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.

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