Body Weight Set Point
May 20, 2009 5:38 AM   Subscribe

How to lose that stubborn, unwanted 5-7 pounds?

For nearly all of my adult life (I'm 56 now) I've had a very consistent weight of around 153-155 pounds. At 5' 9" that seems about right for me. I suppose you could call it my "set point." About a year ago I suddenly jumped up to 160 within a matter of a couple weeks, and have stayed there since. I just don't feel quite the same at 160.

In the past two months I have made a concerted effort to get back to my original set point with a healthy, reduced portions diet as well as regular, daily exercise that includes walking about three miles/day as well as sit-ups and push-ups. All of this has had no effect on my weight, up or down. I am still sitting at 160, seemingly no matter what I do.

What do I need to do differently to get back down to my 154 set point? Has my body simply reached another, higher set point and will be content to keep me here? What is to prevent another sudden six pound gain in the future? All hints, tips, and advice welcome. Thank you for your assistance.
posted by netbros to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you're on the right track: Eat less, exercise more. What worked for me when I got stuck was to write down everything (everything!) I ate and all of my exercise. After you've done this for a week or so, it's easy to see some things you can change. For example, I realized I was eating 2-3 servings of cereal every morning, and cut that down to 1 serving (that's about 1,500 calories gone in a week right there). Another thing I'd suggest is to work more strength training into your exercise routine. Sit-ups and push-ups are a good start, but adding more muscle will help you burn more calories. Try and get with a personal trainer and hit the free weights. Good luck!
posted by Shoggoth at 5:55 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Look up carb cycling, it's a highly effective technique used by body builders to break weight plateaus.
posted by fire&wings at 6:03 AM on May 20, 2009

If your weight isn't changing, then you're still burning the same amount of calories that you take in. Reduce your intake more, or burn more with increased exercise. (Hint - reducing intake is almost always easier). The usual formula is that a 3500 calorie deficit = losing 1 pound.
posted by chrisamiller at 6:07 AM on May 20, 2009

You're making moderate lifestyle changes that will probably yield moderate results if maintained long enough. If your general health is good, including your blood values, and if the way you eat and exercise now feels like something you can do for life, you may see all of those few pounds disappear, you may see only some of them disappear, or you may stay at 160 indefinitely, but you will still be healthy.

If it is really important that you try to lose those few pounds, then you are going to have to commit to more challenging exercise to wake up your body and move that set point. Try adding weight training 2-3 days a week, stretch every day, and add some more intense cardio. If you have a bike or can get a bike, that's a great way to get places and burn more calories. If you're competitive, you can track your mileage and take part in some of the MetaFilter/WeEndure cycling challenges.

Once you're used to more challenging steady state cardio, try intervals. In your three mile walks, try jogging for a minute/walking for 2 minutes, on and off, for a 10-15 minute period. Or go full throttle on your bike for 1 minute on, 2 minutes off. Intervals seem to kick start fat loss and improve cardio fitness more than staying with pure steady state cardio.

To get started weight training, go to Stumptuous, which is not just for women, honest! See Basics of a routine and this compendium of routines and browse through this page for lots of examples.. You don't need to go to a gym. Here's what you need for a home gym, but you can also try these alternatives.
posted by maudlin at 6:07 AM on May 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

See your doctor. Normally, I'd jump on the "heh, you aren't doing it right" bandwagon, but you clearly know how to maintain your weight having done it for so long, and the increase in padding that comes with age happens (as far as I know) from a much earlier age than 56. In any case, your doctor can check your thyroid (as well as everything else) and give you an idea about how many calories you should be looking at.
posted by b33j at 6:26 AM on May 20, 2009

Perhaps you're retaining water? How's your sodium consumption? When was your last physical exam? I think any sudden, unattributable weight gain, especially when you already eat right and exercise, warrants a doctor visit and a few blood tests.
posted by zerokey at 6:40 AM on May 20, 2009

You lose muscle mass as you get older, so you have to eat less to maintain your weight. I'd suggest weight training to recoup some muscle so you can burn more calories throughout the day.

Also, you don't make clear whether or not you exercised before the weight gain. If you're just starting to work out now for the first time, you may be building muscle already...hard to say based on what you've told us. If you were already exercising and weight training and gained 6 pounds for no apparent reason, a trip to the doctor is definitely in order.

As a comparison point, I decided a few years ago to lose a little weight. I walked 7 miles a day for 3 months, and reduced my caloric intake to less than 1500 a day. I didn't lose one pound, and my best friend, walking 2 miles a day and eating the same, lost 30 pounds in the same time frame. I still mad when I think about it.
posted by iconomy at 6:42 AM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

I faced a similar problem when I started exercising for the first time ever -- my weight was stubbornly staying put at precisely 162 pounds no matter what I did. For a solid four months.

However, I looked different. Within just a couple weeks I'd lost some inches around my hips, and a couple months later I was definitely looking more toned. Even though I was still tipping the scales at 162.

I just chalked it up to the fact that "maybe I am gaining in muscle an equal amount of what I am losing in fat." And I stopped paying as much attention to the number on the scale and paid more attention to the overall picture, and just trusted things. The number on the scale finally did start going down.

It could indeed just be that you are adding muscle mass sufficient to offset what you're losing. Adding the caveat, though, that I'm not an athlete nor a doctor by any stretch of the imagination, and that my education on this field consists strictly of my own anecdotal evidence combined with "I heard some people say something like that once and I guess it made sense".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:43 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: How's your sodium consumption? When was your last physical exam?

Sodium levels are normal, average. My last physical was in March, 2009. All was well with blood work, PSA, etc. I spoke with my doc about the weight gain and she didn't seem concerned. I take Flomax for enlarged prostate, Allegra for allergies, Niaspan to stabilize my HDL. Until recently I only ate two meals a day, skipping breakfast. It was suggested I might have better luck with reduction if I started three smaller meals each day, so I've been doing that about a week now. I had already reduced portions on the two daily meals a couple months ago.
posted by netbros at 6:49 AM on May 20, 2009

I've been thin all my life, to the point where I couldn't gain a pound even if I tried to... until I was in my early thirties. I can gain weight now, but manage to keep to a reasonable weight by eating reasonably.
However, I noticed that I always gain 3-5lbs in the fall, and they stubbornly stay on until the spring when the smae 3-5 just magically come off without effort.
So I'll suggest that you consider that there might also be a seasonality to your weight gain.
posted by Fupped Duck at 7:09 AM on May 20, 2009

Good that you're not skipping breakfast anymore but 6 small meals a day rather than 3 large ones can make a difference.
posted by Chrysalis at 7:43 AM on May 20, 2009

Good that you're not skipping breakfast anymore but 6 small meals a day rather than 3 large ones can make a difference.

Disagreed in that this advice -- while generic because of its effectiveness -- may not apply to someone his age (with a potentially slower metabolic process).
posted by achompas at 12:39 AM on May 21, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the help everyone. Lots of good information.
posted by netbros at 3:44 PM on May 21, 2009

Response by poster: Status update. Nearly four weeks later, I have increased my daily walk from three to five miles, including significant hills, and to about 90-95 minutes. I am carrying three pounds of weight in each hand while walking. I am drinking a lot more water, anywhere from 80-96 ounces/day. I have been eating a small breakfast every day, and am having smaller meals generally, with fewer carbs.

Result. Still at 160 pounds. But my legs and lungs are better.
posted by netbros at 1:37 PM on June 15, 2009

Response by poster: Status update. I finally seem to have found the key for me. I continued doing everything as above, but I reduced my intake of caffeine-free Diet Coke from the equivalent of three cans per day to one. Almost immediately the weight started coming off... five pounds in the first two weeks and another three since.

Result. I now stand at 152.
posted by netbros at 9:01 PM on July 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Status update. I continue to drop about three pounds every two weeks. In summary, 4-5 mile walk every day. 1500-2000 calories food each day. 72-90 ounces water each day. Light weights for upper body each day. Cut back caffeine-free Diet Coke to 10-12 oz. per day.

Result. I am now at 149 pounds. Probably about time to stabilize. I am satisfied with the weight loss, the additional strength, the better leg and lung power, and the overall way I feel. I have a spring to my step. :)
posted by netbros at 1:09 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the updates!
posted by philfromhavelock at 6:12 AM on October 17, 2009

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