Mums need to prioritise their own health and nutrition

Busy mums need to prioritise their own health and nutrition, says dietitian Aoife Hearne.

FOOD TO GO: Focussing on replenishing energy levels and not weight loss is important for mums with young babies. Picture: iStock
FOOD TO GO: Focussing on replenishing energy levels and not weight loss is important for mums with young babies. Picture: iStock

RECENTLY, I had a conversation with a colleague about workload and family life. She’s at the other end of the spectrum and just starting to think about starting a family. Like me up until I had children, all she thought about was work but now there is a shift to thinking about how to incorporate a young family with everything she already does.

“I don’t know how you did it all over the past few years Aoife,” she said.

I hear this a lot. It always takes be a back, because the reality is that I wasn’t doing it all. In fact, truth be known, I was skating along by the seat of my pants just about covering off the necessities when it came to work and less than that when it came to my family and my own health.

Externally, I looked like I had it all together, but internally I was crumbling.

The one thing, I know for sure now is that self-care is not selfish. It is a requirement for all parents, new mothers, in particular, because your health matters to you, but also to the health of the family unit.

Last week I touched on the topic of mindful eating when it comes to a healthy eating plan, not only for new mothers but for everyone. Staying connected to your internal cues for hunger and fullness is a key part of mindful eating. For many of us though, this is a foreign and challenging concept. How can you stop eating when you’re 80% full if you don’t even know what full feels like right?

The good news is that it is possible to train yourself to adopt a more mindful/intuitive eating approach. It will take time, but is possible. And for those of you who are parents, it’s important is to keep your children connected to their own internal cues for hunger. All of us are born innately knowing when we are hungry and full.

The key is for parents to respond to these cues early and consistently. If I were to ask a group of 100 people how you know if a baby is hungry the most common answer would be ‘when they cry’. But in actual fact there are about six earlier cues to indicate hunger before the ‘I’m really hungry here you better feed me now’ signal of crying.

Responsive feeding and responsive parenting are key concepts in creating and raising a mindful eater. And this approach starts at the very beginning of life.

Breastfeeding is an ideal approach to creating a mindful eater. Believe me, it’s virtually impossible to breastfeed a baby who is full. When it comes to bottlefeeding, using an approach called paced bottle feeding will help a parent of caregiver stay responsive to the baby’s internal hunger cues. As a child becomes older, baby-led feeding or self-feeding (from six months) is a great way to strengthen the intuitive eating foundation.

Moving away from tricking babies to eating more by pretending spoons are aeroplanes, or using phones or toys to distract them while eating is a good first move.

It may not always feel like the easiest approach and it can be messy for sure, but you have to play the long game when it comes teaching children a healthy relationship with food.

I completely appreciate there are times when you’d likely do anything to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight. I’ve been there and I’m there right now to be honest.

Dieting is not the answer. That loop of ‘restriction, overeating, guilt, start over’ is doing more damage than good. There is another way.

Often the perception of mindful eating can be that it’s a little fluffy and this approach is not always what people want to hear when they are ready for big change. We have been sold the idea that rules and restriction are what you need to do to lose weight. But surely if that worked we wouldn’t be facing the issues we are facing now when it comes to obesity.

The exasperated plea of ‘so just tell me what I need to do and I’ll do it’ normally comes after my mindful eating spiel. So here are my top tips to get you on the best road to eating more mindfully.

  • Honour your hunger. Remember your body needs enough energy to work at its best. Hunger can trigger a primal drive to overeat. When you feel hungry, eat. Make it easy on yourself by ensuring you have access to nourishing snacks /meals.
  • Make peace with food: Give yourself the unconditional permission to eat all foods. Making foods off-limits only gives them power and makes you want to eat them more.
  • Challenge the food police: Remember you are not on a diet so you need to reinforce that you are not ‘good’ for eating broccoli and ‘bad’ for eating chocolate. There should be no judgement when it comes to eating any food.
  • Stop eating when you’re full: This sounds so easy and yet is likely the most difficult tip. Eating before you are starving and eating more slowly will help you recognise a comfortable full feeling and when it’s time to stop eating.

Remember, this approach takes time. It’s not an all or nothing approach. You don’t need to be perfect with it. There are days I’m great and days I’m not so great. But I try to remember what a very wise friend once told me ‘under-promise, over-deliver’.

These are wise words when it comes to looking after yourself as a new mother. And I think in this situation keeping expectations low is actually a recipe for success.

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