active but still overeating...
July 1, 2009 7:39 PM   Subscribe

Very obese woman. Gone from entirely sedentary to going to the gym 4 days a week over the past year. Lost inches but not a whole lot of weight considering my new level of activity. Problem lies in eating....

I come from a family of morbidly obese people and over eaters so I have a slew of bad habits and difficult genes. I, however, am restructuring my life and trying to get my weight down and have successfully tackled a huge part of it, which was my inactivity. I went from having difficulty doing 15 lame (ie. little to no resistance, not pedaling very quickly) minutes on the recumbent bike to now being able to go hard (120-140 strides per minute, high inclines, resistance, etc) on crosstrainer/ellipitical machines for 45-60 minutes. I've lost a little over 30 pounds which seems like very little considering how far I have come fitness-wise and how much I need to lose. Up until this point I have tried to cut back in my food and make smarter choices, but my focus has really been the activity half of it. I need to tackle my eating more directly.

I have joined FitDay and am going to start tracking my eating as I am (I believe) a compulsive eater. I frankly think it will help, just seeing what and how much I am putting into my mouth, but I need to find a way to retrain myself and my eating habits. I have the knowledge about proper eating habits, nutrition, portions, etc. but have difficulty putting it into practice in any long term way.

Can anyone suggest tips/books/what worked for them to truly become aware of what they are eating, as well as killing intense cravings and addressing the psychological aspect of over eating?

FWIW - I live in a tiny rural area so any sort of support group or therapy option doesn't exist for me, and even if it were that isn't what I'm looking for. Also, I have never been one to eat chips or chocolate or fast food. The food I eat, for the most part, is veggie filled healthy stuff. My problem is mostly in portion sizes and picking/snacking in the evenings.

I know weight can be a touchy issue so I created a throwaway email account activelyeating @ if you want to remain anonymous.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (55 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
A couple of good metafilter threads on related topics.
The horror of weightloss
Only 1200 - harsh

I also like the concept of hara hachi bu.
posted by b33j at 7:46 PM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

This might be odd, but several years ago a book came out written by a Frenchwoman-I forget the title but it was something along the lines of eating like a French person in order to lose weight.

Some of the concepts I took from that (I never actually read the book but thumbed thru it and read articles about the author) jumpstarted my ability to lose 35 pounds. Things like no forbidden foods, just sensible portions, no snacking (really!) stuff like that.

What people like you and I have to do is change a lot of attitudes regarding our food intake. And baby steps. One thing I did that I bet would help you tremendously is -pick a time after which you will not eat. For me it was 6 or so. It made a tremendous difference as I too was a late evening eater.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:47 PM on July 1, 2009

I'm not sure if this applies to you since you say you're mostly eating veggie filled healthy stuff, but I've had success eliminating snacking by keeping very little food in my house, and almost nothing that didn't require cooking. I'm much less likely to snack if it requires cooking or other preparation.

Also, I know you didn't ask about this, but if you were living a very sedentary life, you probably don't have much muscle mass, and you won't gain much without doing some sort of resistance (weight) training. Adding muscle mass really makes a difference in your metabolic rate, which can means more fat burned long term.
posted by bluejayk at 7:50 PM on July 1, 2009

I think you're on the right track. Writing down exactly what you ate and how many calories will force you to own up to your bad days, and help you to celebrate your good days.

You're right that in order to lose weight, you need to focus on your intake just as much. I mean, look at the calories burned by many fitness activities. Walking for an hour might burn 250 calories. To put that in perspective, a single Ding-dong contains 368 calories. Which is easier, walking for an hour and a half, or skipping dessert?

Congratulations on your progress so far - 30 pounds is nothing to scoff at, and being in better shape is great too. Best of luck.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:50 PM on July 1, 2009

Seth Roberts'' Shangri-La Diet is far from scientifically based, but a lot of it seems very intuitive. Which is to say: maybe you could try eating with your nose clipped. It's one of his methods and supposed to decouple flavor from sustenance. People say it has an appetite suppression effect (and that they often don't feel like finishing their meals).

Are you watching your heartrate to stay in "fat-burning" zone? Maybe a doctor would know the most effective course of action for a (clearly) motivated person like yourself. I only increase the resistance only to raise my heartbeat.
posted by gensubuser at 7:51 PM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Beck Diet Solution. That book is as important as is it hot pink, and it's very hot pink.

Anyone who thinks they can lose a significant amount of weight by exercising is deluding themselves. You can't blame yourself because that's what everyone says, right: diet and exercise. Bzzzt. Weight loss is 95% diet.
posted by foooooogasm at 7:52 PM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Until I joined Weight Watchers Online, I was in a similar situation. I made better than average food choices, but I just never realized how much I ate. So I think the best thing to do is what you've already done* - commit to measuring your food intake for a while. Once you get the hang of how much a larger-than-appropriate portion size affects your actual caloric intake, it gets much easier to readjust.

One other tip is to include weight training in addition to the cardio. Once I started building muscles, the weight came off faster.

*I'm assuming FitDay lets you track how much you eat, not just what you eat, yes?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:54 PM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

One thing that worked to help me control my eating was to religiously write down everything I ate, and what I was feeling at the time/ what was going on. I then began to notice patterns ie. certain people stressed me out and I'd eat when they left, and that mornings that I ate more carbs I snacked less, things like that. It helped me recognize my personal eating patterns and address some underlying issues.

Best of luck to you, and congrats on getting your health under control, it's such a great feeling!
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 7:55 PM on July 1, 2009

If names mean anything, Dr. Judith Beck is Dr. Aaron Beck's daughter.
posted by foooooogasm at 7:56 PM on July 1, 2009

Check out the No S Diet. Seriously. It cures obsessions about food, and while it is not going to get you fast weight loss, it normalizes everything. I do it in combination with Seth Roberts Shangri La. No cravings, normal food intake, treats sometimes. Awesome.
posted by chaoscutie at 7:56 PM on July 1, 2009

Before the barrage of comments starts, I'd like to strongly recommend that you check out the Watch and Weight community on the Something Awful Forums. It costs $10 to join the forums, but you can read them for free (much like AskMeFi) and there is a huge amount of incredibly useful information, as well as many people who want nothing more than to help you reach your goals. Their progress thread is just a small snapshot of the people (many of whom began obese and completely unfit) who have reached their health and fitness goals with the help of the forum. I know I sound like a crazy zealot, but you really can gain a huge amount from this resource. I highly recommend it.

Not to discount your self identified compulsive eating, but please remember that inches, overall health (measures such as blood pressure and cholesterol), and physical fitness are so much more important than the number on the scale.
posted by telegraph at 7:57 PM on July 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

First of all, congratulations on your incredible accomplishments so far! Just your increase in activity alone is amazing, and probably making a huge difference in your health. Don't let a "small" weight loss discourage you (and 30 pounds is nothing to sneeze at, by the way) -- remember you're gaining muscle, too.

Something that has worked for me regarding mindless/compulsive eating: Whenever you feel, for any reason, angry or frustrated or sad or anything else nasty and unpleasant, really feel it. Don't hide. Don't try to escape. Don't try to drown it. Face it, wrestle with it, do whatever you need to do to deal with it, head on. It's not easy or fun, and it might be painful if you're used to turning to food every time. But train yourself, just like you have with exercise. Pretty soon you'll find something completely different to help you deal with those everyday down moods.
posted by Ladybug Parade at 7:59 PM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you love good, healthy food, but are eating too much of it...perhaps increase the intensity factor? It's amazing to me how little food I actually consume before I'm "full" when it's heady, really intense flavors. Bonus: I spend my money on small amounts of the really, really good stuff.
posted by desuetude at 8:00 PM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I normally stay away from self-helpy books, but Martha Bec'ks "The 4 Day Win" helped me re-jump start my workouts.

Also, serious congratulations. Go, you! This is an amazing accomplishment!
posted by pointystick at 8:09 PM on July 1, 2009

I suggest you walk a lot. Forget about buying books, exercise equipment, or more food. Seriously, lock your computer and your tv in the closet and go out everyday and walk up and down hills. Walk as much as you can and try to forget why you are walking. I am sure you have a walkman with headphones. Pump up some music or a book on tape and just get out and explore your space on two legs. You have to give yourself reasons to leave your kitchen yes, but you won't get anywhere as long as you're in the house.
posted by parmanparman at 8:17 PM on July 1, 2009

Congratulations on 30 pounds. That sounds like an amazing start to me. It's easy to get hung up on the number and easy to get a little discouraged if it's not going where you want as fast as you want. When I got serious about getting healthy, I really wanted to avoid obsessing about the daily number, but I knew I would do better if I kept track. I found a great spreadsheet on-line that let me enter my weight every day but only graphed the 5-day average. Watching that number on the chart kept me from stressing out over the slightest little weight gain. It kept me going and I was able to lose 20 pounds without having to starve myself. Tracking it every day also really helped me understand what and how much I could eat and still keep moving generally in the right direction. Everyone is different, but this worked for me.

Good Luck and congrats again on your first 30 pounds.

Here's where I found the spreadsheet. I didn't use the calorie tab, but I can see how it would be helpful as well.
posted by Noon Under the Trees at 8:21 PM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

a little over 30 pounds which seems like very little considering how far I have come fitness-wise and how much I need to lose

Whoah. 30 pounds is a lot, even over a year. Particularly since if you were sedentary before, you have probably acquired some new muscle too -- your note about losing inches tends to suggest that.

Every reputable source says the best that can be managed without losing lean mass is 2 lbs a week. But that's an upper limit, mostly achievable by large men with a lot of muscle mass underneath.

When you watch a show like The Biggest Loser and see what people manage, you might feel discouraged, but those people are getting round the clock support and coaching and living hugely artificial lives. In the real world, 30 pounds in a year is admirable, sustainable, and undoubtedly beneficial.

This is all by way of saying: maybe you don't have that big a problem, and you are deprecating your achievements to date.

To address your question directly: in our house, I measure portions before to start to cook, so there usually aren't leftovers. Particularly I do this with carbohydrates, because I strongly doubt I'm doing any harm hoovering up extra steamed broccoli. If there are leftovers, I tidy them away into the fridge or freezer straight away so they aren't sitting out and calling to us. As for snacking and picking: well, I don't buy snack food in the groceries. There is none in the house. There are no premixes, and no packet stuff, so if I want to bake or whip something up, I have to do it from scratch.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:25 PM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're already doing an awesome job.
Some tricks that help me stay in shape:
1. Muscle mass. Your muscles burn the most fat when you are at rest, the more the better.
2. Drink. Sleep. Sex. The three things that are also regulated by your hypothalamus, and which, if you do them instead of eating, will stave off hunger if that is indeed how you feel. And by drink, I meant water or tea. No sugar.
3. Have a check up. Thyroid. Ovaries. Blood sugar. For instance, if you have Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome, it will be very difficult to lost weight without some form of treatment, usually birth control.
4. Don't weigh yourself everyday. What a killjoy. Do a weekly weigh in, or better yet, monthly, and document your progress via photos.
5. Don't worry and don't feel guilty. This is not some sort of get-there-as-fast-as-you-can spree, it is your health and life. Learning about proper nutrition and putting it in to practice takes time. Negative feelings will not help. You are already on the right track, and as long as you maintain a positive attitude and keep pushing forward, you will reach your goal.
6. And yes, keeping less food in the house is brilliant, as is subbing flavorful (or less flavorful, if that is what works for you) or more filling foods in (bulgur instead of rice, for instance)

Good luck.
posted by anniek at 8:26 PM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Weight Watchers online. It allows you to track everything you are eating online, gives you a points range (which calculates to the appropriate calorie range for your weight and activity level), provides discussion and support, recipes and a very large database of foods. The benefit of the program for me has been the ability to eat what I want, but still have a strict framework for portion sizes and intake. I am able to spread my points out in whatever way I see fit during the day, as long as I don't go over. I didn't find value in the support group element of it anymore, so the online version has been a good fit for me.

Whatever option you decide on, I have found a good food scale and a set of measuring cups to be invaluable tools. It is amazing what an appropriate portion size of something looks like when I weigh/measure it out.
posted by lemonwheel at 8:39 PM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

30 pounds in a year is a great start and the best part is it is totally sustainable. I highly recommend learning portion sizes and writing things down.

Portion sizes: in the beginning take the time to measure everything if the cereal says a serving is one cup, take out a measuring cup and measure that much into the bowl. Measure the half cup of milk that goes on top. Do this every day for at least a week, and preferably a month. I know it sounds like a lot but you need to retrain your eye to understand how much you are eating.

Writing: keep a small booklet and pen/pencil on you at all times and write down every item that goes in your mouth. No exception. If necessary estimate calories, and go back later to check. Have a daily calorie goal that you are trying to achieve. Don't worry about going over on a particular day, and don't shoot way under either. You want to consistently nourish your body for steady weight loss.

I was fortunate in only having 30 pounds total I was looking to lose and I've stabilized at about 25 down. The diet I used was the Eating Well Diet. I highly recommend it as being a good blend of tasty recipes and good advice about how to understand and eye serving sizes and set a calorie goal. They also provide handy journals with calorie counts referenced in the back.

Good luck!
posted by meinvt at 9:03 PM on July 1, 2009

Congratulations on your weight loss. The website I would recommend you look at is called

You already have all kinds of resources to go through here, so maybe you will find the time to look at this very informative website.

All the best to you.
posted by Chele66 at 9:14 PM on July 1, 2009

Incorrigible grazer here. I have tried and tried the three-meals, no-snacks thing and I can never do it for more than a day or two. I just simply love to eat, frequently. I realize that I need to change my relationship with food, but in the meantime, I will share one thing that works for me.

Eat. Very. Slowly.

It won't cure your bad habit of snacking, but if you cut an apple into small pieces and make it last for an hour, you can't possibly reach the end of the day in mega calorie overload.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:37 PM on July 1, 2009

I'm a big fan in general of The Hacker's Diet, although I have never used any of the online tools; I just like the no-BS attitude. Although nothing there is probably anything new if you've been trying to lose weight, I found that the way the author puts everything really rang true for me. May not due the trick for everyone, but it was really what put me on the right path.

Buy a scale. Not for you (I assume you already have one of those), one for food. A little digital one that reads out to 0.1oz or 1g. They're $20 or $30 online.

Commit yourself to not eating out of the bag or container that food comes in anymore. (You can't really do anything until you do that.) From there, you can start tracking how much you actually eat. At first, maybe just record; don't really even try to cut yourself off, lest you just cheat. Just measure. And later on go back and compare what you ate to the portion sizes.

I've always found it surprising how they do the portion sizes on many "healthy" foods. It's very easy to blow your calories for the day out of the water, without even realizing it, by accidentally eating 3 or 4 servings of food and thinking you've only eaten one. (Cereal especially, which is a favorite of mine.)

Jut in general, if you get yourself into the habit of recording data — weighing yourself, weighing food portions, tracking both in a spreadsheet or some other method — it makes it a lot easier to talk yourself into doing the right thing. When you feel yourself tempted to do something you know is a bad idea, go and look at the spreadsheet. Usually that's enough to keep me from eating that extra cookie.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:39 PM on July 1, 2009

The name of the book that St. Alia of the Bunnies recommends is French Women Don't Get Fat.

For the psychological side of overeating, someone I know raves about how helpful she finds Marianne Williamson for re-evaluating her relationship to food and overeating. I don't know which of Williamson's books would be most relevant to overeating, although I'm pretty sure this person raved about A Return To Love. I didn't get anything out of the one Williamson book I checked out, but YMMV.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:46 PM on July 1, 2009

Another vote for Weight Watchers. Counting points can be tedious ... until you see the pounds start to come off.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 10:08 PM on July 1, 2009

2nding the Sparkpeople recommendation. My sister has been struggling with her eating habits for over 20 years, tried a billion fad diets etc, was seriously considering lap band surgery until she discovered this website, and she swears by it. She's been able to successfully lose over 30 pounds (she is also obese) in the last four months, as the website is really good at tabulating nutritional value of all meals, and suggesting healthy meals of foods available in her kitchen. I have never seen her more positive and happy with her progress due to this website. Good luck!
posted by greta simone at 10:34 PM on July 1, 2009

Learn about the food you're eating, in terms of nutrition and calories. Invaluable sites:, This will help you make more informed choices about what you eat and, almost as importantly, how much of it. It's so important to understand what food labels mean, cos so many things that appear to be healthy or diet or whatever, are terrible choices relying on tricky marketing/misleading information (eg serving sizes are way smaller than you'd expect).

I also found John Berardi's 7 rules invaluable, with some minor adjustments:

1. Eat every 2-3 hours, no matter what. You should eat between 5-8 small meals per day. (I eat/ate every 3-4 hours)

2. Eat complete (containing all the essential amino acids), lean protein with each meal.

3. Eat fruits and/or vegetables with each food meal. Veggies as often as possible. Especially green vegetables, load up on them pretty much as much as you want

4. Ensure that your carbohydrate intake comes from fruits and vegetables. Exception: workout and post-workout drinks and meals. In my case I had grains before and after exercise. I now eat wholegrains without discrimination but it did help regulate my calories cos it's harder to eat lots of calories from fruit than from grains

5. Ensure that 25-35% of your energy intake comes from fat, with your fat intake split equally between saturates (e.g. animal fat), monounsaturates (e.g., olive oil), and polyunsaturates (e.g. flax oil, salmon oil). I didn't really follow this, but I did make sure to get some healthy fats in my diet, eg nuts, salmon, seeds, olive oil etc...

6. Drink only non-calorie containing beverages, the best choices being water and green tea. I believe in staying away from "diet" drinks, don't think they help wean you off sugar cravings so well, and they have nasty stuff in them - natural is best

7. Eat mostly whole (unprocessed) foods (except workout and post-workout drinks) I get low blood sugar so I allow myself some orange juice after exercise, low-fat chocolate milk is supposedly the best post workout drink though! I allow this after intense exercise also..

Congrats on your good work so far, changing your body composition is important, but diet will make a HUGE difference. Good luck and keep at it, you'll be amazed at the changes when you look back :)
posted by Chrysalis at 11:02 PM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Zen of Eating. For the psych issues part.
posted by anitanita at 11:11 PM on July 1, 2009

As a rule of thumb, your two cupped hands (cupped as if to receive some water to wash your face with) are the ideal size of your stomach, so ideally you'd never eat more in one meal than can fit into your two cupped hands. And half of that amount of food should be leaves or stems (lots of fibre, good nutrients, but calorically not dense).
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:25 PM on July 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

This is along the lines of the above comments about getting a food scale/measuring out portions exactly, but for my snacking I got small juice cups that hold exactly 1 cup in them. I then portion out my snack (usually ends up being cereal of some kind, because it's crunchy and depending on the cereal, rather low in calories...and the recommended serving size is usually a cup) into one of the juice cups. If I measure into a measuring cup and then pour it into a bowl, it's possible that I'm tempted to cheat by putting a little extra in the bowl or overflowing the measuring cup. If, however, my cup is exactly the size of a cheating possible. I also have other small snack-like containers, and rinse out and reuse yogurt cups for the same thing.

Eating slowly also helps for of the other reasons I'm a big fan of cereal is if you eat it one piece at a time it actually takes a surprising amount of time to eat. When I have the munchies, a cup of cereal and a big glass of water often take care of the time I'm done, I realize I wasn't all that hungry. Doing something (crafting, puzzles, board games) and chewing gum often cure my munchies too.
posted by kro at 11:26 PM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with others who say that 30 pounds is great, you're on the right track!

Sorry for a bit of a derail, but I have to disagree with the two recommendations for "French Women Don't Get Fat." I've lived in France for 10 years now, have been around the entire country excepting only the southwest, lived with French families and work in a 200-person office where I am the only non-French citizen. French people -- men and women -- absolutely do snack between meals. They'd just never say so to anyone asking. In general (there are exceptions!), French women eat as little as possible. I've read some quotes from the book and it sounds like the author took what women said at face value, rather than actually living with and around French people who weren't aware she was studying them. (Classic Observer effect.) When in "there's a foreigner watching us" mode, the French will eat a variety of delicious food, and one is indeed impressed at how they stay slim after all those slices of five different cheeses, for instance. They do not eat like this every day of their normal lives. The French women I know almost all skip breakfast, have a half-croissant (yes, half, I see this every day -- and certainly not chocolate as the book erroneously claims) for mid-morning snack, eat tiny salads for lunch, the other half-croissant at mid-afternoon, and will have, for instance, a small slice of chicken with another salad and something like quinoa or rice for dinner. I don't know how they manage. But for anyone looking for their "secret", it's that they don't tell the whole truth to non-French researchers.

Her book does seem to espouse a healthy approach to eating, but one that's been known for ages, everywhere. Romanticizing it as "French" gives a good marketing boost.
posted by fraula at 12:49 AM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Another vote for Weightwatchers. It really does it for me. The online tracker is good, points are easier than calories (you don't have to bother with counting free stuff, like most vegetables), the general advice is good (low fat, high fibre, eat lots of veggies), and you can earn extra points through exercise. I think weighing weekly is also a good thing, as it is easy to become obsessed with daily or intermittent weigh-ins and there is a lot of noise in the system - doing it weekly smooths some of that out.

You can do WW online only; so the fact you're not able to get to meetings isn't a problem. I don't know where you are based, but in the UK the online forums were great and a good source of support. Here in France they seem quite lively too.

I treat it as a weekly thing rather than a daily one so many days I'll eat within the points allowance, save the leftover, and then go mad on cheese. Weightwatchers doesn't say that is a good idea, but I find it difficult to be well behaved all the time. And anyway, any diet that lets me have the occasional boozy cheesy day and still loose weight is a winner.
posted by handee at 2:00 AM on July 2, 2009

The "french women don't get fat" book was written by someone who was FROM France.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:18 AM on July 2, 2009

Weightloss is 80-90% diet. Looking at it that way, the fact you've 30lbs lost is amazing.

Read the hackers diet linked upthread for some details but basically you can count the calories burned during a hard workout session and it's less than a cheeseburger or two. WEIGH YOUR FOOD. Best advice I can give. Get a postal scale for $30 and weigh your portions out. No guessing, no eyeballing, no measuring cups. You will know precisely how many calories are going into your system. It's probably different than you think and that awareness is important.

the good news is that you're in a fantastic place. once your diet comes into place the fat will absolutely fall off you.
posted by anti social order at 5:09 AM on July 2, 2009

Gah. If you're a compulsive eater you don't need dieting advice. That's how I developed an eating disorder. While you may not get as bad as I did, dieting WILL make your compulsive eating worse. The compulsive eating must be addressed first. Some resources that were integral to me:
Overcoming Overeating
Breaking Free from Emotional Eating
Something Fishy Compulsive Overeating & Binge Eating Forum
posted by emilyd22222 at 5:18 AM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Chrysalis: "A whole bunch of rules"

This is a lot of stuff to do, and no one is ever going to be able to do it all. If you want to OPTIMIZE your weight loss, you need to do these things. If you want to lose weight, you don't.

The most important thing, as everyone has said, is getting your portions under control. I'd also suggest setting a calorie figure and sticking to it religiously, but that's simply what's worked for me (65 lbs in 8 months and counting).
posted by TypographicalError at 5:29 AM on July 2, 2009

Congratulations on your weight loss and your new healthier life! That's really great! For me, the "getting more exercise" part is the hardest part...

I'll just confirm what others have said -- counting calories is an excellent way to get a handle on what you're eating -- quality and quantity. Basically, what works for me is eating healthy foods in appropriate quantities. I don't follow a particular "diet" (other than being a vegetarian for the past 34 years.)

I use My Net Diary for keep track of calories, fat, carbs, proteins, and pretty much anything else you want to track. You can also track how many calories you're burning with exercise. It's a pretty great online service (but you have to pay for it) with a free wonderful iPhone app.

I don't work for them. I'm just a satisfied user who's lost 32 pounds so far.

Best of luck to you!
posted by rhartong at 5:52 AM on July 2, 2009

Seconding emilyd22222; I came in here to suggest Overcoming Overeating as well. It's not flawless or a magic bullet, but it will help you reshape your attitudes toward food.

If you impose diet-y rules without addressing the emotional/compulsive eating, it can escalate into an eating disorder: either you get sick of the rules and start bingeing, or get carried away with the rules and undereat. (Both have happened to me.)

Congratulations on your progress so far and keep up the good work.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:57 AM on July 2, 2009

So much of losing weight is psychological, and unfortunately it's something you really have to work out for yourself. Therapy may not be the worst idea in the world, btw.

But here's what helped me.

- Start where you are. Work with what you've got. Don't expect yourself to immediately have a perfect diet, just try to make it better.
- Weight loss is a War of Attrition. It may take some time to work it out, but everytime you try you learn something about yourself. There's a lot of trial and error.
- Direction is more important than speed. Just keep the scale moving down. Don't fall in a heap and decide you've failed if you don't lose less than you aimed to lose in any given timeframe.
- You are about to deprive yourself of your favourite high. Replace it with something! Treat yourself, buy books, go to movies, drink expensive tea, rent dvd's.
- Plan your food! But allow yourself some flexibility if things don't go to plan. Then log what you ate.

There are lots of little tricks out there like using smaller plates, eating air popped popcorn, drinking tea, taking up knitting, not eating any sugar at all, always having a small sweet treat, etc, etc. Try anything you think might work. Discard what doesn't.

And of course, educate yourself (I like Jillian Michaels' podcasts), and find some support (blog, internet forums - 3fatchicks is good).

But congrats on the exercise and the 30lbs! That's awesome. And I disagree with the idea that losing weight is 95% food. I actually believe it's more 95% psychology, but from a calorie view point, I create about 30% of my calorie deficit through exercise. So, it's less important than food, but it's not negligable.
posted by kjs4 at 6:11 AM on July 2, 2009

Wow, congrads on the weight loss. There are tons of diets out there and it can take awhile to find out what works for you. When I wanted to lose I took out a huge stack of books from the library and evaluated them all! I second the No S Diet, which is basically what I started with. I later moved on to the paleo diet, which has done wonders for me in terms of losing weight, keeping it off, and eliminating other health problems. My father and my boyfriend who were obese now follow it to and have lost large amounts of weight.

IMHO weight loss really is about diet more than exercise. When I was overweight I would put in hours and hours on those cardio machines and it made no difference until I changed my diet. Good Calories, Bad Calories is a book that has more about the science of that.

In the end I replaced bread and pasta with salads, dairy with coconut milk or eggs (this really increases satiation so much), sausage with fish and lean meats like turkey and buffalo, and snacks with berries or other low-hypoglycemic fruit. I ate 1500 calories a day, which unlike 1200 kept the cravings at bay. I used a cheap electronic IKEA scale and cron o meter, which really helped because when I had to weigh and calculate the "healthy" snack I was thinking about eating it was a reality check.

I work in ag, so I have lived in rural areas while doing this diet and I guess the hardest thing was turning down offers of things like biscuits and grits. If you live in a rural area maybe you can try subscribing to a CSA box full of healthy veggies or walking to a local farmer's market.

For me, I guess the biggest change was that I can never buy snacks. Never. No ice cream, crackers, cookies in my house....not even the "healthy" snack mixes with nuts and things. I was a binge eater and went to counseling (cognitive behavioral therapy in case you want to check that out) for it, but I don't want to invite trouble into my house by having these things. I ask my friends and coworkers no to give me these kind of things as gifts too.

In the end, don't be afraid to investigate diet tools and tricks that seem far out! Good luck!
posted by melissam at 7:18 AM on July 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Weighing food can be really helpful in figuring out what appropriate portion sizes are to someone who doesn't have a grasp on it. It's also useful to look at books like Dr. Andrew Weil's Eating Well for Optimum Health to get an image of what a health-focused nutritional plan would look like, on a day-to-day basis.

As others have said, one of the challenges for compulsive eaters trying to get a handle on their nutritional habits is not to become compulsive dieters. "Diets" are generally pretty disordered eating plans, so I would encourage you to look beyond those to lifelong nutritional approaches.

That said, I have known people who used online Weight Watchers programs with success when they were trying to find their way to a healthy eating style.

Best of luck to you. Remember that the goal isn't to get thin at any cost--the goal is to be healthy and energetic and nourish your body efficiently.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:25 AM on July 2, 2009

I should say that focusing on calories alone is not likely to lead to a) successful, sustained weight loss (since that seems to be your goal), and b) improved health overall.

There are a lot of people in the world (and I used to be one of them) who were calorie-minded and not adequately focused on getting actual nutrients. There are some diet plans (South Beach, for example, and the longlived Ornish plan) that do emphasize eating nutrient-dense foods, not just low-calorie foods. But I would really encourage you to look at books and resources about nutrition as part of recrafting your eating style, not just books about dieting.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:30 AM on July 2, 2009

Check out your local Overeater's Anonymous meeting.

You're not alone.
posted by unixrat at 7:45 AM on July 2, 2009

Congrats on what you've already accomplished! I know you're feeling frustrated right now, but shouldn't you also be throwing a party for yourself?! 30 pounds is awesome!

About 5 years ago I lost about 40 pounds, and have since kept it all off. What I did was so simple it kind of baffled me, because I'd seen it as such an impossible task for such a long time. And yes it's as simple as what pretty much everyone has been saying: WeightWatchers online. I never, not once, went to a meeting. But I did have friends and people online I communicated with which really helped (especially when I would realize, oh crap I only have 2 points left for dinner, what do I do?). I also started walking to and from work everyday (which I recognize not everyone can do).

In terms of food, the thing that worked the most for me was to really eat a ton of vegetables for dinner each night (because they have a points value of zero, they're filling, healthy...) But I don't really like the taste of raw veggies, so I'd get a cookie sheet, spray it with Pam (I still do this all the time) slice up some veggies like eggplant, zucchini, red bell peppers, throw some salt on them, and roast them at 400 degrees until they look yummy. All that food and all for zero points! I add sliced up russet potato sometimes too for 3 points and it's like I'm eating french fries... but the idea is that you layer foods on top of the veggies if necessary, but the veggies will REALLY fill you up AND make you feel virtuous.

The key for me was to make this a habit. Walk home from work, stop at the corner grocery store and buy some fresh veggies, turn on the oven while I'm slicing them up... it became automatic and made a massive difference. I also learned to rely on Lean Cuisines. I particularly liked their fettucini w/chicken. I'd nuke a box of chopped spinach and combine the 2 together, add cumin and viola!

The hard part was to learn how to create these food combinations that were super filling, relatively simple to throw together, and yummy. WeightWatchers helped me figure out that I could eat those 2 Oreos sitting downstairs in the office kitchen OR I could go home and eat a baked potato and a chicken breast...sometimes, fuck it, I'd take the Oreos. But at least I knew what I was doing.
posted by ohyouknow at 7:58 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Congratulations on your weight loss. That is terrific.

I lost 50lbs in a the past year. I also come from a family of poor eaters, some morbidly obese. So your success is something you should be proud of.

Mustly nthing squared what others say,

1. Weight Watchers on-line, tracking your food is important. You'll be surprised how much you really eat *even after you begin your healthy diet* Corollary to that, and I don't mean to be obnoxious, but are you *sure* that you are eating veggie filled healthy stuff, because even if you were to eat 8 apples in a sitting, that is less than one fast food meal and would be so filling that I doubt you'd be able to do it.

2. Weight training is good too. It does build muscle mass in a way that aerobics does not, although I thikn the calories burned via areobics is weighted (!) less than is true. a fat person running for an hour will burn more calories than a thin one. You also generate body heat so even resting you are burning slightly more calories, and aerobics does build some muscle.

3. The French paradox, I firmly believe is one of quality over quantity. Thus if you must give in - and since food is part of life and culture we all must, let's stop kidding ourselves - then damn it, go for the absolute best! I have found that when I crave chocolate, I go to maison du chocolat and get a $50.00 box. It is so good, that I rarely eat the box, just one or two pieces. But the Hershey bar or even a Godiva bar will be gone in a New York minute. So will the next three I buy.

4. Do give in occasionally so you will not feel deprived and then totally go off the rails. Lots of people make this mistake. Food is more than fuel, it is deeply bound in culture Every culture has its feasts, the trick is how to manage the occasional feast.

5. Ergo there are no bad or good foods. Just some you should probably stay away from most of the time.

6. That being said, because you come from a family of morbidly obese eaters, well, that family history is part of you, and since I assume you haven't cut off your family, that will be something you have to deal with when you visit Mom and Dad and they heap your plate with loads of food. Tough, real tough.

7. OA is good, so is Weight Watchers live, I know you live in a rural area, plus you specifically said you didn't want that, but it does work - provided the group dynamic is good. I was lucky with WW, because my leader is great, but if the leader sucks, it is a waste of time.

Good luck, would love to hear how you are faring. It is tough, but the first time you catch yourself in a store window and you look, well, "ordinary" is a high almost like cocaine.
posted by xetere at 8:51 AM on July 2, 2009

Congratulations on your progress and I admire your perseverance.

I don't want to be an agenda pusher, but I need to say it. The best diet in the world, whether you're concerned about losing weight or being healthy, is a balanced vegan diet.[citation needed]

Sure, a vegetarian diet is great too, but you'll lose weight faster if you're vegan. Cheese, milk and all edibles originating from a mammary gland make you grow. Let's type this bluntly. If you're not lifting weights, that growth is about fat. Personal anecdote alert!

I'm 5'10" and went from 170lbs to 155lbs after 4 months of eating vegan. Yeah I know, that's only 1 lb per week, but I wasn't trying to lose weight. I ate so much food every day and still lost weight. After that I reverted back to a vegetarian diet (hello cheese pizza) and my weight went up to 175lbs quickly.

It's just so obvious when you take a step back and look at the facts (read: not my personal anecdote) that eating vegan is the answer to so many health issues. A lot of people can't do that though and then never recognize the benefits.

Give it a shot, love your vegetables and I guarantee you won't regret it.
posted by trueluk at 8:54 AM on July 2, 2009

I was only ever 210 lbs but maybe this will help. Back when I was an overeater, I had a pain if I didn't eat for a while. I thought it was hunger. I was positive it was hunger. If I ate, the terrible, awful pain would go away.

Then, I waited it out many times, because I couldn't access food. I also had a boyfriend tell me that hunger shouldn't hurt.

Know what I realized? Hunger doesn't hurt. Not the same way, anyway - it's more of a discomfort but not a sharp pain. Those pains? Those are actually stomach aches caused by too much eating! They go away if you eat little for a few days. If you go past that pain, you eventually get to the actual hunger, which is just a weak discomfort and is actually very manageable. Once I realized the pain was a symptom of something I did to myself *before* by eating too much, and that it wasn't actually a need for food, it became much easier to eat less - even if I'd made a mistake and eaten too much the day before. Because now I wasn't making myself more hungry from having eaten too much - I was suffering the consequences through the stomach ache, before going back to my normal eating habits.

Also seconding or whatever lean cuisines - the blue boxes especially are tasty, and you can get them at Costco or BJ's (and probably Sam's club too) for what amounts to $2.00 or $2.50/meal.
posted by lorrer at 9:23 AM on July 2, 2009

Ann Louise Gittleman is your best friend.
posted by goml at 9:24 AM on July 2, 2009

Congratulations on your progress!

I actually have the opposite problem of you (underweight and need to learn how to get enough nutrients and fat in my diet from teh small amount I eat), but I did want to chime in and mention that one reason I used to not eat enough was because I was only eating at mealtimes. I learned that to be balanced I pretty much had to eat all day - like every 2 hours - but only a small amount. I have pretty much stopped eating what most people think of as "meals".

That said, since you already like healthy foods, maybe it would be helpful for you to measure out in some large dishes or a pan a days worth of food - then allow yourself to eat it as you feel like it. The visual of chipping away at your day's allowance is, for me, kind of like budgeting money when you pay for everything in cash - you can see what is left for later, but also see if you have an excess and can afford (or need) to eat a little more right now.

Food amount intake is a very confusing thing for people these days and I recommend any of the previously mentioned sites (spark people, weight watchers, etc) for tracking food intake for anybody regardless of weight. They really help you see if you are getting a proper balance of nutrients and enought or too many calories for whatever your situation is.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:58 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great job!
If you're hungry, or otherwise compelled to eat try adding negative calorie foods like apples & celery.
posted by debbie_ann at 11:33 AM on July 2, 2009

Congrats on the weightloss! 30 lbs is 30 lbs. Just imagine you carrying a bag that weighs that much each and everyday.

As for eating, I've found that if I can not munch at night that is very helpful. Dinner good, late night snacks not so good.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 12:40 PM on July 2, 2009

I see a lot of people saying no snacking, which is odd to me. I like you am very overweight. But I've been dieting since the beginning of May and have lost 17 pounds because I started snacking. I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner and about 3 snacks a day (all healthy stuff, no junk) and I count calories and excercise and it's really working for me. It really helps with the hunger pains. I also drink a ton of water and that seems to keep the hunger at bay as well.
posted by katyggls at 12:46 PM on July 2, 2009

I see a lot of people saying no snacking, which is odd to me.

That's because everyone is different. Some people do best with three meals a day, no snacks. Others do best with grazing throughout the day, or with having six or seven "mini-meals", or with having three meals plus three smaller snacks.

This is the thing that diet books kind of ignore: some people do great on Ornish or going vegan or whatever, and other people do great on Atkins or South Beach or the Caveman Diet.

The key is to find what works best with your body, what fits best into your lifestyle, and stick with it. There is no "one answer"; there is no "best answer." There are a lot of different possible approaches, and trial and error is the best way to find what works for each person.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:35 PM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am almost done with Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster and it's very good.
posted by getawaysticks at 9:30 AM on July 4, 2009

I grew up in a family where food was love and survival, and I have somewhat similar eating issues. I can just eat a whole lot. Not junk food, just big portions. Your body gets used to it.

I like books that support an emotionally sensitive approach to diet. Flylady's book on this and also Geneen Roth's stuff. Sometimes I just accept that eating is a response to stress for me, and overall much better than a lot responses one can have, and sometimes in my life I'll be heavier than others.

One thing that seems to help me though is not letting myself ever finish a full portion. Basically it doesn't matter what I'm eating or how big the portion is. Leaving a little behind is like an affirmation to myself that - I am in control of my eating. I am not in a situation of famine, I don't *need* to eat everything available to me, and I will be able to feed myself again later when I want to, and that I can have great and full enjoyment from a meal without finishing it.

I really do think that practice not about the amount I actually eat. Sometimes I could leave just a tiny bite out of a huge portion of fattening food. It's the emotional, reassurance value that it has for me. (We all have baggage - my mother's side was all about, (post holocaust survivor?) eat eat eat because the only way you'll know you've had enough is if you can't eat anymore, and my father's side was all about (post depression?) never ever take more than you'll eat or leave any waste at all, either in food or in money spent on food.

So leaving a bit of food every time helps me just stop eating when I've had enough, even if the food is delicious, even if I don't know when I'm having dinner, etc, so even if *sometimes* it only makes the tiniest difference in how much I consume, overall it helps me be much saner about consumption and eat more in proportion to my physical needs than my emotional ones!
posted by Salamandrous at 9:51 AM on July 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

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