- Anna Maxted isÂ embarrassed that she eats food off her children’s plates
- Her and her husband Phil have gained lots of weight since having kids
- Qualified nutritionistÂ Mark Macdonald offers attitude overhaul solutions
Having spent 40 minutes cooking lemon and soy chicken for my children, I expect clean plates as a reward for my almighty effort.
Caspar, eight, votes it ‘delicious’. Conrad, ten, is less impressed. So I make him scrambled eggs, helping myself to some.
‘I’ll have his chicken,’ says Oscar, 13. Too late – I’ve eaten that, too. I feel doubly guilty: I have taken food out of a child’s mouth and now my husband, Phil, has announced he’s making egg-fried rice with prawns for our dinner. It would be rude to refuse.
Welcome to my frantic, if well-fed, life as a mother of three.
There’s no mystery behind why I’ve gained a stone and gone from a size eight to a size 12 since having children. I’m no porker, thanks to running up and down stairs, but I’m chunkier and wobblier.
Waist instead of waste: Anna Maxted with Conrad, 10, left, in red, Caspar, 8 in yellow and Oscar, 13, in blue
Phil, meanwhile, estimates he gained a stone after each child (bad until you consider that, according to research, the British average is 1Â½ stone).
Ever since Oscar lost 10 per cent of his body weight as a newborn due to feeding problems, I’ve compulsively fed them. Minutes before bedtime, I cry ‘Do you want a banana?’ and cook far too much pasta (I consume the leftovers with parmesan and olive oil – my attitude is more waist is preferable to waste.)
Yet my children remain where they should be weight-wise for their age and are solid, enthusiastic eaters, and constantly hungry. Unfortunately, so am I.
This is why fitness expert Mark Macdonald’s book Why Kids Make You Fat – a mix of confessional, diet and exercise plan, and explanation of why postnatal weight gain is inevitable for men and women – rings a (dinner) bell. Macdonald, a qualified nutritionist, put on 2Â½ stone after his son was born.
But then the odds are stacked against parents being lithe and hard-bodied. Lack of time for the gym, rocketing stress levels and wolfing children’s leftovers all contribute to a fuller figure.
It’s hardly a shock that University of Chicago research found that a year after giving birth, nearly 75 per cent of women remain heavier than before becoming pregnant. No zombified parent craves a lightly dressed green salad; we’re after a fat and sugar buzz: chocolate, biscuits, curry – a treat to wake us up and reward us for surviving the day.
Anna thinks parents prefer fat and sugar to salad
As Macdonald notes, the ever-present guilt of parenthood – the feeling you should be looking after their needs, not yours – weighs heavily on the scales, too.
Six months after the birth of my second son, I remember sneezing and feeling annoyed because I couldn’t spare the time it took to stem the tickle from transforming into an actual sneeze.Â
There was carrot to cook, puree and freeze. Babygros to wash in non-eczema-aggravating detergent. A disgruntled toddler to play with. The endless bedtime routine. When time to sneeze feels like a luxury, the idea of wasting 90 minutes on exercise is unthinkable.
In year one of my first son’s life, I made it to a Pilates class once, after much fuss, leaving my baby with his new part-time nanny. My phone rang while we were engaging our lower abs and I was too embarrassed to answer it.
Later, I listened to the message, heard my son had a high temperature and sped home, trembling. I didn’t return to the class for three years.
That breast-feeding makes the weight drop off is one of the myths of motherhood: the hormone prolactin, which triggers milk production, also encourages the body to lay down extra fat.
When I whined about my waddling shape six months post-birth, a friend remarked that as long as I was breastfeeding, those hormones rendered me effectively ‘semi-pregnant’.
There was no ‘semi’ about it. I was as round in the face as a walrus and cut my finger trying to force the zip of my jeans. I felt like Gwyneth Paltrow in her Shallow Hal fat suit.
My eating habits changed, too. Before parenthood, Phil and I would dawdle over pan-fried fish, green beans and chardonnay in a chic restaurant. We rarely ate in – neither of us could cook.
A virtually empty fridge kept us both snake-hipped. I ran around our local heath, he practised martial arts. This footloose frivolity shuddered to a halt the day that we became parents.
Post-children, I’m more likely to be drinking the house white (as in, it’s in our house) and serving pasta: what with meeting work deadlines, booking the plumber, cutting the children’s toenails and driving a ten-year-old to Casualty because his ‘neck hurts’ after swimming, speed and availability drive menu choice. Yesterday, I consumed toast, a mint Aero, popcorn, chocolate milk – and pinched several slices of the children’s shop-bought pepperoni pizza (before my own dinner.)
Even when I cook from scratch, nursery food tends to be high-carb, stodgy and utterly delicious.
Macaroni cheese is perfect for growing children, not so great for adults. And, unlike pre-parenthood habits that had no risk of incidental weight gain – grabbing juice for breakfast or sashimi for dinner on the way home – family meals are regular, hearty and include dessert.
As our children grow, the number of dieting pitfalls only increases. Macdonald notes that as a parent, you become ‘a calorie-storing watcher’: be your children gymnasts, dancers or rugby players, you end up standing on the sidelines clutching a cappuccino and eating a pastry. I’ve withstood the football phase – mercifully brief – and entered the hardcore cricket phase.Â
Being a supportive mother means a bigger behind: even when Anna cooks from scratch food high-carb
When you stand in a windy field for four hours, you forget who is exercising. As I write, I’m squeezed into slightly tight underwear – mainly because cricket teas are almost entirely stodge (but after all that waiting, I deserve sausage rolls). Yes: being a supportive mother has led to a bigger behind.
The route back to fitness requires an attitude overhaul and taking back control of your approach to fitness, food and sleep.
Here, according to Mark Macdonald, is how…
Anna feels child-related stress and work deadlines contribute to her problems with weight
WHY IT MAKES YOU FAT: Light sleeping, waking at intervals and a 5am alarm put you at the mercy of energy dips and junk food cravings.
TRY: Keeping blood sugar levels stable and avoiding cravings by ‘eating in threes’. This means consuming an equal balance of protein (meat, fish, eggs), carbohydrate (fruit, vegetables, beans, wholegrains), and fat (nuts, seeds, avocado, olives, nut butters) in blood-sugar levelling mini meals every three hours.
WHY IT MAKES YOU FAT: Your role as 24-hour on-call taxi driver (school runs, sports clubs, parties, play-dates) can sometimes make eating proper meals tricky – and fast food, or high calorie takeaways, look incredibly tempting.
TRY: Creating an emergency supplies kit for your car boot. Buy a quality cool box or insulated bag, reusable ice packs and sealable food containers, and stock up on non-perishable healthy snacks such as nuts and protein bars.
Then when you know you’ll be away from home at a mealtime, fill the cool box with hard-boiled eggs, vegetable crudites, tinned tuna, slices of chicken or turkey, tubs of Greek yoghurt and fruit so you can eat healthily on the go.
WHY IT MAKES YOU FAT: Taking children to the supermarket means a trolley laden with diet-busting crisps, biscuits and sweets.
TRY: Thinking of the supermarket as a battleground. Prepare yourself (never go on an empty stomach), then skirt around the edges (where healthy basics such as fruit, vegetables, meat and milk tend to be stocked) then home in on the ‘natural section’ for nuts, seeds, brown rice and pasta.
Leave the ‘war zone’ central aisles and freezer section until last, know exactly what you want and where it is, then dive in – FAST – and straight out again.
WHY IT MAKES YOU FAT: Children are stress producers – from everyday bickering or whining to an unexpected trip to A&E, stress can trigger the release of the hormone cortisol, which encourages your body to store belly fat.
TRY: Taking every opportunity to reduce the stress in your life. When a disaster strikes (a family emergency, work trip or deadline), try adopting a dietary ‘survival mode’. Tell yourself that today (and for however long it takes until things are back to normal) you don’t have to LOSE weight, you just have to avoid falling back into the unhealthy family eating habits that caused you to gain weight in the first place.
Watching, not doing
WHY IT MAKES YOU FAT: All the time you might have spent at the gym is spent watching your children play sport. You get the highs and lows, but no calorie burn.
A glass of ‘congratulations, we made it’ wine (stock)
TRY: Finding creative ways to burn extra calories, shed body fat, strengthen your core and tone muscles. Wear trainers and intersperse watching your children play with quick bursts of walking, jogging, sprinting or skipping along the touchline or around the car park. Join in at the playground, contracting your core on the swingset, trying pull-ups on the monkey bars, doing tricep dips and press-ups on benches.
At home, rather than watching TV, make an obstacle course, join the children on the trampoline. If you must watch TV, use an exercise bike in front of it.
WHY IT MAKES YOU FAT: A glass of ‘congratulations, we made it’ wine at the end of a tough day can be a slippery slope if one glass extends to two, then half a bottle.
TRY: Limiting yourself to one drink on just two evenings a week. This allows you the treat without the creeping weight gain. Avoid grains and starchy vegetables with your evening meal on a wine night. Alcohol is known to disrupt digestion, making it more likely what you eat will be stored as fat.
Why Kids Make You Fat…And How To Get Your Body Back by Mark MacDonald (HarperOne, Â£16.99).
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