic and places unnecessary pressure on new Mums.
We know from research that a large majority of dieters regain more weight than they had originally lost if they take a strict approach. Strict diets will also be lacking essential nutrients needed for optimal health and energy. The moral of the story here is that strict diets can actually make us nutritionally deficient and fatter! i
If we want to follow a sustainable healthy diet, then following a few simple tips will help put you on the right path and help you to keep on it! Studies show that following a healthy lifestyle will reduce your risk of chronic conditions including as type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease as well as some cancers. Adopting healthy habits doesn't just stop with you either. You will also be a positive role model for the whole family for years to come.
Not only are vegetables and salad packed with essential vitamins and minerals, but they are also low in calories and help you to feel full. Incorporate cooked vegetables or salad into each meal. One portion size would be two large handfuls.
Protein is essential for cell growth and repair and building strong muscles. Protein will also keep you feel fuller for longer which may help with weight loss. The secret is to choose protein sources that are lower in saturated fat. Choose lean cuts of meat, take the skin off chicken and include fish, eggs, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds and legumes for protein variety. A portion of protein is about the size of your palm.
Cutting out carbs is not the answer to eating a balanced diet and losing weight (if that is your aim). In fact, carbs are an important fuel source and make up a large part of our daily energy needs. The key with carbs is choosing ones that have a low glycemic index (GI). Low GI carbs are higher in fibre, vitamins, minerals, keep you feeling fuller for longer and they have the added bonus of providing you with sustained energy. When you're low on sleep or run off your feet, these choices will really help.
Good, low GI carbohydrate choices include basmati and Doongara low GI clever rice, pasta, GiLICIOUS™ potatoes, noodles, quinoa, bulghur, buckwheat, pearl barley, whole wheat pearl couscous, semolina, teff, oats, natural muesli, whole grain bread/crispbread, fruit, milk and yoghurt. Aim to include carbohydrates with each meal. Every woman is different but aiming for a fist-size portion of starchy carbohydrates with main meals is a good general rule. ii iii
Just as there are better carb choices, there are also healthier fat options. Minimise fats that are high in saturated fat such as butter and ghee and go for good fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish. Adding avocado on your wholegrain toast, olive oil in your cooking and some almonds as a snack are all easy ways to include good fats in your day. An average portion of good fats is the size of your thumb.
There are so many calorie-dense, 'grab and go' snacks in supermarkets and cafés providing little nutritional value. Stock your pantry and fridge with healthier options that are nutritious, naturally lower in calories and cheaper. Snacking is a great way to top up your energy levels between meals and will keep you satisfied until the next meal. Nutrient-dense 'grab and go' snacks include fresh fruit, natural/Greek-style yoghurt, wholegrain crackers with hummus, 100% nut spread or reduced-fat cheese, nuts and seeds.
A healthy balanced diet also includes indulgences now and again. Think of it as the 80/20 rule i.e., 80% of your diet based on healthy foods from the five food groups and 20% from occasional treat foods. Treat foods or 'discretionary' foods include: soft drinks, cordial, cakes, sweets, chocolate, chips and biscuits. Apart from tasting good, these foods are high in saturated fat and sugar and provide no real nutritional benefit. Enjoy these foods at social outings or events for maximum enjoyment when you're with friends and they're prepared by a pro. A good rule of thumb is limiting treats to about once a week. Don't forget 'portion caution' too - choose a small chocolate bar rather than a block for example or a small piece of cake from a café instead of buying a packet of biscuits (and trying hard not to polish the whole packet off!).
Our bodies are programmed to survive. If we skip a meal and get too hungry, we will eat like food is scarce at the next meal! Being without food for long periods of time also depletes our energy so we are more likely to opt for unhealthy choices. Studies have shown that people who skip breakfast for example are more at risk of carrying extra weight. Aim for 3 meals and 2-3 snacks spread over the day. Think ahead what you'll have during the week so you'll have food on hand and less likely to skip a meal.
How often does your thinking get in the way of trying to eat healthily or exercise? Have you ever planned to exercise in the morning only to find yourself hitting the snooze button or doing something else 'important' with your time? What about intending to eat lunch yet you seem to convince yourself that you're "too busy” and end up snacking on anything you can find all afternoon? How we think influences what we do so it's a good idea to be aware of the times when our thinking gets in the way of our best intentions. We can't get rid of unhelpful thoughts but we can replace them with ones that are more helpful and support your health goals. For example "You can do this", "Eating regular meals is part of my healthy lifestyle strategy", "The more I look after myself, the more I am looking after the family", "I feel better when I eat healthy fresh foods". The options are endless!
Apart from our thinking, another common thing that gets in the way of being healthy is lack of planning. Have you ever wanted to start the week eating healthy but didn't get to the supermarket to stock up?! We all plan in some way or another in our lives and it is no different from changing healthy habits. A fool-proof plan includes knowing what we want and how we are going to achieve it, keeping in mind what might get in the way e.g., kids, work deadlines, bad weather. For example, your new healthy habit might be to eat a healthy breakfast daily. To make this happen you may need to prepare it the night before so there is no excuse in the morning when you are pressed for time. For inspiration, you might find placing a photo of you and your family or a magazine cut out or print out of healthy recipes or snack ideas on the fridge will prompt you when it's time to eat. This will remind yourself of why you are doing this and what you want to achieve.
We all know the benefits of regular physical activity; the trick is trying to find time to incorporate it into a busy day. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day however you can break it up into 2 x 15-minute blocks to make it easier. Different types of exercise work for different people so think about what you like and how you can add it into your day. Not only will your body thank you but being more active also helps with your mood and sleep.
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i Grodstein F1, Levine R, Troy L, Spencer T, Colditz GA, Stampfer MJ. Three-year follow-up of participants in a commercial weight loss program. Can you keep it off? Arch Intern Med. 1996 Jun 24;156(12):1302-6
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