After my second child, at the age of 35, all of my go to weight loss tricks stopped working. I used to fast through dinner, a few nights per week, and that kept me right where I wanted to be. If I tried to pull that now, I’d gain weight immediately. Having a second child totally changed my lifestyle and increased my stress levels immeasurably. Being a full time working, nursing, and co sleeping (read not sleeping) mom left me exhausted and over run. The kids didn’t nap simultaneously, which meant no opportunities to mentally recharge, exercise had to happen before waking hours, and after getting home from work at 7:30 or 8:00, evenings were chaotic. This was a far cry from the relatively relaxed and routine life I’d been pulling off with one kid.
Dieting is a form of biological stress. Denying the body of consistent sustenance might work when the rest of your life isn’t nuts, but is sure to backfire any other time. I’m not advocating skipping meals, as I did, although now it’s a health craze called intermittent fasting- guess I was ahead of my time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t doing it to reduce inflammation or be healthy, just to be skinny.
I landed myself in the midst of adrenal fatigue (see my other article if you’re interested in learning more about this) with the stress, over exercise, and failed attempts at fasting, and gained 10 pounds lickety split. After years of working myself back into wellness and experimenting with several different ways of eating, I’ve figured a few things out about maintaining a healthy weight and feeling good. Sustainable energy levels are paramount, with three kids to chase after. I’m right around the weight I was before children (being thin isn't a natural state for me, if I eat like crap, I gain easily), and it doesn’t take an extreme amount of effort if you’re already dialed in to your wellness game.
1. Obvious stuff here, limit processed sugars and processed foods. They are laden with inflammatory ingredients, even the so called “healthy” ones are laced with soy, and hydrogenated oil, or carageenan. It took me 30 years to realize that even miniscule amounts of soy were the cause of my cystic acne. Check labels. Trader Joe’s is guilty of putting soy in so many foods you wouldn’t otherwise suspect.
2. I indulge in ways that aren’t off the charts unhealthy. If I bake, I use less sugar, like if it calls for two cups, I’ll use one, and generally substitute white sugar for coconut sugar (it’s low glycemic). For me, a common indulgence is chai with nut milk and a teaspoon of coconut sugar or raw local honey, or a hot cocoa with organic raw cacao powder, nut milk, vanilla, and a teaspoon of coconut sugar. Kombucha really hits the spot in the summer. Those small daily treats keep me honest. Time it when you know you’re most likely to cave to cravings. For most, it’s that post-dinner/ pre-bedtime urge that gets us.
3. I usually have three meals and one afternoon snack. Be kind to your body, and give it a break from digestion by not being a chronic snacker. Your system will run a lot more smoothly. My snacks are generally an apple or pear, a few almonds, raw veggies, or potato chips fried in avocado oil, which leads me to my next point.
4. Avoid canola and vegetable oils. They are GMO and heavily processed. They cause inflammation, and inflammation causes, you guessed it, weight gain. I use avocado or coconut oil for cooking, because they don’t deteriorate when heated. When heated beyond its smoke point, olive oil gives off toxic smoke (not healthy to inhale) and heat destroys its antioxidants, so what’s the point? That being said, I save it for salad dressings. You shouldn’t need anything beyond those three oils.
5. I don't go crazy in the fat department. I'm not avoiding it like the plague, circa 1990’s, but it’s not the second coming for me like it is for some others. My body doesn't like a lot of fat. I stick with healthy oils for cooking and salad dressings, seeds, and avocados.
6. Almost everyone is deficient in Magnesium, Vit D3, B12, and Omega 3’s. A good multivitamin for women that contains folate instead of folic acid (hard to find and a must) is Ritual. Being low on these nutrients can cause sleep issues, energy problems, and weight gain.
7. I eat healthy carbs, like squash, sweet potatoes, white potatoes (unless nightshades are out for you), quinoa, chickpeas, lentils, eggs, buckwheat, and the occasional organic rice. I try to carb cycle from one day to the next. If I have a particularly carb heavy meal one day (say, butternut squash soup for lunch), I limit them the next, usually by having a salad with protein for lunch. Or, maybe at dinner, I'll eat my main dish on a bed of steamed zucchini or sautéed kale versus rice.
8. I’m not a firm believer in high protein, low carb being the ticket to weight loss. That works for some, but not all, me being one of them. The effects seem to peter out after a few months anyway. I eat meat a couple times per week, and only once per day. Meat requires a longer time to digest, so it’s best taken at dinner. I amp up my protein with the addition of hemp seeds, raw pumpkin seeds, raw sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, collagen powder, lentils, chickpeas, and goat cheese.
9. I rotate my nut milks, to avoid becoming sensitive to one of them, which would cause inflammation and weight gain. When I run out of almond, I switch to coconut. When that’s done I do hemp, or macadamia. You get the picture.
10. This is a big one and maybe a surprising one. I rotate my food. If you eat the same foods over and over again (total woman problem because we are such creatures of habit) you’re likely to become sensitive to them over time. That sensitivity may not have any physical symptoms other than gradual weight gain. I do best if I don't repeat a meal more than two times per week, no matter how healthy it seems. We have the same dinners no more than twice per month, and I really try to work seasonal veggies in, to get a good mix of nutrients. So, if I have a veggie scramble on Monday, I’ll have chia pudding the next, and then buckwheat the following day. At that point, I can start the rotation over again. Maybe for lunch, I’ll have sweet potato soup and Pepitas on Monday, then a large salad with hemp seeds, apple, and avocado the next, and on Wednesday I might do lentils with sauteed kale and goat cheese. Repeat. Or Whatever. As long as you’re not eating the same meals more than twice per week and are doing your damndest to avoid the back to back stuff. Some family favorites for dinner are vegan chickpea masala, buddha bowls with roasted chickpeas, breakfast dinner (nitrate free bacon with sauteed potatoes and peppers and onions), salad with homemade mint dressing and chickpeas, served with pitas for the kids, crockpot thai basil chicken over rice, beef stew, and skirt steak with an olive oil cilantro sauce and potato salad made with olive oil and fresh herbs instead of mayonnaise, veggies added to all of those in some form or another. Kale and zucchini dice up nicely into many foods without morphing the flavor too much. Check out the Mindful + Mama Pinterest page for these recipes.
11. I freeze portions of leftover dinners. This makes it easy to rotate lunches without repeating and major meal prep. Soup is another great freezer item, because it's inevitable that there's always too much.
12. I allow the occasional indulgence (like twice per month)- sometimes you must have a burger or pizza, period. I just try to balance it out by skipping the fries, etc, because to me, it’s not worth feeling lethargic or bloated for the next several hours. There are some foods that aren't ever worth dabbling in, because they are very disruptive to my system, like ice cream and high fat dairy. I'm happier and healthier without them. Know your limits and respect yourself enough to maintain them.