We know eating right and exercising to maintain a healthy weight is important, but for women thinking of becoming pregnant, timing is key. New research shows that a woman’s pre-pregnancy weight is a better indicator of whether her child will be overweight or obese than her weight during pregnancy is.  

The study, published in the May issue of BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, showed that the higher the rate of a pregnant women’s’ weight gain in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, the higher the chance that her child would be overweight or obese at age 16. But the women’s pre-pregnancy BMI was an even stronger predictor of her child’s weight status. The higher a women’s weight and BMI before becoming pregnant, the higher the chance her child was overweight or obese as well.

This study gives women another reason to strive to reach a healthy weight before becoming pregnant. Not to say that making healthy lifestyle changes and gaining the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy won’t greatly benefit both mother and child’s health, but the sooner that healthy changes start happening the better. Below are five small dietary changes that make losing weight easy!

Add food
Instead of focusing on what you should take away from your diet, focus on the delicious, lower calorie foods you could add to it. By adding fruits and vegetables in place of energy-dense foods, you’ll increase your fiber and water intake and feel more satisfied with fewer calories. Replace potato chips for vegetables and low-fat dip, add fresh berries to low-fat yogurt, and replace the croutons and dried fruit in your salad with grapes, light cheese, and fat-free dressing. Also, it’s been shown that people consume fewer calories at a meal if they eat a salad first.

Snack smart
Instead of eating three meals a day, try eating six small meals. This will prevent you from getting too hungry and overeating at a meal. Keep healthy snacks on hand that combine lean protein and healthy carbohydrates such as a tablespoon of nut butter and whole grain crackers, Greek yogurt with a handful of almonds, a baggie of sliced vegetables and a low-fat string cheese, or half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  

Modify recipes
By using healthier ingredients, favorite recipes can be just as tasty as the original versions. For example, try making a lower calorie veggie dip by mixing non-fat Greek yogurt with chopped cucumber, garlic, mint, dill, and some white wine vinegar. Try making a pizza made with a whole wheat crust, low-fat cheese, and with extra veggies added on top in place of high-fat meat. Add broccoli and spinach to whole wheat pasta instead of using fattening sauces or meatballs. This boosts fiber content which boosts your fullness!

Don’t drink your calories
An easy way to lose weight is to eliminate liquid calories from your diet. Try adding a splash of juice to sparkling water for a refreshing spritzer. Lemon, cucumber, or ginger slices can also add flavor to water which will help to stay hydrated easier. If you drink soda, switch to diet and drink in moderation to avoid excess caffeine and artificial ingredients. Studies also show that drinking a glass of water before a meal can help you to eat less. Ditch the juice and add more water!

Portion control 
Try filling half your plate with vegetables and the other half with an equal split of healthy protein (such as grilled chicken or fish) and wholesome carbohydrates (such as sweet potato, whole grain bread, or brown rice). This is called the Plate Method, and can be a big help in controlling calorie intake. To learn more about the Plate Method, visit the website at www.choosemyplate.gov.

Eat mindfully 
By focusing on what you’re eating, your body will be better able to know when it’s full.  This “mindful eating” will help you slow down and control calorie intake. It may prevent you from eating hundreds of extra calories that your body doesn’t need. Try not to watch TV, surf the web, or talk on the phone while you eat. You’ll probably enjoy your food much more this way as well!

Sources: BJOG. 2012 May;119(6):716-23. Maternal weight gain during the first half of pregnancy and offspring obesity at 16 years: a prospective cohort study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22489762