Cornell University Graduate.
Featured on FOX and CBS news.
Mother to adorable twins.
And a dear friend of mine.
Welcome Back Brooke Benlifer!
Considering how much Brooke has going on these days with the recent birth of her adorable twins, I’m very grateful she agreed to take some time to share with us her story and the plan she created and used herself to get back into fitness after giving birth.
In Brooke’s Bounce Back plan, she shares with us healthy tips and tricks she used while she was pregnant. She goes on to share what she’s done since having the twins to bounce back into fitness.
Her energy, motivation, and love for health and fitness is awesome. Brooke’s one of the sincerest people you’ll ever meet. I’m fortunate to call her a friend. I love her story and approach and I have a good feeling you will too.
Let’s jump right in!
One of my favorite clientele to work with are new moms, looking to “bounce back” to their pre-baby fitness level and to a healthy weight, especially if they gained an excessive amount during pregnancy.
When I became pregnant with twins last year, I was completely overjoyed! My husband and I both love leading active lives (he is an avid rock climber) and my favorite physical activities include running, hiking/walking, yoga, Pilates, Barre and weight training. I love at home fitness DVDs for a quick, efficient workout. While pregnant, I was determined to stay active AND safe. I stopped running and substituted daily walks in my hilly neighborhood early in the morning. I’d also sometimes add walks with friends in the late afternoon.
I researched the best prenatal workouts (i.e. ones for women who were previously fit and active) and decided upon the Expecting More DVD series, after getting approval from multiple healthcare providers. It allowed me to use bodyweight resistance and light weights so that I could maintain my strength in addition to the cardio that the walks provided.
My favorite foods while pregnant were carbs, for sure.
I enjoyed pasta, pancakes, and lots of pumpkin ice cream but also included a wide variety of foods and refrained from poultry, red meat, soy and caffeine. My pregnancy was very uneventful and easy…until I went into pre-term labor at 25 weeks and delivered my girl/boy twins on Christmas Eve morning at a mere 25 and a ½ weeks.
Needless to say, the next several months (actually the next 6 months) were the most stressful ones of my entire life. For a very long time, it felt as though I was continually getting beat up (emotionally and psychologically). The amount of love for my children mixed with fear for their well-being was off the charts. The care and dedication of everyone in the NICU as well as the support from friends and family was absolutely incredible—but still, the stress and daily, let alone hourly ups and downs were very, very challenging.
I knew I had to take care of myself amidst all of this and having some sort of “routine” during a very unpredictable time really helped.
I was lucky enough to have a very easy recovery from my C-section (which was a “splash and crash” type, where I was intubated for the entire surgery). Within 3 days of delivering, I felt good enough to walk a [slow] 3 miles on flat ground. I continued daily walks until 6 weeks post-op, at which point I started jogging again, 3 miles a day.
It had been almost 7 months since I’d last run, and getting back into the groove proved more difficult than I’d expected.
I persisted, adding a yoga DVD post-run to stretch out my muscles and challenge me. Not only was it a good way to start my day; it put me in a better frame of mind to be able to handle whatever news was to come my way as I stepped through the NICU doors.
As our babies grew, my husband and I continued to encounter new setbacks, along with their progress. Everyone told us that the experience would be a rollercoaster and it most certainly was in our case. Fortunately, as the months passed, we were able to be more hands-on with our babies, which meant that our days in the hospital became longer and longer, as we were able to help assist in their care. I would generally arrive late morning and return home late evening, exhausted.
Each day, I packed a huge bag of meals and snacks from home. There was no eating in the NICU so I found myself either taking more frequent snack breaks, or stuffing myself when I took infrequent breaks, neither of which was ideal.
A little over 4 months after they were born, our babies came home! It was an incredible day. We still had quite a bit to deal with, as both were on oxygen and our home was filled with alarms, monitors, tanks, wrenches, concentrators, tubing and more. It still felt like we were in crisis mode, at least for the next 2 months.
I shopped for groceries once a week and tried to stock up on items that were both easy (requiring little or no prep) and healthy. Some of my favorites were baked spinach quinoa cakes and edamame, and of course, dark chocolate superfruits.
I continued to do a quick 3 mile run very early each morning while my husband fed the kiddos. By 6:30am, I was ready to take on the day and had gotten a ½ hour of fresh air. I stopped the yoga and instead threw in 20 minutes of strength training during naptime on most days.
As time went on between April and June, the whole family began longing to be done with the oxygen and alarms and monitors that, while helpful in many ways, were also becoming a hindrance to all of us being mobile and leaving the house. We were so eager to carry our kids around from room to room or at least unattached to a monitor and probe and constant beeping. They were outgrowing the equipment and yet we knew, with a little patience, we would soon be free of it and able to achieve the normalcy we craved.
My intention was to start the Bounce Back plan in March and complete it by June—in other words, to be at my optimal health and fitness level by the time the babies were 6 months old. In reality, I “bounced” back and forth during those months. One of the things that was most difficult for me was feeling cooped up—whether during the hours spent inside the NICU and on the drive to and from the hospital, or when we were at home and unable to go outside with the babies.
The alarms really did a number on my sanity!
I felt uncomfortable about where I was physically. Yet, I wasn’t fully committed to changing. Sometimes it is hardest to commit when you are just a little dissatisfied, vs a blatantly obvious need to change that catapults you to do so.
I found myself continually in this place of wanting to change but the level of feeling out of shape wasn’t “that bad”.
In other words, I was able to drag myself out of bed and run 3 miles and lift some weights during the day. Yet, I knew that I was capable of more and would feel infinitely better at my normal fitness level. My back was hurting on a daily basis (which it never had) from being more sedentary, too.
Everything came together early in July, when we got the all clear from the doctors to take the babies off of the monitors (they had already been weaned from the oxygen) and go outside as a family. Suddenly I had JUST the motivation I needed. I created a plan, culminating with the Race for the Cure with my husband in early November to run and raise money for a close friend. The faster we run, the more money raised.
Within the first week of getting outside together, kids in tow in the Double Bob stroller, I felt fantastic!
The eating fell into place, too, with a variety of foods to fuel my workouts and give me consistent energy. I also try to get a good night’s sleep and keep my phone out of sight when sleeping.
I love helping others achieve their goals and hope that I inspire moms who are looking to feel their best, or ANYONE who is dedicated to seeing just what he/she is capable of.
Health is to a great extent, a daily choice—with each step, and each bite.
We are blessed to be able to move and to eat nourishing food. I want to feel strong and confident and empowered in my own life and to be an excellent role model for my children. I want them to know that I have joyfully trekked miles and miles with them, run up hills with passion, pushing them as far as I can go. I want them to know that they, too are incredibly strong individuals, for all that they have conquered thus far in their journey into this world. I want to savor every day with them and with my husband, and being truly healthy allows for this. I enjoy challenging myself and seeing progress.
Here’s what helps me feel amazing. I hope it inspires you to feel your best, too!
BOUNCE BACK PLAN
Adequate calories to fuel your level of activity. One of my greatest areas of nutrition research is on Flat Belly Foods (foods that are scientifically proven to help reduce dangerous belly fat). These items are interchangeable with almost all those in a clean eating program.
Lots of leafy, green vegetables
Mini heirloom tomatoes
Frozen, organic broccoli
Baked spinach quinoa cakes
Steel cut oats
Unsweetened vanilla almond milk
Jalapeno Greek yogurt dip
Reduced fat mayonnaise
Starbucks Via instant coffee
Rice/Pea Protein powder (vanilla and chocolate)
Guar gum (to thicken smoothies)
Nuts (all varieties)
Physical Activity You Love
In the early mornings, my husband feeds our babies while I dedicate 30 minutes to working out. I do Jillian Michaels Body Revolution*, which is a 3 month program that requires just a ½ hour 6 days per week and gets progressively more challenging, which I love! On Sundays, I do a ½ hour yoga workout (Jillian Michaels Yoga Inferno) and then my husband and I take our babies for a family walk/run, generally a 3 mile loop around our neighborhood.
*Note: I started the Body Revolution program and finished the first 2 months and then got pregnant so put it on hold. I restarted the program from the very beginning in mid July and am completing it in its entirety, so will be done mid October.
Every day, I take the kiddos for a walk/run in the Double Bob stroller. We generally go out during the hour or so before their dinner, when it is slightly cooler and all of us are itching to soak up fresh air. I cannot tell you what a difference this has made. When they were tethered to the monitors and we were all inside going slightly crazy with the constant alarms, beeping, crying, heat and noise, everyone was feeling not so great. Now, that time spent together is such a pleasure.
They rest or just take in the scenery and I get in a great workout that is both challenging and relaxing.
We always run at least one hill, which we dedicate to the good health of our friend that we are running the Race for the Cure for—this hill is a beast, but feels oh so good to accomplish before we get home! My son loves off-roading in the stroller, so we often throw in some grassy areas or lots of swerving during our outing.
During the day, when we are indoors, one of my favorite things to do are a couple of segments of a Barre Amped or Barre Amped Bootcamp workout DVD, generally while the kiddos are napping or bouncing in their exersaucers, watching me. It leaves me feeling fantastic. I believe in the health benefits of working up a sweat on a daily basis. It helps me to be more patient and focused as well as put everything in perspective, all of which are crucial to being a good mom and the best person I can be.
One other thing that I have done which is a first for me is to give myself a little reward for each week that I successfully complete my training and reach my goals. I’ve always encouraged my clients to do this and find that it is such a nice way to celebrate and also to push myself a little further!
Here are some of my favorite recipes:
Chocolate Fudge Protein Pancakes
2 whole eggs
½ cup steel cut oats
1 serving chocolate protein powder
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp baking powder
½ cup plus 2 Tbsp water
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Use a spoon to drop pancake batter onto greased frying pan. Flip pancakes to brown both sides. Top pancakes with berries, Greek yogurt and nuts!
Egg white scramble
1 carton egg whites
4 cups frozen, organic broccoli (thawed)
garlic & hummus to taste
This is literally one of the quickest and easiest recipes to make for a high protein breakfast that will keep you satisfied till lunchtime rolls around!
Coat your frying pan with cooking spray. Pour entire carton of egg whites and the broccoli into the pan. Add a generous amount of garlic. When scramble is done, add a dollop of hummus.
1/3 cup steel cut oats (dry)
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
¼ cup almonds
½ cup blueberries
dash vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
Cook oats, almond milk, vanilla and cinnamon in microwave or on stove top. Top with almonds & blueberries for a boost of fiber, protein, and antioxidants!
“Everything but the Kitchen Sink” Salad
1 avocado, sliced
1 small apple, sliced
1 can albacore tuna (mixed with reduced fat mayo and Cholula hot sauce OR 1 Tbsp of Jalapeno Greek yogurt dip)
2 baked spinach quinoa cakes, chopped and tossed into salad
1 Tbsp pumpkin seeds
Combine all ingredients for a tasty lunch or dinner!
Chocolate Peanut Butter Pudding
If you love Reeses Pieces, you will love this decadent tasting, super healthy treat!
1 serving chocolate protein powder
1 Tbsp natural, creamy peanut butter
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 tsp guar gum (thickener)
Combine all ingredients and blend in blender.
You’re awesome Brooke! Thanks so very much for your time and sharing your story and Bounce Back plan with us. Inspiring to say the least. Cheers to you! 🙂
Brooke Joanna Benlifer, RD is a Cornell University graduate and Registered Dietitian with expertise in a variety of medical issues, from diabetes and cardiac care, to renal health and GI issues.
After completing her internship on the east coast, she began a career as a dietitian in San Diego. “My passion is preventative health through optimal nutrition. I want to lead people toward healthier, more fulfilling lives.”
For more information about Brooke and her services, please visit her at: www.brookejoannanutrition.com
Featured Image Credit: Estella B. art & Photography