The hard part: After the baby
Having a baby transforms your life in many ways -- none of which make it easier to take good care of yourself. Suddenly there's little time or energy to prepare nutritious meals. You may feel isolated and stressed out. And then, perhaps, you go back to work full-time a few months later. Too often, food provides comfort.
The idea of exercise can seem even tougher than eating right. You may be embarrassed about working out in public, or not ready to leave your new baby with a sitter while you hop off to the gym -- not to mention that finding the time may seem impossible. Yet exercise is the single most powerful determinant of long-term weight control. According to ACOG, it's a good idea to start exercising again four to six weeks after giving birth. (If you've had a c-section, though, check with your doctor first.)
Postpartum moms are more successful at keeping up regular physical activity if they have a plan and are confident they can carry it out, studies show. Make it realistic -- one reason many women can't lose weight is that they think they can take off a lot quickly. When this doesn't happen, they get discouraged. But if you're overweight, losing even 5 or 10 percent of your body weight can have substantial health benefits, reducing your risk factors, like high blood pressure, for such chronic diseases as Type 2 diabetes. And you'll feel better about your body as well. More ideas:
Line up support. Have your husband take care of the baby so you can hit the gym, for instance. And make a vow to help each other get fitter: In Olson's study, women were more likely to exercise regularly if their partners also did so, suggesting that it helps if fitness is a family value. And it's a good example for your child!
Enlist fellow moms. There's comfort in numbers. Women who work out with a friend or join an exercise class often have more success, studies show.
Bring your baby. Find a mom-and-baby exercise class, or put on music and dance with your child. Work out to a video during one of her naps.
Be brisk. While any activity is good (even pushing a stroller at a leisurely pace), if you can get some aerobic activity into your life -- anything that gets your heart rate up -- you'll drop the pounds faster.