Instead of trying to shed postpartum pounds by depriving yourself, which never works anyway, use the secret weapon to weight loss you probably didn't even know you had - the enzyme in your body called lipoprotein lipase (LPL). One of hundreds of specialty enzymes your body produces, LPL's mission is to transport the fat from your bloodstream into your fat cells for later use. Your LPL activity level is in part determined by your genes. If, for example, your parents were overweight, the LPL level in your body would most likely be high, predisposing you to store more fat. But your lifestyle also can regulate this special enzyme to help you lose the baby weight faster.
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Know the gatekeeper to fat cells.
Think of LPL as a fat transportation system. The enzyme carries the fat in your bloodstream to your fat cells, where it opens "doorways" to allow the new fat in so it can be stored. When you go on a diet and limit what you eat too much, LPL becomes ultra-efficient at storing fat, opening up even more doors to beckon fat right in. According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, this little-known enzyme is also one of the primary reasons you're apt to regain the weight you've lost from dieting. Even going for four hours without food can spark LPL into action.
"The more you're in the fasting state, the more active LPL is," explains Michele Vivas, a clinical nutritionist and exercise physiologist in Oakland, Calif. Unfortunately, when you return to your old eating habits, the LPL remains superactive - so you end back where you started. It's possible to outsmart LPL though. To keep it from going into overdrive:
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Eat often enough.
To keep the enzyme from bombarding your fat cells, "it's important to eat when you're first hungry, rather than waiting until you're famished," advises Vivas. Generally, that means every three to four hours. This will keep your blood sugar level high enough so your body won't go into starvation mode, which activates LPL. To avoid overeating, you might want to munch on smaller, more frequent meals. "If you normally have cereal and a banana for breakfast, you'll feel a lot better if you save the banana for midmorning," recommends Vivas.
Snacking can be helpful too, but limit your snack calories to around 150 calories or less. Otherwise snacking may lead to weight gain. And make sure your snacks are low in sodium (less than 200 mg of sodium per serving) and low in added sugar (less than 3 g per serving). Smart snacks include 1 ounce low-fat cheese with 1/2 cup grapes (100 calories) or 4 ounces plain nonfat yogurt with 1/2 cup berries (140 calories), just to give you an idea.
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Eat meals that are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates.
With meals, keep LPL under control by concentrating on high-fiber, complex carbohydrate foods such as rice and beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Compared to protein and fat-rich foods such as steak and fried foods, complex carbohydrate foods aren't as calorie dense. Consequently, you can eat ample amounts without going over your calorie budget, which can prompt LPL to store those excess calories as fat. Additionally, since high-fiber, complex carbohydrates are digested faster than protein and fat, you'll be more likely to eat frequently, rather than going for long stretches between meals.
Still, your diet should include small amounts of healthy unsaturated fat such as avocado and peanut butter as well as lean protein (think fish, chicken and lean meats), especially if you're breastfeeding.
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Keep your calorie intake consistent.
To make LPL work to your benefit, stick to a consistent number of calories day after day, rather than allowing yourself to binge one day and cut back on calories the next. Up-and-down calorie intake sets off an increase in LPL. Consequently, on days when you eat more, your body will store more of those calories as fat.
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Keep a diet journal.
To keep your LPL level low and your eating habits on track, record what you eat in a food journal and tally calories and grams of fat daily. According to a study by the American Dietetic Association, a food journal is one of the most effective strategies in keeping weight off. In terms of LPL, a journal can give you a better idea of what your eating style looks like so that you can make consistent decisions that affect LPL -such as eating more regularly or making your calorie load more consistent.
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Work out regularly.
Exercise is one of the most powerful ways to keep LPL activity low. When you go jogging, for example, your muscles gear up to turn fat into energy, rather than store it. While this is happening, you are also deactivating your LPL. Aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise every week.
Fit tip: Get pushy. Use your kids as an excuse to get more exercise. Strolling is not only a fun way to bond with your baby or your toddler, it offers a decent cardio workout that can help you shed pounds, according to a study by the American Council on Exercise and exercise scientists at the University of Wisconsin. In the study, subjects - 15 female volunteers ages 19 to 41 - who pushed a 35-pound simulated baby in stroller at a brisk rate of 3.5 miles per hour increased their heart rates by an average of 12 beats per minute and burned 444 calories per hour, which is on par with mowing the lawn or riding a bicycle at 10 mph. To maximize your calorie burn, researchers suggest strolling briskly and taking hilly routes whenever possible.
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Sandra Gordon is a mom of two who writes about diet and nutrition for major magazines such as Weight Watchers, Self and Fitness. For more about her, visit www.sandrajgordon.com.