Help me lose the apples and pears - why do I have trouble losing weight?
October 7, 2008 12:06 AM   Subscribe

Help me lose the apples and pears - why do I have trouble losing weight?

I'm nearly 30 and need to do something about the extra kilos I've packed on in the last decade. I am becoming very much an apple shape like the other women in my family - all of the weight I have gained is around my stomach, hips and back. Just like my mother and sister I have a belly.

I've probably gained about 15kg in 10 years (though I was underweight when I was 20). I gained about 7kg of this right after I had glandular fever at 20. I do a lot of walking (several hours per week) and cycling and this doesn't seem to make a difference. Last year I tried a gym, and my weight and size never changed over three months (and I was working out hard!). I was slender when I was a skater, but I don't get the benefits I once did from that as I don't have the stamina for crazy stomach crunching spins and jumps anymore. I don't swim as I'm a very weak swimmer and I find it uncomfortable due to my sinusitis.

I generally eat pretty healthily, drink a lot of water and green tea, but no change. I do get very full and swollen after my meals, and am prone to IBS type symptoms. Is there some non-exercise reason why I find it hard to lose weight? Or am I stuck with my genes?

Not looking for a magic bullet, just ideas on what I should do to be less of an apple!!
posted by wingless_angel to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
There are some non-exercise reasons why you can't lose weight, and you're also stuck with your genes. Sorry; thems the facts of life. Doesn't mean you can't fight it though!

Let's get the obvious out of the way first: there are medical reasons why you might have trouble losing weight. Thyroid issues, etc. If you have any concern that there might be an underlying medical condition then you should talk to your doctor! Just because it runs in the family doesn't mean that for you something isn't wrong.

Now on to the arm chair advice. I'm an engineer, so I tend to look at things in an engineering, mechanical way. Underlying all the diet and exercise theories is a basic fact: you have an intake of calories, and you have a rate at which you use them. If your intake is greater than your use, you put on weight. QED.

Let's talk about how you use them. Obviously, exercise and general activity level is an important part of this. If you were doing a lot of skating when you were 20 then your activity level has gone down a lot. Aim for several hours of walking a DAY. Instead of calling co-workers, get up and go to their desk. Park further away in parking lots. Go for morning strolls before breakfast and evening walks after dinner. It all adds up. There's a reason dog owners tend to be healthier!

You say you worked out hard. But you didn't say what your dedication was or your tolerance for discomfort (not pain: discomfort). It takes awhile to get into the rhythm of any strenuous activity. With that comes a lot of sore muscles and nights were you feel like you can't even lift yourself off the couch (but in a good way). But two days later, you should be back with that program, pushing yourself again. Always push. If, after 3 months, you're still at the level you were when you started then you're doing it wrong. They're expensive, but trainers do help.

Unfortunately, there's also your basal metabolic rate: a fancy way of saying the minimum amount of energy you need to stay alive. Bad news is that this goes down as you get older. There might be something about your family that particularly affects the BMR. But the point is that you just might have to work a lot harder now to stay fit than you did 10 years ago. Perhaps a depressing realization, but not an overwhelming obstacle.

Finally, there's the intake. I won't doubt your diet when you say you eat healthy... healthy for most people, that is. If I were on your diet perhaps I'd lose weight every month. But it is obvious that your diet, for you, is working against your goals. You're going to have to take a long, hard look at it. If you only ate lettuce and peanuts, I'd tell you to cut out the peanuts1! Something is hiding in there that's hindering you.

Now that I've typed this all up, someone is going to comment on how 100% wrong I am. Like I said, I'm an engineer, not a nutritionist. Who trusts what they read on the internet anyway :) The important thing in all of this is that you (a) feel healthy, and (b) actually are healthy. Doesn't always correlate with (c) looking healthy.

1: actually, if that were your diet I'd tell you to get to the doctor post-haste. That's not healthy at all.
posted by sbutler at 1:48 AM on October 7, 2008

I was eating pretty healthily (heaps of fresh vegetables, wholemeal bread, pasta, protein) and it wasn't until I went onto an eating plan (CSIRO) that my inability to previously lose weight was explained by a. portions that were too large and b. underestimating calories (which can be the same thing). I even went to the doctor and got my thyroid tested, and it was marginal for a while, but then went back to normal. I've read recently that studies show that most people do not know what is a normal portion size anymore, eg, plates are several inches larger than they were a generation ago.

So, as boring as it is, I would suggest to that you weigh everything you eat, and record the calories you're consuming. When you've got enough data about what you're consuming, aim for 10% less calories, and see if you lose weight then. In my experience, exercise, while it can speed up the process, has little effect on my weight loss. If I don't reduce my calories, I do not lose weight. Oh, I'm not a nutritionist, or an engineer, or a doctor, or even a good cook. But I have lost 10 pounds in the last ten weeks.
posted by b33j at 1:56 AM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Should add - I walk an hour a day as part of my commute (I don't drive), but my tolerance for discomfort has dropped since I was a skater and would wake up aching all over.

Diet - I don't eat red meat, but I do eat lots of seafood, veggies. Rarely snack other than cheese, soy chips, nuts and dried fruit. Probably the main thing I could do is switch from white pasta and rice to brown. I eat a lot of Asian food (curries, chili, stir fry). I probably drink a little too much beer.

I feel a little heavier than I think I should feel, and I think I'm in the market for glasses for the first time, all the usual ageing type-stuff.

B33J - CSIRO diet looks interesting but I was worried about the amount of meat they recommended (at least, in the first edition). But thanks, I'll take another look.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:50 AM on October 7, 2008

Weightwatchers. It works. You can learn about metabolic rate and calories and do the sums yourself, you can diet informally, "eat healthily", and exercise, but if you're 250 calories a day out in your estimate of intake and expenditure that's a pound gained in a fortnight. By joining WW (or one of the other weightloss clubs, WW is the just the one that happens to work for me) you're abdicating a lot of the responsibility for maintaining the balancing act to a tried and tested formula. There's also the fact that this is a long term project. If you want to lose 15 kilos it will take you 30 weeks at a healthy weight loss rate and keeping up any regime for that long is difficult - with the weightloss clubs you get a support network which really helps in the long haul.

The things I like about WW - their core plan is basically healthy eating, with fruit and veg being free, and you can exchange exercise for food and booze, and their web based calculator system is actually rather good (and you get that for free if you pay monthly). In the UK it costs about 17 pounds a month, more if you pay weekly.

Yes it costs money, and yes it really helps if you go to meetings (for the support aspect: as I said, this is a long term project). But you learn a lot about nutrition and exercise on the way.

Personally I find the money part a real motivator (but then I'm tight) - if I've paid 17 quid a month I am more likely to stick to the diet as I don't want to waste money. And if someone had said to me in January when I started WW, "Give me 170 quid and you will lose about 26kg by October" I'd have handed the cash over!

If you are really concerned that there might be some underlying medical reason, I'd say do WW for a month and if you've not lost 2-3 kilos, then go to the doctor.
posted by handee at 2:55 AM on October 7, 2008

Yeah, not necessarily recommending the CSIRO diet, it's not for everyone. My point is, unless you count and weight and measure your food OR follow a diet that has already counted, weighed and measured, it is very easy to overeat, even with good foods.
posted by b33j at 3:45 AM on October 7, 2008

Cut back on the beer. "Too much beer" (calories) could be very well contributing to your apple shape. You're taking in too many calories. It doesn't matter if you replaced pasta with brown rice and eat a lot of seafood. You're ingesting more calories than you burn. Your sisters probably are as well. Genes do determine our basic shape but they determine a big gut for no good reason.

Keep exercising, even if it's walking.

Let hunger be your guide. Don't eat until you are noticeably hungry. When you are satisfied, not stuffed, stop. Hunger is the best diet out there. This is what billions of "naturally thin" people all over the world use to control their weight.
posted by Fairchild at 4:10 AM on October 7, 2008

I prone to IBS type symptoms.

Since no-one else has said anything about it yet, I'll say: this may well be a sign of some kind of food allergy or intolerance, which may be affecting your weight. Your posting history suggests that you've already got at least one allergy you know about, so maybe consider going to see whoever you saw about that one to try and get a plan for working out what the matter is now. Or there are several previous threads here about how to work out elimination diets.

And then there's this: I do get very full and swollen after my meals

The short and highly cynical comment to this one is: how do you feel if you eat less? Same recipe, more portion control. Then what?
posted by Lebannen at 4:35 AM on October 7, 2008

My wife lost 15lbs and I lost 20lbs after reading this book: Eat To Live. It advocates and extremely austere diet, so it's not for everyone. However, even if you don't try the diet, I recommend the book. It's the best book on nutrition I've ever read. The diet part is only the last 3rd of the book.

The basic theory behind the diet is simple: you maximize the healthy calories you eat. For instance, if you're going to eat wheat, you make sure it's whole wheat. Every grain you eat should be packed with nutrients (and not packed with poisons) or it shouldn't go in your mouth.

For the first six weeks of the diet, you become a vegan on a diet that's limited even by vegan standards. You eat as many fruits and vegetables as you want, a cup of legumes a day, a half-cup of whole wheat a day, a teaspoon of oil a day, an ounce of nuts a day -- and that's it. No meat, no dairy, no refined sugar.

(I'm glad you eat nuts and cheese, because those are healthy foods, but note that they're also highly caloric. "Eat To Live" pushed you to eat nuts, because they're so good for you, but just an ounce a day. An ounce of cashews is about twenty of them.)

This was tough, but I wanted to do it not just for losing weight. I wanted to do it to test myself (it's only for six weeks) and to learn about how I relate to food. I worked. Like I said, I lost a ton of weight. My tastes changed. I went from detesting salads without dressing or cheese to loving them.

After the six weeks, you're allowed to add back meat and dairy -- in sensible amounts. I just ended my six weeks and might do a second round. I'm not feeling an incredible need for meat, dairy or wheat products.

By the way, I'm not advocating this, but during the six weeks, I didn't exercise at all. So all my weight loss came just from changing my diet.

I also recommend you take a look at The Hacker's Diet.
posted by grumblebee at 5:09 AM on October 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

grumblebee...and everyone else...please...stop recommending The Hacker's Diet. Frankly, it is a piece of crap with little or no substantive message other than 'cut your calories.' There are many more useful pieces of data in this thread alone (including the rest of yours, in my opinion, although I would take a different approach). Nutrition matters. What you eat and how you eat it is important. Very important. You can't just cut calories below expenditure and expect to get in shape. Our bodies can be looked at as machines...but they are very complex machines, and there is a reason that nutrition science exists, and you can't just replace it by with some analogy with a rubber bag. Despite what people think, there is useful nutritional information out there, which can have a big effect on your fitness and general wellbeing. But this is the opinion of someone who has apparently decided to lazily forego any research whatsoever on the history of nutrition, what athletes and bodybuilders eat, what different diets provide your muscles and how they affect your metabolism...etc. And it is especially egregious coming from someone who is making themselves out to be an engineer of some sort. God, I get pissed off every time I look at that damn web site.

But I am also biased against looking at weight (exclusively); I think weight is a bad metric (or to be more precise, a pointless metric on its own). See my last post on a related topic for more detailed information.
posted by dubitable at 6:55 AM on October 7, 2008

I'm beginning to think The Hacker's Diet is useful primarily as psychology and as an approach to data collection. After reading Good Calories, Bad Calories I realized that Walker's "science" was useless, but the techniques of tracking what you eat and what you weigh are still incredibly helpful.

Plus, for me, the attitude of eating what I enjoy and just focusing on portions helped me stick with my weight loss. I adjusted my consumption over time as I figured out by trial and error what helped and what didn't.

So, take a look at your body's data in more detail, and see what you can figure out.
posted by epersonae at 8:45 AM on October 7, 2008

I'll be the first to say it. I switched to a self-regulated low-carb diet. I didn't go to Atkins or South Beach, I just figured it out on my own, and I dropped 20 pounds in three months. I hope you like meat, though, because you're going to see a LOT of it.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 10:45 AM on October 7, 2008

Low carb or low fat seems to be the big choice in diet "families", with some low fat diets throwing in GI for good measure and distinguishing betewen good and bad carbs (but still not including much fat). Personally, I'd much rather do low fat than low carb, concentrating on getting minimal quantities of "good fats", and concentrating on low gi carbs (brown rice, etc.). It seems to accord more with the general consensus on what's good for you.
posted by handee at 11:14 AM on October 7, 2008

You could look into the Fat Flush program. I call it the Liver Health Diet. The first 2 weeks are basically a fast, where you eliminate known allergins [like wheat and dairy] from your diet. Bloating after meals could indicate food intolerance

Fat Flush program includes flax oils and unsweetened cran berry juice. The idea is that you won't lose abdominal fat unless you protect and pamper your liver.

Beer expands your stomach. That's why they call it a beer gut.
posted by ohshenandoah at 12:31 PM on October 7, 2008

dubitable, I'll buy that "The Hacker's Diet" might be full of shit, but can you rebut it in a more robust way, either specifying how it's wrong or pointing us to a credible source that critiques it?

You say it has "little or no substantive message other than 'cut your calories.'" I don't understand what you mean. It doesn't just tell you to cut your calories. It tells you how to calculate how many calories you should be eating each day (this is hardly original info, but the book doesn't claim it is); And it's not just about cutting calories. It's about exercise, too.
posted by grumblebee at 1:46 PM on October 7, 2008

Thanks to all for your comments - I think what this points to is a reluctance on my behalf over the years to come to grips with actual nutritional information. I've always shyed away from calorie counting and measuring (perhaps because I have to spend so much time reading ingredient lists closely for some nut allergens already). I think I will have to bite the bullet and look into a nutrition book. I've heard a lot about Eat to Live, I think I will check that out.
posted by wingless_angel at 4:16 PM on October 10, 2008

wingless_angel, if you get into "Eat to Live," you might want to join the member center on Fuhrman's site. It's not free (I forget the monthly cost), but Fuhrman participates in a forum there, and personally answers peoples questions.

He also has a new version of the diet which is less monk-like. It takes longer to show results, but it's not as harsh.
posted by grumblebee at 9:38 PM on October 10, 2008

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