5 reasons Mums can’t lose the weight

In the past week, I’ve had at least 5 conversations with other mums about their weight, and how to lose it.  It’s one of those things that just seems to happen…….after each child you don’t quite manage to get to your pre pregnancy weight, then over the years the weight creeps up even more. You feel that you’re not over eating, in fact sometimes you can go most of the day without a meal. And you’re on your feet all day so you must be burning up loads of calories.

So why are the scales not going down? What is going on? In a nutshell, you are eating more calories than you are burning. This can be for a number of reasons:

Here a the top 5 reasons why you can’t lose the weight:

  1. Skipping meals: you wake up and are met with the insane and constant demands of your children. Not only do you have to get yourself ready for the day, but all of the children too. If I include myself, I’ve 4 sets of teeth to clean, 4 hairs to brush, 4 bodies to dress, and 4 mouths to feed. It’s easy to miss breakfast! Before you know it’s 10am and you are starving, so you grab a muffin in Starbucks (a skinny one, must be Unknownhealthy right?), or a croissant, and a latte.  At lunchtime, you’re not that hungry, so a biscuit or two or a a packet of crisps is fine, and so the inconsistent grazing continues through the day. By not eating regular meals, you snack on less than nutritious, high calorie food. This is ‘mindless’ eating. Not only are you depriving yourself of nutritious food, you are stacking up the calories. Take 2 minutes in the morning to tell yourself that today, you are going to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  2. ‘Tasting’ while cooking: I am certainly guilty of this. I love cooking and baking, and Unknown-1can easily spend a few hours each day in the kitchen. I like to taste the food, so I’ll have a munch here and there, a taste of this and that to gauge the flavour, and the final product of course.
  3. Finishing the kid’s food: Kids eat until they’ve had enough, so more often than not there will be left over food on their plate. Half a sausage down your hatch with out even thinking about it – that can be nearly 100kcal. Some yoghurt left in the pot (hey, it’s healthy and we can’t let that go to waste can we, and it there’s less mess to clean up!). Half a banana on the walk home from school because daughter didn’t want it, in it goes! All these add up to 100s of calories per day. You are not a human dust bin!
  4. Over eating/drinking in the evening: I understand the immense relief that comes with the children finally being in bed. The peace is something to behold. It’s ‘me’ time, time for a lovely meal and a glass of wine to wind down. You need it, and you deserve it. It is what has been keeping you sane all day. Just be aware that this is a form of
    Better get cracking on this lot!

    Better get cracking on this lot (7200kcal)!

    emotional eating and drinking, and often is a major contributor to weight gain. Look at your portion size of pasta or rice – does it fill the plate? 1/4 plate of pasta, or a fist size amount provides about 250kcal. Fill your plate with salad and veggies. I’m not going to lecture about the health dangers of regular alcohol intake, but one bottle of wine has about 600kcal, the equivalent to a meal.

  5. Reduced metabolism – as we age, our metabolism slows, probably due to loss of muscle. As well as reduced metabolic rate, although you may be active all day, the calories you are using up through exercise is not enough. You need to boost your metabolism by getting some strenuous exercise that gets you sweating! Just pootling up and down the swimming pool or sitting on the exercise bike for twenty minutes isn’t enough. HIIT training is fabulous for those who don’t have much time. Building some muscle by doing weight bearing exercise will also help.

It’s all about the lucky pants – player superstitions

Professional sports people are notorious for routines and rituals before a big event.


2nd ACL injury

For Dec, he has same meal every evening before the game and will never wear the number seven jersey, even when playing that position. It was while wearing number 7 that he sustained two consecutive ACL injuries, requiring surgery and 9 months to recover. Rituals can change from year to year, I remember one season there was a particular pair of lucky pants that barely made it to the end of the season in one piece.

I asked some of the rugby wives and partners about pre match rituals………..Matt Parr will always put his left sock on first, and likes to last out of the changing rooms, while Setaimata Sa will never have his hair cut on the day of or day before a game. Tomas O’Leary, being the laid back Irishman, has no such superstitions!

Why do some players need rituals? Before a game, the atmosphere will be intense with anxieties running high. It’s not unusual to have boys throwing up before exiting the tunnel to the pitch. Rituals give a player something to control, a routine can be like a meditation mantra helping to fight back the nerves and keep the sanity. When much of the game is down to chance, such as the bounce of the ball, or an unlucky tackle that could result in injury, a ritual can give some locus of control.

So it is the morning of the second pre season warm up game against Wasps, and we are already in to the Danaher rituals. The day before a game Dec increases his carbohydrate intake to approximately 550g, thats about 100g more than normal. This is to ensure that the muscles are fully loaded with glycogen, the fuel for powering through 90 minutes. Dec divides the 550g between 6 meals and snacks. Here is a list of 50g carbohydrate portions

Yesterday at 5pm he had pasta with pesto and chopped up chicken breasts with spring onion and pepper, followed by a bowl of rice pudding (homemade!), at 8pm it was noodles with tuna, more spring onions and pepper. And more of rice pudding. If all goes well at the game today, this is likely to be the food of choice for at least a few months.


Agnes thinks children should be seen and not heard

The meals weren’t terribly inspiring or gourmet, but it’s fuel. Meals need to be easy and tick the nutrient boxes. Ideally, we would have varied the vegetables in the second meal, as the more variety and colours the better. However, in real life I had three children with me at the supermarket, the 1 year old having just thrown up before we left and the middle daughter celebrating her 4th birthday, so was over excited and not displaying what I would call ‘calm’ behaviour. I was one of ‘those mums’ that people frown at.

So today is match day. Dec will leave for the Sunbury training ground at about 10.30. Until then he lies in for as long as possible, has his porridge, bagel and coffee, then gets his kit together and heads off. He needs to get his head in ‘the right place’, so that will mean that I take the 3 children out so that they aren’t raking around the place heightening the tension. We need to keep things as calm as possible.

Before leaving for the Wasps game in High Wycombe, there will be a meal at Sunbury. Pre match meals should be high carb, low fibre and low fat for easy digestion. I’m not going to the game with the children today, but will be keeping a close eye on the Twitter updates from London Irish, then nervously awaiting the phone call after the final whistle to tell us than he’s come through in one piece . Until then, I’ll be crossing my fingers, avoiding walking under ladders and looking for black cats crossing the road.

The F word

My gut reaction when my 3 year old used the F word was one of horror. I couldn’t believe my ears, but I guess this sort of thing is inevitable when they start going to nursery school.

“I was playing mummies and babies with x and y in the home corner, and x was making lunch, and we couldn’t have too much or it would make us FAT!”

My first response: my Mummy Poker Face. In my head I was tearing my hair out shouting “nooooooooo!”.  Second response: a light and breezy 1 minute chat about food making you strong.

My second reason for the horror was the thought that the teacher may assume that, as a dietitian, I was teaching my children this nonsense. Following 12 years as a dietitian, I have seen hundreds of people (children and adults) for advice on obesity. Issues around food commonly appear to come from childhood experiences, a parent’s relationship with food and how they relate this to their children. During my time as a paediatric dietitian in the NHS, one particular little girl sticks in my mind. She was about 5 years old and referred to me as she was overweight. The first thing she did when she came in to the clinic room, was to show me her Barbie. She asked if she would ever look like her. I told her nobody looks like Barbie.

Of course, every parent wants their child to eat well, have a diet of good nutritious foods, and be healthy in the long term. We come in all shapes and sizes, skinny does not necessarily mean healthy. Feeding yourself and your child wholesome food, not using food as an emotional crutch, and not feeling GUILTY about nourishing yourself are all crucial in achieving a balanced state of mind. But how do we convey this to our children, particularly our daughters? Is it appropriate to use the F word?  Here is what I have learnt from my time practising as a paediatric dietitian, and as a mum to 3 children:

  • Do not discuss your weight or ‘going on a diet’ within earshot of your children.  Do not discuss any body part that you dislike. Keep any food, body and weight insecurities to yourself.
  • Do not discuss their weight, shape or size in a negative way, even if you are trying to turn it in to a positive eg. “it’s ok if you’re chunky/have baby fat”.
  • Don’t ban any food. It’s ok to have crisps, chocolate, cake etc. as an occasional addition to a regular intake of the ‘healthier’ foods
  • Do not discuss calories, and burning off with exercise. This leads to negative associations between the two. Food should be enjoyed. And exercise should be enjoyed, not a chore or a punishment to ‘work off’ a ‘bad’ food choice.

What should you say?

  • Food provides nutrition to make our bodies strong, fit and healthy
  • Some foods have much more vitamins and minerals than others, it is important that we eat lots of these to give our bodies energy and to keep us well.
  • Bread, potatoes, rice, pasta give us lots of energy for running around, climbing, bouncing, having fun!
  • Veggies and fruit help us to stop getting sick, give us sparkly eyes, shiny hair, and help cuts and grazes to get better
  • Fat is not ‘bad’, some fat is important for our bodies to use the vitamins properly and to help our brains to work
  • Eating a mixture of food gives all the different things our body needs

Tell your children that our bodies are amazing………..talk about all the awesome things that they can do if they want to: climb a mountain, run a race, do a cartwheel, touch the sky with their feet on a swing.  Help them to love moving, because that is what we are designed for.  “We’ve got to go for a walk because we’ve eaten to much chocolate” is in no way healthy, helpful or positive.

Teach your child how to love fresh air

Teach your child to love movement and exploring new things

Teach your child how to bake a cake using butter, sugar and flour

Teach your child how to chop and cook veggies.

Tell them they are strong, tell them they look happy, tell them they are GLOWING!

Man Versus Food: the trials and tribulations 4000 kcals

1 month ago Dec’s body fat was 13% (reduced from 16% over the three week holiday) and his weight was 101kg. His aim was to increase weight slowly over the next few months for the start of the rugby season. To achieve this:

  • intensive weight lifting schedule, 1-2 sessions/day
  • reduction in running (aerobic) training – burned too many calories, calories needed to build the muscle
  • increase in food calories, aiming for 3600kcal/day

So what do the most recent figures say?

Weight has remained static at 101kg, while fat mass has decreased to 10%, sorry 9.8% (down 3%). This indicates that approximately 3kg of fat has been lost and 3kg of muscle gained. Brilliant, if he was going to pose on the beach all day, however, the men in the driving seat at London Irish, Robbie and Adi, want the weight up! A month ago, using nutrition calculations, his target calorie intake was set at 3600kcal to achieve this weight increase.

Dec’s case illustrates how the ‘textbook’ theory does not always translate in to practise. There are a number of reasons weight has not been increasing. Here are some important points:

  • Weight is static indicating, his body is using up the same calories that he is eating/drinking.
  • Fat is being catabolised (broken down), while weight training is building the muscle. Any extra calories in the body have been used to increase muscle.
  • It is a VERY common phenomenon for food diaries/diet histories to be inaccurate due to misreporting or people changing what they eat either subconsciously/consciously (not necessarily with malicious intent, it’s just human nature). I can verify that Dec has in fact been having 3600kcal (to the point that he is a bit OCD about it).

So in a nutshell, Dec needs to increase his calories even further to gain weight. Adi suggested that Dec increased ‘macros’. Macros is short for macronutrients, a fancy name for carbohydrates, protein and fat. So he just needs to eat more food, about 400kcal more per day. Simple right?

The reality of consuming such a hugh amount of food can be difficult both physically and mentally, not to mention expensive.

Psychologically, it can be very tough for someone who, in the past, has always had to fight hunger for fear of putting on too much weight.

There needs to be a balance between eating ridiculously healthily, and including the less nutritious or ‘treat’ foods in the diet. Unfortunately, as with many other professional sports people, Dec has an ‘all or nothing’ mentality. In the past, if he wanted a chocolate bar, he would go to the shop and return with a Yorkie, a packet of Rolos, a Turkish Delight and a Magnum ice cream. And eat them ALL within an hour. Since improving the quality of his diet, there has been a significant change, for the better, in body composition. In the last 2 months, the apparent healthiness of his diet could also be his downfall, in that it may be preventing him from achieving the desired increase in weight. Dec’s fear is that if he relaxes his diet, he’ll fall back in to the negative behaviour of devouring a whole packet of peanuts or tub of Haagen Dazs. All or nothing.

Despite being a sports dietitian, and obviously ready to give my opinion, and advice, I am wary of being too ‘food police’.  What a nightmare that would be for him (and me), if I was constantly eyeballing what he was eating, and remarking on every morsel. Of course if he wants to we discuss best options, timings, quantities etc. and I help a lot with calculating his intake, but generally I try to back off with my input.

Physically, the shear volume of food/high calorie drinks needs to be fitted in around very intensive training. This morning Dec had fitness testing at 11am, which involved extremely high intensity bursts of running. He cannot have a substantial amount of food sitting in his stomach for this. So he had large breakfast 3-4 hours before to allow time for it to digest, a snack 1-2 hours before, and an easily digestible carbohydrate drink 30 minutes before. Followed by a meal afterwards. The constant need for nutrition is tedious, though something that comes with the job.

So here are some practical solutions for increasing calories in an already food overloaded regimen. Dec came up with most of these himself, most are tweaks to what he already does.

Practical solutions for increasing nutritious calories:

  • thick layer of peanut butter instead of egg with bagel
  • more high calorie snacks, more frequently, so the stomach isn’t too full
  • 2 handfuls of almonds instead of 1 handful
  • banana instead of an apple
  • fruit juice instead of water
  • full fat yoghurt instead of low fat
  • grated cheese on meals
  • tablespoon olive oil in food
  • more regular use a weight gain supplement eg. Kinetica Oat Gain – 2 scoops = 315kcal. Oat Gain Cookies

Here we go again, it’s 3 hours since his last meal. As I sit at the kitchen table typing, he’s here to prepare another 600kcal meal: burger, wrap  and coleslaw. Then it’s off to Sainsbury’s restock the fridge.

Be good to yourself…..food demons BOG OFF!!

We all know the benefits of being ‘healthy’. But if living a healthy lifestyle was easy, then everyone would be doing it, right? On paper, eating nutritious food and taking regular exercise is a no brainer. So what’s the problem?

I hate the thought of food being categorised as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’. I believe no food should be demonised, however it’s an unavoidable fact  that some foods nourish our bodies more than others. Nobody is obliged to be healthy all the time. We all have unhealthy habits, and these are up to us as individuals with minds of our own. Happiness is what matters, not a social standard of what is deemed as healthy.

If you really do feel content with your diet, whether you live on burgers and chips or have a nutritionally brilliant diet, then that’s nobody’s business but your own. If you feel that you would be happier by making changes to what you eat, but find it difficult, then here are some motivation ideas that you might find helpful…..

  • You’ll never regret choosing the more positive option eg. yoghurt and strawberries over a bar of chocolate. Before making a choice, ask how you will feel in an hour. Think of how great you will feel psychologically and physically after a whole week or month of making daily positive choices.
  • “I deserve this, I’ve had a hard day”. Try not to use food as a reward, to relieve stress or to make you happy. Food is primarily fuel for our bodies. Once again think longer term….how will you feel in an hour after eating half (or a whole) tub of ice cream? How much better would you feel rewarding yourself in other ways eg. walk to the shop after dinner to buy yourself a magazine or a tub of cherries to munch on the way home.
  • We often tell ourselves that we can’t do without something that we have regularly. A common thing to hear is “I’m addicted to chocolate” or “I’m addicted to bread”. Your mind is powerful in both positive and negative ways. If you want to change your habit, turn the negative in to the positive. By saying: “I’m addicted, therefore I can’t do anything about it”, you are essentially removing your responsibility for what you feed yourself.  Tell yourself, “I am in control of my thoughts, I am in control of what I buy, and I am in control of what I feed my body.”
  • Sometimes, it’s as if the biscuit tin is calling you, drawing your hand towards it like a magnet. If it helps, imagine a little demon on your shoulder. It is telling you to have another biscuit and, go on just one more, and, well, you may as well finish the lot. Tell it in the strongest possible way (!) to bog off and to stop sabotaging your efforts.
  • If you can’t resist temptation, then make things easier on yourself by not having the foods you are trying to avoid in the cupboard or fridge. Get. Rid. Of. It. People often tell me, ‘but it’s for the kids/ visitors’. Too much of it is not good for you and it’s not good for them either. Replace with healthier alternatives.

Ultimately, we have to take responsibility for ourselves. Isn’t it a great thing that we can!?