The Only Thing You Need For Postpartum Abs

Training in a hotel (as usual) with my son by my side. He is about 1.5 here.

When I began posting photos of my workout progress on Instagram following the birth of my son, I was flooded with text messages from my friends asking me, “seriously, Sté, HOW did you do that?”  They weren’t referring to my arms… they were referring to my abs!  I was actually shocked.

To be frank, it’s always funny to me that anybody would ask me for workout tips from me.  I’ve never trained with a professional.  I’ve never been one of these people who spends hours a day in the gym.  And because I’m a super-short girl (5’1″) who has a family history riddled with obesity and diabetes, I’ve actually always struggle with rapid weight gain.

After achieving glorious full recovery from a devastating eating disorder in my 20’s (well, all the disorders, really), I knew I had to figure out a formula that worked for me both physically and psychologically.

Whether you’re 5’9″ with a long, taut torso or rather 5’1″ like me, I’d love to see you find a rhythm of nutrition and physical activity that works for you.  Here’s what worked for me.

You see, a few years ago, I stopped worrying about my weight and started worrying about how I felt. Mostly because during my eating disordered time I struggled with something akin to Borderline Personality Disorder.  I was never diagnosed, but I knew that I wasn’t healthy in my head.  It wasn’t at ALL merely my body that was suffering.

My recovery, which I did entirely on my own without therapists or hospitals, took on the face of a wellness challenge rather than traditional 12-step therapy.  I began reconnecting with fitness, nutrition, God, art, and even sexuality in a new way.

The way I recovered from disordered eating  NOTHING to do with weight, but everything to do with feeling great (no matter what I eat) and having amazing energy (no matter how much I workout).

Bouncing back to my pre-pregnancy body was a cinch, but only because I engaged these critical life lessons.

Critical Lessons For Postpartum Swagger

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There’s no magic workout or food that’s going to propel you into pre-pregnancy shape.

In fact, the ONLY thing that will give you the body of your dreams is consistency, determination, and more consistency. Above all, the challenge is 100% in your mind.

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A man was asked how he lost 100 pounds in 6 months.  He responded, “I didn’t lose 100 pounds in 6 months.  I lost 100 pounds in a second.  It just took the universe 6 months to catch up.”

I lost 100 pounds in a second.  It just took the universe 6 months to catch up.

How To Get In The Best Postpartum Shape

1.  Have a healthy pregnancy

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Don’t hate me, but when I was pregnant, I ran 4 miles several times per week.  I worked out with my TRX suspension trainer until I was 39 weeks pregnant.  I lifted weights until my third trimester and hiked steep mountains in Hawaii and Colorado until I lost my mucus plug and things got too uncomfortable.  Sorry if that’s TMI but you know that you’re on a mom’s blog, right?

Most importantly, during my pregnancy I didn’t binge on french fries and potato chips every day.  Some days, absolutely.  But I had a simple formula for pregnancy nutrition that worked very well for me.

Breakfast:  Smoothie with two heaping handfuls of spinach, flaxseed, chia seed, and protein powder.

Lunch: Reasonable with mostly greens/vegetables.

Dinner: Indulge a bit – maybe enjoy a small portion of red meat and buttery potatoes or restaurant food but pair it with as many greens as possible.  Typically dinner involved a salad with protein and a cup of soup or a shared carbohydrate-loaded appetizer like bruschetta with my husband.

If you’re looking to get into the best postpartum shape of your life, the best thing you can do is by starting DURING your pregnancy.

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Nursing my newborn – about 1 month old.

Does Breastfeeding Help With Postpartum Weight Loss?

When you’re pregnant, you gain weight for the placenta, fat stores for breastfeeding (whether you choose to breastfeed or not), amniotic fluid, and, oh yeah, a baby!

Experts largely agree that breastfeeding burns 300-500 calories daily.  Breastfeeding doesn’t just use your fat stores to turn into breastmilk, but it actually causes your body to create a cocktail of immunity boosting properties and vitamins to help a baby grow.

But is breastfeeding really the potent weight loss cocktail women make it out to be?

Here are the benefits of breastfeeding your child when it comes to postpartum weight loss:

Breastfeeding Benefits for Weight Loss

  1. You burn an extra 300-500 calories daily.
  2. Oxytocin released during suckling causes your uterus to contract and return to it’s normal size.
  3. Hormonal health.  Breastfeeding helps level out post-pregnancy hormones with oxytocin being referred to as nature’s “love drug”.  It’s linked to relaxation, trust, and even psychological stability (1).  That love drug helps you make better choices throughout the day.  Psychological stability?  Yep, that’s me making lean, green meals after a workout!

Well, then.  Breastfeeding sounds like a perfect Skinny Cocktail for postpartum, right?

Well, not entirely.

What if breastfeeding actually becomes a woman’s crutch?

What if breastfeeding is the reason many women do NOT lose weight?

Breastfeeding may burn calories, but it also contributes to many factors that make it harder to lost pregnancy weight.

How Breastfeeding Actually Hurts Postpartum Weight Loss

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I took Bradley Method classes in preparation for my natural birth.  The teacher told us that you’ll never be as hungry as when you breastfeed.  “I ate at LEAST four full meals a day!  And the weight just falls right off after pregnancy!”  She beamed.  The women in the class nodded and smiled, dreaming of having celebrity postpartum abs and bodies.

I found something very different to be true in my world.  When I gave birth I lost the obvious things like a BABY, placenta, and amniotic fluid weight.  However, after that initial plunge I began to get very “soft” when I was sitting around consuming all the extra food my body desired and allowing “breastfeeding” to take care of my postpartum weight loss.

Here are a few ways breastfeeding can sabotage postpartum weight loss:

  1.  You eat more than you should.  You see, women eat a lot more when they’re breastfeeding, often more than when they’re pregnant.  Did you ever notice that when you’re breastfeeding you’re as thirsty as you’ve ever been in your life?  Some women mistake that for hunger and eat more than they need.

2.  You’re not “burning” hundreds of calories per day, but rather “transferring” them.  Some scientists argue that a woman is not “burning” 500 more calories per day, but transferring that energy to her infant.  This doesn’t raise her metabolism, and in many cases her metabolism may slow down in order to save energy for the demands of breastfeeding.(2)

3.  You are sleep deprived.  I envied women who got their children on solid foods at six months, even though in my heart I wanted to nurse my son for a whole year.  You’ve already heard my heartbreaking story about sleep deprivation and postpartum depression.  If you’re looking to look fabulous after baby: find a way to sleep!  Sleep deprivation is the easiest way to gain weight because you make poor food choices and you generally DON’T have the energy to workout!

In addition, breastfeeding inherently means you’ll be getting up to feed a starving baby more during the night because formula keeps a baby more full for longer than breastmilk, which babies burn up quickly.  Getting up to nurse a baby leads to sleep deprivation…

Which brings me to my critical next point…

You Must Sleep for Postpartum Weight Loss…

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I had to sacrifice some things, but finally learning to sleep when my baby slept was a lifesaver for me.

Sleep deprivation doesn’t just cause you to act nasty to the people around you, but it increases stress in your life.

When you were a new mom, do you remember counting down the minutes until bedtime?   It’s not because you didn’t love your baby, but because you were just so exhausted, you didn’t know if you could make it another minute.

Well, sleep deprivation causes you to eat more junk food and skip the gym more.

But the funny thing I did during my postpartum recovery was actually to force myself into the gym (without caffeine, no less) in order to combat my exhaustion.

You see, I was so exhausted that if I didn’t work out, I got depressed.  Working out provides you with the burst of anti-depressive hormones.  It is my sincerest conviction that exercise is better than any anti-depressant on the market!

Sleep deprivation sabotages your already wonky postpartum metabolism.

Dr. Michael Breus, author of “Beauty Sleep” and clinical director of the sleep division for Arrowhead Health in Glendale, Arizona explains, “It’s not so much that if you sleep, you will lose weight, but if you are sleep-deprived, meaning that you are not getting enough minutes of sleep or good quality sleep, your metabolism will not function properly.” (3)

During your fourth trimester, or that precious time you have off of work after you have your child – please SLEEP WHEN THE BABY SLEEPS.  I worked as the CEO of a nutritional tea and weight loss company when my son was born and it was a terrible choice for me to work while he slept.  Once the baby hit approximately 4 months of age I resigned and began to catch up on much-needed zzz’s and it literally kept me from entering the loony bin, or worse!

The Ultimate Postpartum Diet

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10 months postpartum – starting to trim and see muscle!

What if I told you that I drink a glass of wine every night and have ice cream for dessert, but never gain weight?  It’s true, but only with this simple nutrition guideline I follow 95% of the time…

What if I told you that I drink a glass of wine every night and have ice cream for dessert, but never gain weight?  It’s true, but only with this simple nutrition guideline I follow 95% of the time.

(The rest of the time I throw caution to the wind and down entire bowls of buttery, cheesy gnocchi.  We all need cheat days!)

I recovered from a devastating eating disorder in my twenties and have been downright obsessed with remaining healthy in my recovery; which means I’ve learned to NEVER think about weight loss and dieting.  I don’t count calories and I never step onto treadmills.

I’m so sick of the lists that boast the “10 Foods To Eat For Six-Pack Abs”.  You are, too.  That’s why I’m about to share my REAL nutrition guideline with you.  This is a comprehensive guide that I used in my REAL life, not some list of foods to eat for weight loss.

Weight loss is an engine.  Your psychology, your fitness, your sleep, and your nutrition are all critical parts to make that engine work.  You won’t get anywhere working out but neglecting sleep or nutrition.  Don’t believe anybody who tells you you can.

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Instead of eating for weight loss, eat for nutritional satisfaction.

If you make a meal of buttered bread, you may feel full temporarily, but you haven’t given your body all the nutrients it wants to function properly in it’s many complex ways.

Nutritionally dense foods are tricky, though.  Not all healthy foods are light on the stomach, and not all “light” foods are actually healthy. It is easy to get fooled by marketing, misconceptions and myths.

Here’s a no-BS approach to foods you can use to rock postpartum fitness like the MomBoss you are.

Foods I Eat Almost Daily For A Healthy Body

1) Whole Grains

In some circles – we’re looking at you, Paleo, Whole Grains have a bad rap.

Whole grains are basically grains that are in tact with it’s germ, endosperm, and bran.  Refined grains, in contrast, only retain the endosperm.

Popcorn, which some have called the “perfect snack food”, is an example of a whole grain that has been miscategorized as being unhealthy due to the cancer-causing lining in microwave popcorn bags.  However, I consume this almost daily as a snack that supports weight loss through high fiber content.

What about whole grain cereal – is that healthy?  Well, I generally don’t consider many things that are packaged “healthy”; that’s because they require lots of sugar, salt, chemicals, or preservatives to give them a sustainable shelf life.

I make an exception with a great bread I love: Dave’s killer bread with 21 whole grains.  It’s GMO-Free, full of fiber and seeds, and low in sugar.  I find that a slice of Dave’s 60-calorie Killer Bread with my breakfast keeps me from indulging in the maple syrup on the table and perfects my lean, high-protein breakfast of eggs and raw or sautéed greens.

When considering whole grains, don’t be afraid of carbs.  Be afraid of sugar, chemicals, and pesticides!  When possible, go for foods as close to their natural state as possible.

Don’t be afraid of carbs and whole grains.  You can eat them in moderation no problem.  When you consume grains that are leaden with sugar or chemicals, now that’s when you have a problem!

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I couldn’t believe that I was seeing my midsection this quickly after giving birth!

2) Bananas

Bananas are loaded with potassium which helps combat depression as well as fights stomach bloat.

On days when I don’t eat spinach and eggs for breakfast, I eat an enormous bowl of Greek Yogurt with healthy seeds (like Chia) and bananas on top.  It gives me tons of protein fills me up for hours.

My favorite belly-blasting dessert is banana “ice cream” or banana pancakes.  I love to mix protein powder with frozen bananas in the Vitamix for the ice cream, or make pancakes out of bananas mushed up with protein powder and eggs.

Another to-die-for banana recipe is mushing them up with chia seeds, oats, coconut flakes, almond flour, and even dried cranberries for healthy oatmeal cookies.

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Check out my Recipes section for some fat blasting oatmeal cookies!

3) Greek Yogurt

While yogurt in generally is viewed as being sugary and fattening, it’s really not if you choose the right brand. For best results, go with a Greek yogurt instead of traditional “fruit” yogurt.

The healthy bacteria in Greek Yogurt has been compared to the probiotic powerhouse otherwise known as breastmilk.

Greek yogurt helps your digestive system and lowers your risk of bloating and flatulence.  In addition, you’re getting a lot of calcium from Greek Yogurt, which is a contributing factor in reducing the production rate of the cortisol, or stress hormone, which influences growth of fat in the mid-section.

4) Coconut/Fish/Olive Oil

The fear of fat in our diets has been largely demystified, thank God!

Olive oil, for instance, is packed with monounsaturated fats, which influence blood sugar level regulation. Yes, dietary fats like olive oil, fish oils, coconut oil, and nut oils help stabilize insulin levels!  What delicious news.

Plus, regular dietary fat intake promotes satiety, which translates well to a reduced caloric intake. This isn’t fried foods in rancid vegetable oils, mind you.  I’m talking about Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) or coconut oils that are organic, high-quality.  These dietary fats might run you over 100 calories per tablespoon, but they’re possibly the best fat source money can buy.

I sauté almost everything in coconut oil these days but I also love to put raw almond butter in my smoothies almost daily.  When I make soups or appetizers you’ll almost always see me drizzling away with EVOO that I collect from travels.  I even have exotic olive oils that taste just like butter – great for popcorn!

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Here I am “lifting” the Moses Basket with my infant son inside to calm him while he cried. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade!

5) Eggs

Eggs are seen as ‘evil’ as some have associated eggs with high cholesterol and view them as being a fattening food.  Well the good news is that today, like the fear of fat, the fear of cholesterol in eggs has been largely debunked.

Eggs are actually a low-calorie, high-protein whole food (don’t get rid of your yolks!) that I incorporate almost every day in my diet.  In fact, when I had a skin graft on my mouth and couldn’t eat solid foods for several weeks, I drank egg drop soup daily!

Eggs are rich in choline, a little-known nutrient that boosts your metabolism and may cause your body to reject belly fat accumulation.  They’re also WAY more satiating than a bagel or toast.

Sixty percent of your daily recommended cholesterol intake comes in a single egg. In fact, the body produces less cholesterol when it’s receiving enough through dietary sources.

If you’re using eggs to trim your tummy, make sure you’re getting antibiotic-free, organic eggs.

6) Salmon

Yep, another fatty one for ‘ya.  I enjoy salmon more than almost any other meat, especially in restaurants when I can get it wild-caught.  People tend to believe that eating fat makes you fat. Truly, however, the body needs different types of fats to keep working properly. If you DON’T eat enough fat, your body will store fat more readily because it will fear it isn’t getting enough to survive.

If you’re feeling the winter blues, treat yourself to salmon eggs, called “Ikura” in Japanese restaurants.  They’re fatty, salty, and packed with Vitamin D.  My son goes crazy for them.  Yep, my son eats caviar.  It’s so good for him that periodically I can’t help but to let him indulge!

7) Dark Chocolate

The greatest thing about chocolate is, in my opinion, it’s mood-boosting blast of serotonin.

When I became pregnant I craved chocolate but wasn’t scared that it was out of bounds at all.  That’s because in has tons of has flavonoids that are comparable to those found in many fruits, vegetables, red wines, and teas. These flavonoids have been found to promote healthy blood vessel flow and better blood sugar regulation.

I stick to dark chocolate because it generally has less additives and sugars, and more of the actual cacao I’m craving for it’s nutrient density.

8) Avocado

Avocado has been referred to as a“butter pear” because of it’s high fat content.  However, the majority of fat content in avocados is monounsaturated fat. While moderation is essential, there is no harm in having avocado in your diet on a semi-consistent basis. A good way to fit it in is by using it as an alternative to butter, cream cheese, or mayonnaise.

I love putting a half an avocado into a smoothie with protein powder and spinach if I’m looking for a meal on the run.  My son goes crazy for them, too!

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A Typical Sté Sunday Morning Breakfast: Veggies and an Omelette with Green Smoothie.  Oh, yeah – and coffee.  Duh.

The Number One Thing To Feed Your Body

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Here’s the real, honest guide for how I keep in amazing postpartum shape, despite having a very busy travel schedule and toddler on my hand!

Remember: your body is a complex engine that is subject to a psyche, various emotions, relationships, fitness, sickness, cravings and schedules.  The best thing you can feed it is CONSISTENCY.  And if you get off track, don’t ever wait for tomorrow to get back on track.

Remember what my wise teacher told me: I lost 100 pounds in a second.  It just took the universe 6 months to catch up.

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(1)  http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/275795.php

(2) http://www.lastwordonnothing.com/2015/07/01/the-myth-of-the-breastfeeding-diet/

(3) http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/lack-of-sleep-weight-gain#1

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