Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Book Review: The Baby Fat Diet

I recently received a review copy of The Baby Fat Diet, and I admit I was reluctant to start reading a book that might put unnecessary pressure on new moms to return to their pre-pregnancy weight.

I’m not a big fan of dieting books (or even the word diet) in general because too many of them seem to offer quick, short-term solutions for shedding weight rather than giving readers practical tips on how to make more lasting lifestyle changes - changes that won’t only result in a smaller clothing size but in a healthier body overall. I’m especially weary of books that have the potential to make new moms feel lumpy and gelatinous instead of allowing them to bask in the privilege of motherhood.

Well, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with the book. Its title as well as its cover image of a chic mom sporting big hoop earrings a la J-Lo happily pushing a smiling toddler in a cool jogging stroller while at the same time toting her baby in a sling are catchy (and most likely the brainchild of some book marketing gurus rather than the authors), but they also might suggest that moms have to live up to some contrived ideal. But the advice “never judge a book by its cover” is worth heeding in this case because I was happy to find that within its pages you won’t find yet another dieting book. Nor is the book’s goal to turn you into a slim “yummy mummy.”

In fact, one of the chapters is actually entitled “Say ‘No’ to Dieting” and reveals the tell-tale signs of fad diets such as the carbs-are-always-evil-diets that have taken a hold of so many of my friends. (I remember watching in horror as a work colleague peeled off slice after slice of cheese from her pizza and popped the oozing mozzarella into her ketone-riddled-foul-smelling mouth. That was her dinner: Several slices of melted cheese.)

What this book is really about is slowly making small but permanent lifestyle changes that have the potential to make a noticeable difference in a mom’s waistline and more importantly, in her perception of herself.
The book's authors, who are both registered dietitians, offer 30 simple tips to help moms discover (or rediscover) how to:

  • Eat for one again
  • Recognize healthy portion sizes
  • Nosh on a healthy breakfast
  • Eat nutritious food on-the-go
  • Rev up their metabolism
  • Get your entire family on board to make healthy lifestyle changes
  • Fit exercise into your daily grind
  • Pair pleasure with healthy foods

One of my favorite pointers is to start eating like your kids. Think about it. Most of us are far more concerned with our kids’ nutrition than our own. I, for one, routinely buy organic milk for my girls, but I slurp up the cheaper brands. I limit the amount of processed foods my kids nibble on throughout the day (most of the time). (Goldfish should not be the sixth food group, although I am sometimes guilty of doling out schools of the cheesy fish on any given day – always of the whole grain variety, of course. Cut me a little slack here.) I also really try to encourage my kids to eat intuitively, to listen to their bodies and to eat everything in moderation (no foods are labeled as "bad" around my house).

The other day my preschooler wanted a cookie. (She’s allowed one treat a day and can have it at any time she wants, but once she’s eaten her daily allotment, that’s it. I’m a cruel, cruel mom.) She ate a good chunk of it and then asked me to save the small bite that was left at her plate.

Do I really have to waste a Tupperware on saving that crumb of a cookie?

“Mommy, I stop when I’m full,” she proudly announced.

Yes, I do and I did. I stashed her cookie leftovers in a container and tossed it in the trash a few days later when I was certain the morsel had been forgotten.

The thing is, she really does stop when she’s full. Kids, especially babies and toddlers, eat instinctively if we only let them. They also eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day – a way of eating that virtually every health expert encourages people to adopt since it keeps your metabolism up and blood sugar levels more steady.

I think we could all benefit from eating like our kids – to nibble on nutritious bites like nuts, raisins, sliced apples, and carrot sticks dipped in hummus or a yogurt-peanut-butter dip (some of my girls’ favorite snacks), to eat less processed food and to opt for more wholesome and if possible organic choices, to listen to our bodies and to stop when we’re full, to indulge in that cookie or hunk of dark chocolate (my personal favorite indulgence) and to really enjoy it.

So many of us see treats as stolen pleasures instead of just occasional and allowable pleasures. Not my kids. I recently observed my preschooler and toddler both enjoy a very modest dollop of ice cream. They took small licks and watched the ice cream dribble down their cones before catching it with their tongues. They savored every taste of the creamy stuff. Their eyes were gleeful. They really relished that ice cream, and they didn’t serve up a side of guilt to go with it.

It’s time we all start eating like our kids, don’t you think?
Other highlights of the book I like include:

  • Tips for grocery shopping with children and getting them excited about healthy eating (If buying the Dora-endorsed edamame gets them to eat this nutritionally-dense food, then go for it).
  • How to make healthy choices at restaurants.
  • Sample menus for 1,600 to 2,400-calorie levels. The 2,400-calorie eating plan for day 3 includes a 4-ounce glass of red wine and two dark chocolate Hershey kisses. I can live with that.

    And my favorite:

  • A comprehensive shopping list that includes all the healthy staples you should stock your kitchen with as well as a smaller grocery lists that correspond to the food recommended in each chapter. Anything that simplifies my life is a definite perk. Plus, I am a big nerd and I love lists and spreadsheets that help keep me organized.

Although much of the book’s advice wasn’t new to me (I’ve covered health beats for a long time as a journalist and have been described as a health nut on more than one occasion), I felt the way the information was presented and organized (lots of lists and bullet points, spaces to jot down your own notes, etc.) could be very helpful to moms in all seasons of motherhood, not just new moms, hoping to drop their “baby weight."

Moreover, this book isn’t just for moms who need to lose weight for health reasons. Nor is it written for women who have embraced a “size 2 or bust” kind of mantra. It’s for any mom – even those who are at a healthy weight but may just need to tweak their eating habits so they feel better - who wants to make health a priority for herself and her family.

Now some final words from a mom who’s had two babies and has another one on the way: When you’ve got the hard and all-consuming work of taking care of (or growing) a baby and the rest of your family on your hands, the last thing you need is to whip your body into submission and/or to punish yourself for not fitting into your pre-baby jeans. Do not waste precious energy worrying about the way you look.

Instead of yearning for your pre-pregnancy bod, try to just focus on taking care of yourself. I’m no nutritionist or personal trainer (although I was a certified aerobics instructor back in my college days, and I can still do a mean Grapevine), but here are a few of my thoughts on how to feel good about your body:

  • Sleep when you can. Honestly, I hate my own advice. There’s no time to sleep! But I’ve learned that I must make getting sleep (as much as I can) a priority. Otherwise my physical, emotional, and spiritual health suffer. And often so does my family’s. Who wants to live with a short-tempered mombie?

  • Nurse that beautiful bundle of joy and enjoy the bonding and the calorie burning: Breastfeeding burns an estimated 300 to 500 calories per day. (But bear in mind extended breastfeeders like myself sometimes “hold on” to 3 to 5 pounds of fat before they wean. You and your nursing child need this extra "baggage." Stop obsessing about it. Your body is nourishing another human being, so let it hang onto its small fat store, will you?)

  • Squeeze in exercise when you can. Aim to go outside for a short walk as often as your life permits – it will do your body and mind wonders. Cradle your baby close like an oversized dumbbell and do squats or lunges. Dance around your living room. Your kids will think you're funny (or crazy).

  • Be patient. It took you nine months to grow a baby and to put on the necessary “baby weight.” Expect for it to take about that long to get rid of it.

To order a copy of The Baby Fat Diet, click here.

For more nutrition and fitness tips as well as recipes, visit The Baby Fat Diet blog.

Check out other participants in The Baby Fat Diet Blog Tour.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Were You Listening on Sunday?

I happened to be at Mass alone on Sunday sans my preschooler and an antsy and very vocal toddler, so I was really able to listen to the readings. I immediately thought of what we talk about here at In God's Image during the second reading when I heard:

"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?
But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him.
Avoid immorality.
Every other sin a person commits is outside the body,
but the immoral person sins against his own body.
Do you not know that your body
is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you,
whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
For you have been purchased at a price.
Therefore glorify God in your body."

1 Corinthians 6: 17-20

What are you doing to glorify God with your body? I've, at times in my life, dishonored God with my body. In my past attempts to live up to a certain physical ideal, I abused my body. I certainly didn't treat it with the respect it deserves.

Think if God came down right now and handed you a beautiful, tangible gift. Let's say a lovely crystal vase. Would you not do everything you could to keep it clean, untarnished, and sparkling? Would you not add sprigs of greenery and budding blossoms to make it even more magnificent? You'd surely place it in a prominent place and every time you saw it, you would be reminded of its beauty and that it was a gift from your Heavenly Father.

Our bodies should be treated with the same care and admiration. They are God-given temples where the Holy Spirit dwells. They are vessels for our immortal souls. They do not deserve to be punished or poisoned.

Love God? Then love your body. Give it the attention it deserves. Fuel it with healthy food. Move it because you can. Don't let anyone else or any thing take it for granted or abuse it. Because it's not really yours at all. It's on loan from your Father.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Weighing in Over at Faith & Family Live

There's an interesting discussion taking place over at Faith & Family Live! Danielle Bean wrote an excellent post (in my opinion) about things she hates about diets. I put my two cents in since this is obviously a topic I'm passionate about (and I'm a blabber mouth).

What surprised me is that not everyone responded favorably to the post (or to comments like my own that address the danger of becoming preoccupied with food, weight, and/or appearance). I think that people were coming from different backgrounds - those who had to "diet," or I prefer to say make lifestyle changes for the sake of their health and feel proud of their accomplishments (as they very well should!) and those who, like me, have struggled with a poor body image even when they were at a healthy weight.

As Rachel Balducci points out in a follow-up post, when some of us struggle with our weight and/or body image, we're really grappling with feelings, unmet needs, or issues that run more deeply than our body measurements. She writes,

"Within the last few months, I have absolutely said (to more than one friend) that I will feel better once I lose those last three (or five) pounds.

What I discovered in the midst of this, is that I was indeed getting wrapped up in a poor self-image, but in a way it was my body telling me I needed something more. Once I started getting back into exercise I felt so much better about myself. It didn’t have anything to do with the numbers on the scale; it had everything to do with all the emotional havoc that I experience when I’m not treating my body right—when I’m not getting out there and revving up the endorphins by lifting weights and taking brisk walks and runs."

By all means, do your body good! I don't think Danielle was suggesting otherwise. But be careful not to let your appearance or the scale become a barometer of your happiness and self-worth.

At any rate, I found it interesting that the word "diet" stirred up so many diverse emotions - from frustration to triumph. All the posts and ensuing comments are definitely worth the read. I've included the links below.

Three Things I Hate About Diets
Weighty Matters

Weighing In

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Cheers! Here's to a Healthy Soul!

Chances are, St. Nick isn’t the only one carrying around a few extra pounds this time of year. With the feeding frenzy that begins by way of Thanksgiving and doesn’t taper off until the bubbles in our New Year’s champagne stop fizzing, some of us get more than we wish for over the Yuletide season.

Is it any wonder so many folks make losing weight a priority come the New Year?

God certainly wants us to take care of our body. Getting enough sleep, exercising, fueling ourselves with healthy food are ways to honor our bodies, which God has given us as “temple[s] of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

Yet, while focusing on healthy lifestyle changes is important and certainly never hurt anyone, the way we look, the number on the scale and our physical health aren’t the only things we should be resolving to improve.

This New Year, as I did last year, I find myself asking, “How is the health of my soul?” (Besides as a woman who is in her sixth month of pregnancy, I certainly don't want to add "lose five pounds" to my list of resolutions when my goal is to grow a healthy baby and subsequently grow my waistline!)

Anyone who’s jumped on the weight loss bandwagon knows that shedding pounds requires discipline. Having a strong spiritual life really is no different. Our faith is a gift of God, but it’s not something we can ignore or get lazy about and then just expect to flourish. Christ is always with us, but we have to put forth some effort to develop a more intimate relationship with him.

An athlete’s muscles get bigger and more sculpted when he or she spends more time in the gym. So, too, must we “pump up” our souls and give them what they need to be healthy and strong.

How? By regularly participating in the sacraments, engaging in daily prayer, reflecting on scripture, spending time with the Lord in the Adoration Chapel, and showing love to our family and our neighbors are a few ideas for specific faith resolutions that first popped into my mind. (We'd love to hear your own spiritual goals for 2009!)

So this New Year, won't you join me and instead of emphasizing only exercise and healthy noshing (you can go ahead and stop obsessing over having scarfed down way too many Christmas cookies now), why not make the commitment to train yourself in godliness and to be extra aware of not only the health of your body, but also of your soul?

Happy New Year! May 2009 bring all of you many blessings!

“Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8)