Health guru, Zainab Sarwar, on losing post-pregnancy weight

Asma: Zainab, one of the biggest struggles of motherhood is the struggle to lose weight while also balancing the hectic, sometimes overwhelming task of being a mom. I know that motherhood posed that challenge for me, until I met you and you made it easier for me to work in a diet that was delicious, satisfying, and effective for weight loss. But that first step to getting moms focused and ready to make a change is perhaps the toughest one. What are some tips to help get busy moms focused on their health?

While making healthy choices can be a difficult path to take when life gets a little crazy, it’s important to take care of yourself properly in order to take care of your loved ones, too!

I think that as moms, if we show our families through example that we are making our health a priority, our families are more likely to make their’s a priority too.

Here are some tips that will help moms reach their fitness goals, no matter what those goals may be!

  1. Set your biological clock: 

The timings of your meals plays a very important role in influencing your metabolic function. Breakfast should ideally be taken between 6:30–8am. New moms who are adjusting with disturbed sleep routines can have their breakfast early and go to sleep rather than waking up late and have their breakfast around noon. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and it helps boost your metabolism. 

Lunch should be taken between 12–1pm and dinner should be taken soon after sunset, ideally between 6-7pm. People who eat the largest meal of the day before 3pm lose 25 percent more weight than those who eat their main meal after 3pm. Eating your main meals on time greatly helps in curbing your appetite and cravings.

  • Keep your water intake in check:

Most mothers feel thirstier when they are breastfeeding. Drink at least 10-12 glasses of water in a day. Limit your caffeine intake.

  • Choose Healthy Snacks:

Eating your main meals on time and snacking on healthy foods is the key to a healthier lifestyle. Working and busy moms should remove all junk from their pantries and stock it up with healthy options. Some examples of healthy snacks include:

  1. ½ cup yogurt
  2. A fruit
  3. Handful of nuts
  4. Cottage cheese
  5. Carrots or celery sticks
  • Know your metabolic needs:

In general, new mothers are hungrier during the first several months of breastfeeding, and you should not ignore feelings of hunger when producing milk for your baby. Eat a variety of foods to get the calories, vitamins and minerals you need to remain healthy. To successfully kick-start your metabolism and start losing weight, the only thing you have to do is exercise portion control for the first few months of your diet. After few months, your hormones starts to settle better and your metabolic needs changes as well so you need to review your diet accordingly. It is quite evident through a lot of researches that women who exclusively breast-fed for 4 months were able to reduce their body fat percentage more efficiently than women who had weaned by 4 months. Also around 6 months post-pregnancy, the little one starts having semi-solids  so its high time for moms ( lactating or not) to review their diets and make necessary changes because that’s the time around when most of women start gaining more weight. The main reason for the weight gain is to keep on consuming the same amount of calories without burning any extra calories. Make a mental note that a woman need plenty of sleep, lots of fluids and good nutrition in first few months post delivery in order for body to recover from Child-birth trauma.Once your body is on the road to recovery or healing, the need for additional calories changes.  Another psychological aspect involved is that we tend to under-estimate our calorie intake and over-estimate our life-style changing efforts. Paying more attention to your body is the only way women can help themselves. 

  • Limit Coffee/Tea, Tobacco:

Most women can’t live without tea/coffee because it helps them deal with their stress, but the fact is that it actually sabotages their weight loss efforts. Drinking caffeinated beverages may make your baby jittery or irritable and can make it difficult for your baby to fall asleep, especially if you drink too much caffeine or drink it very quickly. Drink mainly caffeine-free beverages when breastfeeding. If you cannot give up your caffeine, limit your intake to about two eight-ounce servings per day. Same goes for alcohol and tobacco consumption.

  • Plan Ahead:

A must-do for all working and busy moms: Plan head and cook in bulk to save yourself time. This can help you avoid convenience foods and you don’t need to worry about your own food preparation on a daily basis. Planning meals actually keeps you away from emotional eating as well because it makes you more mindful about your eating patterns.

  • Do mini-workouts:

If you struggle to fit in 30 minutes of exercise at once, try breaking your exercise time up into 10 minute sets 3 times a day instead. After all, something is better than nothing. Moms can even do workouts while playing with their kids for example playing outdoors, running games, postnatal yoga etc.

  • Take your vitamin supplements daily:

While you still need to make sure you’re getting proper nutrition through your food, vitamins are a great way to fill in any nutritional gaps you may have. As part of my diet plan, I prescribe a vitamin regimen to all my clients.

     9- Have Enough Sleep:

I know that’s sometimes it’s not always possible to have seven to nine hours of sound sleep if you have young kids. My rule of thumb is to just do the very best you can and try to get to bed at a reasonable time every night to give your best attempt at a good night’s rest. Your body and your attitude will thank you for it in the morning. It will actually help reset your metabolism as well.

  1.  Take a break from family and friends who distract your lifestyle changing efforts:

A common problem I see many of my clients facing is discouraging family and friends. When other women see you making considerable efforts to lose weight and adapt a lifestyle change, they often—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not—discourage you to continue by telling you you already look great and should enjoy life by eating your favorite foods.  It’s really frustrating when I see my clients facing this and I can’t help but wonder at times what others’ motive is when they try to get my clients to give up on their diets.

Women should understand that only they are the boss of their own bodies and they should know what’s in their best interest. It takes a lot of effort to take care of the damage done by the wrong eating habits, so be mindful about who you socialize with.Your diet is not only what you eat. It’s what you watch, what you listen to, what you read, the people you hang around. Be mindful of the things you put into your body emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Asma: Are there any foods to avoid when breastfeeding?

A few babies will develop gas or act colicky when their mothers eat certain spicy or “gassy” foods. However, there is no one food or food group that creates problems for all babies. Unless you notice that your baby reacts within six hours every time you eat a certain food, there is no need to avoid any particular foods.

Alcohol and tobacco can have potential side-effects for your baby.It is best to avoid tobacco use when breastfeeding or pumping. Nicotine and its byproducts pass into milk, and tobacco use may cause a baby to have a more rapid heartbeat, restlessness, vomiting or diarrhea. In addition to these effects, drinking and smoking seriously sabotage your weight loss efforts.

Asma: That’s really profound, this idea of dieting being about what you let into your eyes, ears, and heart—not just what you eat. 

Other than the fact that a person is getting older as they continue to have children, is there something about multiple pregnancies that makes it harder to lose weight? 

Well, I personally believe that post-pregnancy is the best time to lose weight, especially if a woman is breastfeeding since she is already burning 500-600 calories and she can reach her goal weight without working out. But that’s only possible if you have the right guidance and support system. Losing weight post -pregnancy is the easier part even with multiple pregnancies but getting back into shape is the challenging one. An often-overlooked factor in a woman’s post-partum visible fitness is a condition called diastasis recti—a muscle separation in the abdomen due to which woman find it difficult to go back to their pre-pregnancy size even when they are back to their pre-pregnancy weight. When you are a different size, you feel feel “fatter” than you actually are. Low impact exercises help a great deal to address this issue.

Having said that, putting too much pressure on a new mom to immediately lose weight is atrocious and unnecessary. Her body has already been through a lot. Give it some time. Being pregnant and giving birth are major physical events. Hormonal changes are a big deal; they can “mess with” everything from a woman’s emotional state, her feelings of satisfaction, her emotional and physical energy levels, etc. Always remember that it took you nine months to put on the weight, so losing it can take several months. If the weight isn’t coming off as fast as you want it to or your weight loss has stalled, there are several factors that could be hindering your efforts. Nutritional deficiencies are among one of them.

Nutritional deficiencies can also affect a woman’s weight loss efforts, pregnancy and breastfeeding can play havoc with a woman’s nutritional needs. Even with prenatal vitamins and a healthy diet, some women are dramatically deficient in both vitamin B and vitamin D.

Increasing intake of these two vitamins can actually solve post-partum depression and restart metabolism. If everything else seems fine but the woman is still struggling with weight issues, it might be worthwhile to get some vitamin and mineral deficiency testing done. Your body can’t function properly without adequate nutrition.

Rest assured, if you apply the right approach to lose your baby weight regardless of your age and number of previous pregnancies, you can easily get back to your goal weight.

Asma: Can you share some tips on what pregnant women can do to keep weight gain in control during pregnancy?

Tip #1: Stop eating for two. You don’t need that many extra calories per day to nourish your growing baby. Current guidelines call for no extra calories per day in your first trimester. 340 extra calories per day in your second trimester and 450 extra calories per day in your third trimester if you’re starting pregnancy at a healthy weight (These numbers vary according to individual statistics). That’s not a lot of extra calories to play around with, so choose foods with a nutritional value that help you feel satisfied.

Tip#2: Focus on small, frequent meals that are high in lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables, complex carbs and healthy fats. Choose healthy snacks between meals.

Eating a healthy snack every three hours should help you avoid overeating during main meals and help control cravings as well.

For example: Include a fruit with 1 tablespoon of  organic peanut butter or honey, a protein-enriched pasta and organic marinara sauce, or Greek yogurt with a palmful of nuts or fruit on top. 

Tip #3: Keep yourself well-hydrated during pregnancy. Have fruits with lots of fiber and high water content such as grapefruit, oranges, apples, berries, pears, and coconut. This tip can also help you feel full and keep constipation away which is one of the most common problems during pregnancy.When you’re pregnant, your digestive system slows down. Getting enough fluids will help keep things moving along and prevent uncomfortable bloating.

Tip 4: Satisfy your cravings effectively. Its normal to have cravings during pregnancy and honestly speaking, nobody expects that you avoid junk food or sugary stuff completely. Its ok to have the occasional indulgence but try to limit yourself to twice a week indulgence only. Also Always combine your junk cravings with something healthy for example; have a bowl of ice-cream and mix it with fruits to have a fuller feeling and get some nutritional value out of your craving as well.

Tip 5: Use Complex Carbohydrates only. Carbs are known to be a pregnant woman’s best friend, so in order to get maximum nutrition out of carbs, select them wisely. Use complex carbs only.  Simple carbs such as white bread, rice, and pasta raise your blood sugar without giving you the nutrition that comes with whole grains. Complex carbs will not only provide you and your baby with more nutrients but will help u feel fuller for a longer period of time as well.

Tip 6: “Walk” till 9 months. A simple walking regime is the best exercise a pregnant woman can do during this entire period. 30 mins of daily walk is all they need for better circulation of blood, to remain active and have fewer aches and pains towards the end of pregnancy. If you are already into light workouts before getting pregnant, then no need to stop. Other than contact sports, any light workout can be done during pregnancy if your doctor allows.

Asma: What are some psychological results of pregnancy and weight gain – for example, do you see women becoming bitter towards their kids or depressed or unwilling to have more kids because of the effect it’s having on their health and body image?

Pregnancy and the post-partum period are known for mood vulnerability. These two periods can disrupt the self-care process of women and have a negative psychological effect on them after delivery. One of the most common mood disorders in women after childbirth is postpartum depression (PPD). Post Partum Depression (PPD) is major depressive event occurring in the first 4 weeks after childbirth.

One of the biggest factors creating PPD is weight gain or body image after pregnancy. Most of my clients who have given birth within the last 6 months show an identical pattern of low self-esteem, poor self-body image and their concerns about beauty and apparent changes are a major cause of anxiety and depression among them. They stop believing in themselves. 

Some women even become bitter towards their kids and don’t want to have more pregnancies.  The physical changes in a woman’s body during pregnancy receive a lot of attention, but less consideration is given to the emotional and psychological changes she could be experiencing. Because of these psychological changes, women tend to adapt quick-fixes and even go to an extreme extent of starving themselves. 

One thing that I would like to tell our female readers is never, ever starve yourself post-pregnancy, as it can wreak havoc on your metabolism. Post-pregnancy is the time where you have to heal your body first through proper nutrition—later, weight loss will take care of itself. I have seen a lot of women regain the feeling of self- worth, self-esteem and became more radiant and confident after getting back to their original shape post-pregnancy. 

For all this, a support system is crucial. My company, Moksha Dubai, provides one such platform to the women across the world where they can discuss their emotional and psychological challenges related to their self-image without being judged. 

If you have questions for Zainab, please send them to altM at We will feature them in our next Q/A with her.

If you’d like to reach out to Zainab, you can find her on WhatsApp at +971 52 986 5868 or via email at xainabsarwar@live.comYou can also find her on Instagram and her company, Moksha Dubai, on Facebook and Instagram.

Asma Uddin is the founding editor-in-chief of altM.

Photo Credit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *