To lose the weight and flab she gained from pregnancy, Kareen Lai hit the gym, and tried slimming massages and treatments. But they didn’t seem to work.
Looking at Kareen Lai’s trim figure now, it is hard to imagine that she once struggled with weight issues after gaining a whopping 30kg during her pregnancy about seven years ago.
Pregnancy complications in the form of early contractions and preeclampsia had made it hard for her to keep active while carrying the twins. The latter is a potentially life-threatening pregnancy condition marked by high blood pressure.
By the time Kiran and Aasha were born at 32 weeks, Kareen had gone from a svelte 55kg to 85kg. At birth, the twins barely weighed 3kg together.
The excess weight left her with a flabby tummy, which refused to budge even after she underwent postnatal massages and hit the gym.
“I even paid over $1,000 for 10 slimming treatments which required me to run on this special elliptical machine with infrared rays. It was supposed to increase my metabolism. I didn’t see results at all after all that money and time spent,” she shares.
Upset that she continued to “look and feel five months’ pregnant” months after giving birth, Kareen turned to a scientifically backed online weight loss programme by an overseas fitness coach.
“Back then, I was a climbing coach and physical-education teacher at a junior college, so I felt like I had to step up to show my students that motherhood isn’t frumpy,” says Kareen.
Inspired by her own transformation, she took up exercise and sports nutrition courses by the American Council on Exercise and National Academy of Sports Medicine, both of which offer globally recognised fitness accreditations.
Today, the 34-year-old is a certified fitness coach and founder of Mums in Sync, which runs fitness and nutrition programmes for mums struggling with weight issues.
Following her coach’s structured meal and exercise plan, the determined mum worked out almost every day and packed healthy meals to work; this allowed her to consistently eat clean.
Even when dining out with colleagues and friends, she would bring along her packed meals. So while they slurped up greasy bak chor mee (minced pork noodles) at the food court, for instance, Kareen would be tucking into wholesome stir-fried quinoa with vegetables and some grilled chicken or eggs.
While her strict weight loss regimen might sound like an uphill task, she says everything boils down to motivation and good planning.
“You need to be disciplined about planning your meals in advance. You can’t go through your day unplanned if you want to lose weight, because you’ll just grab anything to eat,” she says.
“If you’re motivated to become healthier, you’ll find ways to make things work.”
That said, Kareen admits that she is also fortunate to have a hands-on husband and mum, who help out with the twins, now six years old.
He tucks them into bed at night so she has time to prep her healthy meals for the next day.
Another lifestyle adjustment she made was to get more sleep and rest; the lack of shut-eye makes it harder for mums to lose fat, she explains.
Ideally, everyone should get at least seven hours of sleep each day, but since that is not possible for new mums, regular naps and rest periods would be the next best alternative.
“I was very stressed during the first few months after my babies were born, which was probably why I found it hard to lose my belly. Tummy fat is linked to high cortisol (a stress hormone). The stress also affected my breast-milk production,” says Kareen, who stopped nursing when her twins were five months old.
Now weighing 56kg, the glowing 1.65m-tall mum says “every little bit counts” when it comes to getting a fit post-baby body.
She encourages inactive mums to start with small steps.
“Even if you start off with just three minutes of exercise every day, you can gradually increase it to five, 10 and then 20 minutes,” she says.
Ultimately, having a fit and toned body is a long-term journey, not a quick fix; sticking to healthy habits in a sustainable way is essential.
“It’s what you see in the mirror, not the weighing scale, that matters. At my lowest weight while prepping for a fitness competition, I was only 53kg,” she says.
“But maintaining that weight is not sustainable for me because it means being very strict with my diet. I still want to be able to enjoy good bakes every now and then.”
This article was first published in Young Parents.