Mom Hacks

100+ Science-Backed Shortcuts to Reclaim Your Body, Raise Awesome Kids, and Be Unstoppable


By Darria Long Gillespie

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100+ self-care hacks for any mom to eat right, move more, stress less and get a good night’s sleep, by a doctor who is also a mom

Why is it generally accepted that motherhood comes at the expense of our health–with all that weight gain, fatigue, and exhaustion? It doesn’t have to be that way. What if your baby AND you could thrive together? We cure diseases. We create artificial ears using 3-D printers. We solved how to pee in space. We can figure this out–and now Dr. Darria has done just that.

An Ivy league-trained physician and mom of two, Dr. Darria combed the latest in medicine, psychology, and holistic health for answers when her own health crises struck. She now brings those solutions to moms everywhere. For moms who just DontHaveTheTime (or energy), Mom Hacks gives you the specific smallest changes that yield the biggest impact for you and your child.

Every hack is a mini super-charged solution with an immediate impact. So you feel good, lose the baby weight, and are more present, while raising thriving children–in an entirely do-able, time-saving, with-you-in-the-trenches way. Her humor and personal stories bring warmth and encouragement when mothers need it most.

You can be the mother and woman you want to be, and with Mom Hacks, you don’t have to listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. It’s time for a new mom world order.



This book is designed to provide information and motivation about health and wellness. It offers helpful tips and education but is not intended to diagnose or treat any malady, or to replace, countermand, or conflict with the advice given to you by your own physician. If you have or think you have any health-care needs, you should contact a health-care professional and follow his or her advice. Information in this book is general in nature and is offered with no guarantees on the part of the author or Da Capo Press. Neither the author nor Da Capo Press is responsible for any specific health needs you bring, have, or might develop in the future, and we disclaim all liability in connection with the use of this book. Unless explicitly noted, the names and identifying details of people associated with events described in this book have been changed.

A Letter from Me to You

At seven months pregnant with my first child, I joked at dinner with an old friend (herself a mother of two), about “modifying” my running habit for my growing bump. I was caught off guard by her response: “Going to the gym. Yeah, that won’t happen again after baby arrives.”

I was stunned. And hurt. But was it true?

The Mom Epidemic

Shortly after that conversation, I was working on a news piece for mothers’ health and learned that the truth wasn’t pretty: For every child she has, a mother’s risk of obesity rises by 7 percent. (I know. Where’s the justice?) Moms are statistically more likely to have poor nutrition, get less exercise, have waaaay less sleep, and face alarmingly increasing rates of pregnancy-related complications and death in the United States.1

Suddenly, I was worried for moms. And for our children, whose generation may have shorter lives than our own. What sort of Handmaid’s Tale world was this? Did we have to accept poor health as the cost of motherhood?

We find cures for cancer. We create artificial ears using 3-D printers. We solved how to pee in space. I knew we could figure this out.

I’d Found Solutions When I Was Told No Before—Could I Do It Again?

You see, I’d been here before, told my health as I knew it was going to change and that I had to live with it. When I was in medical school, I developed a large ovarian cyst. I awoke from emergency surgery having lost the entire ovary—and facing probable fertility problems. Within the next two years, I started to develop painful, swollen joints; I couldn’t walk or see patients without pain. Within weeks, I went from daily runs to a low point when I realized my car was unlocked in downtown Boston—but was in too much pain to go back and lock it. I was eventually diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and started weekly medication injections. They helped but came with their own risks (and if you need a laugh, watch a doctor learning to give herself an injection).

Statistics said that I probably wouldn’t run or play piano at the same level again, certainly not without medications.

I did not like that answer.

So, I started to do research, and to make changes. A friend’s father told me, “That’ll never work.”

It worked.

I was able to wean off my arthritis medications eight years ago. (Note: I’m not anti-medicine—I have huge faith in it. But, in my case—as for many—lifestyle plays a large role.) I gained control over the health outcomes I feared: I had two beautiful children. I resumed running. Most days, I can forget I have these diagnoses.

So, when my friend said, “You’ll never…,” it was déjà vu all over again. And that meant it was time to get to work.

The Real Problem

Our bodies are amazing machines. They maintain an exquisite equilibrium: hormones, sleep, temperature, appetite, pH, and even millisecond-long variability between heartbeats are all under tighter control than the world’s best stopwatch.

Except when they come undone. After observing my patients and mom friends, and becoming a mom myself, I realized the problem. Their equilibrium was off, and they were all caught in a vicious cycle of exhaustion, chronic stress, inadequate nutrition, cravings, weight gain, and low energy. Plus, they were overwhelmed by a barrage of conflicting health advice.

What Did Moms Need?

As an ER doctor, I must succeed amidst chaos. (It sounds like a mom’s typical day. It is). To do that, we use a system of protocols, creative solutions, and training that let us be ready for anything.

So whatever comes through those ER doors, I can know “I’ve got this.”

Suddenly, I realized that what moms needed was not more of the old advice that had long failed them; they didn’t need suggestions to “use more willower” or “just try harder.”

What Moms needed was a little more I’ve got this.

So, I took the skills and mindset that help me succeed in the ER and created a system to translate into daily life. I scoured the best science and incorporated environmental design, habits, and mindset change to make good health attainable—even unconscious. Hacks don’t add to your to-do list, they make it easier to do.

So you can have a little more I’ve got this.

So you can be unstoppable.

How to Use This Book: Choose Your Own Adventure

1. Start with the section you want. This book is broken into four sections: nutrition, exercise, sleep, and resilience. For a kick-start, go to the Dr. Darria’s Restore Diet (here).

2. Then choose one hack. Start with just one hack and log it daily in the Hack Log (like the example at the end of this introduction). Feel free to experiment. You’ll quickly see improvement and realize how good it feels to take back control with even the tiniest steps.

3. Enlist your village. For an even greater boost, enlist your family to join you—or at least cheer you on.

4. Choose a theme song. Because we all need a fight song. My current favorites are Shakira’s “Try Everything” from Zootopia (apparently, I don’t watch anything that’s not Disney), Sia’s “Never Give Up,” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Role Model.” Find my playlists at (password: unstoppable), or find what makes your soul happy and play it with abandon.

What Does That Mean for Us All?

I’m grateful for my friend’s comment that night because it catalyzed me to help moms—and myself. I probably wouldn’t even change my arthritis, for that same reason. In which case, I guess you could call this book my Lemonade.

I walked off the airplane the other day with my infant’s dirty diaper stuck to my sweater (pointed out to me by a kind bystander, God bless her). I don’t claim to have everything figured out. But I have figured out things that work. Motherhood can feel like just barely treading water. But it does not have to cost us our health—or that of our children.

Perhaps you didn’t dare dream that you could be an amazing mom, yet you are (or will be when baby arrives!). Perhaps you had no idea how beautiful and heart-expanding and fun motherhood could be. This book helps you have more of that. To have more energy, to achieve your body goals, to laugh, to just feel better. To be the mother and woman you want to be, on your terms. It’s time for a new mom world order.

This is the book I wish I’d had that night at dinner. Now it’s your book, for you to share with other mamas who need it. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you motherhood has to be otherwise, and don’t give up on yourself because I will not give up on you.

Godspeed, Mama,

Dr. Darria

Example Hack Log

(for a blank copy that you can print, and more great bonuses, go to [password: unstoppable])

WEEK 1: Hack Chosen

EXAMPLE RESPONSES: Walk 5 minutes every morning

WEEK 1: How I plan to do it

EXAMPLE RESPONSES: I’ll have my spouse watch children while I walk in the neighborhood for 5 minutes

Visualize the things you’ll need to make this happen. Be realistic: if you see too many obstacles, make it shorter or simpler to start.

WEEK 1: Status of behavior on Day 0

EXAMPLE RESPONSES: I currently don’t exercise at all

WEEK 1: Day 1


WEEK 1: Day 2


WEEK 1: Day 3


WEEK 1: Day 4


WEEK 1: Day 5


WEEK 1: Day 6


WEEK 1: Day 7


WEEK 1: Status of behavior on Day 7

EXAMPLE RESPONSES: I’m walking 5 minutes every day, and some days I even walk 10 minutes.

WEEK 1: Have you noticed any other benefits?

EXAMPLE RESPONSES: I’m sleeping better, and I’ve noticed that I’m less tempted by a sweet snack at 10 A.M.



Hacks to Set Your Goals

1. Find Your “Why”

2. Choose Nutrition That Works with Your Body’s Chemistry

The Building Blocks of a Healthy Diet

3. Produce—How to Choose It

4. Produce—How to Keep It Fresh and Ready to Eat

5. Produce—How to Cook It

6. Make Your Family a “Longevity Salad”

7. Carbs—Choose the Best Carbs

8. Fat—Add Good Fats Back to Your Diet

9. Heal Your Microbiome

10. Eat the Right Protein

What Not to Eat

11. Avoid Beverages That Sabotage Your Metabolism

12. Minimize Endocrine Disruptors in Food Storage

13. Break the Processed Food and Sugar Habit Step 1: Cutting Hidden Sources

14. Break the Processed Food and Sugar Habit Step 2: Cutting Obvious Sources

15. Watch Out for a “Lite” or “Fat-Free” Label Backfire

Make Healthy Eating Delicious

16. Embrace New Flavors

17. Eat for Satiety

18. Eat Mindfully

Design Your Life to Make Good Nutrition Easier

19. Make Unhealthy Eating Inconvenient

20. Make Healthy Eating Convenient

21. Try Time-Restricted Eating

22. Create Contingency Plans

23. Portion Control Made Easy

24. Improve Workday Meals

25. Eat Well While Dining Out

Getting the Whole Family Eating Well

26. Super-Hack Dinner

27. Easy Ways to Make Family Dinners Happen

28. Involve Your Kids in Shopping/Prepping/Cooking

29. Offer Variety—and Don’t Give Up

30. Adjust Your Food-Parenting Behavior

31. Troubleshoot Picky Behavior


Physicians at the beginning of the twentieth century were troubled by beriberi, a condition that afflicted their patients in Southeast Asia, triggering nerve problems, heart failure, and even death. In some regions, it killed as many as 50 percent of infants,1 but doctors could not pinpoint the cause. Until Dr. Christian Eijkman suddenly noticed similar symptoms in his chickens after changing their feed to “polished” rice. For centuries, whole-grain rice had been a staple of the Southeast Asian diet, but, with the advent of rice processing machines, white rice supplanted it as the dominant food source.

The process of polishing the rice2—just as we see today with food processing—removed the vitamins. This deadly condition had arisen from a simple deficiency of thiamin (or vitamin B1). By restoring thiamin-rich foods and whole-grain rice to the diet, they “virtually wiped out the disease”3 that had killed so many. A deadly disease was solved with a simple diet change.

Something similar happened in a research study of a cholesterol-lowering medication. Enough people were signing up, but Dr. Keith Roach, associate professor of clinical medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, and his colleagues couldn’t keep the participants in the study. The “problem”? After signing up, the research subjects were required to meet with a dietician. By following the dietician’s guidance, 30 percent of the participants improved their health so much that they no longer needed the medication. By changing their nutrition, they had become too “healthy” for the study.4

Nutrition literally has the power to heal. Now, that can seem awfully high-minded when you’re just trying to get your toddler to eat. The food that my daughter told me she loved yesterday “makes [her] tongue itch today.” (What does that even mean? That doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t.) They’d like more of whatever you ran out of yesterday, ThankYou VeryMuch. Plus, they sabotage your own diet by leaving you short on time, tired, and polishing off their leftovers at the kitchen counter. But there’s hope.

A Word on Calories: Yes, Calories Still Count

Calories in − calories out = weight balance. That equation is basic physics: what goes in must come out somewhere, or it’s stored as fat. But calories aren’t all that matter—in fact, a slew of other factors, including what you eat, your hormone balance, and how your body responds, influence how many calories you take IN, and how readily your body burns them (OUT).

Which means that you can manipulate that equation for your benefit—or harm. (And that’s no voodoo math.)

Food addiction and reward (affects calories in). Certain foods stimulate the same reward center as addictive drugs, and food manufacturers spend millions designing new foods to do that even better. Not only do these foods trigger you to overeat; the more you eat, the more you crave, triggering a vicious cycle.

The impact of hormones (affects calories in and out). You’ve likely heard of hormones such as leptin, ghrelin, insulin, and cortisol; when they’re in balance, they keep the body running smoothly. But, when they’re out of balance (like in many of us), they worsen the problem, triggering overeating and fat storage.

Food quality (calories in, and a little out). Beyond just the calorie makeup, the quality of the food determines whether it gets plastered on our abdomen (hello spare tire) or gets used as energy.

P.S.: Apply some Zen to your toddler’s eating. My second child is an adventurous eater, making mealtimes easy. My first is not, and I get the frustration that comes with that.

• Your job when it comes to your child’s food:

to offer nutritious food,

to model enjoying it yourself.

• Your child’s job: to eat it. Or not—her choice.

• Not included in your job description: letting her eat whatever she wants, being a short-order cook to accommodate her requests, or adopting hostage-negotiation tactics to coax her to eat.

• Although some children will immediately respond well to these hacks, others will take longer; and some little meal terrorists will resist entirely. It’s not you, it’s them. To the extent that you can, stay patient, keep consistent, breathe, and carry on.

Hacks to Set Your Goals

Hack 1

Find Your “Why”

If I told you right now to jump into oncoming traffic, you’d say no, right?

Now, what if I told you that you needed to do it to save your child? You’d be halfway into the street before I even finished the sentence.

The action was the same—but the difference? Meaning.

As an ER doctor, I’ve seen moms who have jumped in front of an attacking dog to protect their child, endured uncomfortable treatments in pregnancy for the sake of baby, and even one who carried her child to safety after a car accident before realizing that her other shoulder was dislocated.

We willingly take on any challenge—if the “why” is meaningful enough. The same goes for health decisions—people who successfully make major health changes have one thing in common: all are motivated by something meaningful to them, not just a jeans size or pounds on the scale. As Charles Duhigg puts it in Smarter Faster Better,1 “If you can link something hard to a choice you care about, it makes the task easier.”2

In other words, choose the true, meaningful outcomes of good nutrition to create that link between your food choices and your “why.” Suddenly, you’re no longer just deciding whether you want the donut enough to justify the calories, but whether you want it enough to jeopardize your energy to play with your children, your mental health, and even your children’s future health. Linking it with your “why” makes it much more than “oh it’s just a donut” and makes staying on track worth it—and easier. Choose two or three drivers from the list below that resonate with you.

A longer, vibrant life and more energy. According to associate professor of clinical medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University Dr. Keith Roach, eating well can add five years to your life.3 In research from Harvard, cleaning up just one meal a day reduced premature death by up to 17 percent.4

Lower risk of depression and anxiety. People who eat a “Western” diet (high sugar/salt/saturated fat) are 60 percent more likely to develop depression.5

Better brain function. Diets high in sugar and saturated fat increase inflammation, leading to oxidative damage in the brain. In children, a poor diet contributes to poor school performance, and possibly to attention and hyperactivity problems.6 On the contrary, people who eat more produce have 20 percent greater productivity and 25 percent better job performance,7 better memory, and a lower risk of dementia.

Fewer chronic medications. Americans take more medications than people in any other nation,8 which is caused in no small part by our diets. Changing your diet doesn’t automatically mean you can stop medications, but sustained changes may significantly lower your need for them.

Lower risk of cancer. Nutrition may cut the risk of cancer by as much as 30 percent.9 An improved diet prevented prostate cancer recurrence as effectively as chemotherapy in one study10 and may also be linked to lower breast cancer occurrence.11

Healthier gut. A healthy diet also improves your microbiome, which impacts everything from weight to risk for asthma, allergies, and other autoimmune conditions. Plus, 95 percent of serotonin (a feel-good hormone) is produced in the gut, giving us even more reason to keep it healthy.

Healthy weight loss—and maintenance. If you want to lose weight, then nutrition is the key. Of the more than 10,000 people surveyed who maintained significant weight loss, 98 percent had modified their food intake.12

To overpower your genes. I have many patients who view their genes as a life sentence—not true! Your mother may have type 2 diabetes, your sisters may struggle to lose pregnancy weight, but hear this now: Lifestyle trumps genetics. Need proof? The weight of your best friend and your spouse (which reflect your lifestyle today) are more predictive of your weight than that of your parents.13

To make good health easier for your children—for life. The foods we eat as infants and children impact our weight, preferences, and overall health years and even decades later. As one of the biggest influences on your child’s early food preferences and habits14 (no pressure, of course), the mind-set you model of nourishing your bodies will imprint on your children for life.

Hack 2

Choose Nutrition That Work’s with Your Body’s Chemistry

Dietary fads seem to change every day, short on science and long on trendiness. Seeing my patients driven crazy (or worse, harmed) by what they read from a nutrition “expert” makes me want to dunk said expert in their own colon cleanse. It’s just not right. (And by not right, I mean both the expert and the colon cleanse. Just don’t.)

The problem with our current Western diet is that it’s driven our body’s equilibrium haywire. A good nutritional foundation will restore it and give you a way to eat for the rest of your life (as opposed to “dieting,” which is unsustainable and miserable and should be fired). You’ll have more energy, reach your body goals more easily, and even be able to sleep better.

You do not have to count grams or carbs or calories. You don’t have to eat weird combinations or eliminate any one nutrient. In fact, a recent study showed that participants who simply prioritized whole foods—regardless of whether they ate low carb or low fat—lost weight and maintained it, without considering calories.15 You’ll also never have to eliminate any one macronutrient (such as carbs or fat) because as Dr. David Katz says, preventive medicine physician, founder of the Preventive Research Center at Yale University, and author of The Truth About Food, “If you focus on any given nutrient,… you’re just inventing a new way to eat badly.”

This will be the easiest nutrition guide you’ve ever read because it’s simple: eat lots of “the best,” moderate amounts of “the middle,” and minimize or avoid “the ugly.” But within that list, you get to choose what you love (and I’ll give you many hacks to make it easier to work “the best” into your life and taste buds).


  • "Mom Hacks, written from the heart of a mother and the scientific mind of a doctor, is a fun and informative read for busy parents. My favorite 'hack' is Dr. Darria's wise advice about how moms can keep their own mind happy, even when their kids are draining."—William Sears, MD, co-author of The Baby Book
  • "Dr Darria's witty, clever and thoughtful approach to mothering advice will make you comfortable with the chaotic beauty of raising the most treasured friend you will ever have. Go get 'em!"—Mehmet Oz, MD, Host of The Dr Oz Show and Attending Physician at New York Presbyterian-Columbia University

On Sale
Feb 19, 2019
Page Count
304 pages

Dana Gillespie

Darria Long Gillespie

About the Author

An acclaimed media health expert, Dr. Darria Gillespie earned her medical degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine, her residency in Emergency Medicine from Yale University School of Medicine and her MBA from Harvard Business School. After residency, she joined the faculty at Harvard Medical School, where she worked in the ER at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center in Boston, MA. She is a practicing emergency physician, currently working as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine and formerly on faculty at Harvard Medical School. She is the national spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Learn more about this author