5. Lifestyle & nutrition
Nutrition, hydration and lifestyle are other highly important areas you need to focus on for post-natal recovery. Muscles are mostly made out of collagen and hence need plenty of it to heal. Collagen is approximately 70% water, so you guessed it, drinking plenty of water is key! Minimul 2L per day, and we have high temperatures here in Malta so I would add another litre per day on top of that recommendation.
Collagen is also mostly made of amino acids. Amino acids are found in protein foods. So in order for your muscles to heal and recover they’re also going to need a good supply of clean, lean proteins, every single day. Chicken, turkey, fish and even pork and beef – just try and go for free range or organic as much as possible.
Where does lifestyle come into it? In many ways, but most importantly… Stress! High levels of stress (cortisol) in the body will slow down your body’s healing potential and also make you store fat around your belly! Your cortisol levels were naturally elevated during pregnancy, and we all know that once the little one comes along, with the lack of sleep and pressures of new motherhood, those cortisol levels don’t exactly return to normal levels, but most probably rise even more. De-stressing and ‘me time’ need to be an integral part of your daily life, and not something you resort to when you’ve lost the plot!
Smoking, sugar, alcohol, certain drugs, anaemia, poor sleep and not eating enough will ALL have a detrimental effect on your ability to regenerate tissue and return to optimal health.
Factors that will help you to nourish yourself and heal:
- Eating adequate calories
- Consuming adequate minerals and vitamins,
- Breathing deeply,
- Drinking a lot of water,
- Good gut health and bowel movements,
- Consuming good sources of fat,
- Eating clean proteins.
The body also needs to move every single day. We were not designed to sit all day long (think modern life: car, desk job, TV and sofa!). The key to being healthy and staying in good shape is eating the right kinds of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, eating them in balanced/moderate amounts i.e. not over eating and getting a daily dose of exercise. There is no magic recipe or pill. Just real food and some movement.
I never believed in fad diets. Not even when I was an overweight teenager and embarked on a weight loss/fitness journey. When I wanted to lose weight at 17 I decided to make healthier food choices and cut out all the junk, as opposed to leaving out high calorie, but healthy foods from my diet. There are so many misconceptions about healthy food and so many nutritious foods are tagged as ‘unhealthy’ or ‘fattening’ when it’s really not the case. Till today (and I always will!), I eat plenty of fatty and carby foods, and I’m strong, healthy and in good shape.
Here are some examples of healthy, good sources of fats and carbohydrates which you should include in your diet, and also a list of those which you should cut out or eat less of. Think: healthy = food in its most natural form, unhealthy = fake food or processed food.
Healthy sources of fats
- Avocado’s – OMG, YUM! This little fruit (yes it’s a fruit!) is packed with fibre, has plenty of potassium and healthy fats and can actually help lower cholesterol.
- Eggs – eggs are another great source of fats and also protein. The yolk is a good source of omega-3 fats (these fats help prevent heart disease and also help in lowering blood pressure) and also contains vitamins A, D, E & K. DO NOT throw away the egg yolk, eat that egg whole!!
- Fish – fish is another great source of omega-3 fatty acids apart from having numerous other health benefits. Try go for wild fish.
- Raw nuts – Raw nuts contain many minerals and vitamins and are another good source of healthy fats. Eat them raw as these will contain much more nutritional benefits than roasted ones.
- Extra virgin olive oil – contains healthy fats, anti-inflammatory (good for healing), antioxidants (also good for healing) and helps prevent heart disease.
- Chia seeds – High in omega-3 fatty acids. Also high in protein, antioxidants and fibre.
- Animal fat such as dairy – Eating some sort of animal fat on a daily basis has proven to help with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
** Remember – everything in moderation is ok, everything in excess is not!
Sources of fats to avoid
All of these foods are high in trans fats. They increase ‘bad’ cholesterol levels and suppress ‘good’ cholesterol. They’re also highly inflammatory increasing risk for heart disease, stroke and reduce the body’s healing potential.
- Fried foods – e.g. fast food, fries
- Margerine – butter is a better choice!
- Baked goods – e.g. croissants, cakes, pastries
- Most processed foods – e.g. crisps
Good sources of carbohydrates
- Rice – rice is a good source of fuel because energy is released into the blood stream slowly and therefore avoids blood sugar spikes/crashes. Rice also contains many vitamins and minerals.
- Potatoes (especially sweet potatoes) – good source of potassium and vitamin C and also a good energy source.
- Quinoa – High in fibre, magnesium and many other nutrients.
- Oats – Also high in fibre and a great energy source. Can help prevent heart disease.
- Buckwheat – contains protein and fibre and plenty of minerals and antioxidants.
- Fruit and veg – contain plenty of vitamins, minerals and numerous other health benefits.
Sources of carbohydrates to avoid
- Pasta – white pasta is essentially a processed food. It is not really bad for you but it lacks nutrition and therefore filling up on too much pasta will inevitably make you eat less nutritious food. Also, energy from pasta is released into the bloodstream quickly so it can cause blood sugar spike, and subsequently a blood sugar crash that leaves you craving a ‘pick-me-up’.
- Bread – same as above.
- Sugar – Think all sugary treats but processed foods have lots of hidden sugars!
- Junk food – Pizza, fries and the list goes on and on. I don’t think I need to explain why these are unhealthy.
Many of the healthy fats and carbs on the lists above have a ‘bad’ reputation and are thought of as being unhealthy or very fattening. The truth is, there is no food that is calorie free. But there are empty calories and nutritious calories. I will never skimp on high calorie foods that give me an abundance of nutrition (e.g. avocado). But I will skip the high calorie foods that give me absolutely nothing in terms of health benefits (e.g. chocolate or sweets). Focus on eating real, healthy food, irrelevant of how many calories it has. Cut out junk food and sugary foods (even limiting alcohol consumption). Do some form of exercise on most days. If you do this, you will lose weight and you will be healthier and happier, both mentally and physically!