First of all, I want to preface this by saying that each of us has a very personal relationship with our own body, body image and food. If you have found it important to your health and happiness to avoid measuring food, counting carbs or calories, or stepping on a scale… then please honor that wisdom. You can absolutely follow the Dia program and philosophy to embrace your strongest, fittest self without counting a damn thing (except maybe minutes of core compressions… ;-). There are also some women who naturally resume pre-pregnancy weight / body composition with little effort, or with minor adjustments of consciousness and habit (like ditching the “extra” piece of bread on a sandwich and making it open-faced; or having dessert just once or twice a week instead of every day…). If you fall into either of these groups – someone who is happier and healthier without scales of any kind, or someone who finds achieving weight loss somewhat effortless, then stop reading now.
What follows is written specifically for women who are striving to shed the weight that has been lingering from one or multiple pregnancies – and who choose to exert as much healthy, empowered control over that process as they can. In my experience, for the women who find shedding weight post-pregnancy to be a challenge, it is absolutely essential to reduce carbohydrates, increase proteins, vegetables and healthy fats – and to measure and track both what you eat and your progress so you have the tools and insight to achieve your goals. This entire process is also very helpful so you learn how to establish a lifestyle that works for you and keeps you feeling your best for decades into the future. Exercise, of course, is an important part of this process, but body composition changes (meaning the fat: muscle ratio of your body, which is the primary determinant of how your clothes fit) come down to about 80% what you eat and 20% what you do. This post is dedicated to that 80% piece of the puzzle.
The key to achieving safe and steady fat loss is to manage the hormones that regulate fat storage, hunger and energy levels while creating a caloric deficit that’s “just right.” If you eat too little (in terms of total calories), your body will go into starvation mode and hold onto everything it has, refusing to lose weight. If you eat too much, there will be no deficit and therefore no reason for your body to burn stored fat.
Lowering your carbohydrate intake is the hormonal ticket to release stored fat while stabilizing energy and eliminating the “false” hunger of blood sugar surges. This is the first step to initiate safe and effective weight loss. Full guidance is provided to walk you safely through that transition in The Dia Method 3 Phase Fat Burn nutrition guide. It is absolutely imperative that you follow the guide exactly to safely and effectively transition into fat metabolism, especially if you are currently breastfeeding. Some people lose weight quickly during the two weeks of Phase 1, while others experience more gradual change. This is in part because calories are unrestricted during Phase 1 and vary widely. In addition, people have very individual levels of carbohydrate sensitivity. However sensitive you may have been historically, that sensitivity has likely changed due to the hormonal context of pregnancy and postpartum recovery.
The next step, Phase 2, is where you will see most of your changes in body composition and total weight loss. The carb target is slightly higher here – once you’ve gotten off the carb-driven hunger cycle, most people can add a daily serving of grain or starch (in addition to fruits and vegetables) without experiencing cravings. (If you cannot, then resume the carb targets in Phase 1.) During this phase, calories do matter. Like I mentioned earlier, the key is to find your personal sweet spot (which will shift as you lose weight – it’s always a dynamic target), and aim for something in that range. This will probably take some trial and error, and you will need to adjust it over time. Surprisingly, the answer is not always to eat less. For example, you could be very slowly losing weight when eating about 1,800 calories a day. The logical assumption is that if you want to lose faster, you need to lower your calories. Not necessarily. You might be hovering just above “starvation mode” and so your body is very cautiously guarding its fat stores. If that is the case and you were to drop any lower, weight loss could stall. If instead, you increased your food intake to about 2000-2100 calories per day, your body might rev its engine and start shedding weight even faster. If you are tracking everything (food intake, weight, the fit of clothes, etc.) the power is in your hands to adjust up or down and watch to see what impact it has. Maybe you lost the first 20 lbs steadily and then stalled out for a couple weeks – time to mix things up, and maybe you do need to lower your caloric target now that your body is smaller and therefore you don’t need as many calories as you did 20 lbs ago…
In pursuit of weight loss, people commonly miss the “sweet spot” and err in one direction or another. Those who do not measure and track food intake (or intermittently/casually measure and track) tend to overeat. Controlled studies demonstrate that we underestimate our actual food intake by 38%. That is enormous! That difference between what we think we consume and what we actually consume is sufficient to completely sabotage weight loss. People on this side of the “sweet spot” consume far more than they realize, and any failure to lose weight is usually (not always) because there is no actual caloric deficit. This can happen whether you are eating low carb or high carb. If you are eating more than your body needs, you will not lose weight or shed fat.
Those who err on the other side tend to be very diligent at recording everything, but find themselves dropping lower and lower in total calories. The psychology is often one of over-achieving: “If 1800 calories was an A, then surely 1500 would be an A+ and I’ll reach my goal even faster!” But instead, whether intentional or un-intentional, under-eating will push you out of that “sweet spot” for safe and sustainable weight loss and into starvation mode where all your bodily systems efficiently batten down the hatches against the perceived “famine” and hold onto stored fat like no one’s business. This is even more powerful for breastfeeding mamas. Absolutely do not drop under 1800 calories per day if you are breastfeeding. Your body has a higher threshold for “starvation mode” and will stop losing weight if your calories are too low. The threshold is generally lower (about 1200 – 1300 calories) for very small women who are not breastfeeding, but the same principle applies. So no – less is not better.
Moderate caloric deficit, in the context of a nutrient dense and moderately low carb diet, is the key to losing weight while deeply nourishing your amazing body.
If you are already achieving the body composition changes you hope for, fantastic! If not, in your heart of hearts, you probably know whether you are erring on the side of under- or overeating (and if you honestly don’t know, then keep a food journal or track everything you eat with an app like MyFitnessPal for a few days to improve your self-awareness). The power is in your hands.