Set Point Blues
October 4, 2008 7:22 PM   Subscribe

I have been trying, off-and-on, to lose five to ten pounds, or at least decrease my bodyfat percentage, but I've had no luck. I'm not overweight, but I would like to get back to the body weight I had ten years ago.

I'm a pretty active person - I row several times a week, take Pilates classes regularly and hike at least one hour every day. I tend to eat fairly healthily.

When I fall into a rut and neglect my exercise routine or eat lots of junk food for two weeks, my weight doesn't go up appreciably. But when I stick to a 1500-calorie per day diet plan for two weeks, my weight doesn't go down at all.

Is there any way that I can convince my body to quit holding on to it's favorite weight of 118 pounds for dear life without starving myself, and maintain that lower weight once I get there?
posted by freshwater_pr0n to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You can always try to get more muscular. But that will mean eating more calories, which might translate (at least in the short term) as more body fat.

In any case, very low body fat isn't natural or particularly healthy.
posted by tamagosan at 7:37 PM on October 4, 2008

Can you stick out the 1500-calorie plan (or whatever diet you're using) for longer than two weeks? I find that I lose weight realllllly slowly, and so the natural fluctuations in my weight from day to day kind of lower the signal-to-noise ratio. I don't always notice I'm losing any weight at all for a good month, but it is in fact dropping. If you don't gain weight over two weeks of junk food and inactivity either, it sounds like weight changes just go really slowly for your body.
posted by adiabat at 7:41 PM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

You answered the question yourself - "set point" and "favorite body weight" say it all. Sounds to me like you are at the place your body wants and perhaps needs to be. Since you are FAR from overweight (and, unless you are under 5 feet tall, perhaps a bit under weight), you should probably learn to love your body the way it is. Also, you don't mention your age - if you were in your twenties 10 years ago, it's perfectly natural for you to gain a few pounds as your body ages and changes.

You seems to live a pretty healthy lifestyle with exercise and a good diet (and rowing and pilates should give you some healthy muscle, which is far more important for women in the long run than being thin) so...

If you are worried about your HEALTH, see a doctor and have her/him check your numbers. If they are fine, then don't worry about it. I can't imagine that eating less than 1500 calories a day would be any healthier (or any fun, for that matter), and perhaps THAT is is an issue - if you don't eat enough to support your weight and your activity level, your body will hold onto fat because it goes into "starvation" mode.
posted by coollibrarian at 7:47 PM on October 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

Go low-carb for 2 weeks (aka Atkins; aka the South Beach induction diet). You'll likely lose weight.

Last time I went low-carb, I lost 9 pounds in the first week (I'm male).

But of course keeping them off is another story...
posted by Ike_Arumba at 8:15 PM on October 4, 2008

Are you taking hormonal contraceptive birth control?

I put on weight, and found it impossible to lose, while taking the contraceptive injection -- despite being on a 1500-calorie diet, cycling intensively for one hour daily, and eating fresh, nutritious, slow-release foods.

Because such contraceptives elevate hormonal levels to simulate pregnancy and prevent ovulation, I suspect my body increased its ability to store fat, just as it does during pregnancy.

My GP told me I must be overeating and under-exercising, but after viewing my medical records, which clearly showed my weight had increased incrementally with each injection, I quit. I had never experienced weight gain before.

My menstrual cycle returned after nine months (!), and as soon as it did, the additional weight I'd put on and been unable to shed (12kg) literally fell off within an astonishing six weeks. My friends, colleagues and family were just as stunned as I was, to the point whereby bulimia was suspected.

That was over a year ago, and I've maintained my figure with no changes in my (already healthy) lifestyle habits since. The result is that at 32, I'm the same clothing size I was at 22.

My sister experienced exactly the same problem, and we're both exploring non-hormonal contraceptive birth control choices now.
posted by elke at 8:25 PM on October 4, 2008

I agree with tamagosan - they eat up a bunch of calories even if you don't use them. I've reached the point where if I ramp up my lifting routine I'll lose weight.

Well, either that or start drinking lots of vodka and smoking cigarettes. Are you sure you're only intaking 1500 calories per day? Are there any overlooked sources of calories (.. beer, soft drinks...)?

Increasing fibre seems to "help" decrease my hunger feelings; avoiding simple sugars also "helps" (it's all relative - I would like to be hungry more) - more fibre and less simple sugars (fruit juices included) spikes blood glucose, which rapidly falls, which can trigger hunger pangs. Genetics (ie., leptin response) can play a role so you might just be s.o.l.
posted by porpoise at 9:39 PM on October 4, 2008

Stop looking at your weight as a valuable metric. If you don't want to do this, skip to the next answer...I have nothing useful to say to you.

If you want to decrease your body-fat percentage, you'll need to do a few things, and start thinking of a few things differently. Mostly you'll need to set goals and stick with them--otherwise there is no point, and you should just be comfortable where you're at, and worry just about fitness (or whatever) rather than body-fat percentage. Nothin' wrong with that.

-If you really give a crap about decreasing your body-fat percentage, do the proper analysis. What is your exact body-fat percentage (go to a medical provider who will help you do this, or learn to do it yourself)? How much do you burn a day, on average? What caloric intake do you need to maintain your muscle mass, or increase it? What are your workouts providing you with now, in terms of calories burned and muscles built, *exactly*? Etc. As others have mentioned, you may be eating too little. In fact, this can slow your metabolism. It's not magic, it's (nutritional) science--do the analysis.

-Increase your muscle mass, as even sitting muscle burns more. This will probably entail gaining weight. Get a good strength training routine going, with a trainer who knows what they are doing if you don't.

-Increase your metabolism. Increasing your muscle mass is important here. Eating foods at a rate that you can burn efficiently which are composed of nutrients that your body can burn efficiently is critical ("great abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym..."). Engaging in intense, well-structured cardio (rowing is awesome) will help. Investigate and maybe change how you are performing your cardio; HIIT is a better strategy for cardio than long, slow workouts. Check out Crossfit for an all around, kick-ass workout that builds both strength and gives your heart a workout (and much more)...maybe later if not now.

-Eating to burn fat: eat a lean protein, complex carbohydrate, low saturated fat diet. If you are going to be building muscle towards the goal of losing *fat* not losing *weight* you need to think like a bodybuilder, not a dieter. Along those lines: increase your meal frequency to five-six times a day. This helps keeps your metabolism up at a constant rate during the day. If you eat small meals frequently, composed of a good ratio of carbs/proteins/fats (the zone diet says 40/30/30, 50/30/20 is also supposedly good...ymmv), you'll burn like crazy, and keep your muscles fed. Ignore sugar, saturated fats, booze. If you can cultivate this as a lifestyle shift rather than a "diet" then you'll be better off. Also, you'll feel GREAT all the time. This is probably the most contentious item; there are a lot of diets out there. This one has worked very well for me though, and is pretty consistent with a lot of other people's diets that have worked well for them. Of course, there is much more detail that I could provide about this dietary strategy...but I'll let you investigate further if you'd like.

-Finally: take notes. Take measurements. Give yourself a break so you don't go insane, and eat a few "bad" meals once in a while.

That's what has worked for me.

Good luck with whatever you do!
posted by dubitable at 11:04 PM on October 4, 2008 [4 favorites]

I agree with dubitable the Zone diet is great for stripping BF%

I used it to it to strip my BF down but then realized I didnt like the results so now im aiming to gain 30lbs!
posted by moochoo at 12:50 AM on October 5, 2008

How long have you been rowing and doing your Pilates? It's possible you've gotten really good at doing this and are not getting the full benefit. If you were an amazonian with a limited food supply paddling up and down the river looking for fish and trying to conserver engery, this would be a good thing. For you it's not.

Try mixing up your routine or paying more attention to form and see if some unused muscles complain.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:30 AM on October 5, 2008

Several months ago I set out to regain my college sixpack and have had pretty decent success so far. Like you, I started out in fairly good shape but thought I could do better. I attribute my progress to the following, in no particular order:
  1. Eating less: I no longer eat until I'm full and I may still even think I'm hungry. But 15 minutes later, I'm over it and on to the rest of my evening. I needed to really rethink what I thought a reasonable portion was; this was a leap in thinking and meant challenging deeply entrenched beliefs as to how my hunger works.
  2. Eating different: I skip dessert more often than not. After a couple of months, I began to lose that feeling of deprivation that would come from passing by the ice cream truck. I no longer think stir frys require rice to be complete. Low fat yogurt and apples is my new favorite treat.
  3. Exercising different: I've been working out in some form or another since high school and found myself in a rut. Two things I changed was following this HIIT running schedule and also taking body conditioning classes at my gym. I pushed myself hard in both and welcomed the novelty and variety. I get sore (the good kind) in new places now and welcome it as an affirmation that I'm exercising new muscle groups.
  4. Fear of death(!): My Dad, a marathoner, recently had a non-fatal heart attack. Turns out, no matter how much running you do, if you start most mornings with cream in your coffee and cereal and finish many evenings with a bowl of ice cream, it doesn't matter how much running you do. While my habits weren't as bad, I saw how my workout routine was enabling less than stellar eating patterns. But eating and exercise aren't fungible assets and recognizing that I needed to pay attention to both really helped me internalize my need to make fundamental diet changes.
  5. Measure success: I weigh myself every time I go to the gym and I spend some time in front of the mirror. Having both quantitative and qualitative measures of my progress has been really helpful to staying on track.
Overall, I've found the experience to be fun and rewarding. I think the most fundamental change I made was mental; after that, the rest has come pretty easy.
posted by funkiwan at 10:17 AM on October 5, 2008

I'm going to go with a few others above who are questioning the basic goal. You weigh 118 pounds, if you're over 5 feet tall then you're plenty thin. Plus, you're doing lots of physical activity and eating well for the most part. And apparently your body likes this weight and is willing to maintain it without a lot of work. Sounds like healthy to me...perhaps you should just enjoy it and not worry about getting all the way down to that 10-year-old number.

If you care about the body fat number, others have offered some useful advice. I'll leave it to you as to whether you want to focus on that.

(I'm a 5'8" woman who weighed about 120 in college, then gained 80 pounds over the next 10 years. I lost 60+ pounds the last 18 months, but I have NO plans to get as skinny as I was in my early 20s. I feel better than I ever have in my life: but that teeny-tiny number? That's way too small for me now.)
posted by epersonae at 2:09 PM on October 5, 2008

Stop looking at your weight as a valuable metric.
If you want to decrease your body-fat percentage, you'll need to do a few things, and start thinking of a few things differently.
-If you really give a crap about decreasing your body-fat percentage, do the proper analysis. What is your exact body-fat percentage (go to a medical provider who will help you do this, or learn to do it yourself)?
It's not magic, it's (nutritional) science--do the analysis.
-Increase your muscle mass,
-Increase your metabolism. Increasing your muscle mass is important here.
-Eating to burn fat: eat a lean protein, complex carbohydrate, low saturated fat diet. If you are going to be building muscle towards the goal of losing *fat* not losing *weight* you need to think like a bodybuilder, not a dieter.
posted by dubitable at 1:04 AM on October 5

Yah, I'm with dubitable like 200% -- who gives a rats ass what your weight is, toss the scale out the window, it really is about BMI, it's about how much lean muscle mass vs body fat content. I don't give a damn about my weight but I surely do want to be strong and flexible and lean et all. Yoga (intensive yoga, Ashtanga, religiously) and diet and I've lost about forty-seven thousand pounds of fat in the past year. (Sadly, I've only gained about 14 pounds of muscle, but hey, slow and sure, right? Right?!?) I've written about this way too much out here so I'm not going to go into the gruesome details of it all, save to say that it actually wasn't/isn't gruesome at all, not if/when you find your game, whatever that might be; for me it is Ashtanga. Diet has taken care of itself; I almost cannot eat shit food since I've started this thing; every time I have eaten shit food, the next day on the mat IS gruesome. Instant karma. Etc.

Like dubitable, I wish you luck, and fun also.

posted by dancestoblue at 3:59 PM on October 5, 2008

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