At the beginning of 2017, I made a New Year’s resolution to take better care of myself and sought help from Dalina Soto, registered dietitian and founder of Nutritiously Yours, to make it happen. We scheduled a virtual consultation (perfect for busy moms) and Dalina asked the typical questions about my medical history, overall health, eating scheduling, level of activity, etc. I didn’t really expect to learn anything new and was prepared for the “eat better and exercise more” assessment. Instead, Dalina mentioned that I was killing my metabolism with my eating habits.
At the time, my typical routine was waking up between 4-5am to work on Philly Baby Bump or my The Insider’s Guide To Maternity Leave book before my daughter woke up. I would have a cup of coffee first thing in the morning and not eat breakfast until around 10am. I would then have a light lunch around 2-3pm and then a proper dinner between 6-7pm.
I didn’t think anything was wrong with this schedule until Dalina explained that my eating habits were slowing down my metabolism and making it difficult to lose my baby weight. Yes, I am calling it baby weight even though my daughter was almost 2 at the time…
Dalina also told me that
1. I was not eating enough calories to get my body going.
At a resting stage given my weight, history, etc, I should have been consuming 1400-1600 calories a day but I wasn’t even close to reaching that amount. This was a little strange to hear since I was not going out of my way to eat “healthy”. However, it made sense once Dalina broke down the meals and calorie numbers.
For example, I would have a cup of coffee in the morning with half and half and Stevia (40-60 calories), a small sandwich and maybe a fruit for lunch (200-300 calories), and one proper dinner between 500-800 calories. When you add that up, I was well under my required calories. Throw in a glass (or two) of red wine on most nights and I was STILL under the recommended calorie amount.
2. My body was in starvation mode because I wasn’t eating enough calories.
I vaguely knew what starvation mode was but I certainly didn’t think I fell into that category. I associated that term with eating disorders or people that are actually starving. I didn’t think that a new mom like me, that regularly eats somewhat janky meals, is in starvation mode. Dalina explained that because I wasn’t eating enough calories, my body was holding on to every calorie when I ate and I wasn’t burning any fat. The outcome was me struggling to lose weight. This is an oversimplification of starvation mode but you can find many resources online that go into more detail.
3. I was cramming all my meals into a short time frame.
Dalina pointed out that I was eating all of my meals within a 8-9 hour window instead of over a 16 hour day. Her exact words were “Of course you are not hungry. You are not even giving yourself enough TIME to be hungry”. Which at first was hysterical given the way she said that but once I thought about it, I knew she was right (again). I admitted that I usually have to force myself to eat lunch and even then if I have a heavier breakfast than usual, I am fine waiting until dinner to eat. In total, all of these things were damaging my metabolism.
One of the many things that Dalina recommended was that I eat breakfast within 2 hours of waking up, a small snack around 10am, lunch around 12pm, another snack, and then dinner at my usual time. I haven’t eaten that much or that often in a long time (except when I was pregnant) so it was difficult to process. Honestly, I was full just thinking about how often Dalina was asking me to eat, but she said it would be easier to eat more meals after my metabolism kicked up again.
She also recommended that I focus on the ratio and portion size of carbohydrates, vegetables, and protein. No matter the meal, half my plate should be veggies, a quarter of the plate should be a protein, and the other quarter could be any carb that I wanted. And that was the BEST part. I was like any carb? White rice carb? The answer was yes. One of the things that I love most about Dalina’s suggestion is that it still allowed me to incorporate foods from my African culture. I grew up eating white rice every day for dinner and meals always feel incomplete if I don’t have rice or some grain product.
When I started working with Diana, I fluctuated between 159-163 pounds. This was sort of my baby weight loss plateau after reaching 180 pounds right before I gave birth. My “normal” pre-pregnancy weight was 140-144 pounds but I didn’t have a strong desire to reach that weight again. Sure, I missed my pre-pregnancy body but I also wanted realistic goals that didn’t require 24/7 mental energy, meal planning, etc.
So what happened?
It has now been almost 5 months since I started working with Dalina and I am down 16 pounds!
For some, that may not seem like a lot of weight but it’s been the most simple and painless weight loss journey I have ever been on. I definitely have more energy than I used to, especially in the morning but I AM still an exhausted mom so let’s not get carried away This journey been more of a slow-and-steady-everything-in-moderation process than a strict and focused diet where the list of foods you can’t eat are longer than what you can.
Here are a few things that helped me over the last few months:
1. I actually listened to Dalina.
Sounds silly but as I mentioned earlier, I didn’t have the mental capacity to take on a full diet change or start some new “lifestyle”. Mama just needed to lose some weight while dealing with all of the unpredictable stress that raising a toddler and working part-time brings. The number one thing that helped me to lose weight was listening to Dalina’s recommendations on how to structure my meals.
For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I make sure my plate is 1/2 veggies, 1/4 carbs, 1/4 protein.
The recommendation is easy to visualize, I don’t have to count calories, and I don’t have to spend too much energy thinking about food. I also made the switch to whole grain carbs for meals when it made sense. For example, I eat a whole grain English muffin as part of my breakfast now instead of white toast. But I still regularly eat a portion of white rice or pasta for dinner without feeling guilty or stressed. Lastly, I buy vegetables in bulk from Costco which makes it easy to incorporate different veggies into my meal.
2. I don’t have cravings!
Counterintuitively, being “allowed” to eat pretty much everything I used to it as long as I follow the recommended ratio/portion sizes means that I don’t crave anything. For me, that is a HUGE and unexpected bonus. I don’t know about you but as soon as I start any weight loss program, I immediately start thinking of ice cream, donuts, cupcakes, etc. At some point, the deprivation becomes too much and I binge on Ben & Jerry’s at night, wake up feeling bad about myself, and then proceed to binge on waffles. And the cycle continues until I’m quickly right back to my pre-diet weight.
Dalina’s mindset is that you can and should eat what you want but in a responsible and healthy way.
Her mindset has really changed that way I viewed “junk food”. If I want ice cream, I have a bowl of the real stuff (no fat-free ice cream here) and I don’t measure or count how much I eat. I savor it and don’t try to associate it with anything other than just tasting amazing. And then I don’t “crave” it again for weeks at a time. It’s actually anti-climactic in that sense because I don’t have the guilty pleasure of eating something forbidden. But I also don’t have any of the after-binge guilt!
3. I lost more weight when I stopped breastfeeding.
Now this, I didn’t expect to happen! When I FINALLY weaned my daughter off of breastfeeding 2-3 months ago, I didn’t change anything in my diet but lost 5 pounds in 2 weeks. Initially, I didn’t know what was happening except that I felt SO much lighter and my clothes were all of a sudden a little more loose. My weight loss up to this point had been slow and steady so this was a dramatic shift for me. It took me a few days to figure out what was going on but I spoke to my doctor and was told that some women lose weight by breastfeeding but a lot of women actually lose weight when they stop nursing. Who knew?? I was one of those moms that felt robbed when I didn’t lose any weight breastfeeding so this was pretty cool to hear, especially after nursing my daughter for 22 months. I earned every little bit of that 5-pound weight loss!
4. I didn’t focus heavily on exercise.
After my first consultation, Dalina recommended I workout for 15 minutes, 2-3 times a week as a starting point. Well, it may have been a starting point but I haven’t strayed too much from it except that I try to do some physical activity every single day for at least 15 minutes. Which mostly means walking or doing basic strength training like push-ups, sit-ups, and squats while my daughter is playing. Some days I do more strenuous activity but again, I try not to stress myself or “make” myself do anything. I have found that a little movement surprisingly goes a long way and helps me clear my head or get an extra boost of energy when it’s too late to drink coffee. I by no means have a six-pack but everything is definitely leaner! Overall, I am healthier and spreading the process out over 5 months meant that I didn’t have to focus on the scale.
I highly recommend working with a nutrionist if you want to improve your health and increase your energy levels, especially as a new mom. The out-of-pocket rates for nutritionists are also usually more affordable than most “weight-loss” programs so do your research.
Most insurance plans include a benefit that allows you 6 free dietitian visits in a calendar year. Depending on your plan, these Philadelphia health insurance plans may cover your dietitian visits: Aetna, Amerihealth, Cigna, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, Independence Blue Cross, Keystone Health Plan, and UnitedHealthcare.
Contact Dalina if you have any questions about this article, your health insurance plan, or scheduling an appointment