Getting rid of belly fat after pregnancy is one of those goals — right up there with your baby sleeping through the night — that can seem both monumentally important and frustratingly elusive.
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But while your baby may be in charge of your sleep patterns for a while, toning your lower stomach is under your control. The trick is to make lifestyle changes, including a post-pregnancy workout, which you can gradually phase into your hectic life.
Craft the Right Diet
Being a new mom is one of the most perilous times when it comes to healthy postnatal food choices. Losing sleep makes it harder to put in the extra effort of shopping and cooking healthy foods. But the more junk food you eat, the more your blood sugar may spike and crash, making you crave even more empty calories. All of this binge eating obviously makes it hard to lose the lower belly fat — and can even cause weight gain.
Nip the problem in the bud by planning and prepping healthy meals and snacks as often as possible. Focus on combinations of lean proteins and healthy carbs, along with vitamin-rich veggies. Make-ahead options include turkey and tomato sandwiches on wheat bread, cold whole-grain pasta salad with shrimp and vegetables, and overnight oatmeal topped with peanut butter or cashews, along with berries.
It can also help to strategize beating those cravings by not keeping junk food in the house. Instead, stock it with treats that are healthy substitutes, like carrots and hummus instead of chips and dip. If you need to, keep plenty of gum around to beat back "the munchies."
Ease the Stress
When you have children, stress just seems to come with the territory. Constant tension releases the stress hormone known as cortisol. Among the side effects of cortisol is the slowing down of your metabolism, which means that you won't burn calories as efficiently.
Even more threatening to your belly-blasting goals? Cortisol signals your body to hold on to fat — and for women, the stored fat is most likely to be in the lower belly.
Often, a post-pregnancy workout can be a win-win, because you burn calories while you relieve stress. But if the energizing effect of your favorite exercise to lose baby fat isn't carrying you through the day, it's time to find other ways to relax to avoid cortisol release.
That might mean finding a group of other new parents so that you can talk about your worries and challenges. In addition, try to make time for massages, bubble baths, meditation or simply napping while the baby naps.
Work It Off
It will probably come as no surprise that the "secret" to getting rid of belly fat after pregnancy is the same secret as getting rid of extra pre-pregnancy pounds. Along with dietary changes, you'll need to burn more calories via your post-pregnancy workout, as well as focus on toning the muscles that are underneath the belly fat.
If you've recently had your baby, it's best to start slow, especially when it comes to fat-burning aerobic activities. Taking a walk is a gentle start, especially because you can take your baby in a stroller or front pack if needed. In fact, carrying or pushing the baby will add a little extra resistance to your cardio. As you begin to feel stronger in the coming weeks, move on to walking more swiftly or tackling cardio like jogging, swimming, playing tennis or cycling.
The resistance training you do to get rid of baby fat can also start slowly. Believe it or not, the best exercise to lose baby fat in the early phase can simply be deep breathing. For many postpartum women, excess lower stomach fat comes from abdominal separation resulting from the pregnancy. To begin correcting it, sit up straight, contract your abs while you breathe in and then release them while exhaling.
Once you feel stronger, work on adding other ab-firming moves. Your options include crunches, bridge moves, pelvic tilts and planks.