The curse of the yummy mummy

Super slim: Victoria Beckham and daughter Harper
Linda Stewart and daughter Neave
Linda Stewart in the Merchant Hotel Gym in Belfast City Centre

Infuriated by celebs like Posh, skinny weeks after having a baby, new mum Linda Stewart tried a bespoke diet and fitness plan,but did it work?

The last thing on your mind after you bring a new life into the world is your waistline. Or at least it is until the first time you go shopping for a pair of trousers that fit.

My first six weeks after my daughter Neve was born by Caesarian section in May last year fluctuated between sheer joy and survival of round-the-clock breastfeeding.

But once I’d shaken off the effects of the surgery and life with Neve had started to settle into place, I contemplated my figure, which still looked heavily pregnant, and vowed to get moving.

I turned my back on daytime TV, took myself out for long walks and mother-and-baby yoga classes and managed to shed what I thought was an impressive two stone.

But despite getting down to 10 and a half stone, I still sported the half moon silhouette of the second trimester.

And when I returned to work in January, the energy levels plummeted, the time available for long walks evaporated and I kept succumbing to Neve’s ailments.

That’s why I jumped at the chance when the Merchant Hotel in Belfast offered me an opportunity I couldn’t refuse to help me get back to my pre-pregnancy figure with the help of gym membership and a series of regular sessions with personal trainers. I sorely needed a push — before the pregnancy, I had ballooned to my heaviest weight ever and was making inroads into size 18 clothes.

So what I wanted was to turn back the clock to slimmer, healthier days when my BMI was in the 18-25 range and I could find a belt that fastened.

Gym manager Aaron Wilson assured me that it wasn’t an impossible dream — as long as I committed to working out at least three times a week.

An added complication was that I was still breastfeeding Neve and expressing milk. It meant the exercise regime would be a difficult balancing act between burning fat and keeping the calorie intake high enough to ensure that my milk supply would continue.

It was frustrating reading about celebrity mums like Victoria Beckham who apparently breezed through the post-partum months, regaining trim waistlines in less than six months. But it baffled me that many of them claimed to be breastfeeding full-time. What kind of exercise were they doing? How did they keep the milk coming?

I can still remember the look of utter horror on Aaron’s face when I told him my midwife had recommended a Mars Bar a day in order to boost my calorie intake — a sign that two very different worlds were colliding.

On a positive note, the pregnancy hadn’t wreaked too much havoc on my body, but thanks to carrying a baby and my sedentary lifestyle, my body was weaker than it should be, particularly in the lower back.

Aaron came up with a plan to suit me — more circuit training, less treadmill pounding. Apparently doing a lot of duration cardio is a no-no as it will affect the milk supply. But if you build up the biggest muscles in the body — the thighs, the arms, the bum — then you will be automatically burning more calories just by walking around and doing your usual daily activities.

The first day I kicked off with trainer Nick Beattie with two minutes on the cross trainer, followed by a series of gradually heavier deadlifts, interspersed with planks and lunges with weights. I did a series of dumb-bell squat depresses, growing increasingly heavier with fewer repetitions, followed by a mini circuit of rows on the TRX machine, core ab dumb-bell presses and double handed kettle bell swings.

It was a relief to retreat to the fluffy white towels of the luxurious changing room, but the vision in the huge mirror was beyond depressing.

Full of good intentions, I took myself off for a five-mile walk along the North Down Coastal Path that weekend, but let myself down a few days later with two boxes of Mother’s Day chocolates.

And I couldn’t kid myself I would just be working it off. Without cardio, diet had to be the other major building block of the regime.

Aaron asked me to report my food intake over a three-day period. I was brutally honest.

“Do you really get that hungry?” he asked very carefully. “A Creme Egg at 8.30am?”

It wasn’t the only failing. The report read like a list of good intentions interspersed with continual failures of will. Yes, I’d bring a multi-seed ham mayo sandwich and five pieces of fruit into work, but every morning saw me caving into the urge for a slice of buttered toast and every afternoon I succumbed to a chocolate brownie or hot chocolate and marshmallows. And evenings saw a catalogue of bad choices — creamy chicken and goat’s cheese risotto, soda bread toasted with butter, Rocky Road pie.

“It will be really difficult for you to lose a pound in weight with this diet,” Aaron told me.

After a lot of headshaking and pointing out that I was eating 1,000 calories a day more than I needed, he came up with a healthier plan — more wholefoods, lean meat, fish, chicken, wholegrain pasta and bread and mixed vegetables. Instead of three main meals, I would keep up energy levels by eating a smaller amount every 2-3 hours. And no complex carbs after 4pm.

So it was no more soft drinks, no pasta, bread or potatoes. Porridge was fine and sandwiches were acceptable earlier in the day. Rice should be replaced with beans and I was advised to snack on rice cakes with peanut butter, as nuts suppress the appetite.

The first 4-6 weeks were about improving body function, before moving into a more vigorous phase. Trainers, Aaron, Nick and Mark O’Boyle had me doing planks and side planks, squats with kettle bell swings, lunging holding a medicine ball and turning to the side, squatting while punching a weight up into the air and some very feeble press-ups. It was all about making good use of the little time I had and exercising several parts of the body at once.

There was interval training, alternating treadmills, rowing machine and bikes, wobbling about trying to squat on a half ball, strengthening my arms with an elastic band. Memorable moments included jogging up and down 12 flights of hotel stairs and attempting to run on the treadmill when it was switched off.

We had an occasional shuttle run along the rooftop terrace, trying to avoid the eye of the mother seagull on the neighbouring roof who was known for dive bombing gymgoers. Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody made an appearance on the treadmill one day, to my delight.

Into April, the diet took a nosedive. Our kitchen had flooded and was being rewired in preparation for replacement. With nowhere to prepare food, we ended up going for takeaway and ready meals for weeks, I had to give up on the diet and the weight loss slowed.

Once Neve reached one in May, I stopped expressing and shared family meals with her. This was a lot less work and meant I could concentrate on weight loss. I was struggling to find a balance between calorie intake and weight loss and I could now throw my all into cutting down.

I cut down carbs during the day, breakfasting on porridge and having fruit, a boiled egg and rolled-up ham and guacamole for lunch. In the evening, I did my best to have a starch-free meal although the logistics of providing family dinners suitable for a one-year-old sometimes meant compromises and there was the odd sneaky bar of chocolate.

By summer, friends were starting to comment on the weight loss and I found I had shed two-and-a-half stone in a year. Since returning to work I had lost a stone. Frustratingly, while I could see I was smaller all over, I still had a lot of work to do on my stomach, which was still distinctly blobby. And just when I thought I was doing well on the diet, I was warned I was eating far too much fruit during the day and taking in too much sugar as a result.

Final measurement day came, revealing that I’d lost two inches from my wobbly belly and body fat percentage had dropped from an ‘overweight’ 36.6% to an ‘average’ 32.1% — although Aaron cautioned that 27% would be my ideal. But I’ve finally reached that golden 18-25 BMI, I can do full press-ups for the first time in years, I’m back on the celery and I’m regularly wrangling weights of 16kg or so. Neve is on her feet, racing around all day and sleeps through the night. My belly fat is melting away — if very gradually. While I’ll never have that movie star waistline, I do at least feel like myself once more.

...the verdict from Aaron?

“Linda came in with the goal of losing some of her post pregnancy weight. We took body fat and circumference measurements and talked about what to expect from the regime,” he says.

“The most important thing with weight loss is having an understanding of the nutrients that we put into our body and their relationship with weight gain and maintenance. Linda was very enthusiastic in the gym and wasn’t afraid to commit to the hard work required to increase her metabolic rate and burn off calories. She soon became aware that all the hard work in the gym must be complemented with a composed nutritional outlook.

“As with any new mother there were factors that she had to overcome to adhere to her new nutritional programme but she persevered and lost a healthy amount of weight and I am confident she now has the knowledge required to maintain her progress.”

Five-star fitness to fight the flab

  • The Merchant Hotel’s the Gymnasium’s unique space has a Personal Training gym\[n.wolsey\]nasium, separate area for Biomechanical Analysis, TechnoGym Wellness strength and cardio training equipment, free weights and highly skilled personal trainers.
  • Plus, you can relax in the rock sauna, aromatherapy steam room, and eight-person rooftop hottub. lThe hotel mixes modern design with classic details and state-of-the art equipment to provide members with a contemporary, luxurious training club.
  • Monthly membership is £60 with short-term three-month contract available; annual membership: £600, includes Welcome Pack (sports bag, towel, headphones, water bottle and Wellness key).
  • Membership includes the Gymnasium Induction personalised fitness programme with five-day passes for family and friends; complimentary towels, fruit and newspapers
  • Special accommodation rates at The Merchant Hotel (10% off best available rate Sunday-Thursday).
  • 10% discount on The Spa treatments and restaurant bills in The Great Room Restaurant, The Cloth Ear and Berts (For parties of six or under, food bills only, Sun-Thurs)

Ten top tips for mums

1 During your pregnancy, cook big batches of food and freeze it — you will thank yourself.

2 Drink loads of milk when you’re expecting — it protects your bones and teeth and counteracts the demon heartburn.

3 Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone, but do give it a shot — it’s cheaper and better for your baby. Plus no bottles to prepare in the middle of the night!

4 After a C-section, start off with very short, simple outings that won’t tax you too much — the fortnightly breastfeeding group was my lifeline.

5 Mother-and-baby yoga or massage classes are a great way to feel better and make friends in a mum-friendly environment.

6 Breastfeeding does make the weight fall off — but only to an extent. Once you stop, it’s down to diet and exercise.

7 Get that pram out and give it lots of use by gradually building up the distance you walk — it’s cheap and good for you.

8 Fruit is fine as a snack during the day in moderation but after 4pm it’s better to choose a handful of almonds or peanut butter spread on a rice cake.

9 Build three main elements into your circuit workout — a pull, a push and lift a weight off the floor.

10 Pregnancy and breastfeeding may make your boobs change shape and feel softer — make sure you wear a good sports bra to minimise sagging and stretching.

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