“A guilt-free ticket to refocusing your priorities.” —Parents
ABC News reporter (and mom to three) Genevieve Shaw Brown reveals the deceptively simple golden rule for maternal happiness and how today’s busy moms can live better, healthier lives.
ABC News reporter Genevieve Shaw Brown was hell-bent on raising her kids to like vegetables and eat more than chicken nuggets for dinner. She woke up at five a.m. every morning to prepare perfectly portioned meals of turkey meatballs along with veggies, couscous, mashed cauliflower, and sliced fruit for her small children.
While eating lukewarm mac-n-cheese out of a brown paper box and feeling sluggish and tired most of the time, she realized that she had never considered eating what she made for her kids. After that, Brown put herself on the “Baby Diet”: she ate the healthy food her kids ate, minimized snacking, and created a more regimented meal plan. She felt better, lost those stubborn pounds, and prepared a short segment on her new diet for Good Morning America that went viral.
After that, she began thinking further: what happens when you treat yourself the way you instinctively treat your children? From sleep training to exercising to making time for friends, Brown shares her own stories, expert advice, and innovative hacks to address the common issues mothers face while teaching women how to care for themselves with the same love and attention they give their children and families every day. The Happiest Mommy You Know is the life-changing and incredibly positive approach to the challenges of modern parenting—and gives parents permission to finally treat themselves better.
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About the Author
Genevieve Shaw Brown is a lifestyle writer, editor, and reporter for ABC News living in New York with her husband and three children. She was the recipient of the 2013 Silver Grand Award for Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year from the Society of American Travel Writers and an Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in reporting. The Happiest Mommy You Know is based on an article she first wrote for ABC News that was subsequently turned into a segment on Good Morning America.
Read an Excerpt
The Happiest Mommy You Know
Holy Crap, I Eat Like Crap
Feed Yourself as You (Want to) Feed Your Kids
It was about 5 a.m. My husband, three-year-old daughter, and fourteen-month-old son were still fast asleep in our New York City apartment. I had risen earlier than they, as was the typical drill, to get myself ready for work. Part of that routine included preparing the food that the children would eat throughout the day, until I returned home in time to make them dinner that evening.
I didn’t mind the early morning so much. Truth be told, I’ve never been one to sleep in. Even before kids, it wasn’t uncommon for me to get up a little early to go for a run or enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee before heading off to work, though now that I was a mom those small luxuries were a thing of the distant past. So I wasn’t exactly prepared for the new wake-up time that having kids imposed on my schedule. Six thirty, even six would be OK. But there’s something ungodly about five.
At five in the morning, the light from the refrigerator is so bright, it feels like an interrogation.
Every. Single. Day.
It’s not that my youngest, Will, woke up at five. But he is an early riser—almost always before six when he was younger—and so 5 a.m. became my wake-up time in order to do everything that needed to be done before going into full-fledged mommy duty. Which mostly consisted of meal prep—cooking the meals the kids would eat while I was at work, and then getting things ready for the dinner that would be served shortly after I arrived home in the evening.
The thought of me cooking—never mind cooking at 5 a.m., pajama clad and bleary eyed—would be laughable to most of my friends. One of my friends’ favorite stories about me was when, already a fully grown adult with my own apartment, I had to ask what a ramekin was when a recipe I was attempting called for this particular piece of cookware. The Barefoot Contessa I’m not.
The truth is, it was only since having kids that I even gave a second thought to what I was eating. Up until my late twenties, I was always on the slim side, despite eating mostly crap. By crap I mean takeout most nights, few vegetables, and a preference for food dripping with cheese. (Yeah, I know—I hate the twentysomething me, too.) Despite a diet more suited to a sumo wrestler than a busy journalist, I was declared to be in perfect health by every doctor I ever had the infrequent occasion to visit.
Fast forward many years of marriage and one baby . . . then two . . . and I found myself in an average-to-most-but-borderline-unacceptable-by-New-York-City–standards body. Not that I was sweating it, exactly, but at some point after the birth of my second child I had a realization: Holy crap. I eat like crap.
The realization, however, did little to change my habits. Sure, I’d occasionally wake up on Monday and declare this to be the Week of Salads (only to have my resolution fizzle by the time I passed the latest tempting food truck parked outside my office on Tuesday at lunch). Mostly, I had no willpower when it came to what I considered my last remaining vice: food. And to tell you the truth, it didn’t bother me that much. I had a slightly superior mind-set: because I didn’t smoke, use drugs, drink to excess (and was, in most regards, a model citizen, ahem), I guess I believed that I deserved to eat what I wanted. Never mind that all that crap food was starting to make me feel like a crap person, something that would take me a long time to understand.
At the time Will began to eat solid foods, I became determined not to pass along my less-than-optimal approach to eating. You see, I was harboring a shameful secret. I’d already failed once. My three-year-old, Addie, was a picky eater. And judging by the Facebook groups of New York City moms I belonged to, having a three-year-old who ate little aside from fruit, yogurt, peanut butter sandwiches, and plain pasta was akin to child abuse.
I could not fail again.
I started reading a lot about proper nutrition for babies, scouring the Internet for baby-recipe inspiration. For guidance, I turned to sites such as Weelicious and Picky Palate, where I found a veritable wonderland of clever ways to hide vegetables in food or make it so adorable that my kids couldn’t help but pop it in their mouths. Armed with ideas for Scrambled Egg and Broccoli Cups and Cauliflower Mashed “Potatoes,” Mapo Tofu, and Sautéed Baby Bok Choy, I spent my early-morning hours stirring couscous on the stovetop, baking sweet potatoes in the oven, dicing up rotisserie chicken, and creating fruit and vegetable smoothies that tasted sweet enough from the fruit to be appealing but did not completely mask the vegetable taste (so as not to raise a child who did not welcome vegetables onto his plate at every meal). You know the drill.
It would be easy enough to lose oneself completely in the information, recipes, planning, apps, mommy groups, and more that are dedicated to kids’ nutrition. But time is one thing I’m perennially short on: I have a full-time job at ABC News, where I am responsible for leading its online lifestyle coverage. It’s a big job, one I worked for years to attain, and it keeps me pretty busy. Luckily, since I cover a fair amount of parenting topics in my reporting job, there’s some overlap in the research I do for my kids and the background info I seek for my stories. (So if I got busted looking at Weelicious recipes at the office, it could easily be assumed it had something to do with an article I was researching.)
That morning, I arrived at my desk, worried about the possible long-term ramifications of Will’s refusal to eat more than two bites of his eggs. Was he getting enough protein? Toddlers really need protein, right? In between scanning the lifestyle stories and pitches that might possibly make the day’s list of coverage, I start googling.
Egg substitutes for kids who don’t like eggs
Is dislike for eggs a sign of an egg allergy?
Alternative protein options for toddler breakfast
How to make your toddler eat eggs
This is silly, I tell myself. Get a grip. I try to put eggs out of my mind, refocus my attention, and prepare to start my workday. But the worry about the eggs—Maybe he was full by the time we got around to the eggs?—nags at me as I try to focus on the task at hand: I am responsible for choosing, assigning, and crafting the ABC News lifestyle stories that everyone will be talking about tomorrow. This is a big job. I need to concentrate. And yet . . . eggs. Mmmm . . .
All this thinking about breakfast food caused me to glance at the clock, and I realized, it’s 9:58. I’m starving! Did I eat breakfast this morning? Nope. There’s not enough time to get to the ABC cafeteria—it closes at ten for breakfast—to get my own eggs. None of my coworkers seem to have this daily issue of not getting to the cafeteria on time to get their breakfast (then again, most of them don’t have kids). As I looked around the newsroom, I found eggs galore, oatmeal, pancakes, and yogurt. Yogurt! I packed one this morning. I reach to my bag and . . . no yogurt. I left it on the counter in the kitchen.
Back to work, my stomach empty save the two cups of coffee and cup of water. No matter . . . I’ll wait for lunch. And then by eleven thirty, when I was so hungry I could no longer think straight, I headed to the cafeteria (now reopened) and walked around aimlessly looking for something to eat. But time was ticking and the emails were coming in faster than I could answer them, so I headed to the shortest line I saw: comfort food.
Chicken nuggets. Mac and cheese. Mashed potatoes. Looks like food kids would love, I thought. I guess that’s why it’s called comfort food. It reminds us of childhood. I thought about Will, probably at this moment sitting down in his high chair, eating organic turkey meatballs filled with veggies, a small side of couscous, and some sliced fruit for dessert. Lucky kid, I thought, as I piled “comfort food” into a paper box to be weighed at the register. Will comfort remind Will of his childhood? Ha! Probably not.
I realize that I wish I could eat like Will. I wish someone would make me all that delicious, healthy food. I’d probably feel better and lose those last few pounds. I need a nutritionist. Someone who will plan my meals and balance out my protein-to-grain-to-carb intake. Why don’t I take better care of myself?
The thoughts start spiraling: You are so lazy. Why can’t you just eat better? What is wrong with you? Look around! There’s a reason the junk-food line is the shortest. This food stuff is terrible for you. If only I had something better. And then it hit me. That delicious, healthy food I’d been up at five preparing for my kids? I had never once—until that moment—considered allowing myself to eat any of it.
I had been berating myself for my unhealthy eating habits, but my only solutions so far had been searching under the “healthy” tab on Seamless (so virtuous, I know) or looking for the best-worst option in a fast-food line. All the while, I had actually been going food shopping for healthy food, week after week, and then actually preparing it each day. Just not for myself. For my kids.
Every day, I was greeted with a refrigerator full of healthy food. Every day, I didn’t eat it. And God help my husband if he touched it. That food was for the baby.
But why? Why wasn’t I allowing myself to partake in this nutritious food? What would happen if I treated myself with the same love, care, and nurturing that I lavished on my children each day?
Does Good Parenting Always Mean Putting Our Kids First?
I know this question (as simple as it sounds) will be eerily familiar to other moms out there. Mothers today take an almost perverse pride in how much we do for our kids. One can see it in nearly every single modern-parenting debate. If you cosleep, it’s because you can’t stand to be away from your baby and don’t care if your own sleep is interrupted as long as the little one is content. If you don’t, it’s because you want to foster your child’s independence and bestow on her the path to a life of good sleeping habits.
If you work, it’s because you want to show your kids what it means to be an independent woman who contributes financially to the family and has a life outside the home. If you stay at home, it’s because you care more about your family than any job, and being with the children is your top priority.
Choices, sacrifices, and justifications to be sure, but any choice you make is always tinged with the underlying fear of messing everything up. And let’s remember, all of it is done out of one singular feeling: total and unconditional love for your children.
Love for our offspring—that’s what we as parents have in common, isn’t it? But how does that love influence our happiness? Are we happier because we’re parents? There are conflicting studies on this front. In 2013, a British study from Open University dubbed the “Enduring Love” project declared childless couples were happier than those with children. It reported that mothers are more negative about relationship quality, relationship with partner, relationship maintenance, and happiness with their relationship or partner than childless women are. There’s also the oft-cited 2004 study, conducted by Nobel Prize–winner Dr. Daniel Kahneman, of 909 working Texas mothers that showed child care as ranking 16th of 19 in pleasurable activities. Child care came in behind other daily responsibilities including cooking, watching TV, and socializing with coworkers. Another study, “In Defense of Parenthood,” published in 2013 in Psychological Science, shows men with children were happier than men without kids. But here’s the kicker: having children did not make women any happier than their childless counterparts.
It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that, at least for some parents, an overinvestment in our children is at least in part contributing to the seeming dissatisfaction. The logical conclusion might be to stop being so emotionally, physically, and financially invested in your children, and you’ll find more time for you and, as a result, you’ll be happier. But let me get this out of the way right upfront: I don’t buy it.
On the contrary, my children have made me happier than I ever thought possible. There are moments I think my heart will actually explode with love for them. There are times when we stare into each other’s eyes, and I actually feel like our hearts are speaking to each other. When they are not physically near me, my heart aches for them. Sometimes when I put them to bed at night, at the same time that I breathe a sigh of relief, the tears start falling because I’m so sad at the thought of another day of their precious, too-short childhood gone.
I know I’m not alone in these feelings. My circle of “mom friends” is wide—partly because of the flexibility afforded to me by my employer. I am a full-time working mother who also has the ability to attend baby music, gym, ballet and swimming classes, playgroups, school drop-off, playdates, and more. As a result, I am friendly with not only mothers whose circumstances are similar to my own but also with working moms who work long hours, stay-at-home moms with help and those without, moms with husbands who work late, and single moms going at it alone. I also have one child with special needs—my son, Will, has Down syndrome—and one without, and as such, I have a foot in each of those worlds, too.
Befriending mothers in various situations has given me firsthand knowledge that my passionate love for my kids is, well, pretty universal and not at all unique. It also assures me that I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed to the point of near panic attacks by the massive responsibility of someone else’s (in my case two other someone’s) well-being. And then there’s the guilt. It’s all consuming and it’s constant. Every bedtime story not read, every enrichment class not enrolled in, every vegetable on the toddler’s plate that goes uneaten is a source of stress.
But the evidence is far from conclusive when it comes to declaring kids the source of unhappiness. That Open University study from 2013 that showed childless couples were happier than those with children? It also showed mothers were the happiest group of all. And a 2013 study, “Parents Reap What They Sow: Child-Centrism and Parental Well-Being,” from Social Psychological and Personality Science, concluded that “contrary to popular belief, more child-centric parents reported deriving more happiness and meaning from parenthood.” In other words, the tendency for parents to prioritize their children’s well-being above their own wasn’t necessarily a bad thing or, at the very least, it doesn’t apply across the board.
This seems to be the camp I, and the women I know, fall into: a life that is both generally happy and child-centric, but coupled with feelings of self-doubt and a touch of longing for a life that is less anxiety-filled. In Jennifer Senior’s bestselling book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, she turned the tide of the parenting discussion by asking what effect children have on their parents. Until Senior’s book, the exploration of the parent-child relationship had been nearly exclusively focused on what effect parents had on their kids. By observing and examining parent groups and specific families, Senior quite correctly concludes that having kids is always a game changer—for your marriage, your friendships, your professional life.
* * *
There’s also the issue of categorization of parenting styles, which is a relatively new phenomenon. There’s the helicopter mom who hovers too close; the Tiger mom who only accepts total and complete excellence; the attachment parent who responds immediately to every need of the child; the free-range parent who encourages independence from a young age. While each one has its passionate supporters and detractors, there’s no doubt that each one has positive traits. After all, if you could raise your child to succeed academically while being independent yet simultaneously knowing he or she can call you and trust that you’ll be there at a moment’s notice, why wouldn’t you? But with all the label-parenting comes the pressure as a mother to decide which camp you belong in, rather than to simply just . . . parent.
But no matter which parenting discipline you follow (even if you follow none at all), there’s a common theme that seems to unite all of us: we are all determined to do whatever it takes to make our kids happy, healthy, to give them a leg up in the world. We’re so hell-bent on this that we’ll get up at 5 a.m. to cook their organic couscous. We’ll schlep them to karate lessons on Saturday morning instead of going to the gym ourselves. We let them sleep in our beds (even if we’re up tossing and turning all night). But with all this focusing on our child’s wants and needs, where do our needs fit in? Are we dooming ourselves to a lifetime (well, maybe a decade or two) of skipped meals, missed workouts, and sleepless nights?
There’s got to be a better way.
The Baby Diet
But back to my lunchtime cafeteria revelation. That fateful day—as hectic, harried, and hungry as it was—was not an aberration. It was the norm. I never ate breakfast. My days consisted of raiding the ABC News cafeteria for an early lunch, maybe wolfing down a snack in the afternoon, likely followed by standing in front of the refrigerator when I got home, looking for anything to tide me over until the inevitable take-out order once the kids were in bed.
And I wondered why I couldn’t lose the last of that baby weight.
Research from the University of Michigan shows that mothers have a higher body-mass index than nonmothers and consume more calories in a day than childless women. The result? Parents are more apt to not take good care of their health at a time when they really need to be modeling healthy behavior for their children.
The answer to healthier eating suddenly seemed so obvious: If I could eat the same foods I was feeding my toddler—in effect, stop putting my own needs behind his—I would be well on my way to changing my abysmal eating habits. And at the same time, I’d be modeling better eating for Addie, my three-year-old picky eater. I would put myself on the baby’s diet.
I started talking with New York–based nutritionist Nicolette Pace, who explained to me that babies have a natural rhythm when it comes to eating that we lose at some point as we grow.
“We need to look to our babies for the answers,” she said. Pace points out that we used to be a 9-to-5 workday society. “Now,” she said, “it’s more like five to nine.” If we follow our children’s rhythms (not just in what they eat, but when and why), she says, we can get back to a schedule that will help our bodies find their optimal weight.
A lightbulb went off. That was it exactly: my day started at five with those fateful meal preparations. Then came two hours of child care before heading to my office for another eight. Then it was time to head home for another three hours of child care—dinner, bath, books, bed—before almost collapsing from physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion at 9 p.m. Five to nine. That was my day.
“We prioritize everything above eating,” Pace said. “But our babies—if they’re hungry, we’ll move hell and high water to make sure they’re fed.”
As adults, she added, we rarely do the same for ourselves. I flash back to the scene in my kitchen on a typical morning. I’m hell-bent on preparing a healthy breakfast and making sure the kids eat it, because I believe—scratch that, I know—what they eat in the morning will set the tone for the rest of the day. I am so tied to this belief, in fact, that I try—and often fail, but do try—to have them eat their foods in a particular order.
So, if, for example, breakfast consists of fruit, yogurt, and a piece of toast with butter, I will do my best to serve it in that order, with the buttered toast coming last. I do it so they’ll eat the healthier food while they’re hungriest, and so that they won’t fill up on the toast and leave the healthy stuff on the plate. I’m not sure if I read this somewhere or just made it up, but it’s become gospel in my house: healthy foods first.
Clearly I have put thought into this.
Meanwhile, I rarely eat breakfast myself. That sinks in. I’m so concerned with what my kids are eating for breakfast so it will set the wheels in motion for a healthy day that I actually serve foods in a particular order. And I don’t even bother putting one morsel in my own mouth.
Pace said not skipping meals is one of the baby behaviors that adults could learn the most from. Another: pushing food away when we’re no longer hungry. Just as Will had done with his eggs that fateful morning. Babies listen to their own bodies and understand when they are full. And then, they stop.
This is another behavior I struggle with. Just the other day, my husband, Ryan, and I were eating sandwiches from our favorite place on the Upper East Side. My go-to is a total calorie bomb: an Italian hero with mayonnaise (that’s in addition to the oil and vinegar it comes with). There are several kinds of meats and cheese involved. It’s delicious.
And it’s huge. I could easily stop after eating half. Easily. After I polished off the first half of my hero, I said to Ryan (with the other half of the sandwich sitting in front of me), “I’m having a dilemma. I’m not hungry anymore. But I really, really want to eat the rest of this sandwich. It’s amazing. Or should I put it away?”
“Well,” he said, “if you put it away, you know you’ll never end up eating it because the bread will get soggy. So you’ll just end up throwing it out.”
That was all I needed to hear. On an already-full stomach, I ate another half of an Italian hero.
Controlling portions—and knowing what our stomachs can handle—is key, said Pace. “A newborn’s stomach is about the size of a cherry,” she said. “It grows as they grow and by adulthood our stomachs are about the size of a softball.”
That hero was definitely bigger than a softball. It was maybe two-and-a-half softballs.
And what followed was feeling not only uncomfortably full but uncomfortably guilty. It’s a feeling we moms know all too well.
And so, armed with this knowledge from nutritionist Pace and a righteous fire in my belly, the Baby Diet experiment began—the week of Thanksgiving no less, when diet pitfalls are everywhere. I decided I’d eat what my toddler ate, when he ate, and I’d treat my own menu with the same care I lavished on his plate each day. The food was pretty simple:
Day 1 breakfast: one scrambled egg and Greek yogurt; lunch: three chicken nuggets and peas; snack: grapes and crackers and hummus; dinner: chicken-veggie stir-fry.
Day 2 breakfast: half a bagel-thin with hummus and avocado; lunch: chicken stir-fry veggies and rice; snack: Greek yogurt; dinner: Avocado-Mexican cheese wrap.
Day 3 breakfast: oatmeal with fruit, and toast with hummus; lunch: couscous, and turkey and cheese mini-wrap; snack: cheese and crackers; dinner: turkey, stuffing, and green beans.
Day 4 breakfast: bacon, egg, and cheese; snack: yogurt; lunch/dinner: turkey, stuffing, veggies, dinner roll, cranberry relish.
The food was delicious. It was way more satisfying than the junk I’d been fueling myself with, so I actually ate less. I saved some money, because though I was feeding both of us good-quality food, it was still cheaper than the company cafeteria or greasy takeout. In total I lost more than 2 pounds in four days on the Baby Diet. I was never hungry, had more energy, and ate more well-balanced meals than I would have eaten had I not been mimicking my toddler’s diet.
I was intrigued.
It was such a revelation that I wrote up the story of my experiment for my day at ABC News. I hit Publish, I patted myself on the back for half a second, and then I moved on to the next story. But my article started getting a lot of likes; people were sharing it widely online. “What I will keep in mind about this article is that we as adults tend to forget about eating healthy and that what I plan to do moving forward is ask myself would I allow my child to eat what I am eating,” said one. “It really works,” said another. It was clear that this Baby Diet—and, more significantly, the concept that it was OK for moms to prioritize their own needs and desires—was really resonating with moms and others who were reading this story.
Then one of the senior producers from Good Morning America called me up and asked if we could turn it into a segment. I work at ABC News, but in the digital division. Once in awhile, my stories for the website get turned into TV segments. Sometimes, I’m the correspondent, but in this case, I would be the subject. But to get this kind of reaction to what I thought was a run-of-the-mill article was pretty exciting.
We shot the segment, and once the show aired, right before Christmas, I got a tremendous amount of feedback from viewers. It was mostly positive, with a few detractors who pointed out not everyone has the means to feed their children in a similar fashion, let alone themselves. I got it. But I hope the takeaway, which was my main revelation in trying this experiment, was this: that moms take so much care to give their kids the very best of everything that we don’t even think about doing the same for ourselves. I don’t mean that we think about it and then decide not to do it because of time or resources. I mean we literally never even think about treating ourselves with the love and care we show our kids every day. Or at least I didn’t. And it was never clearer to me than the moment I was searching everywhere to find true nourishment—only to discover it in my refrigerator, where it had been all along.
Staying the Course
Adopting the Baby Diet for a few days, even over Thanksgiving, was actually much easier than making similar changes in the long term. I keep going back to the idea that I work really, really hard. I do everything I’m supposed to do in life and much more. Don’t I deserve a little lukewarm cafeteria lasagna now and then?
I laugh when I catch myself falling into this trap, because it’s so silly. The food I was eating was technically comfort food but it wasn’t really a treat. It might have been momentarily delicious, but it wasn’t making me feel good. And it wasn’t helping me fuel my busy life, either. The days I have managed to adopt the Baby Diet since that Thanksgiving experiment proved something I already knew to be true: if I eat better, I am more productive; if I am more productive, I’m happier. Therefore, eating better leads to more happiness. Which is exactly what I’m trying to achieve.
But the trouble is, I keep failing at this diet thing. And then I feel like a failure, which makes me terribly unhappy. There are weeks and months when I’m able to adopt Will’s diet for a day or two here or there, but eventually I don’t plan well, end up skipping breakfast or forget my lunch on the kitchen counter, and it’s back to Chipotle I go.
I decide I need to start smaller. Instead of jumping back into the Baby Diet whole hog, I’ll instead eat for breakfast each day what I serve the kids. After all, if breakfast sets the tone for the whole day, then at the very least I should make better decisions if I’ve had a healthy start.
So I go to the grocery store on a Sunday to shop for the week. I’m ruthless: I make my decisions on what to buy based solely on what kinds of foods I will feed Will and what I would at least like for Addie to eat (keeping in mind she’ll most likely eat peanut butter sandwiches). Turkey bacon; organic, free-range eggs; fresh berries; plain Greek yogurt with honey and granola become staples.
The first few days went great. Each day Will and I ate exactly the same thing for breakfast and sometimes, but not always, ate the same thing for lunch and dinner. At minimum, Addie was starting the day healthy. And again, the results were immediate and gratifying: a two-pound weight loss in the first five days. This thing might actually work!
Yet, try as I might, there were still those mornings I didn’t have time to pack myself a lunch. But I tried not to fall into a shame spiral when that happened. I knew from my conversations with Nicolette Pace that the key to weight loss was not necessarily eating less, but eating differently. Whereas I once might wait until I was starving to think about lunch, I planned ahead and knew, by and large, what I was eating that day long before I got hungry enough to let my stomach do the Seamless ordering.
“Eat in intervals,” Pace advised. Food, she said, stays in your stomach for two to four hours. So before the next time I got hangry (you know, angry hungry), I was already armed with my healthy food choices to stave it off. It makes sense—after all, I feed the kids in intervals: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner; 7 a.m., 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 3 p.m., 6 p.m.
But the very day I stopped eating what Will ate for breakfast? It all went off the rails. And in one day—ONE—I gained back the 2 pounds I had spent the last five losing.
Monday breakfast: scrambled eggs with cheese and a piece of toast; lunch: green juice; dinner: cod with couscous and roasted vegetables.
Tuesday breakfast: broccoli and cheddar quiche and raspberries; lunch: grilled chicken and spinach salad with Greek salad dressing and shredded cheese; dinner: three varieties of soft tacos (out to dinner with a friend).
Wednesday breakfast: broccoli and cheddar quiche and raspberries; lunch: Caprese salad; dinner: cod, couscous, and an avocado.
Thursday breakfast: Nutri-Grain bar and yogurt; lunch: salmon, couscous, and roasted vegetable; dinner: chicken salad and avocado wrap.
Friday breakfast: scrambled eggs; lunch: turkey/cheese roll-up; dinner: filet mignon.
Five days in and two pounds down. It’s plain to see, looking back on the week, that I definitely didn’t deprive myself. And I felt great: more energy and none of that uncomfortable-after-eating feeling and resulting tiredness. But the next day, without the structure of the weekdays, things went awry, and it all started when Will had a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and I didn’t.
One day of bad decisions had resulted in negating nearly everything I had worked for the last week. And I also felt horrible. But honestly, Saturday’s food was delicious.
I got back on my modified version of the Baby Diet the next day—starting off with a breakfast that mimicked Will’s and Addie’s.
It was extremely annoying to me that I couldn’t even deviate from healthy-ish eating for one day without paying the price. But I looked back at the week’s menu and am, for the most part, proud of the food choices I made for myself and for my family that week. I had more energy and actually felt cleaner inside and out, if that’s possible. It occurred to me that my road to the true Baby Diet was probably going to be a very long one, filled with detours and burrito-fueled stops as I tried to undo years of unhealthy habits.
There’s more to the desire to lose weight than just feeling better and being healthier. A major part of it is vanity. Yes, I want to be thin. I’m sure you’ve heard that the camera adds 10 pounds, and as someone who appears on TV sometimes, I’m here to tell you that it’s no joke. If you think your favorite news anchor looks slim on TV, you should see her in real life. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that a woman that successful—and thin—couldn’t possibly have children because far more are moms than not.
But for the person who is not being seen—and critiqued by millions each morning—weight loss is naturally less of a priority than for someone who is. A study published in 2014 in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology showed one quarter of women retained more than 20 extra pounds after pregnancy—these are women who were of an average weight prior to getting pregnant. The issue is particularly common among lower-income women, who have fewer resources for child care in order to exercise and less access to more expensive, healthier food options.
So what was my excuse? I didn’t have one. It occurred to me that even without one plausible reason why I can’t lose the weight, I still fail time and time again. Imagine how hard it must be for women who actually have real obstacles to overcome.
But isn’t the truth of the matter that we all have obstacles in our lives? One person might have less money but have a loving husband. One woman may have plenty of money but a sick parent to care for. One might be gorgeous but have a cheating husband. Another might have a great job but no family support around and a nanny she’s not sure she can fully trust. Maybe one seems to have it all—but is suffering from deep loneliness.
No one has it all together, no matter what it looks like on Facebook.
If Momma Ain’t Happy . . .
Which leads me to this book. Look, despite my detailing of my weekly meal plans above, this isn’t a weight-loss book. I’m not going to give you a menu or a diet plan to follow. You’ll find your own foods and portions that work best for you. But for me, eating like my baby (the same healthy foods, the same deliberate attention to hunger and satiety) really resonated. It got me thinking about something bigger than just the food I put in my mouth. I also started mulling what it was about eating good-quality food that made me so happy. And about why I was denying myself the same happiness I instinctively offered my kids every single day.
There is something that happens when we love someone—in this case our children—so much that the pursuit of their happiness and well-being starts to become the only happiness we know. In our pursuit of parenting perfection and search for our baby’s “happiness,” we are losing sight of, and the time and financial resources to pursue, our own. What are the long-term implications of always putting the children first? What if I was spending so much time focused on my children’s happiness that I actually took away from it? And what if I didn’t have any left over for myself?
Today, my diet is still a work in progress. I have good days; I have bad days. But overall, giving myself the permission—even, dare I say it, the challenge—to feed myself as well as I nourish my children has been a fundamental change in the way I approach food.
And starting with that success, I thought to myself, I can do even more.
Embarking on the Baby Diet morphed into something quite different: tackling a series of small changes—some individually, some that are intertwined, such as sleep and exercise—to make motherhood a little less stressful and a little more enjoyable. I called it my Happiest Mommy challenge, and I started diving in with gusto.
Because as the saying goes, “The days are long but the years are short.” Wasn’t Addie born just yesterday? No, it was almost four years ago. And those four wonderful years went by in what seems like a blink of an eye. I find myself tearing up regularly watching my kids grow, wishing with every cell in my body I could somehow stop the clock and keep them this way forever and ever.
I know I can’t. They will grow no matter what I do and how much I wish for them to not.
But here’s what I can do: make these too-short years the best they can possibly be, for me as well as them, so that I won’t wish them to be over. So that when the kids are older, I’ll look back on this time and remember it with more fondness than remorse. So that each day of this magical time can be the best it can possibly be, and we all—every one of us in this family—can be the happiest we can be and become the best version of ourselves along the way.
This book is not written by an MD; rather, it is a record of a personal journey in which I put myself through the paces of “babying” myself in several areas of life—food, fashion, exercise, socializing, and enrichment—and taking care never to lose sight of my own needs while still attending to the needs of my family.
Does getting more exercise, more sleep, going on date nights, exploring hobbies, and seeing girlfriends lead to maternal happiness? I suspected the answer would be yes. But how does a mother make herself happier while not sacrificing the happiness of her children? After all, there are only so many hours in a day and only so much energy one person can muster.
My theory is that while the list of to-dos commonly found in parenting advice columns is helpful, it’s actually not necessary. Moms instead can live by one and only one rule that will transform parenting from what feels like a never-ending series of sacrifices to an all-around happier mothering experience for them, and then, in turn, for their children, too.
Do for yourself what you instinctively do for your children every day.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Why Patting Yourself First (Sometimes) Is Actually the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Kids 1
Chapter 1 Holy Crap, I Eat Like Crap 5
Feed Yourself as You (Want to) Feed Your Kids
Chapter 2 Ditch the Playdates 29
Make Time for Your Own Friends
Chapter 3 Get Sleep at Any Cost 55
Do Whatever Works for You to Ensure a Healthy Night's Rest
Chapter 4 Lose the Leggings 77
Don't Let Your Style Take a Backseat to Your Child's Wardrobe
Chapter 5 Love the One You're With 99
Treat Your Husband as Kindly as You Treat Your Kids (and Your Barista)
Chapter 6 Take Yourself to the Doctor 123
Moms Need Checkups, Too
Chapter 7 Move It 143
Exercise Even If You Don't Have the Time, Money, or Interest
Chapter 8 Hit the Family Lotto 165
Give Thanks for the One You Have
Chapter 9 Leave Your Kids at Home 185
Take a Vacation Without Them Once in a While
Chapter 10 Grown-Ups Need Help, Too 203
You Are Your Kids' life Coach-But Who Is Yours?
Conclusion: Luke 225
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved this book. I usually never write reviews, but I thought that this book warranted one. For all you moms out there with newborns through teenagers this is a book you really need to read. The author touches on every situation that all us moms face every day in a very humorous way. I found myself relating to most of the book and the chapters that I didn't I found that maybe I should. This book shows how to think differently about parenting and the importance of have a happy home- mom included. The tips are easy to incorporate and motivating to undergo this parenting makeover. The book also reads as a snapshot into the author's life and you feel that she almost sitting next to you telling you the story and sharing her experiences. I wish I had read a book like this a decade ago, but it's never too late!