I tried to stick to a healthy diet while I was pregnant but after my daughter arrived I let go of the reins a little. Little by little I realized I’d let go of the reins a lot.
Having one cookie felt special and delicious. But having one cookie every hour quickly become the norm. I made excuses. The cookies were “paleo” and gluten free. So that made it better, right? Not really. Diving head first into a container of Snickerdoodles didn’t feel special. And I practically didn’t even notice if they were delicious. Breastfeeding made me ravenous and I knew I needed to eat more to keep up. It was more than just satisfying a craving, I was starting make desserts a big part of my diet.
When I found myself replacing nutritious meals with sweets I knew something had to change.
The day my daughter turned 3 months old, I embarked on a 30-day food challenge called the “Whole30.” The rules are relatively simple: eat vegetables, meat, fats (ex: nuts, olive oil, coconut oil…) and some fruit. Avoid any sugar (including honey, maple syrup, stevia, etc.,) alcohol, grains, legumes, or dairy. Simple, yes, but definitely difficult.
Important caveats: this was not the first time I took on the Whole30. In fact, this was my fourth time. I experience huge benefits each time I do a Whole30. Most are “non-scale victories” like increased energy, clear skin, healthy hair and less anxiety, but I’ve also lost weight. My background with the program including knowledge of my favorite, go-to ingredients and recipes helped me a lot. Also, I have Celiac so I’ve been gluten-free (and pretty much grain-free) for a few years which makes the “no grains” rules pretty normal for me to follow. I wanted to do this Whole30 specifically to try and shake my apparent addiction to sugar.
Going cold turkey on sugar is never easy, but doing it while breastfeeding was more difficult than I imagined.
Here are my top five tips for making your Whole30 while breastfeeding successful. Again, these are tips specifically for breastfeeding women.
- Eat a big portion of starchy vegetables with every meal. Every meal, no exceptions, especially during the first week. I ate a huge sweet potato with ghee (aka clarified butter), a little coconut milk and cinnamon at least once a day. Roasted carrots, parsnips and beets with spices was another.
- If you are hungry, try to eat a full meal versus grabbing a snack. Ignore the “3 meals a day” recommendation of the Whole30. Those do not apply to breastfeeding mamas. The first few days I felt like I was always eating. Eating might feel like work at first. It got way better for me and I was eventually able to go longer between meals.
- Prepare for emergencies. Have compliant food on hand that you can eat quickly if you have an “Oh sh*t I’m hangry!” moment at home or out and about. I stocked my fridge with these tuna cakes and no-sugar-added sliced turkey to wrap around a dollop of guacamole. I kept no-added-sugar Lara Bars in my (diaper) bag for on the go.
- One of the founders of the Whole30, Melissa Hartwig, recently had a baby and suggests that breastfeeding women sip on coconut milk all day to make sure they are getting enough fat and calories. That got a little boring for me so I made a smoothie with coconut milk, a banana and 1/4c (up to 1/2c) of frozen berries. As long as I didn’t start to think of these smoothies as a stand-in for dessert, I felt okay.
- Doing a Whole30 is cooking-intensive and can therefore be time intensive, too. There’s no frozen pizza to fall back on if you don’t want to cook. Make it easier for yourself to stay on track by doubling recipes to always have leftovers on hand. Prepare egg casseroles or frittatas for grab-and-go breakfast.
If I can do it, you can do it!
Going this “extreme” with a postpartum diet may not be the best fit for every mom (breastfeeding or not), but it worked for me. I slayed my sugar dragon and feel more energized and happy. Cookies are just cookies now, they don’t call to me or control me in the way they did before.
Note: The creators of the Whole30 provide all the information you need to do a Whole30 for free on their website. What worked for me, though, was to read their book, “It Starts with Food” before starting the Whole30 the first time. The book gave me a lot of insight about shaking off the “sugar dragon” and specifically how certain foods affect our bodies. I also found lots of support online in forums, on Instagram, etc.
There are lots of Whole30 reviews, recipes and tips online but I’m happy to answer any questions you may have – just leave them in the comments or tweet me @MLBee!