THE FASTEST WAY TO LOSE WEIGHT WHILE BREASTFEEDING
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The first thing every new mum wants to know is the fastest way to lose weight while breastfeeding. Well, I’m going to answer that burning question today.
If you’re not a breastfeeding mum or your baby is over one year, please go here to learn how to lose weight fast in 5 simple steps.
But before I dive into the fastest way to lose weight while breastfeeding;
I read somewhere that there is no hunger quite like that of a breastfeeding mother. Breastfeeding takes a lot of calories and depletes hydration but when you’re not currently breastfeeding and you see a cutie breastfeeding like the picture above, you scream “My ovaries!!!”. If you’re struggling with hunger while breastfeeding, I’ve got you covered in 1 minute.
Does breastfeeding really burn calories?
Yes! Yes!! and Yes!!!
Breastfeeding can burn up to 1,000 calories a day. This also depends on the amount of breast milk you are producing and expressing.
But the simple answer is that breastfeeding helps you burn calories.
Does breastfeeding really help you lose weight?
Now, this is a very intelligent question.
Even though breastfeeding helps you burn calories, a lot of people do not lose weight while breastfeeding. In fact, they gain more weight because they are overeating.
Factors that contribute to weight gain while breastfeeding includes:
The stress of taking care of a newborn can really be daunting especially when you have minimal support. Stress interferes with your hormones and makes losing weight more difficult.
Additionally, when you’re stressed, you tend to eat junks and processed food because that is what the body usually crave at this time.
- Poor sleep
As a new mum, you are highly prone to having poor sleep. From taking care of your baby to doing all other responsibilities and on top of that, your baby keeping awake at night.
When we are sleep deprived, we make up for it by eating refined carbohydrates and that makes it difficult for us to lose weight.
Lastly, uncontrollable hunger is one of the reasons why a lot of people gain weight while breastfeeding.
To minimize hunger, experts recommend that nursing moms eat 500-1000 extra calories a day to breastfeed exclusively and still lose weight (1)
Dipping below 1,800 calories a day can interfere with milk production and this can affect your baby.
That being said, there are gray areas. It’s not that black and white so let’s dive deeper into the factors that mediate hunger while breastfeeding.
There are physiological and psychological factors that mediate hunger while breastfeeding.
Physiologically, 5 major hormones: Insulin, Ghrelin, Glucagon-like peptide 1, Peptide YY and Leptin regulate hunger in humans.
Insulin’s job is to provide nutrients from food digested in our last meal to our major organs for use.
Contrary to popular belief that Insulin only affects glucose metabolism, it actually affects the metabolism of the 3 major macronutrients. Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fats.
Without insulin, cells are unable to use these nutrients as fuel for our daily activities.
When we haven’t eaten in several hours and our bodies have finished metabolizing and absorbing the nutrients in our last meal, insulin levels drop to a “baseline” or low level and this triggers Ghrelin (2).
The stomach, small intestine, pancreas, and brain releases this hormone.
Ghrelin has numerous functions and it is termed the ‘hunger hormone’ because it stimulates appetite, increases food intake and promotes fat storage.
Low level of Insulin stimulates this hormone. It informs our brain that the stomach is empty which stimulates hunger(3).
Glucagon-like Peptide 1
Food is the main stimulus of glucagon-like peptide 1 release, with increased hormone levels detectable after 10 minutes of starting to eat and remaining raised in the blood circulation for several hours after that.
Glucagon-like peptide 1 enhance the secretion of Insulin helping it to function optimally.
It also increases the feeling of fullness during and between meals by acting on appetite centers in the brain and by slowing the emptying of food from the stomach (4).
It is secreted alongside the hormone glucagon-like peptide 1.
Eating, particularly foods high in fat and protein releases peptide YY.
It circulates in the blood and works by binding to receptors in the brain. Binding of peptide YY to brain receptors decreases appetite and makes people feel full after eating.
Peptide YY also acts in the stomach and intestine to slow down the movement of food through the digestive tract.
The amount of peptide YY that is released into the blood depends on the number of calories eaten, with higher calorie foods causing more peptide YY release than lower calorie foods. (5).
Cells of fat tissue release this hormone. It signals to the brain, in particular to an area called the hypothalamus to help us maintain our weight.
Leptin does not affect food intake from meal to meal but, instead, acts to alter food intake and control energy expenditure over the long term.
Now, when you’re in a caloric deficit, circulating leptin levels decrease, and ghrelin levels increase (6). And as you lose body fat, leptin levels decreases also resulting in hunger which is why a very low-calorie diet is not always the best when trying to lose weight long-term(7).
The summary of everything highlighted above is that dieting for weight loss results in hunger while breastfeeding, and makes meals feel less satisfying especially when not done the right way.
Having talked in great length about the physiological mediators of hunger, let’s look at the psychological mediators of the perception of hunger while breastfeeding briefly.
Eating in response to environmental food-related cues, such as the sight or smell of food(8)
This is common while breastfeeding because there are loads of foods in the house and after every little task you feel hungry. In fact, after each session of breastfeeding, your Mum or Mother-in-love will encourage you to also fortify yourself with a big meal for the next breastfeeding session.
Eating when depressed, tired, anxious, bored, or happy (9).
Breastfeeding comes with a lot of emotional responses and most of it is usually associated with the support available or if this is your first time going through the experience. A lot of cases of hunger while breastfeeding is usually an emotional response to a particular stressor. Practicing mindful eating will go along way in reducing this.
How many calories should I eat if I’m breastfeeding and I want to lose weight?
There are several schools of thought on this question. Most people say a breastfeeding mother should eat between 1,500 – 1,800 calories.
From my experience working with clients, a lot of breastfeeding mothers complain of hunger on 1,500 calories so my sweet spot is 1,800 calories provided that you are active.
Now that we know the causes of hunger while breastfeeding, let’s look at the fastest way to lose weight while breastfeeding.
1. Eat a minimum of 1,800 calories daily to curb hunger while breastfeeding.
I know you want to lose the pregnancy weight very fast and snap back on time.
The problem with that is it might affect your milk supply which I know you don’t want. It can also affect some of your hunger-regulating hormones, particularly leptin and peptide YY.
You can consume these calories based on your lifestyle and preference. I talked about how to estimate your daily caloric intake in this article on how to lose weight on a Nigerian diet and intermittent fasting here
2. Eat Adequate Protein
Our protein intake is usually not commensurable with our body needs.
As seen above when we talked about Peptide YY, eating more protein can increase feelings of fullness, make you eat less at your next meal and help you lose fat.
Ask yourself if there is high-quality protein—Eggs, Greek yogurt, Tofu, Meat, Fish etc—at every one of your meals.
Make protein about 20–30% of your total calorie intake or 0.45-0.55 g/lb of body weight (1.0–1.2 g/kg) is sufficient enough to get you to see changes.
3. Opt for Fiber-Rich Foods
A high fiber intake keeps you fuller for longer by absorbing water, reducing stomach emptying rate, and influences the release of fullness hormones.
Eating a fiber-rich diet can decrease hunger and help you eat fewer calories. It can also promote long-term health. Therefore, opting for a diet containing sufficient fruits, vegetables, oats, sweet potato, beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds such as chia seeds, flax seeds etc keep you fuller for longer.
4. Eat adequate Fats
Omega-3 fats, particularly those found in fish, nuts, and seeds, have the ability to increase levels of the fullness hormone leptin.
A diet rich in omega-3 fats may also increase fullness after meals when calories are restricted for weight loss.
Healthy fat is also amazing for your baby’s brain development so you definitely don’t want to cut out fat from your diet. You have probably seen us prescribe DHA and Omega H3 to children with brain impairment so you definitely want to incorporate healthy fats into your diet.
You can find these beneficial fats in foods such as:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Almond nuts
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
There are plenty of simple ways to incorporate healthy fats into your diet. One way is by adding a tablespoon of chia seeds into your morning smoothie or oatmeal. Fruits, vegetables, protein, and healthy fat in one simple to make meal? Hey God! What else do you need?
For lunch, try topping your salad with an olive oil-based dressing which can be as simple as 1tbsp of olive oil, 1tbsp of lemon, a dash of salt and pepper. Come dinner time, cook your chicken or fish with a tbsp of olive oil but if you enjoy coconut oil, that’s an amazing alternative. It tastes great and is good for you. And if you find yourself hungry between meals, try snacking on a handful of nuts to keep your energy up.
5. Fill Up on Water
Drinking water can help decrease the hunger you feel before meals. In fact, numerous studies show that most times people are thirsty when they think they are hungry.
It may also increase feelings of fullness following a meal and promote weight loss.
Scientists believe that about 500mls of water is sufficient to stretch the stomach enough to send signals of fullness to the brain. This is an amazing weight loss tip that works whether you are breastfeeding or not.
The major constituent in your breastmilk is water. That is why your Mum/Mother in love will want to drown you in Pap and Beverage drinks.
We recommend drinking a minimum of eight cups of water every day. Sound like too much to ask from a busy mom?
- Start by drinking two cups first thing in the morning.
- Next, drink two cups each at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That’s eight cups!
- Then, sip on water throughout the day.
If you’re “not a water drinker,” try fruit infused water. Get a plain water bottle, add your water, then infuse with orange, apple, lemon etc.
If you don’t want to gain weight while breastfeeding, stick with plain water, fruit infused water or pepper soup with minimal spices. (10)
6. Practice portion distortion
To lose weight, portion control is important even while breastfeeding. You can either eat 5-6 small meals or practice portion distortion.
Portion distortion means eating a full plate of food with half of your plate being vegetables, a quarter protein, and the remaining quarter carbs and fat.
This works better because you have all the meals that support your hunger and appetite-regulating hormones together in one plate at each meal keeping you fuller for longer.
7. Snack wisely
While fruits are amazing snack options, its best to not make them your only snacks.
Make sure your snacks for the day comprises of good fats – half an avocado, nuts; proteins – half cup of greek yogurt, eggs, grilled fish etc.
8. Eat Mindfully
Eating mindfully has been shown to decrease hunger while breastfeeding and increase feelings of fullness. It can also reduce calorie intake and help prevent binge eating or emotional eating.
- Eat more slowly and don’t rush your meals.
- Chew thoroughly.
- Eliminate distractions by turning off the TV and putting down your phone.
- Eat in silence.
- Focus on how the food makes you feel.
- Stop eating when you’re full.
- Ask yourself why you’re eating. Are you actually hungry? Is it healthy? (11)
9. Add spices to your meals
Spices such as ginger, chili pepper contain compounds that may help decrease hunger while breastfeeding and increase feelings of fullness.
Replace Maggi with natural spices such as Ginger and Garlic. Not only do they have anti-inflammatory properties, but they also keep you fuller for longer.
Yes, you can exercise while breastfeeding once you get an okay from your Doctor.
Moderate intensity workouts are amazing for breastfeeding Mums. There are lots of postpartum workouts on Youtube. Also, be sure you don’t have diastasis recti before doing abdominal workouts while breastfeeding.
Exercise is thought to reduce the activation of brain regions linked to food cravings, which can result in a lower motivation to eat.
It can also reduce hunger hormone levels while increasing feelings of fullness
11. Reduce stress and Get Enough Sleep
Excess stress is known to raise levels of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol can increase your cravings and also increases weight gain. Dear new mum, get help when you’re overwhelmed.
Getting enough quality sleep can also help reduce hunger and protect against weight gain. This can be difficult when you’re a breastfeeding mum but try your best.
Always try to sleep when your baby is sleeping. Other activities can wait 🙂
As a Doctor, it is important for me to tell you that if your hunger pangs do not go away when you consume food and drink, seek medical attention immediately. It may be more than just hunger and it is always best to seek medical attention early.
How long does it take for a woman’s body to go back to normal after pregnancy?
I want to answer this question so you can set realistic goals.
A lot of us are too hard on ourselves. Please don’t compare yourself to another person especially online where people are only showing you what they want you to see.
It takes an average of 6 weeks for your uterus to return back to its pre-pregnancy state let alone other parts of your body.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, it took you 9months to gain the weight, give yourself a minimum of 6 months to snatch your sexy back.
You’re a mother. It’s the best title in the world. Enjoy the process and don’t let anyone rush you.
I hope that implementing a few of these tips will help you lose weight fast while breastfeeding so that you can snap back in no time and I will love to hear from you in the comments.
What are you currently doing to lose weight while breastfeeding?