Five days after the birth of Brette Olivia, I tried to mash myself into my perfectly distressed, peg leg Miss Sixty jeans. I got my feet in, yanked thrice, and, with my pants lodged at the knees, began a primal pelvic thrust dance. I was, as my husband so eloquently put it, ten pounds of bologna stuffed in a five-pound bag.
Photoillustration: John Ueland
During my pregnancy, I scarfed down Havarti cheese and yogurt-covered pretzels. I regularly ordered brain-size meatballs from Papa Milano. When the eve of delivery finally arrived, I clocked in at 42 pounds above my starting weight. Then I gave birth. All things pert, deflated; my spirits were high, but my thighs, tummy, boobs, and booty drooped pathetically towards South Beach.
The old saying that the camera adds ten pounds? As NBC 5 Chicago’s trend reporter, I can attest to its veracity. I only had three months of maternity leave to dump the baby weight before facing the camera. Since my obstetrician recommended waiting one month to exercise after giving birth, I started with diet modification, which I attacked with the zeal of a presidential campaign strategist.
While Brette napped, I roasted organic chicken, steamed asparagus, and cut fruit. For breakfast, I ate hard-boiled eggs or Grape-Nuts. Lunch: a salad with protein. Dinner: beef or chicken with steamed vegetables. I drank fennel tea between meals to deflate my stomach. After three weeks, I was exhausted and bored with food. Worse, I had lost a few pounds but zero inches.
At the one-month mark, I headed to Frog Temple Pilates Studio in Bucktown. The proprietress started me out with basic stretches, slowly working up to more complex movements. I strengthened my once-sagging stomach muscles but needed to jump-start my metabolism with something more intense.
I had heard about core fusion, a new workout that combines a trio of buttkickers: ballet, yoga, and Pilates. With a spare tire drooping over my yoga pants, I walked into my first session at Exhale Spa in the Gold Coast. The class was a sweat-drenched, thigh-quaking ride, starting with a workout with weights, followed by ballerina-inspired pliés. At one point, I had to laugh when the instructor forced me into a half-crouch with her knees. Evidently, there is no mercy for new moms. I limped out of class popping Advil and praying for a bath in Epsom salts. Two days later, I reluctantly returned. This time, my instructor added “the pretzel”-a twist designed to attack saddlebags. “Stay the course,” the instructor barked as I collapsed on the floor.
An instructor at Exhale recommended that I meet with a nutritionist. I’m already a regimented, clean eater, I thought. Still, I agreed, and the perky blonde I met with looked at my food journal and told me that my restrictive diet was actually working against my body, causing it to go into starvation mode and cling to every calorie taken in. I was seriously neglecting fruits and whole grains, foods that boost energy, which, in turn, burns calories. In the end it was the very thing I was avoiding-food-that had become the most pivotal element in my quest.
I began eating homemade oatmeal with nuts and dried fruit for breakfast. During the day, I added an apple and a grain like couscous into the mix. Sure enough, after one week on my enhanced diet, I had shed two pounds. Even better, I lost some of the chronic exhaustion that I had been blaming on new motherhood.
Two and a half months after the birth, I walked into the NBC studio. Between delivery, Pilates, three core fusion classes a week, and my newfound love of grains, I had lost 27 pounds. A cameraman asked what every new mom longs to hear: “You just had a baby?” I grinned. I still could not zip up my Miss Sixties. But nobody needed to know that.