How to turn an apple into a banana
May 23, 2009 10:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm an apple, but I'd much rather be a banana. How can I get rid of my middle and reshape my body?

Unfortunately, my lofty goals at the beginning of the year turned out to be an epic fail for me. I have managed to lose about 7 pounds over the last 7 weeks, but I remain around 50 pounds overweight. I am the textbook "apple" shape, with most of my extra weight around my middle. I know this is unhealthy, and it is starting to look bad, too. Not to mention the effect it is having on my emotional state of mind and confidence level.

I've already cut way back on my sugar intake and portion sizes, and have simply started moving more. That is helping, but I'm afraid that with my slow metabolism, it will take years to get this harmful weight down to a manageable level. I'd rather it take months.

So, what I'm really asking here is: Are there any specific foods should I eat, foods I should avoid, and which exercises would be most effective in helping me get rid of this particular type of stomach/hip/back fat?

I'm a busy girl, I work a lot, am trying to save money, and would prefer to do any exercising in the privacy of my own home.

posted by cloudsandstars to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You can't lose 50 pounds in months, bar surgery or starving yourself.

Best thing to do is to start a regular exercise program and eat healthful foods.

If you want to burn fat off, the best exercises are any kind of cardio and lifting free weights.

Given that you say you want to exercise in the privacy of your own home, the following may not apply, but if you decide to start lifting weights: proper form is vitally important in order to avoid injury; therefore, if you are unfamiliar with weightlifting, you should either buy a book or find a good trainer or visit the web site

A nutritionist can help with your diet. But if you decide to start weightlifting to help you lose fat make sure that your nutritionist, if you decide to use one, is familiar with helping people who lift develop good diets (i.e., you will need more protein in your diet than normal).

posted by dfriedman at 10:22 AM on May 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

You should eat less and take a companion with you on a nice walk three or four times a week after dinner. Go out an walk around the city. Window shop but don't buy anything, let shopping and eating be a savored moment that you look forward to instead of a regretful thought at the end of the day.
posted by parmanparman at 10:26 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seven pounds in seven weeks is a good, gradual weight loss. If you keep that up in a steady fashion, if there's 52 weeks in a year, you'll be close to your goal soon enough.
posted by Phalene at 10:27 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

A pound a week for a year is more than you need to lose. Remember that.

Be conscious. Of Everything. What you eat and how much you move and how much you sleep.
There are lots of online ways to do that. I use zeaLOG to keep track of my weight, exercise, eating, etc. Best part is I do it on "group logs" so I have people to compete with and be encouraged by.

For specific exercise, I have done lots of different things, but I have NEVER been leaner or in better shape than when I did yoga regularly (as in twice a week).

Good luck!
posted by Edubya at 10:33 AM on May 23, 2009

you don't need a particular kind of food or particular kind of exercise. what you need is a different mindset, and to listen to the people telling you to slow down. yes, we would all rather it go faster. but it doesn't, unless you're able to make exercise and weight loss your full-time job. that's just the way it works.

so recalibrate your expectations. think about how long it took you to add those 50 pounds to your body. change your lifestyle in a permanent way. set some intermediate goals to work towards - say, 15 pounds in six months. 50 pounds in a few months is an absurdly high bar which is nigh impossible to meet, and you're shooting yourself in the foot from the get-go here.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 10:37 AM on May 23, 2009

Response by poster: Just for clarification, I want to lose the pounds in 6-12 months, not 2-3. And I'm going to start exercising more and eating better and less, I'm basically just interested in which types of exercise and kinds of foods I should eat or avoid to help move my goal along.
posted by cloudsandstars at 10:42 AM on May 23, 2009

OK. Here's some pointers:

- It won't take years.

- Monitor what you eat on a website. Read food labels carefully and check serving sizes. A history of your eating patterns can be a good analytical tool to figure what can be improved & where.

- 'Good' foods are generally fruits and fresh veggies. Those should constitute a high proportion of your diet. There's no harm in eating out once a week or so, as well. You don't have to deprive yourself.

- Exercise, specifically cardio & weights. Heavy weights, not the 5lb dumbbells -- stuff that challenges you. Exercise itself does not burn many calories but the benefits really stack up: you feel less hungry & you feel much better.

- Weigh yourself at a specific time everyday if you're going to obsess about your weight. The best time is first thing in the morning everyday when you roll out of bed.

- Make sure you drink plenty of water during the day and get around 8 hours of sleep. There's suggestions about not eating later than 7pm, making your dinner the lightest meal of the day etc. I doubt the effectiveness of those suggestions but I don't think they're counterproductive either.

- Get rid of words like 'slow metabolism'.
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 10:45 AM on May 23, 2009

I'm an apple too--I gain weight in my belly, my entire back (not just a euphemism for my booty), and the tops of my thighs.

I sort of agree with the first poster--you're going to have to be realistic about it. If it takes longer but is sustainable, i.e., you make life changes that you can live with and therefore stick with, it'll be much better (and healthier for you--yoyoing is especially bad for your heart, and combined with apple-shaped propensity for heart problems, well...). Here's what I do.

Yes, walk about an hour minimum at least 5 days a week. Ideally, you should walk on your lunch break or right before dinner, but sometimes that's impossible; an after-dinner walk is okay too, but make sure you don't exercise too close to your bedtime or you may disrupt your sleep cycle. Stay hydrated; chronic dehydration slows your metabolism. Limit caffeine intake; no more than 2 cups of coffee a day. Regulate your sleep cycle.

Maybe it's just me, but the biggest thing with gut flab is cutting out alcohol. You hear similar things about non-diet soda (which I didn't drink anyway). When I simply stop drinking beer at all, my stomach gets smaller in a matter of weeks. (shrug) It also helps me avoid unhealthy eating; when I'm tipsy there's nothing I want more than some fully loaded cheese fries!

Also as the first person mentioned, cardio and strength training are your friends. Circuit training, which can be a total bitch (I'm just a wimp though), is your best bet for fast results you can get in your own home. The principle behind them is that you do normal cardio, as you would anyway to burn the most calories, but you intersperse it with muscle workouts to stay toned as well as have a supply of muscle growing so that even when you're not working out your body's more effectively burning calories and fat. Here are some DVD options: Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred, Cindy Whitmarsh's Results Fitness: 10 Days to a Better Body. Both of these are good intermediate workouts--if you're totally out of shape they will kick your ass hard but will eventually be doable (as opposed to trying to do a Cathe Friedrich workout as a beginner, say), but they're also not so doable you won't feel a thing after you get used to them. The Jillian Michaels one might be especially up your alley, because she's trying to work the hell out of you in a "burst"--a 20 minute circuit--so you're not spending an hour working out. Granted though, because it's so brief it's way more intense. And a word of warning--it can be hard on your knees and joints. Be careful, and if you feel like you're stressing your body too much initially, don't do them every day.

The other thing I find helpful is to do some reflection about the kind of exercise you actually enjoy. If you figure out what will be fun and therapeutic for you, to the point you'll actually look forward to it, it makes it much easier to stick with and therefore faster with results. Joining the local Y is often more affordable than you think, and if you love to swim it might be your best bet. Jump-roping burns a zillion calories and is pretty fun. My personal favorite thing is rollerblading, which happens to be an excellent workout. Just figure out what you love to do and you'll make time for it.

You mentioned portion control, but have you already considered grazing instead of 3 big meals a day? For some people it really helps, because instead of a sugar spike after a big meal your body's more regulated throughout the entire day. If you choose to go that route, consider healthy protein-packed snacks. Yogurt, cottage cheese, almonds, cruciferous and root veggies raw, roasted, or steamed, celery with peanut butter, etc.
posted by ifjuly at 10:45 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

losing 50 pounds of fat means you have to expend 180,000 calories more than you take in, regardless of whatever timeframe you set. if you do the math, you'll find that 6 to 12 months means a 500-1000 daily calorie defecit, every single day.

that's not totally ridiculous, but it's pretty hard to keep up over that length of time for most people, which is why people are saying "whoa, slow down".

the type of exercise you do and the type of food you eat are mainly irrelevant to weight loss. what matters is calories in minus calories out. no any particular exercise will burn fat in a particular area, nor will any particular food add to or take away from fat in any particular part of your body. your body stores extra calories wherever it wants.

so the type of food you should eat is whatever makes you not-hungry without going over your calorie limits. for most people, that's high-fiber, high protein, low-calorie things like fresh vegetables, lean meats, etc.

similarly the type of exercise you should do is whatever is enjoyable enough for you to keep up in the long term. exercise choice can lead to a change in your body shape, as exercise generally adds muscle in specific spots. if you're pudgy in the middle, maybe consider some upper-body exercise like swimming, rowing, boxing or kickboxing, or even hard drumming. that will fill out your arms and shoulders and you'll appear less round. also, things like dance, martial arts, yoga and so on emphasize stretching as well, which tends (for whatever reason) to lead to long, lean bodies.

(note that muscle building will add pounds, so you may be getting fitter even though the scale doesn't reflect it. don't lose heart if this happens.)
posted by sergeant sandwich at 11:02 AM on May 23, 2009

have managed to lose about 7 pounds over the last 7 weeks

Great! Keep up the good work and report back to us at Christmas!
posted by rokusan at 11:08 AM on May 23, 2009

Don't just watch the scale. Measure yourself. Your neck, biceps, wrists, ankles, calves, thighs, hips, low and high waist and your bust. When the scale isn't moving, pull out the tape measure and you'll see that you're still losing inches and that will keep you from getting disheartened and giving up. I just broke through a two week stall (two weeks isn't long if you're losing weight normally, but I had WLS in January) where I didn't lose a pound but I lost a half inch off my bust, my waist and my hips.

Otherwise, push yourself in the gym. Lift heavy weights. Read everything at Muscle will aid fat loss. Eat less carbs and more protein. Don't eat sugar. Drink as much water as possible. And don't beat yourself up if sometimes it goes slower than you'd like.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:09 AM on May 23, 2009

Lots of good advice here, so I'm just going to chime in on one point about exercise:

It's hard, but not by any means impossible, to do it well "in the privacy of your own home". It is close to impossible, though, if you are inexperienced and don't have a cardio machine like a treadmill or elliptical trainer.

You don't say that you can't join a gym because of $$. You say you want privacy.

There are women's gyms. Some gyms have a women-only room. And even on the main floor of a co-ed gym? Just do it. My gym has 400 pound people and 80 year olds exercising. There's an elderly woman who can barely walk, even with a cane, who staggers from weight machine to weight machine, staving off bone loss and death. I f'ing ADMIRE these people. So does everyone else. ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE go to gyms these days. No one points and laughs. We gym-goers are not all massive testosterone boys, or svelte 20 year olds with perky boobs.

Don't be afraid. Go to some group classes, or get a session with a personal trainer to show you the ropes, and get yourself fit! You might be surprised how much fun it can be.
posted by kestrel251 at 11:14 AM on May 23, 2009

Whenever I take up running after a break from it, I'm pleasantly surprised by how quickly my stomach firms up. I don't think of running as being a great exercise for the abdominal muscles, but -- for me at least -- I guess it is.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:18 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've got about 20 lbs to lose. I joined an all-women's gym last year that I loved, and managed to lose about 10 of them over a few months without too much change in my life, but it got too expensive for me. I then promptly gained all those pounds back over the winter and was desperately trying to figure out a solution since I can't jog (crappy knee), am too cheap for a gym, and am otherwise socially anxious about working out with others. Solution: just a couple of weeks ago I bought a $120 elliptical machine off of Overstock. It is not fancy, and the stride length is a little short (I'm 5'6" or so), but it's easy on the knees, helps me work up a good sweat, and it's something I can do with little to no extra effort during my day. What I like doing is getting a series of 30 minute episodes to watch (I'm currently on Weeds) off of Netflix or Hulu or whatever, and exercise for one episode every morning before I shower for work. It's too early to tell how effective it will be, but I feel much better at work every day for having done it and I bet that small investment will pay off in the long run. I'm a big fan and would definitely recommend trying something similar.

(I also bought an exercise ball for about $30, and it's good for crunches/squats/random other exercises that are easy to find everywhere online. I'm not expecting an amazingly toned body off of it, but it is a nice addition to my little home "gym")
posted by olinerd at 11:28 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

First, please stop telling yourself you have a slow metabolism. There's no such thing as a "slow metabolism." In general, barring medication or serious health issues like thyroid conditions, people's metabolisms act pretty much the same. If you are active and have more muscle it will be higher, but you don't just wake up with a slow metabolism. No scientific evidence for it.

You can't spot reduce. This is where you're body is storing the fat. You can't remove just that.

Cut out sugars. Cut out grains. Eat Paleo--nuts, vegetables, meat, healthy fat, no grains, no legumes, no sugars, no super-starchy vegetables. Keep track of calorie intake--including protein, carbs, and fat--and start weight-training. You will see the difference.
posted by schroedinger at 11:54 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

from what I've read, you really can't do any particular exercise to reduce fat in a chosen area. That being said, I did find that doing situps daily has given me a better waistline because it improved my posture. It took a few months to have any effect, so be patient. Some tips: do them everyday and they're a lot easier. I do them bed so they don't hurt my back, piling the pillows onto my feet so I don't just tip back. Start at a do-able number, and increase the number slowly as you get better at them.

and congrats on your weight loss so far
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:14 PM on May 23, 2009

A comment about exercising: forgive me if I'm projecting, but your preference for exercising at home makes me think you might not enjoy exercise for its own sake (i.e., at a gym). I detest exercising that way, but have no problem with exerting some effort to do useful things which I need to do anyway - running errands, commuting, etc. So I'd suggest you look for ways to incorporate some physical activity into your everyday life, such as riding your bike to work or to the store, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking instead of driving whenever possible, etc. Sure it takes longer to walk than to drive, but that's time you can deduct from your exercise program, so it can balance out in the long run. (This wouldn't necessarily target specific areas for weight loss, but it would help your overall goals.)
posted by Quietgal at 12:16 PM on May 23, 2009

lost 7 pounds over 7 weeks You're doing great! my slow metabolism As you exercise more and more regularly, your energy level will increase. Keep up the good work.
posted by theora55 at 12:35 PM on May 23, 2009

my wife and aunt both did weight watchers and it worked really well for them. They swear by it.
posted by alkupe at 2:14 PM on May 23, 2009

I used to have the metabolism of a racehorse, but 35 hit and so did an extra 20lbs. Have a few formerly very large friends who dropped a ton of weight as well who concur with:

1) Find an exercise partner. Knowing someone's waiting for you - and will know when you bail - will make you drag your ass on the walk / run / bike ride. You might have to go outside for this to work, but seriously: do it. Nothing motivates better. Even a virtual partner is better than nothing, but make yourself beholden to someone. It works.

2) Track all of your food and exercise when you do it. Keep a journal or use something like the Livestrong iPhone app. Just make sure you write it down. The act of entering everything you eat and do is a huge motivation, and will stop you from scarfing a large bag of M&Ms and then forgetting.

3) Sleep. 8 hours. When you're tired, you eat crap and you skip exercise. Turn off the TV and computer an hour before you need to sleep, get into bed, and read.

4) Work out in the morning. It's easy to skip a workout when it's competing with co-worker drinks or a movie at the end of a day. I LOATHE mornings, but once I'm up and at the gym (easier to do with a partner), I feel great, and it lasts all day.

5) Lastly, I *th the point re: patience. This isn't something you can get over, get done, and go back to how things were before: it's got to be a new way of living or you'll be back to where you were in a couple of months.
posted by nometa at 2:38 PM on May 23, 2009

Nothing wrong with exercising in private, it works for me.

Get a treadmill and mount a TV (or a computer, if you prefer) next to it. Find some DVDs you want to watch (episodes of TV shows are great) and set them aside to be used only at the treadmill. Make a daily routine and before long you'll look forward to the exercise session.

If you have a computer there you can even work (depending on your job or hobbies) while you workout.

Focus on the HABIT, not the duration or the miles or anything else. For the first two weeks, if you get on the treadmill at all, call it a good day. After that set a goal (half a mile a day) and increase it every week.
posted by mmoncur at 3:35 PM on May 23, 2009

You can no more lose weight from one section of your body than you can drain only the deep end of a swimming pool.

I've lost 7 pounds in 8 weeks, but more importantly as much as 2 INCHES from different parts of my body in 8 weeks. Aside from overall lower caloric intake (but only real, whole foods, not diet foods/Lean Cuisine etc), here's how I've done it:

1) Personal trainer 1-2 hours per week. Someone pushing me and knowing how much I can and should be lifting, flexing, squatting, lunging, etc has been invaluable.

2) Varying the exercises that work different body parts. e.g., Assisted chin ups on the Life Fitness machine on Monday, overhead lat pull down on Wednesday, something else for back/shoulders on Friday.

3) I cannot stress ab exercises enough, and LOTS of different ones. Plain old crunches (with bent knees) are 1 of about 8 types of ab exercises my trainer makes me do. Even though I still want to lose about 40 pounds, I'm already seeing the start of real, visible muscles in my obliques! Hooray for me! Here's something hideous but productive for your lower abs: Lie on your back, palms down on floor under your butt. Lift legs straight out about 6 inches off the floor. Do slow, repeating scissor kicks as you lift your straightened legs up and down about 6 inches. Feet and legs do not touch the floor.

4) I go to the gym every work day in the morning. (Lucky me--my gym is at work.) There's no excuse or competition for my time that early in the morning, and I need less caffeine to start the day. Also it sets a good precedent for the day so that I really don't even want to eat that brownie at the coworker's birthday party (unless it's that unfortunate time of the month), because hey--I already invested in my fitness today and I don't want to ruin that.

5) Measure yourself or, better, have someone else measure you every week or two. Write it all down. Seeing progress over time is motivating, especially during the time when you're building muscle and thus getting fitter but not losing a ton of pounds.

6) Google the plank. This is an awesome exercise that strengthens your core, and you don't need any equipment whatsoever to do it.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:41 PM on May 23, 2009

Oh! I forgot 7) Cardio, cardio, cardio. This is the way to actually drain the swimming pool I referred to. It's how you'll burn your calories. Find cardio you like. I like to run but can't, so I use the elliptical.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:43 PM on May 23, 2009

I'm 25 and far from overweight, but I'm starting to gain.

But then, I get on my bicycle. Ooooooh now, it's a damn good feeling, my heart's beating faster at the end of the ride to work, I'm out of breath, sweating...that's your aerobics. Bicycles are your friend.
posted by saysthis at 4:07 PM on May 23, 2009

you should either buy a book or find a good trainer or visit the web site

The site you want is As mentioned, building muscle will increase your metabolism and help you burn fat.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:11 PM on May 23, 2009

Ludwig_van: thanks for the correction.
posted by dfriedman at 7:23 PM on May 23, 2009

A pound a week of weight loss is the appropriate amount to be losing. You are doing great! Keep it up. You can boost it up by keeping track of your calorie deficits and increasing it either through better eating or more exercise.

There aren't really "better" foods to eat while losing weight, you just need to develop a generally healthier relationship with food no matter what type of food it is. A nutritionist will be able to give you more details, but in general healthier eating includes choosing whole grained bread vs white bread, turkey and fish vs beef and pork chops, lots of veggies (salads are great because you can have a bit of lots of different veggies, thus creating a more nutritionally complete meal compared to eating a bowl of broccoli), being moderate yet not denying of sweets and treats and lactose products.

Tracking is one of the biggest keys to success, you need to debug yourself and get the numbers so that you can tweak your inputs and get better results. Even an estimate is better than a guesstimate (which is pretty much useless).
posted by Meagan at 10:13 PM on May 23, 2009

It may have been a coincidence, but I really started noticing increased weight loss when I took up yoga.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:02 AM on May 24, 2009

You might want to think about being a lighter, more fit apple.

No need to be a banana.

Apples are juicy, sweet, and delicious.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:11 PM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

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