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Under pressure to lose baby weight

PREGNANCY FAT: Is there a time frame for women to get back to their pre-pregnancy shape? Apparently, some think it's one month after you step out of the delivery room. Audrey Vijaindren speaks to experts and local celebrities who tell how dangerous it is to follow in the footsteps of size-zero Hollywood yummy mummies

FAT Aunty, Chubby Gal, Mrs Double Chin and Fatbulous are only some of the names used to describe the once "most beautiful woman in the world" - Aishwarya Rai.

Although the mother of six months is confident enough to walk the red carpet, bulimic youngsters, middle-aged men with pot-bellies and know-it-all mothers have taken it upon themselves to decide when they should get back to their original form, based on what's displayed in magazines and "photoshopped" billboards.

But consultant dietitian and president of the Malaysian Dietitians' Association Indra Balaratnam said women should not be fooled by what they see in celebrity magazines and tabloids.

"Many stories and pictures about extreme post pregnancy weight loss are not true and not reflective of a proper timeline.

"The media likes to splash headlines like 'so-and-so celeb loses X amount of weight after delivering baby last month', but can you really vouch if it's true?

"Even celebrities complain about what's in the tabloids, so go figure. Furthermore, when some celebrities lose weight in a rush, it's because they have a contract to film a movie where they have to look like what they did before pregnancy.

"Real women don't have such unrealistic timelines, so don't subject yourself to that."

She said the pressure to be a perfect-looking, svelte-shaped mummy had led to unhealthy choices.

"The common mistake post-pregnant women make is wanting weight loss to happen quickly. This clouds their judgment and common sense where nutrition is concerned.

"Many women, in their haste to regain a hot figure after pregnancy, resort to skipping meals and taking slimming pills. This can be dangerous as you are consuming very little calories, more so if you're breastfeeding.

"Slimming pills may also have substances that are not good for the baby as it passes through breast milk."

Be realistic and adopt healthy eating habits instead, Indra advised.

"The weeks after giving birth, your body will still show the signs of pregnancy. Nobody's mid-section instantly goes back to what it was prior to pregnancy, celebrity or not.

"Eating habits to adopt include cutting down high-fat foods such as fried items, oily dishes such as char kuey teow, roti canai and nasi briyani, desserts, fatty meat and fast food.

"Instead, choose food cooked with less oil such as clear soup dishes, steamed or lightly-sautéed vegetables, braised or grilled meats, low or non-fat dairy and fruits. Always go for fresh produce instead of processed food."

Nothing good in life, she stressed, comes without effort.

"Some women assume childbirth makes them gain weight and become fat, but this is not true. Many women who eat right and get back to their exercise routine manage to regain their slim physique, even after having several children.

"However, the hip bone does widen a little after pregnancy and muscles will require toning.

"A sensible approach is to lose weight gradually and steadily, about 1kg to 1.5kg per week. Very drastic weight loss in a short time frame is never sustainable in the long run. Starvation and extreme diets are not the answer.

"A gradual downsizing of food portion from all the five food groups is a sensible way to do it."

Boey Kim Mei, personal trainer at FIT Malaysia who specialised in training pregnant and post-partum clients, said although there's no set rule to regaining pre-pregnancy weight, it's important to remember the term "nine months up, nine months down".

"Basically, whatever weight you've put on, or fitness level you've lost in the nine months of being pregnant, it may take that long to get back to your previous form.

"Although it's not necessary to hire a personal trainer, like most Hollywood celebrities, it definitely does help because when you have a baby, you're much busier and your focus is on your baby, family and job."

Boey said there were many misconceptions about shrinking back to shape.

"One of the most common is that when you're breastfeeding, you need to eat 500 extra calories.

"Whilst it's true that a breastfeeding mum needs to have a proper diet for her milk supply, some women overdo it.

"Another misconception is that crash dieting is the way to go. Some women starve to lose weight but they don't realise that if their body doesn't get energy from food, it will take it from the muscles.

"This causes muscle atrophy or 'shrinking muscles', which creates the illusion of weight loss, but body fat percentage actually remains the same."

Weight-loss centres and traditional weight loss methods, she added, might not be the best options either.

"Slimming centres are a short cut way to losing weight. They often promise you that you don't have to exercise and that you can lose weight while lying down all wrapped up -- that's certainly not true.

"While many people swear by the bengkung (traditional belly wrap), in my opinion, it's not really comfortable being wrapped up in a long piece of cloth, unable to drink or eat much. However, we do live in Malaysia where there are many traditional remedies. While we may not agree with the practices; we still have to respect them.

"Unfortunately, some women are disillusioned. They assume that they should have all the kids they want before worrying about getting back to shape.

"Basically, this means if you want four kids and you put on 10kg each time you have a kid, you would need to lose 40kg by the time you are ready to lose weight. You could be a Biggest Loser contestant by then."

Even celeb mummies have it tough

TELEVISION anchor and journalist Daphne Iking said being in the public eye had definitely added pressure to lose her baby fat.

"I didn't really think about it so much after my first pregnancy, and ironically, I lost more weight in a shorter span of time then.

"Now, eight months after my second baby girl, the extra weight really bothers me because it's not just that I can't fit into my old clothes any more, I look different with the ones I can squeeze myself into.

"The occasional depression does hit me and I get a bit worried. But then, I see my two healthy girls and as cheesy or cliché as it sounds, I'm grateful for them. So, I try to remain positive.

"But it's tough, especially in the industry that I'm in where looks and beauty seems to be so important. And it doesn't help that some mother friends of mine have managed to get back to their pre-pregnancy bodies so quickly and still be able to eat like a horse."

Hurtful remarks could add to the stress of losing weight, said the celebrity mum.

"There have been some comments on my Facebook account on pictures that I post saying my breasts are too big, or that I still look pregnant, or that I'm huge and fat.

"One actually commented, 'You are no longer sexy cause you are so fat. Don't (sic) shy?'

"It hurts naturally; I have always been an athletic person with high metabolism, so this little change has definitely stopped me in my tracks.

"But not everyone wants to be Posh Spice, Jessica Alba or Angelina Jolie. Is there a time frame for mothers to get back to their pre-pregnancy state?

"I believe what's more important is that both mother and baby are healthy. It's not about competing to see who can lose weight the fastest. I think this is just getting ridiculous.

"And it doesn't help with media hypes like 'Victoria Beckham loses all her pregnancy weight in three weeks!'

She wished that new mothers would come to terms with the fact that there was no miracle to post-pregnancy weight loss.

"It ultimately boils down to diet and exercise. Sadly, there's no miracle. Even friends I know who've been to slimming centres have very, very strict diets that, to be quite frank, seem a little crazy to me.

"Find a workout that fits your time and pace. Don't stress yourself trying to lose weight quickly because mental and emotional health is just as important.

"You want to find an activity that makes you happy. I find jogging on the treadmill a bore, I prefer running outdoors. So, if I can't find time to go to my favourite jogging spot, I just jog around the condo.

"When it comes to diet, I prefer fish that is grilled, and I use my daughter's steamer for my vegetables. And as crazy as it seems, I pack my lunch to work and events. Unlike many, I don't banish rice altogether, but use brown rice to keep me full and oats to jumpstart my mornings.

"I have a sweet tooth, so I do have my 'cheat' days. But I bake my own cookies and make my own desserts so I can decide what ingredients go into it. Having healthier options gives me peace of mind while I give in to my sugary cravings.

"And if all fails, at least you have a reason to shop for a new wardrobe, right? Stay positive because no one gets blind from looking at the brighter side of life."

International model and actress Amber Chia had 15kg to shed after delivering baby Ashton 20 months ago.

"I was fortunate because I was the ambassador for a slimming centre, so all the treatments that I underwent, including massages, helped me to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight within a month.

"Of course during that time, my confidence was slightly shaken; also I was rather sad that I couldn't fit into my favourite clothes."

But Chia learned that the most important thing was to be comfortable with one's own body.

"Good health always comes first. It may take longer for some, but if you continue to think positively and are determined to get back in shape, it will all come true eventually.

"Learning more about calorie intake and nutrition can also be beneficial in the long run."

By Audrey Vijaindren