Find Your Happy Weight After Baby

Tired of counting calories? Here's why making time to take care of yourself after baby is just as important as healthy eating and exercising when it comes to weight loss.

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It takes time to get back into your bikini-body shape after having a little one, but the key to settling into a happy weight may be more about making time for pleasure than going on a deprivation diet. "If you aren't living a joyful life—despite getting enough rest, watching what you eat, and exercising regularly—you won't be able to reach or sustain your happy weight," says Erin Cox, author of the new book, One Hot Mama, who struggled with her weight after having three kids.

That's because studies show that stress can trigger your body to hold onto belly fat, crave fatty or sugary treats, and even slow your metabolism. Follow Cox's five real-world tips for fitting more bliss into your daily life, and shedding some unwanted pregnancy pounds.

1. Pinpoint Your Passions "A key to happiness is to nurture your interests and relationships outside of your children," says Cox. "Being yourself and staying fabulous and interesting only makes you a better mother, because happiness is contagious and sets a great example for your kids." Give yourself 15 minutes each morning to flip through magazines and journal before the baby is awake to help figure out what really brings you satisfaction and joy. You might be reminded about how much you love crafts or fashion, or discover that you'd like try your hand at web design. Find like-minded people in your area on meetup.com to help nurture your passions. Also focus on your most important relationships outside of your kids. "Do you want to make your relationship with your husband a bigger priority in your life? Then try to live in a way that is in alignment with these things as much as possible," says Cox.

2. Make Time for Guilty Pleasures "An easy way for moms to add a little fun and joy to their lives is by partaking in a guilty pleasure—or an enjoyable activity that you recognize as a treat," says Cox. "At the end of a particularly trying day, I relish putting my feet up for a few minutes and watching some mindless TV with a glass of wine." Here are some more feel-good ideas from Cox for motivation: Slowly sipping a latte dusted with cinnamon; getting a babysitter so you can take a yoga class; catching up with the Twilight books and movies; designing your dream house on Pinterest; and indulging in a massage with a girlfriend.

Keep Reading: How to stop counting calories and focus on eating nourishing healthy food.

3. Don't Count Calories Let's face it, worrying about the calorie content of every forkful is utterly depressing. "Counting calories, in my opinion, takes the enjoyment out of eating and doesn't encourage us to get in touch with our bodies and simply eat good, nutritious food," says Cox.

"If you eat nourishing, healthy food and exercise regularly, there should never be a need to count calories as a way of life." Sure, tracking calories or weighing food may help you better tune in to how big (or small!) of a portion your body really needs in the short-term after having a baby, but it's no way to live! Practice eating slowly and really chewing every bite, and you'll be better in tune with your hunger and fullness cues over time.

4. Practice Some Body Love "I believe that loving yourself and your body is such an important—and frequently overlooked—component of weight loss," says Cox. "When you convince yourself that you are heavy and loathsome by looking at your body with disgust and criticizing your belly rolls, then you will subconsciously self-sabotage to remain in that condition."

This doesn't mean you have to learn to love your cellulite or back fat, but try reversing body-bashing thoughts by looking at yourself in the mirror and saying loving things, such as, 'I love you.' "It might take as long as a month to do it with a straight face, but give it a try," says Cox. "When you truly love yourself and accept your body, I promise that taking care of yourself and making the lifestyle changes necessary to reach your body's ideal weight will be infinitely easier."

5. Get Out And Mingle Socializing may seem like a frivolous activity (especially when you've got a colicky baby and are totally sleep deprived), but a Gallup poll finds that the more time you spend mingling, the more happy and less stressed you'll feel. In fact, your mood improves with each hour you spend a day socializing. "Many new mothers have amazing girlfriends but don't feel that they have enough time or energy to nurture these relationships," says Cox.

To get out more, find a gym that has a daycare center and great classes so you can workout while socializing. Make a monthly coffee date with other mom friends and bring the kids. Have your husband watch the baby so you can get dressed up for a girls' night out and can talk about stuff you can't talk about with him. Call your best friends on your hands-free device during your drive time to keep up-to-date on their lives. "Mothers, in particular, thrive with a network of healthy, compassionate, and encouraging friendships," says Cox.

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