Some Thoughts on Weight Loss, Nursing, Special Diets, and Metabolism

Back in the spring I promised you all a post about losing weight.  I started writing it and then stopped.  I didn’t want to lead anyone astray the way I have in the past when I recommended a diet to friends and family that worked for the short term, but only at the expense of long term health.  But I started thinking.  I have an account at Calorie Count (for reasons I will explain later), and every time I log in, I see the scrolling reports of other members — how many calories they logged, what their day was like, etc.  So many of them are logging miniscule amounts of food (1200-1300 calories) and feeling guilty when they finally break down and eat something calorie-dense — pizza, cookies, a latte, whatever — that I thought, you know, I don’t have everything sorted out in my own life, I am no longer a poster child for a big weight loss, and I doubt anyone who saw a picture of me would think I have anything to say about successful ways to lose weight — but at this point, I know what doesn’t work.  And it doesn’t work to starve yourself — of calories (eating 1200-1300 calories a day) or macronutrients (like carbohydrates).  Trust me, because I have been there and done that.  Every time I hear about somebody restricting to long-term starvation levels and then beating themselves up for eating, I just want to give that person a big hug and maybe — a sandwich or something.  (Pie would probably be too scary.)

So in the interest of full disclosure I will say that, as of now, I’ve lost 21 pounds since I came home from the hospital in April.  That’s not quick weight loss by any means, but I have had plenty of milk for my baby, I don’t wake up hungry in the middle of the night, my blood sugar is pretty stable, I haven’t had postpartum depression (a major accomplishment for me), and when I’m tired, it’s because the baby was up a lot at night… not because I’m suffering from low metabolism fatigue.

I can give away my “weight loss secret” right now: I eat plenty of food — on average a little over 2400 calories a day (according to Calorie Count), often more depending on how active I am or how often the baby nurses.  I’ve started trying to exercise.  I don’t eat food that actually makes me feel bad (as opposed to not eating food because somebody tells me it ought to make me feel bad.)  Whether or not I will lose all the weight I think I need to lose remains to be seen.  I have 20 pounds to lose until I’m down to my pre-pregnancy weight.  There’s another 20 pounds of rebound weight after that 20 pounds, too.  So in all, 40 pounds to get back to where I was in February of 2012.  Frankly, I’m not sure I’m interested in losing that last 20 pounds if it makes me feel as bad as it did the first time I lost it.  I feel much healthier eating and living the way I am now, and to be honest, I think health and happiness trumps skinniness any day.

Anyway, I decided to finish this post during the holidays because even though all of us are probably eating cookies, most of us are probably eating them with the idea that we’re going to pay come January.  And so I just want to put my experience out there for anyone who might come across it.  I don’t have all the answers, and all I can tell you is my story.  But maybe it will help.

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you may remember that I went grain-free and lost a lot of weight (40 pounds!) a couple of years ago, but at a price.  I struggled with nursing because my carbs and calories were too low. (I was averaging about 1800-1900 calories/day while nursing, which, when you subtract 300-500 calories for nursing, is not very much, and there were plenty of days when I ate even less.)   Those posts make it look as if I had just started suffering during my Whole 30, which I attempted after a year of eating a (mostly) GAPS-ish diet, excluding all grains (even rice) and psuedo-grains (like quinoa), as well as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and tapioca.  I had been getting what carbs I could find from fruit, butternut squash, the honey and cream in my morning coffee… and a generally weekly outing for pizza.  When I cut out honey, cream, and the pizza for the Whole 30 and tried to limit my fruit consumption, I started to feel really bad.  But the badness had been there for a few months already.  I had all the symptoms of low thyroid — my hair was falling out, my digestive system was moving verrry slowly, the skin on my legs was atrociously dry, and I was really, really tired.  At the time I chalked up the fatigue to being up all night with the baby, who had started nursing like a newborn again (probably because there wasn’t any milk), but the other symptoms got my attention.

I’m going to stop here to let you read this post by Go Kaleo right now: Adrenal Fatigue as a Cover for Starvation.  If you have ever dieted, you need to read it.  If you have ever eliminated an entire food group to “be healthy”, you should go read it.  It deals specifically with the damage you can do to yourself when you consciously or unconsciously restrict calories too low for too long.  Which is what I did.

After I figured out what was happening, I started eating again.  It probably would have been best to re-introduce grains and starches slowly, but I didn’t.  I just started to eat — not exactly whatever I wanted, but soaked whole-wheat breads and pancakes, rice and potatoes, some sugary stuff every once in a while, and milk and dairy.  Over time, I discovered that gluten really did make me feel bad, and so did soy, and liquid milk (but not cheese or yogurt), and   — especially — cane sugar.  So I stopped eating all that.  Very recently, I discovered that the probiotics I was taking were also making me feel bad, so I’ve quit those and am now just focusing on eating real probiotic food every day — like kombucha and yogurt.  But now I’m very careful about pruning anything else out of my diet.  

Before baby #8 made his presence known via the customary two lines on a pregnancy test, I regained 20 pounds in 4 months.  I have never gained weight that fast unless I was pregnant.  By July of that year I was horrified and very tempted to return to my previous ways, at least of calorie restriction.  While the grain-free, low carb diet was definitely the one that did the most damage, it was not, of course, the first diet I had ever been on.

Over the years, I’ve tried:

  • the 1200 calorie diet with exercise
  • the South Beach diet
  • vegetarianism for weight loss
  • something I affectionately call “the Lean Cuisine diet”
  • the “eat when you’re hungry/stop when you’re full/but deny you’re hungry at snack times and don’t eat before you go to bed” diet that’s not a diet except it really is
  • WAPF
  • GAPS
  • Primal/Paleo
  • Perfect Health Diet 

(I’m not going to link them, because I really don’t want you to look them up.  They’re just examples.  If you’re reading this post, you probably have your own.)

And you know, it’s not that all those diets were equally worthless experiences, because they weren’t, and aren’t.  For instance, there’s no way I’m going to go back to eating frozen packaged dinners any time soon, but I owe my discovery of better tasting and more nutritious food to my investigations into the real food movement, including Weston Price (WAPF).  Probiotic foods like kombucha have made a real difference to my health, which I wouldn’t have known without GAPS, and giving up grains, soy, and sugar did help me realize that I have sensitivities to gluten (not all grains), soy, and sugar.  The real problem is that a lot of those diets which I’ve listed above tend to be somewhat extreme.  (The exception is probably The Perfect Health Diet, which is much more moderate than the others.) 

So why is now different?  Well, for one thing I’ve taken an n=1 approach to what I eat.  That is, I try to eat what makes me feel good and avoid what makes me feel bad.  I pay attention to my body’s signals.  If I want cookies, I make them using ingredients that I know won’t give me trouble (like honey and oat and rice flour) and I don’t feel guilty about eating them.  (I do have to make enough so that there are cookies left over after the kids get through with them, though!)

For another thing, I’m counting calories just to make sure that I’m eating enough food.  I find the Go Kaleo blog very, very useful, but she does use profanity sometimes, so you need to be aware of that if you read with kids looking over your shoulder, or if that bothers you.  What I would recommend is her e-book, Taking Up Space: a Guide to Escaping the Diet Maze.  I read it on my Kindle while I was still recovering from childbirth.  It’s very short and it sums up everything she says on her blog without having to hunt for it.  But you can also find a lot of it in a nutshell in her Stop Dieting posts.  If you are not an intuitive eater, she recommends figuring out your daily calorie needs using a daily energy needs calculator, like this one or this one. I like the first one because as a homeschooling mom of many, I have a really hard time estimating how many minutes I’m hopping up and down during the day, and even when I use the pdf provided by the second calculator to keep track, I still sometimes have no idea what I’ve been doing.

When I type my stats into the first calculator, I discover that I need about 2400 calories to maintain my current weight… except that I’m nursing, so in order to maintain my current weight, I would need to consume about 2900 calories a day.  (If I was nursing twins, it looks like the recommendation is to eat at least 3000 calories a day, so I’m assuming that you have to add more than 500 calories to your normal total if you’re breastfeeding twins.  I couldn’t nurse my twins, so I’m not sure.)  If I eat between 2400-2500 calories a day, I’m not hungry, so I’m losing about a half pound to a pound a week — as long as I avoid foods to which I have allergies or sensitivities.  What happens when I don’t keep track of what I eat is that I assume I shouldn’t be eating so I try to ignore my hunger cues.  Then when I put the food into my online food log I have an epiphany.  “Hey, I know why I’m hungry!  I haven’t eaten enough food!”

So what’s why I’m counting calories and how I’m losing this baby weight.  I’ll probably write more about the specifics later, but in the interest of getting this post out into the ether before January 1, I’m going to wrap up by leaving you with a few more helpful posts and sites:

Chicken Tender: Why I Am Not Doing the Whole 30 (this blog uses profanity, too, but this post is really, really good.)
Eat More to Weigh Less
This Not a Diet

And if you exercise a lot (or have a spouse who does, like I do), you’ll probably want to check out Eat to Perform.  I started reading it to help Andy in the first place, but what’s silly is that if you’re nursing, it’s probably more applicable to you than a lot of regular diet sites because you’re burning that extra 500 calories every day.  And it talks directly to those of us who have been on low-carb/paleo-ish diets. 




  1. Angela
    Just found this all so fascinating, thanks for sharing your journey.

  2. A lot of wisdom here! If I could just give up my emotional eating (and I think a real addiction to sugar) I think I could make use of it and feel better! One thing at a time, I suppose! I know I felt better, in a way, with certain things out of my diet, but this was also while I was nursing on a highly restricted diet so I was starving all the time and had PPD…so thinking of going back to eating that way, just to see what would make me feel better, gives me a panic attack and I put that thought away fast.

    • I think you probably eat a restricted enough diet already, with all the allergies you have to manage in your house! I avoid cane sugar only because I have a real problem with it; my response to cane sugar and any of its derivatives is much more like an allergy. My eyes and face get puffy and I get really, really tired. I eat plenty of sugar in the form of honey and maple syrup, though. Here’s a post about “sugar addiction” suggesting that it might not exist (instead it may be that you’re not eating enough food in general):

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