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Pregnancy isn’t usually a time when moms are in love with the way their body looks. I was already 30 pounds overweight when I got pregnant. I was self-conscious about the fact that I looked like I was “showing” at 5 weeks and that my bump wasn’t as round and perky as my friends’ all were.
Before pregnancy I had just accepted the extra fluff as my new normal, and it took some time but I finally felt comfortable in my skin. After pregnancy, I had a sneaking suspicion I would struggle with baby weight, and my stretch marked C-section “shelf” gave me little confidence my body would ever be the same.
Turns out, over the course of the next year I would end up losing 65% of my current body weight—that’s 68 pounds—without counting or cutting calories and without even hitting the gym. I now weigh what I weighed in college. As someone who has historically struggled to lose excess weight, I’m still shocked.
I didn’t intend to set out on a postpartum weight loss journey last year. Actually, I just intended to feed my baby. I didn’t breastfeed for weight loss benefits though, especially since I knew many breastfeeding mothers actually gain weight or have difficulty losing weight until they wean. While breastfeeding can burn major calories–and I’m sure played a role in my weight loss–ultimately I believe these five things had a much greater impact on my postpartum body:
1) I CUT OUT DAIRY FOR MY DAUGHTER
As many as 15% of babies have difficulty digesting diary, and my daughter was one of them. When I first noticed a faint streak of blood in her stool at 6 months, I stormed the pediatricians office, poopy diaper in tow like any good first-time-mom. Turns out it’s not unusual for infants to have trouble digesting milk proteins like whey and casein, which pass through mom’s breast milk and can be found in most dairy based formulas.
My goal was the breastfeed for at least a year, and I had overcome too much with my daughter’s tongue tie to move to a hypoallergenic formula, so I decided to simply cut dairy. All dairy. From glasses of milk and cheese to the teeny tiny dairy particles that hide in packaged taco seasoning and other processed foods where most people don’t realize they exist. To help expedite the healing of her gut, for a time I also cut soy (which, like dairy, lurks everywhere) and—for one crazy month—I cut all of the top 8 food allergens, including wheat, gluten, tree nuts, seafood, peanuts, eggs and even coconut, just in case. I gradually added everything but dairy back into my diet to confirm that dairy was the only issue.
Call me crazy, but for me it was worth it. In addition to bringing my kid’s poo back to normal, cutting dairy forced me to increase the amount of veggies, protein and good fats in my diet so that my breast milk supply didn’t take a hit. I had to take a good hard look at what I was putting in my body and it made me realize how many nutritionally empty calories I eat. I learned that food is an incredibly powerful force, and for the first time the healing power of a real-food-based-diet became glaringly apparent.
2) I STOPPED EATING OUT
Now this may or may not come as a shock but it’s really hard to be top 8 allergen free (or even simply dairy free) and eat out. I never realized how pervasive cheese and butter are until I had to avoid them completely.
The average American buys a meal or snack from a restaurant 5-8 times a week and spends about $1200 a year on fast food. Restaurant meal portions have ballooned to over double in size over the last twenty years and 96% of these meals exceed USDA recommendations for fat, salt and overall calories, according to a 2012 study (sources).
My husband and I regularly ate out at least a couple times a week if not more before I gut dairy. Afterward? Almost never.
3) I STARTED MEAL PLANNING
Let’s just be honest and get this out there: I suck at meal planning. And because I don’t enjoy doing dishes, I don’t enjoy cooking. But not being able to eat dairy and not being able to eat out meant I needed to be very intentional in my meal preparation. I used to go to the grocery store and grab food from the shelves with almost no idea what I’d be making for dinner that week. Now, I can’t imagine coming within 20 feet of the supermarket without a detailed, color coded shopping list and meal plan!
I started exploring new recipes on Pinterest and found myself preparing and enjoying healthy meals I would’ve have considered making before. Planning my meals used to feel tedious and time consuming, but I’ve since developed an easy system that helps me maximize my efficiency in the kitchen and minimize food (and money!) waste. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and this mother has found having a dairy-free baby to be major motivation to meal plan.
4) I STOPPED EATING WHEN I WAS BORED
I’m a snack lady. I love to eat while watching Netflix and I’ll even admit: Sometimes I eat just because I like the taste of something rolling around my mouth, or because I’m bored and food seems like a good idea. I’m not going to lie: At this very moment, literally as I write this, the thought “ooh, a cashew cookie Lara Bar sounds tasty” is skipping across my brain and I’m tempted to give in.
I find myself muttering “why is there dairy in this” a lot when perusing grocery store aisles looking for a snack. The tasty looking ones I’m drawn to, unfortunately, often have dairy, which means I’ve had to stop buying a lot of packaged foods. Sure, I could go for the dairy free snacks, but they tend to be expensive and don’t tickle my taste buds the way other stuff does.
Since fake cheese is an abomination, my snacks largely became the kinds of foods that need to be cut up and prepared or portioned out in advance. My snacks became healthier, and because I’m lazy and don’t like putting work into my food, my snacks becomes less frequent as I slowly grew more aware of when I was just eating out of boredom.
5) I STOPPED FOCUSING ON WEIGHT LOSS
I don’t know about you, but it always seemed the more I tried to lose fat in the past, the harder it would stick to me. It became a mind game, and the perpetual disappointment of each weigh-in would start to weigh on me until I lost the willpower to keep going.
Diets put me at odds with what I eat, which is an extra challenging place to be when you already have an autoimmune disease that seriously affects your relationship with food, both psychologically and physically. How we feel affects what we eat, and what we eat affects how we feel. Last year, for the first time, I didn’t focus on how I felt—about my body, about my physical appearance, about how much I wanted a big plate of fettuccine alfredo, none of that. Instead I focused on my why.
Her name is Eva.
I lost this weight because I was determined to breastfeed my daughter. I wanted her digestion issues to be healed more than I ever cared about how I looked in size 2 vs. size 10 pants. I had found a force bigger than myself to keep me on the proverbial wagon.
As her issues began to improve with changes in my diet, I’ve started to think that even if she outgrows her dairy sensitivity (most babies do) I’m not sure I’ll go back to eating dairy. After seeing the impact avoiding it—and all the junk that contains it—had on my ability to lose fat and on my overall feeling of health (which is ultimately a thousand times more valuable than the number on my scale), I’m not sure I want to put myself in a position where I might fall back into my old habits.
What I do know is this: How I look doesn’t matter. I want to be healthy, and if I happen to maintain my new weight, that’s a cool plus. Avoiding dairy isn’t easy, and I didn’t want to do it. But I’m grateful for the lessons I learned in perseverance and for the healthy habits I picked up along the way. I feel like I’ve been given a new lease on life, and I can’t afford to waste the opportunity.
I love dairy. Cheese is life. It just probably won’t continue to be a very big part of my life.
Have you ever given up dairy before? Or some other allergen? What helped motivate you to keep it up?
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