I had two clients last month, both new mamas trying to get back into shape after pregnancy and childbirth, who were baffled by their inability to lose weight over the last month despite eating healthy meals and exercising regularly. Since there were two cases so similar in nature in a week’s time, I thought it merited a blog post. I had each of the mothers do a food diary for three days before we met again. Here is what we found…
It’s true, both women had a healthy and balanced diet, at mealtime. They both ate plenty of fruits and vegetables and lean proteins and moderate portions of carbohydrates, at mealtime. Breakfasts included fruits and whole grains and plenty of protein. Lunches were veggie-laden and low calorie. Dinners were balanced and light. So to get to the source of the problem, we had to read between the lines, or rather, look between the meals to what they were eating, and drinking in the susceptible hours of mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and late-evening.
The first mother’s snack habits seemed innocuous at first. One day she had pretzels, cheese cubes, and orange juice around 10a.m., half a turkey and swiss sandwich at 3p.m., and a bowl of chocolate rice breakfast cereal at 8:30. All seemed like relatively healthy snack choices. Delving further into the matter, however, I discovered that it was not only what she was snacking but also the quantities she was consuming. Her first snack of the day ended up being 3 full servings of pretzels and OJ and 2 servings of cheese, totaling a whopping 650 calories including 16 grams of fat and 105 grams of carbohydrates. Her second snack, the half a turkey and swiss on wheat, was modest, adding up to only 240 calories overall, but the cheese and mayo upped the fat count to 14 grams in the four-bite snack. The after dinner snack seemed a minimal indulgence but was actually a double serving of the cereal at only a cup and a half, topped with a cup of whole milk, giving it 270 calories, 65 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of fat. This mother also consumed a cola and a mocha latte that day for an added 420 calories and 65 grams of carbs. So, the grand total of snack calories for the day was 1580. Her meal consumption for the day totaled only 1850, but the drinks that accompanied the meals increased the calories to 2280, bringing total calories consumed to 3860, about 1800 calories more than she should consume if she is trying to lose weight. (I should mention that this mother is no longer breastfeeding so does not need extra calories for milk production).
That first mother’s food diary showed a similar trend all three days. She was eating small meals that left her hungry and wanting to snack a couple of hours later. Snacks included high-calorie and high-fat additions such as sugared drinks, mayo, cheese, salad dressings, and whole milk dairy products that made her snacks weigh in almost as heavily as her meals. The homework I gave her was simply to increase portions of veggies and lean proteins at mealtime so as to decrease the desire/need for snacking in between meals. I advised her to switch to skim milk and low fat cheeses and to cut out mayonnaise and creamy salad dressings, replacing them with mustard and vinegars. Drinking soda is like eating sugar out of the bowl and should be avoided. Fruit juices should be consumed only a couple of ounces at a time, mixed with sparkling water to make a spritzer. Order coffee drinks with skim milk and no sugar so you can add your own sugar, which will normally be less than half the amount the coffee chains add, or better yet, skip the sugar all together.
The other mother also ate relatively healthy and balanced meals, though with less whole foods than the first mother; and she also sabotaged her diet with poor snack and beverage choices. The main difference was that her snacks didn’t even sound healthy. No matter the quantity, the quality of the food and drinks she consumed outside of mealtime was staggeringly unwholesome. In the three days measured, she ate processed and packaged everything, including frozen microwavable sandwich pockets, potato and nacho cheese-flavored chips, low-fat cookies, snack cakes and donuts, flavored snack crackers with processed cheese spread. Perhaps most concerning was that her 3-year-old was snacking all the same foods. The mom was also drinking 5 sweetened drinks per day from sodas to pre-made sweet tea to breakfast beverages. I gave her the challenge to drink only water and unsweetened beverages and to omit all packaged food for two weeks in order to develop new healthy habits.
After brainstorming with each of them, we came up with a list of alternative snacks and beverages to replace their old stand-bys. I advised them to continue at regular activity levels since both were exercising 3 or 4 times per week, and to eat their regular meals but to choose yummy snack alternatives between meals. Options included: a boiled egg with a can of veggie juice, a whole grain flatbread crisp with a quarter of an avocado and salt, tuna mixed with tomatoes and lime juice with whole wheat crackers, turkey breast slices rolled around pickle spears, hummus with fresh veggies, and simple fruits you can grab and go with like apples and bananas. Skim milk and cheeses could be added to any of those snacks for a protein boost. Both women agreed to eliminate sugary drinks for the two week trial and drank only water, coffee and tea without sugar, skim milk, and a maximum of 8 ounces of natural fruit juice per day.
The results spoke for themselves. Both women lost 3-5 pounds in two weeks. Perhaps more importantly, they also both reported feeling better overall and no longer craving the sugary or processed foods that had been a dietary staple.
It’s food for thought. What you eat and drink outside mealtime and the drinks that accompany your meals may be sabotaging your diet.