Help me tone my flabby body.
November 29, 2008 8:22 PM   Subscribe

Is there any way to tone my "skinny fat" body without hitting the gym?

I'm a 24-year-old female: I weigh 108 lbs at 5'0", and I comfortably wear sizes 0/2/XS, but I want to look great in a bikini for the holidays. Currently, I'm a bit uncomfortable with the levels of flab...

Turns out, my body fat ratio is about 25%. I know that the only sensible way to fix that would be working out, but I am stuck studying for exams/working in my lab every day until Christmas day, and there will be no way for me to work out for the next couple of weeks. Also, I truly hate working out, and exercise makes me tired and ravenously hungry--occasionally I get motivated (I ran decent 10Ks back in April) and love the results I see, but I won't have time to train until next year. Currently, I commute daily on my bike, but other than that I am in terrible shape.

I don't eat very much in terms of calories, a mostly vegan diet which revolves heavily around legumes & whole grains, green vegetables and tasty, tasty pears, with meat once a week and dairy approximately twice a week (eating vegan turned out to be pretty much the only way to keep my problematic skin clear). I don't eat any sugar other than fruit, and only eat refined flour with homemade egg pasta on my dairy days. I try to drink less Coke Zero these days, but I probably don't drink as much water as I should. I am also addicted to my daily vitamin/protein supplement shake.

I could stand to lose a few more pounds, but my body seems to have comfortably settled at its current weight regardless of how much/how little I eat.

What can I do (that doesn't involve working out) over the next few weeks to lose some of the fat as opposed to my already non-existent muscles?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
The only thing that tones you is weight-bearing exercise. There's lots you can do like push-ups and crunches and all manner of torturous things for the thighs and butt that you can do at home in 20 minutes 3 times a week that could shape you up, but if you aren't even willing to do that, well, anyone who tells you anything is going to work is probably selling you something. Alternatively, you could starve yourself-- but that's not going to make you look anything other than anorexic.
posted by Maias at 8:31 PM on November 29, 2008

I don't think there's anything you can do with those restrictions, anonymous. My understanding is that if you want to preserve muscle mass while losing weight, you need to convince your body, through strength training, that it's worth keeping muscles around instead of breaking them down. I realise this is not what you asked for, but maybe confirming your worst fears is helpful.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:33 PM on November 29, 2008

Well, frankly, if you gave us guys a preference we'd prefer that you keep that body fat. But since that's not what you're asking...

The best results I've seen in this kind of situation have come from integrating more workout of the specific areas where you need to tone. You can do it without hitting the gym, but you're going to need to work the muscles in those areas no matter what you do.

For instance, I bet if you took your body fat percentage measurement on your legs or rear end, you'd have a lot lower body fat percentage. (As a guy who walks at least three-four miles a day and takes the stairs up six flights at work, I have almost no fat on my legs and their tone is amazing.) It's just from your waist up that you've got problems. The answer to that is to do crunches, pushups, and light weight exercises that will use and tone those muscles. As I passed 170 lbs (5'10") and I started to leave my jeans button unbuttoned and use my belt to close the gap, I decided to take some aggressive action and trick myself into working out more. It turns out that if you spread your workout sets throughout the day, it feels less like working out.

Here's the tricks I used:
  • Every time I go to the bathroom, on the way back to my office I stop in a storage room and do a set of 50 situps/crunches or >25 pushups. (I have to be careful with my wrists doing pushups.) At home I'll add 100 curls with a 15 lbs set of weights in. This could be tied to any action that you do throughout the day; I tied it to going to the bathroom because on days when I drink more soda I will go to the bathroom more.
  • Eat breakfast. No, I don't care. Eat a good breakfast that's heavy in grain. Have at least 20 oz of water with your breakfast, not coffee or coke. This will jumpstart your metabolism for the day.
  • I started drinking my soda 'warm' and adding ice to it. Tap water is free, the warm soda melts the ice (and therefore waters down the calories and caffeine) and soda is by far cheapest in two liter bottles.
My jeans are now loose and I'm using the third notch on my belt for the first time in years.

Complete aside on the skin thing:
I realize that you've already got your skin problems under control, but I'll throw in that at 28 years old the only way I've fixed my continuing skin problems was to start showering (again) before bed and to switch sheets 2-3 times a week. If I sleep on the same sheets for more than four days, my skin takes a nosedive. I eat like a garbage can, though, so your mileage may vary. Note that I live in a southern climate and sweat is pretty much a constant.

posted by SpecialK at 8:40 PM on November 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

since your not going to workout, which is NOT preferred i encourage you to focus on your diet. your a small girl so eat about 1,000 calories a day. Spread this out in about five meals. focus on having carbs for the first two meals. then the remaining meals should be clean protein and healthy fat.

i could put together a meal plan for you if you like i just need to know examples of protein + carbs you like to eat.

the carb thing is really important fyi. however, veggies can be eaten in all meals because they are trace.
posted by learninguntilidie at 9:17 PM on November 29, 2008

You commute on your bike so you are getting some exercise. Now what you have to do is look at the proportions in your diet-I suspect you are getting more simple carbs than you need. As in-just how many pears are you eating in proportion to everything else?

Other than that you need to work in bits of exercise into your day-maybe some pushups here, some extra walking there-and increase your hydration. Also make sure you are getting enough sleep. And did I mention increase your hydration?

You do have time to exercise. It just isn't all in one big lump. Even fifteen minutes with some hand weights would help. And if you could find a way to put 30 to 45 minutes of base building aerobic in there (and for all I know your commute could be that) you are golden.

(When I was your age I was that height and about three or four pounds over your weight but like you the body fat proportion was not great. What I did was to jump on a minitrampoline for twenty minutes a day. Even that worked wonders.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:22 PM on November 29, 2008

And do NOT go under 1200 calories a day unless you want to slow your metabolism down. Trust me on this.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:23 PM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

I comfortably wear sizes 0/2/XS, but I want to look great in a bikini for the holidays. Currently, I'm a bit uncomfortable with the levels of flab

You're wearing a size zero, you're just over a hundred pounds. The fact that you're using words like "flab" and "fat" troubles me; so does the fact that you avoid exercise because of how hungry it makes you. It sounds to me like your body thinks it's starving and is storing all the fat it can, hence the "skinny fat" effect that bothers you so much.

Has it occured to you what you will look like if you lose all that fat covering your "nonexistent muscles"? That's right, a skeleton. If that's what you're asking us to help you achieve, I think you need to proceed with extreme caution. It sounds like you don't know how borderline this is.
posted by hermitosis at 9:34 PM on November 29, 2008 [23 favorites]

Your studies and lab work are likely to be enhanced by 20-30 minutes exercise a day. One of the most commonly observed effects of regular exercise is improvement to your mood and mental acuity.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:51 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, you could go on a low-carb, calorie-restricted diet. If you give up your veganness and legumes and grains and fruits in favor of lots of chicken and broccoli and nuts (basically lean meats, green vegetables, and healthy fats), then you will probably see some results.

But at 5'0'', 108, if you are at 25% body fat then losing more fat is probably just going to make you look sickly. Because you basically have no muscle mass. I'm guessing what weight you have that isn't fat is mostly bone, and whatever's left is what it takes to help you walk and cycle and maybe move the occasional box across the lab.

I will be frank: you are most likely tiny, weak person. And I don't just mean tiny in size. I mean in functionality. You bike, and that's good, but Jesus, what happens when you need to pick up groceries or help a little old lady across the street? What happens if you ever are taking care of a kid bigger than a newborn and you gotta pick him or her up? What happens if you have to deal with life?

Your body is a gift. It is a wonderful, organic machine that can do amazing things if you only tune it properly. "Working out" is a terrible, puritan term for something that should be joyful and energizing, something that celebrates your ability live and function in a physical world. We evolved with bodies so that we would use them; we evolved with muscle and bone so that we could carry ourselves through this world and carry others along with us. If we were meant to be sedentary beings we'd be trees or mushrooms. And guess what? When you use your body the way it is supposed to be used, and you feed it healthfully, the results are often aesthetically exactly what you're looking for!

I mean, are there any movements that you enjoy? If you like climbing trees, then go climbing. If at the end of a long day of moving boxes, you feel tired and sore but exhilarated from the heavy lifting, then try weightlifting (real weightlifting, with barbells, none of that machine-based shit)? If you find yourself getting lost in the hum of movement over long distances, do running or cycling. If you've always loved the water, try swimming. If the quiet interaction between mind and body appeals, try yoga. If you are impressed by gymnasts and breakdancers, take up calisthenics or a martial art. If you are competitive, try a team sport like Ultimate Frisbee or rugby or roller derby. There are so many, many, many ways to move that to relegate it all to the category of "working out" and "hating it" is just so terribly sad.

The world of fitness does not solely exist within the realm of 30 minutes of bicep curls and 45 minutes on the elliptical, for Chrissake.

And in the end, if you still whine that you cannot find any way you love moving and any time to do it, well, suck it up. Because you are not going to get the body you want (or the body you need to stay healthy) from diet alone. You only have fifteen minutes to work out? Buy a FitDeck, push yourself through fifteen minutes worth six days a week. It will still be better than doing nothing.

As an addendum, SpecialK's assertion about spot-reduction could not be more wrong. Body fat distribution is not based on how much you use the muscle in that area. By building the muscle you can spread the fat over a wider surface area and make for a more aesthetically pleasing body part, but you aren't reducing the fat in that area.
posted by Anonymous at 9:52 PM on November 29, 2008

You may find something beneficial for both toning and health by doing T-tapp workouts. No gym, no accessories and can be done in 15-45 mins per day.
posted by Kerasia at 10:14 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just toss a lot of situps/ crunches/ push ups/ lunges into your day. Do 10 crunches and 10 push-ups every morning and evening and work up from there. Do lunges down the hall in your house on the way to the bathroom. Walk up stairs at work two at a time but slowly. Ride your bike in the highest gear you can manage. You don't need to got to the gym to begin to see results, although you will eventually.

And if you're hungry - eat protein. Your body needs it to build muscle and look better.
posted by fshgrl at 10:16 PM on November 29, 2008

There is one way to remove body fat from a specific area.

But anyway, if you want a toned body, you have to work out. No excuses! If you can't get to the gym, you can try doing pilates at home. Or just pushups and situps, it takes discipline and there's no free lunch!
posted by delmoi at 10:38 PM on November 29, 2008

And do NOT go under 1200 calories a day unless you want to slow your metabolism down. Trust me on this.

She's only 5 feet tall, remember, bodymass is related to the cube of height.
posted by delmoi at 10:42 PM on November 29, 2008

Choose if your skin or your bodyfat is more important.

A diet like yours is not conducive to fat reduction and/or muscle gain, regardless of whether you're working out or not.

More protein, more (unrefined) fat, and less carbohydrate/grain would take you far.
posted by bradly at 10:50 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, you could go on a low-carb, calorie-restricted diet

1) Personally, I don't think you should restrict calories if you're going to go low-carb. Eating a low carb diet can depress your appetite by putting you into ketosis. Trying to simultaneously restrict your calories often leads to dangerously low daily calorie totals.

2) However, I agree that low carb would be one way to reduce total body fat, because it forces your body to burn fat for energy (since when eating LC, you deplete, and then fail to replenish, your glycogen stores).

3) BUT, all that said, Hermitosis has a great point. At your height and weight, your concern about reducing 'flab' is somewhat discomfiting. I bet you'll look great in a bikini just as you are, and that your body needs every ounce of fat on it in order to keep your hair shining, your nails strong, and your smile bright. Aren't those things also important to looking good in a bikini? I suggest you take that into consideration before trying to lower your body fat percentage through any method other than moderate exercise.
posted by artemisia at 11:07 PM on November 29, 2008

You need to build some muscle mass. To build muscle mass you need to build strength. To build strength you need to lift heavy weights. It'll take 30-45 minutes three times a week. Don't waste your time doing endless pushups and crunches and isolation movements with tiny weights -- they will not make you strong. Try the Stronglifts 5x5 beginner program.

And to maintain your bodyweight you should be eating around 1900 calories a day. 1000 calories is crazy.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:13 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't think there is anything wrong with anonymous' wish to reduce flab and look good in a swimsuit. I am thinking about the same thing myself and if you go by BMI based on height I am skinnier than that, but I would rather weigh more and be in better shape, muscle weighs more than fat after all.

Anyway more leafy greens, more veggies, **less carbs**, more protein, that is going to help. But really it might be best to get a bikini with those little shorts that cover a bit more, or get a one-piece swimsuit, if it bothers you to be a little out of shape.. just worry about getting into shape in time for summer because you pretty much have to work out for that to really happen.
posted by citron at 12:35 AM on November 30, 2008

And do NOT go under 1200 calories a day unless you want to slow your metabolism down. Trust me on this.

She's only 5 feet tall, remember, bodymass is related to the cube of height.
posted by delmoi at 10:42 PM on November 29 [+] [!]

And I am only five feet tall, and my information came from a licensed nutritionist.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:59 AM on November 30, 2008

....and experience when I myself was losing weight. If you go under a certain number of calories it is counterproductive. Odd but true!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:00 AM on November 30, 2008

You need to do some kind of load-bearing exercise to build muscle. It sounds like what you want to do is build muscle/tone and not actually lose weight. As you build more muscle, your weight may actually *increase* while your body gets more and more toned because muscle weighs more than fat. So, while your jeans will still fit and your measurements will stay nearly the same, your actual *weight* might go up.

(Case in point: I'm 5'5" and look like I weigh 135. I wear a size 6. My actual weight is closer to 160 because I have an incredible amount of muscle mass. Oh yeah, and some flab covering it too. But the muscle is what's *heavy.*)

AFAIK, without consulting a doctor, the healthiest thing to do would be to gradually increase your exercise. Maybe just do push-ups/crunches to tone your arms and abs - that shouldn't have a huge impact on your appetite. When you get hungry after exercising, eat something high-protein - like nuts or something. I find that Luna bars after a yoga class are pretty good for me - soothes the hunger pangs, but keeps me from desperately putting everything in sight into my mouth.

Honestly, it sounds to me like if you're biking to work and wear a size 0, you're probably going to look hott in your swimming suit. If you want to build muscle mass for its own sake, that's awesome, but it's going to absolutely *require* exercise.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:56 AM on November 30, 2008

For all of you starting to raise the "eating disordered" flag here, that may be the case...or anonymous may be a flabby skinny girl. It happens (I've been there)....particularly if she's "in terrible shape" or doing any kind of weight work, of the intentional variety (i.e. structured exercise) or the accidental kind (hiking, walking everywhere, climbing, carrying groceries up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, etc.).

I don't recommend any kind of calorie restriction in your case, anonymous. But if you want your body to feel and look better, there's no way around building up some muscle mass (i.e. "toning"). Muscle burns flab, and muscle under (however much) fat is what largely makes people look good (i.e. healthy) at any weight.

I don't like working out either, so on top of basic lifestyle stuff (carrying the groceries myself, hiking, etc.), I work with 5 pound weights at home. You can do it while you watch TV/DVDs and since most sets you'll find go rather quickly and aren't repeated to the point of failure, it hardly feels like working out at all-- you'll feel slightly out of breath and well-stretched.
posted by availablelight at 11:09 AM on November 30, 2008

[that should have read, "particularly if she's "in terrible shape" or not doing any kind of weight work"]
posted by availablelight at 11:10 AM on November 30, 2008

From the article linked by availablelight:

"Some doctors now think that the internal fat surrounding vital organs like the heart, liver or pancreas — invisible to the naked eye — could be as dangerous as the more obvious external fat that bulges underneath the skin.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the poster's question, which is about a 5'0" 108 lb. woman's distaste for her "flabby body." That said, the rest of her advice seems to be spot on.
posted by hermitosis at 11:30 AM on November 30, 2008

Mod note: comment removed - do not turn this into additional discussion about what you think women need to look like which is not what the question is asking, thank you. you know where metatalk is, it has not moved.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:45 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Leaving aside all of the arguments about the premise on which your question is based:

For quick aesthetic results, I have been hearing rave reviews of the deliciously old-school-cheesy Callanetics for years. They've apparently finally transferred the old workouts to DVD, so you can take a trip back to the Eighties for an hour 3x a week between now and the holidays if you so choose. From all reports, it won't make you functionally more fit (which you should pursue as a long term solution), but will make you look more "toned" and less flabby in a relatively short amount of time.
posted by tigerbelly at 2:24 PM on November 30, 2008

At 108lbs and 25% body fat. You have almost no choice but cut about 12+% of that see any notable difference in lieu of adding muscle mass through resistance exercise. So that means cutting at least 3-4lbs. This is easily doable by the end of the year.

My recommendation, considering your stubborn refusal to "exercise", is to exercise with out exercising. So. Simple.

Go dancing three nights per week. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Dance for a minimum of 20 minutes with out a break. Get at least 40 minutes in total. No drinking alcohol. Only water.

Problem solved.
posted by tkchrist at 10:43 PM on December 1, 2008

« Older Numb fingers during sleep?   |   How might I set up creative workshops for... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.