Once you have a baby, preparing a proper breakfast, lunch, or dinner (let alone sitting down to eat it) suddenly becomes a luxury you can't afford. But your new hectic lifestyle -- in which you grab food between sessions of feeding, burping, and playing with your infant -- has an unexpected benefit: It may help you drop a few of those postbaby pounds. Turns out, consuming three big meals a day isn't the healthiest eating plan, after all. "Eating smaller meals and snacks throughout the day is optimal for keeping your metabolism working at its best and your moods up -- especially when your body is trying to regulate its hormones after pregnancy," says Melinda Johnson, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Here's the smart way to do it:
Control your portions Even though you'll be eating more often, that doesn't mean you can simply eat more (sigh). Think of it this way: If you cut each of your three main meals roughly in half, you get to eat six or seven smaller meals per day. You can even go for eight of these mini-meals/snacks per day, as long as you shrink them accordingly. Have trouble managing your portion sizes? Stock up on snacks that come commercially packaged in 100-calorie servings. Or try divvying everything up into single portions at the beginning of the week: Count almonds into one-ounce (22 nuts) piles and stash them in plastic bags (might this be a wonderful job for your well-meaning mother-in-law?); divide leftover turkey chili into one- or one-and-a-half-cup containers; and ask the deli guy to pack your pound of roasted turkey slices into four separate 4-ounce packages. "Eyeballing things often doesn't work when you eat frequently," says Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D., director of the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "If you measure things out, it becomes much easier to say, 'I'll have just this portion' -- and you still have the satisfaction of eating to the bottom of the bag."
Ultimately, to lose weight, aim for 1,500 to 2,000 calories per day, depending on your needs. If you're breastfeeding (which expends approximately 500 calories a day) or you're training for a 10K (as if), stick to the higher end of that range. Expect to lose about a pound a week if you're also keeping moderately active.
Nicci Micco is a freelance health and nutrition writer in Burlington, Vermont. She is also the cofounder of WhatRealWomenEat.com.