My mystifying metabolism, defying all logic
August 4, 2009 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Over the last 4 weeks, I've changed both my eating habits and my exercise habits pretty drastically. Yet I'm still at the exact same weight and body fat percentage. Why?

At 150 lbs, 5'6, I'm about 20 pounds heavier than I'd like to be. Although I have a healthy BMI, my body fat percentage is stuck around 28%. Having done a ton of research, I set out to lose those 20 pounds four weeks ago by the following methods, and am completely flummoxed as to why there's been no change.

This is what I have done, FAITHFULLY, for 4 weeks:
--45 minutes of cardio, 3 days a week (hard enough to sweat)
--45 minutes of pilates/strength training, 1 or 2 days a week, hard enough to be sore for 2 days following each session
--Cut out most carbs, except berries, occasional whole grains and 1 glass red wine a day
--Restricted my diet to 1800 calories a day. Very strict about this, using measuring cups.
--Keeping a food diary and an exercise diary
--Seeing a personal trainer once a week (with whom I do my strength training)
--Never eating fast food, junk, ice cream, etc (I never did anyway.)
--Drinking 8 glasses of water a day, no matter what

And can you believe it, I've lost NO weight. Not even water weight. My body fat percentage has also not dropped. I HAVE lost some inches, in that I can fit into my clothes somewhat better-- but believe me, it's nothing spectacular. I've gone from a size 10 to an 8-- barely. But that's the only difference.

To put it in perspective, my boyfriend has just done the low carb part with me, and he's lost ten pounds in the last month. Without having gone to the gym once or counted calories.

What am I doing wrong? I don't want to cut my calories too far below 1800 or I know I won't be able to keep it up for long. This is a lifestyle change, not a get-thin-quick plan. But I want to at least see some numeric change after a month's worth of work.

Having calculated my basal metabolic rate, 1800 was supposed to yield a steady drop of 1-2 pounds a week. I know muscle weighs more than fat, but the fact that my bodyfat percentage has remained the same, has me discounting that. I have been very, very good about counting the calories.

Please help! I feel so discouraged. I'm proud of myself for being so disciplined, but this is getting ridiculous. Thanks for any advice or anecdotes about your own weight loss experiences.
posted by egeanin to Health & Fitness (57 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
How are you measuring your bodyfat (and weight, I suppose)?
posted by csimpkins at 11:44 AM on August 4, 2009

Response by poster: A digital scale that has the body fat sensor device. I enter in my age, height, etc and it gives me my BMI and my body fat percentage, as well as my water and bone mass percentages.
posted by egeanin at 11:45 AM on August 4, 2009

Stop drinking red wine. It's not how many calories you're consuming, but the type. Yes, I know they say a glass of red wine a day is good for you, but there is no direct evidence for that. It's just a correlation. Might as well say, people who kick back in the evening have a lower risk of heart disease. Oh yeah, they also have a glass of red wine. Red wine may have trace amounts of things that are good for you, but it's also sugar and alcohol. Drop it, now.

Also, avoid grains entirely. If you want to lose weight you should not be eating anything that comes in a box. At all. If you don't mind me asking, would you run through your typical diet in a day?
posted by scrutiny at 11:46 AM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

I don't know much about women's sizes, but isn't dropping two sizes in four weeks rather a lot?

How exactly are you measuring body fat? Is the method reliable?
posted by creasy boy at 11:46 AM on August 4, 2009

I suppose I should mention that those scales are not accurate in telling you your real (absolute) BMI, but you can probably trust the fluctuations. If you haven't seen a change on the scale then there hasn't been a real change.
posted by scrutiny at 11:47 AM on August 4, 2009

I'd guess it's the calories. Many people will tell you that 1800 should be working and it's harmful to go lower (starvation mode, you'll stop losing fat and start losing muscle etc etc.) but everyone's body is different.

I'm 5'5" and went from 165-125lbs and it took a lot of trial and error to finally get there. For me, it was 1200 calories per day max and I had to cut out all booze (yes, even that one glass of red per day!) Good luck...sounds like you're doing great. It's possible that a small adjustment like this will make a huge difference.
posted by meerkatty at 11:49 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, obviously I didn't preview.

This is the first article I found that isn't trying to sell you a scale, and it says the accuracy is +/- 6% for scales.
posted by creasy boy at 11:51 AM on August 4, 2009

Best answer: I don't know much about women's sizes, but isn't dropping two sizes in four weeks rather a lot?

Women's sizes are even numbers, so going from a 10 to barely an 8 is only dropping one size, and the difference between a 10 and an 8 is slight. OP, I feel your pain.

Are you measuring your heart rate during your cardio workouts? Getting up a sweat is good, but I've heard that it's more important to maintain a certain heart rate in order to burn more calories.

I think you've restricted your calories as much as you should and can comfortably maintain. Sounds like it's time to amp up the cardio workouts a bit, either more frequent or longer stretches. What does your personal trainer say?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:51 AM on August 4, 2009

Response by poster: For Scrutiny: a typical day's menu would look like:
2 poached eggs, 2 pieces of turkey bacon
Coffee with 3 tablespoons of fat free half and half

20 almonds for a snack

Whole wheat wrap, or salad with protein for lunch
Sugar-free pudding

snack: a couple dill pickles, or some baby carrots with hummus

For dinner, usually a protein and a vegetable or salad, like last night I had steamed greenbeans with sliced almonds, a tiny bit of olive oil, with two italian turkey sausages, and a cup of blueberries for desert.
posted by egeanin at 11:51 AM on August 4, 2009

Scrutiny, did you mean BMI or BMR? BMI shouldn't fluctuate if her weight doesn't change.
posted by smalls at 11:52 AM on August 4, 2009

1) I would not put much stock into how you are measuring your body fat %. The bio-impedance method (which is what you are using if you're stepping on a scale and waiting for a bodyfat % number to magically appear) is notoriously finicky, and can very on even miniscule factors, including what time of day you use it!

2) Weight loss is all about calories. If you feel like you're not losing weight fast enough, you're going to have to restrict your calories a lot more. Try going from 1800 to 1500 and see how that works.

3) The fact that you fit better into clothes is an indication that you did lose some bodyfat. Something is happening. At this rate, you will be a size 6 4 weeks from now! and four weeks after that you will be a size 4!

4) Pilates/Strength training: these are two very separate things, and it worries me that you're lumping them together. Is your trainer making you do silly things like lift weights on a bosu ball? If they are, junk the trainer. Focus on doing conventional lifts with as much weight as you can possibly do (in a controlled manner). Do not do bicep curls with 5 lb curls. Instead, do things like lunges, dumbbell squats, etc. Don't worry, you will not get too big.

5) About your boyfriend: Oftentimes I've noticed (especially in guys), when one immediately switches to a low-carb/no-carb diet, a lot of weight comes off quickly in the form of WATER. Your boyfriend has likely lost a lot of water weight and maybe some fat.

6) You shouldn't have expected to lose 20 lbs in one month. at 1-2 lb per week, you should be at 4-8 lbs.


I would try restricting your calories a bit more for the week, or upping the cardio. Also, I would do more strength training sessions - real strength training and not the bosu ball kind. Report back in a month!!
posted by unexpected at 11:53 AM on August 4, 2009

Some scales are better than others, but it's my understanding that they are notoriously inaccurate when it comes to body fat percentages. I would think it's reasonable for a month's worth of body fat percentage change to fall within the margin of error (+/- 4%) for a home bathroom scale.

Also... are you measuring at the same time every day and under the same conditions (hydration)? Usually, when you first wake up (and after you pee) is the most consistent reading you can get.

The lack of weight change could easily be from the muscle gain with your new activities. I wouldn't worry too much about not seeing the % change just yet. I think feeling better and dropping sizes is a better indicator of something good happening than a number on a machine anyway.
posted by csimpkins at 11:54 AM on August 4, 2009

Best answer: A few thoughts:

1. Your body can initially resist weight loss when you first start working out. It usually takes me a few weeks before I start seeing and feeling real results. If your calorie output is greater than your input, your body won't resist it indefinitely.

2. It's very possible that you have lost weight and put on some muscle. If you are entering numbers into the scale, this probably isn't an accurate representation of true BMI or body fat percentage. If you replace some fat with muscle, the scale can't know, based on age, height, and such. It's probably just working off of a pre-programmed schedule based on particular height and age variables, which isn't always accurate for individual body types.

3. If you have 20 pounds or less, this weight will come off more slowly than if you have 50 or more to lose. The last ten are especially difficult and can come off painfully slowly.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:55 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For peanut_mcgillicuty-- I'm not using a heart monitor-- I have kind of a high standing heart rate anyway, and a slight arrythmia, so I thought it would be too hard to get an accurate reading. But maybe I should look into it.

My trainer says I work my ass off in strength training, and that 45 mins on the elliptical 3x a week is good, though she hasn't seen me do cardio since I only do strength with her.
posted by egeanin at 11:56 AM on August 4, 2009

If you really want to know your body fat percentage go get yourself hydrostatically weighed, or one of the other methods involving professionals, fancy equipment, and a high cost. Because I can't imagine the digital scale has an accurate way to measure fat percentage and I would assume that any home device would provide near meaningless numbers. The fact that you've lost inches, but maintained your weight, strongly suggests you've converted some amount of fat to more dense muscle.
posted by 6550 at 11:56 AM on August 4, 2009

I wholeheartedly beleive in calories in, calories out.

You may need to go under 1800 calories a day. I'm around your size (5'5, 155) and I usually aim for 10,000 calories a week (1428 a day) when actively dieting. I combine this with 3+ hours cardio during the week plus 30+ minutes walking a day. I lose about 1-3 pounds a week this way (I was 170 earlier this year). I've gone as low as 135 in the past with this plan.

I try to eat healthy, but don't worry about occaisional treats/drinking a bit on the weekends/how many carbs I'm having/etc as long as I stick to my calorie count.

Google basal metabolic rate calculator, calorie counter, etc to help work out numbers. I usually compare what a few sites say and take an average when I make my calculations. I aim for a 7000 calorie deficit each week (2 pounds).
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 11:58 AM on August 4, 2009

Losing weight is super simple (but not necessarily easy): calories in - calories out. Any nuances that people talk about are mere statistical noise (e.g., red wine calories vs french fry calories).

From what you describe, there's no way you're not losing weight, unless you have some serious disease. How are you getting thinner (20% smaller dress size) without losing weight?

In four weeks, I'd expect that you've lost 2-3 pounds. However, during the day, your weight could easily fluctuate by at least that amount, so you need to be very careful and consistent about doing your weigh-ins. I'd recommend weighing yourself once every day after you've done your morning toilet business, but before you've had anything to eat drink.
posted by mpls2 at 11:58 AM on August 4, 2009

Response by poster: For Unexpected: I wasn't expecting to lose all 20 pounds in a month, but the 1-2 pounds per week I wrote about. I just thought I'd see a few pounds drop by this point, to tell me I'm on the right track.

Also, I do strength training NOT lumped in with pilates, but I don't do pilates every week. I do strength once a week no matter what (with trainer) and when I have time I take a pilates class, maybe twice a month. My trainer has me doing squats, lunges, and free weight exercises.
posted by egeanin at 12:00 PM on August 4, 2009

First, don't get discouraged!

I recently lost 20 pounds, through diet and exercise. I ran an average of 2 miles, about 4-5 times per week. For my diet, I didn't restrict the type of food I was eating (i.e. cutting out carbs). Five days per week I had net 1200 calories (this is the lowest that you're supposed to go), and 2 days per week I had 1800 net calories. I tracked all of my food and exercise on The Daily Plate. On the site, you can create an account and it will save your info and create graphs, etc. It's also nice because they have a database of name brand foods with calorie counts so that you can accurately track what you're eating.

Question re the body fat percentage - are you measuring this with a digital scale? I have one of those; over the 2 months when I was losing weight, my body fat percentage didn't change at all. The scales are not very accurate. If you're a member of a gym, someone there may be trained in how to use calipers to find the body fat percentage -- but, you need to have the same person do it each time. Also, your doctor may be able to do this, or do another test (I think it's called DEXA).

As for you not losing weight, you should first see your doctor, to make sure you don't have any hormone/thyroid issues.

Don't worry about your boyfriend's weight loss - men always seem to lose faster than women. It's unfair.

I would also not restrict the carbs, since you seem to be exercising a lot, you need carbs to keep your body running. Also, make sure you're basing your calorie intake on your net calories. Net calorie intake is just the calories eaten minus calories burned through exercise (easiest to just calculate w/ your exercise above and beyond normal daily activities). If you're eating 1800 but burning 700 through exercise, you're not getting enough calories to keep your body from going into "starvation" mode. So, if you're keeping your calorie max at 1800, and work out to burn 700, you can actually consume 2500 that day (extra motivation to exercise!).

Hope this helps.
posted by melissasaurus at 12:00 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Would you mind sharing your current weight and your height? Or at least the method you used to determine that 1800 calories a day would create a 1-2 pound weight loss per week? That's a deficit of 500-1000 calories a day.

Because here's what doesn't gel for me... if you are currently a size 8, you probably don't have that much weight to lose unless you're very very short. So I'm having a hard time with the 1800 calories as a caloric intake for weight loss.
posted by smalls at 12:01 PM on August 4, 2009

oh crap I just saw that at the very top of your post. *smacks forehead*. I swear I read all your bullet points like three times.

Anyway, I put your stats into this calculator I've been having success with. I put "A little more active" as you're setting since that lines up with . It's saying you should be at 1420 calories to lose 1.2 pounds a week. (I estimated your age as 30, you can go and customize it). Anyway, give it a try, see what you think.
posted by smalls at 12:07 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What's could be happening is that you're gaining muscle at about the same rate you're losing fat. You're doing a lot of exercise, which tends to build muscle, and if you're cutting out carbs you're probably getting a fair amount of protein.


Because muscle is denser than fat, and distributed differently, you can still be getting thinner, even if you're not losing overall weight. From the change in your clothes, it sounds like this is happening.

The body fat calculators on scales are not necessarily accurate. What's more, water weight can mean your weight randomly varies by a few pounds between weigh-ins. So don't worry too much about what the scale is saying.

However, it's very hard to accurately calculate a basal metabolic rate, since everybody's metabolism is slightly different. However, an average woman burns about 2,000 calories a day. A reasonable calorie deficit for weight loss is 500 to 1000 per day. So an average woman on a diet can aim for between 1000 and 1,500 calories per day.

So if you want to lose weight faster, it sounds like you could cut down a few hundred more from your current 1,800.

However, this may not be necessary. When you start exercising, you gain muscle weight rapidly at first, but this quickly tapers off unless you're doing progressive resistance training. The fat loss however can continue indefinitely as long as you maintain a calorie deficit.

So overall: don't panic, don't rush into changes, just cut down slightly more calories if you think you need to.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:09 PM on August 4, 2009 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Hi Smalls-- I'm not quite sure I understand your question. As it says in my question, I'm 5'6 and 150 lbs. My BMI is in the higher range of healthy, but being 130 pounds would also be considered healthy (though on the lower range of the scale.)
posted by egeanin at 12:10 PM on August 4, 2009

Stop drinking alcohol. Even if your calorie intake is a strict 1800, alcohol will slow your metabolism. Cut that out and you should see a difference.

But if you're losing inches, that's really all that matters. Weight is a terrible indicator of how fat someone is. Even if you gained weight but still went down in size you would be on the right track, and going down a clothing size, particularly at a 10 (which isn't tiny at all but it certainly isn't huge and it's just harder to lose weight when you're not huge) in a month is actually quite good.
posted by Polychrome at 12:10 PM on August 4, 2009

Best answer: If it were me, I would hold steady and have faith. Maybe your increased gym activity is adding some muscle, which is eating up the weight loss. Maybe your original weight was -post-menstruation and now you're pre-. (God, sorry, if you're not a woman.) Maybe you're sweating less than you were before -- maybe it's cooler, and you're not dehydrated.

It could be a lot of things, but a 10 to an 8 is not insignificant. You're losing slower than you like but you'll get there.

Seriously, I think you're doing everything right and approaching it very rationally. I would be patient and maintain the path.

Weight loss is slow, and maintainable weight loss is even slower.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:13 PM on August 4, 2009

This is a lifestyle change, not a get-thin-quick plan. But I want to at least see some numeric change after a month's worth of work.

Re-read what you wrote here: its important.

I think you are a bit too focused on the absolute number of pounds and bodyfat part of health, and you are ignoring some other aspects of health and fitness that are just as (if not more) important. Like you said, this is an overall lifestyle change, which will produce a lot of results that aren't immediately measurable. That in itself is reason to stick to the program. Ultimately, weight, BMI, and bodyfat are just proxies for underlying health and fitness.

And if you are looking for results, think about this: In the four weeks that you have been doing cardio and strength training, have you seen any numeric improvements? Are you able to run/bike/swim faster and/or farther? Can you lift more pounds and/or do more reps in your strength training and pilates? Are you less out of breath when you climb a flight of stairs? Do you feel better about yourself overall? If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," then that is some important numeric change for you, and it is numeric change that is functionally important. Being able to run/cycle/swim faster and farther is at least as good an indication of fitness as bodyfat or BMI.
posted by googly at 12:17 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

I realized that given the size thing it's clear you're female...but I wanted to add:

As a woman, losing weight with a guy is a pain in the ass.

In my experience.

They lose weight easier and eat more and it just seems like it goes faster for them. This point forward -- all non-science: they have lower body fat percentages, more muscle, burn calories faster.

It's pretty annoying.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:18 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

You are currently at a healthy weight. Your body may not want to weigh less than it does right now. Your body will resist changes it doesn't want (like losing body fat it needs), which is why weight loss works differently for different people.

What are you hoping to gain by losing 20 pounds? If you want to look different, it sounds as though you're on the way there. If you want to be healthier, you're doing lots of good things by improving your diet and exercise habits. But if it's just about the number on the scale, well, that way lies madness, and I'd recommend thinking about other goals that will produce real improvements in your life.
posted by decathecting at 12:22 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

What's wrong with being a size 8?
posted by mareli at 12:23 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Concerning the diet, I think it looks pretty good, but you might want to eliminate the processed meats (sausage, bacon) in favor of fresher meats (ground beef, chicken). When you have a salad are you measuring the dressing as well? Often times I watch people say they're eating healthy and then pour insane amounts of dressing onto their salad.

If I were you, I'd cut the berries and the sugar free pudding. I think those are fine in small quantities if you're trying to maintain a specific weight, but if you're actively trying to lose weight then they will only set you back. Concerning your water intake, I know 8 glasses a day is the recommended daily intake, but trust your body. If you're not thirsty, then don't force yourself to drink water. Keep water on hand at all times, but don't force it.

Anecdotal personal evidence: When I want to lost weight I'll eat the following in a day:
2 eggs, one bunch celery & one bag of baby carrots eaten w/ about 16 oz of hummus, and a whole rotisserie chicken from the store. It's somewhere between 2500 and 3000 calories, but I'll drop from 195 to about 175 in a few weeks. If I eat that same calorie concentration in bacon, egg & cheese sandwiches, pizza, and the like then I stay right at 195. My point is that the type of calories you eat matter, and they matter a lot.

@smalls: No I meant BMI though I think I was unclear about what I was saying. I meant that since she hadn't observed fluctuations then her BMI was likely unchanged.
posted by scrutiny at 12:30 PM on August 4, 2009

Response by poster: Mareli: there's nothing wrong with being an 8, or 10, or 14. But I want to be carrying around less weight, especially the way I carry it (in my abdomen,) which means I can't wear a bikini without looking preggers. I want to be healthy, but also wear the clothes I want to wear.
posted by egeanin at 12:32 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Can you see a difference in your belly fat- like less of a gut hangs over your pants when you sit? Is your face getting slimmer? If you pinch the skin at the back of your arms, does it feel like that pinched flesh is getting smaller? Do your collarbones show more? The veins in your hands and wrists? Is your face getting more angular at all (jawline & cheekbones)? These would all indicate a drop in body fat.

Already we know you dropped a size, which is great, and actually, I disagree that sizes 8 & 10 are that close together. I'm your height and fit into either size 4 or 6, and though I'm pretty consistently 133-138 pounds, sometimes I just look lumpy in a size 4 and sometimes it looks great on me. There are only a couple pounds' difference either way, but the visual difference is noticeable and other people remark on it, too.

So I think you should put less stock in the scale and take some more qualitative data into account. Try photos. A week apart, wearing a swimsuit, front and side, both you & the camera standing in the same place for reference. Do some with your muscles flexed, and some with normal posture. And take measurements of your waist, hips, thighs, and upper arms, and maybe plot the data on a graph. I suspect that you'll see the difference visually, even if for some reason the scale doesn't really register it, and that will encourage you.

Also, it's only been a month, so is it possible bloating and cyclic weight/water gain might be clouding your data and temporarily obscuring your results?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:37 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately I think with such a small amount to lose, especially already being in the healthy weight range you're just going to have to stick with it. If you want to try for faster results I suspect you'll have to bring the calories down a bit. I've been trying different combinations of calories/exercise for the past few months and its really frustrating so I sympathize.

I do strength once a week no matter what (with trainer)

Don't most people lift more than once a week? I was just looking at "The New Rules of Lifting for Women" yesterday and it was suggesting 3x/week but 2x/week would be okay. 1x/week wouldn't be enough. Can you ask your trainer about adding a day of lifting? And by that I mean ask her to suggest a routine to do on your own or if you should repeat the routine she does with you later in the week (after a day of rest).
posted by Bunglegirl at 12:38 PM on August 4, 2009

egeanin, are you on the pill? That can make it difficult to lose weight. Also consider other medications you might be taking.

But it sounds to me like you're doing great. You might just want to focus on the healthy changes you've been making and skip the scale for a week or two. Going from a 10 to an 8 is progress, but more importantly, the sane and healthy choices you're making for your body are progress as well. I think it's important to celebrate that.

Oh, and I'd much sooner give up the fat-free half-and-half (the ingredients in that stuff scares me) before I'd give up a cup of blueberries.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:41 PM on August 4, 2009

Best answer: I've had success with the Eating Well Diet. They suggest an assumption that your maintenance level of calories is likely around 12 * weight for a normally active person. For 150 pounds that is 1,800 calories a day.

They also suggest just discounting your exercise, when moderate, as a balance for the little things you may not log when you track your intake. Based on your description, you exercise for about 200 minutes a week. At 350 calories an hour (a light jog intensity) that is just over 1,000 calories a week.

Put together this means that in the course of three and a half weeks (3,500 calories) you could expect to have lost about a pound, assuming that you are being perfect about counting your intake and your metabolism is 'average'. It doesn't take much to move this below average.

Your activity level sounds to me like it isn't burning more than three hundred calories on the days you exercise, so a reduction to 1,500 calories should certainly be safe, and you could go lower on non-exercise days. I haven't tried the low-carb approach, but you tend to eat less carbs when eating fulfilling meals at these calorie levels.

Finally, life isn't fair, and some of us have different metabolisms than others. My wife has found 11.5 to be a closer metric for her maintenance and I can eat up to about 13*weight and not pack it on unless I'm being unusually sedentary.
posted by meinvt at 12:41 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a longtime low-carber - it's not clear to me if you're going low carb or just reducing carbs, but from a low carb POV here are a few things that I noticed right away:

Coffee with 3 tablespoons of fat free half and half
Read the carb count on the fake half and half. If it's anything like the one in my mom's fridge when I helped her through her "why can't I lose weight?" phase, it's mostly HFCS. Use real half and half.

Whole wheat wrap, or salad with protein for lunch
Ditch the wrap, and eat your salad with lemon juice or oil and vinegar. (I'm assuming you're using dressing, correct me if I'm wrong!) Dressings (and the stuff they dress sandwiches with) can be packed with hidden carbs - for instance, the place I get my salads from from lunch puts *three kinds* of sugar in their dressing.

Sugar-free pudding
Try cutting this out. Besides being loaded with mysterious chemicals, fake sweets sometimes cause an insulin response that makes weight loss difficult.

snack: a couple dill pickles, or some baby carrots with hummus
Carrots are a relatively high-carb veggie (they are more of a starch than a veggie, really), and hummus (and all bean/legume products) is also pretty carby. Try something else like celery sticks and a 1 ounce piece of cheese.

For dinner...a vegetable or salad
See above re: dressing.

two italian turkey sausages
Check the carb count - I've seen processed meats with anywhere from 1 to 10g of carb!

and a cup of blueberries for dessert
Yay! This is an excellent choice, as 1/2 cup of blueberries only has about 8g carb IIRC.

Compared to the average American, you're doing great. But our food supply is so full of hidden carbs, and it's possible that you may not be going low enough for your own particular metabolism

Best of luck to you!
posted by chez shoes at 12:43 PM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

What sort of strength lifts does your trainer have you do? Are they full body lifts like squats or deadlifts, or are they isolation lifts like a bench press. Are you using free weights or a machine? For example, using a machine to leg press will let you move more weight, but you miss out on the full body workout of a squat.
posted by scrutiny at 12:45 PM on August 4, 2009

Ditto to chez shoes
posted by scrutiny at 12:45 PM on August 4, 2009

Best answer: Yeah I'm sorry - I botched everything all up in my rush to correct myself from my first answer (missing your height/weight stats).

At any rate, here is what I'm coming up with for you, straight outta my sports nutrition textbooks.
BMR of 1634 using Harris Benedict formula (again I don't have your age, so I used 30)
Apply a multipliers to get your maintenance calories:
1.2 for sedentary (1961)
1.375 for lightly active (2247)
1.55 for moderately active (2533)

So, just for illustrative purposes, if you're eating 1800 calories on non workout days and you have a desk job, you're maybe getting a 161 caloric deficit per day. Other days when you are doing the elliptical or weight training, those same 1800 calories might give you a 400-500 deficit. Over a week, that's maybe a 2300 calorie deficit, which works out to maybe .63 pounds per week. A bit different than the 1-2 pounds you're targeting.

Of course, your body isn't a machine, so it's not quite that simple. I think what you know right now based on your four weeks of work is that 1800 calories is essentially your maintenance level for your current activity, assuming you haven't gained lean mass and there aren't any other external factors at play. But you know that SOMETHING is happening, because your clothes are getting looser, so consider that maybe there is something external at play this week.

And the post above that A Terrible Llama made has a really good point, especially since you're looking at the past four weeks... if you're premenstrual right now, your weight could be up by quite a bit this week. Maybe a long shot, but worth mentioning.
posted by smalls at 12:47 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Instead of replying to some of the food-related comments here, some of which I find utterly baffling, I'm gonna just advise you to see a dietitian a couple of times.

What does your trainer think about the fact that you don't weigh less? It is totally unfair that men seem to get that totally satisfying immediate 10 lb drop, but I'll nth that this is usually not the way it works for women.

Your plan sounds great and sustainable over a long term. Don't lose heart. More fit and 1 size smaller is absolutely nothing to sneeze at.
posted by desuetude at 1:00 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

See this very similar question I asked for my own experience. It started slow, but once the weight started coming off it has been steady, and easy. My advice is simply patience. You seem to be doing most of the right things.
posted by netbros at 1:11 PM on August 4, 2009

I'm in a very similar situation -- same height as you, started out at 154 pounds, aiming for 130. I'm now down to 136, and got there by dint of cutting intake to no more than 1500 cal/day. I could certainly have attained the same results at a somewhat higher daily calorie limit, but it would've taken longer and I would have lost motivation. I'm able to stick with the reduced intake by dint of (a) giving myself a weekly break (where break = "eat a normal ~2000 level for a day", not "eat everything in sight"), and also (b) focusing on long-term outcomes.

What's worked for me has been to focus on getting lots of lean protein (I've read to shoot for 1 gr per pound of bodyweight, but I usually hit around 120 gr). Add to that lots of fresh vegetables and some fruit. Then plug in a bit of legumes and whole grains until I hit my daily calorie max. It's worked to keep me energetic and keep hunger under control. But again, everyone differs.

Some people I know swear by Intermittent Fasting -- two versions of this are Eat Stop Eat and Martin Berkham's stuff. Contrary to received wisdom about how it's essential to eat breakfast, eat every few hours, etc. etc., this approach seems to have some health benefits and to work well for some people (haven't tried it myself, no endorsement implied).

It sounds like you're doing things right, but -- seconding some other commenters -- your tradeoffs will probably be total calories per day vs. speed of weight loss. It *is* frustrating, I know, but the fact is that when one's trying to go from (essentially) "normal" weight to "lean normal," it's just going to be a slower process. Hang in there!
posted by Kat Allison at 1:29 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

1) Those scales are worthless. Do a submersion bodyfat test -- pricey but worth it if you want accuracy. Calipers are cheaper and less reliable, but MUCH better than crappy bodyfat scales.

2) I'm a 6' tall man who weighs 180 pounds and works out 4 times per week, and 1800 cals is my weight-cutting level. Cut out another 300 cals per day.

3) TAKE FULL-BODY PICS OF YOURSELF MONTHLY, WEARING AS LITTLE CLOTHING AS YOU'RE COMFORTABLE WITH. Scales lie; clothing CAN lie; pictures don't lie. I feel the same -- and have remained the same weight -- since starting to focus more on strength training 6 months ago. This WOULD be frustrating were it not for the vast differences I see in pics taken then vs. ones taken now.
posted by coolguymichael at 2:06 PM on August 4, 2009

I suggest measuring yourself once a week and recording it in a journal (waist, underbust, abdomen, hips, bust, thigh, wrist, neck). It makes 'visualizing' your weight loss/toning much easier than going by how you think you look in the mirror (notoriously inconsistent, in my experience).
posted by nonmerci at 2:12 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

While there's a lot of good information here, and I totally understand how frustrating it is when the number on the scale does not change, I would focus on the fact that muscle weighs more than fat, and dropping one size in 4 weeks is impressive (seriously, congratulations!). Also, do not compare your weight loss to your boyfriend's. This way madness lies. Men tend to lose weight quicker than women. It's not fair, but it's quite common. Give it a bit more time, make sure you're getting 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, drink lots of water, and look a little bit more closely at what you are eating. I firmly believe that it is not just the number of calories that are important, but the nutritional quality of what you're eating. You may need to reduce your calories, but really I'd give it another month before making major changes to what you've just started. It sounds like you have a good plan in place, and you may just need to be a little more patient. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 2:36 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Having a mix of protein and carbs in your diet at each meal has been shown to help speed weight loss in some people. Carbs aren't the enemy. Try adding some back in but keeping your protein up.
posted by cmgonzalez at 2:52 PM on August 4, 2009

OP, if you've lost inches, you have definitely changed in either weight or body composition. There's no way around this, unless you're losing weight in one place (waist) and gaining it in another (um, I don't know, fingers? it doesn't really make sense)

That said, I find the Hacker's Diet weight tracker to be really helpful for seeing that daily fluctuations are inconsequential and helping one to see the overall trend of weight change. You can find it here.
posted by telegraph at 3:54 PM on August 4, 2009

Lots of good advice up top, especially to be patient, but if this keeps being the case, I would consider something like PCOS, as I was eating brilliantly, working out 4-5 times a week and was GAINING weight.

I still eat carbs and don't believe that you have to cut them all out, but my trick is - half a plate of veggies, one quarter protein, one quarter carbs. Oh, and cutting out sugar entirely (ie wine) is probably more important than anything else. That means making most of your meals from scratch, as it is stuffed into almost anything you can imagine. Good luck!
posted by anniek at 5:18 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

So, just for illustrative purposes, if you're eating 1800 calories on non workout days

Are you sure that formula should be used on a day-by-day basis? As far as I can tell, it's usually used on a weekly basis (e.g. moderately active = moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week = multiply the BMR by 1.55 to get an average daily calorie need).
posted by effbot at 5:26 PM on August 4, 2009

How are you counting calories consumed and burned? I like this application here.

And nthing the thought that 1800 calories might be high for the rate at which you want to burn fat. I always thought that I must have some sort of super-duper metabolism and that was why I was relatively thin; once I actually started counting calories out of curiosity, it turns out that "eating as much as I want" for me just happens to equal roughly 1600-1800 calories per day, and I'm a few pounds below your target rate (and exercise about an hour a day).
posted by availablelight at 5:45 PM on August 4, 2009

If you don't want to restrict your calories more--and I wouldn't, or you'll be uber hungry--up your cardio. 30 minutes 3x a week really is only just ok for weight loss. For the next two weeks up your cardio sessions to 45 minutes each. Then up them again to 60 minutes each. You'll definitely be burning more calories then.

Also, what kind of cardio are you doing? A reclining bike, for example, isn't going to have as much impact as, say, an elliptical machine. Also, look up interval training. You may be better off doing sprint/walk/sprint/walk rather than a steady pace of very fast walk, for example.

Lastly, cut out the non-foods in your menu in favor of real food. Fat-free half and half is simply oil and sugar with a little dairy. Swap it for real, full-fat dairy, use less of it, and cut what you do use with water. i.e., pour your pint of real half and half (or whole milk) into some water in another container, and that's your milk cream. Or just use 2% milk. I use whole milk in my coffee and have lost 25 pounds since March. FF half and half is a frankenfood.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 6:03 PM on August 4, 2009

The scale is not always a good metric of body fat loss. The bio-impedence scales are absolutely terrible for an accurate measure of body fat. Get cloth measuring tape and take monthly measurements around your waist, thighs, hips, neck, wrist, etc, basically any areas where you think you'd see change. To get your "true" body fat measurement you would need to use an immersion method or get a DEXA scan or something--I'm guessing you don't want to go through all that trouble, but are just looking to lose some inches.

Good advice from others regarding cutting out carbs and reducing calories. I weigh 20lbs more than you, do heavy weight training five times a week, conditioning three times a week, work a job that involves stocking auto parts in a gigantic warehouse, and I have to cut to 1800 calories to lose 1-2lbs/week. You are probably going to have to reduce your calorie intake, unfortunately.
posted by Anonymous at 6:05 PM on August 4, 2009

Best answer: I'm not even going to read any more comments, people have some weird magical thinking when it comes to weight loss. It's mostly calories in, calories out, yes. I suggest you listen to at least a half dozen of Jillian Michaels' podcasts. She gives a lot of helpful, specific advice.

One thing I would say based off of listening to her and reading up is that the elliptical machine is not ideal cardio. DO NOT trust the amount of calories the machine or internet calculators say that the elliptical burns. The elliptical is a slow, steady workout that strengthens your legs, but it is not the sweaty, fast heart rate type of cardio you need to get 3+ times per week. Think running, spinning classes, fast paced aerobics. Once you get your heart rate up with something like running or jumping rope, you can switch back to the elliptical or the stationary bike, but keep an eye on your heart rate and if it dips out of your target zone (80 percent of your max heart rate) you will need to amp you your pace. If you are not working out hard (ie if you can read a magazine while you work out), then it's not intense enough cardio.

As far as low-carb goes, it works because you cut calories, not because you don't eat carbs. You can eat 1500 calories of only bread and I guarantee you will lose more weight per week than you are now. Cut your calories by around 15 percent (so, 1600ish?) for the next few weeks. Then when you get to the last few "vanity pounds" you can try a program designed to rev up your metabolism (which may require upping your caloric intake). If you cut your calories and are still not losing weight in another month, then you might need to see an endocrinologist to see if you have a thyroid issue. But I bet if you up the cardio intensity and lower your calories you will hit your stride. Then you'll only have to worry about keeping it off!
posted by SassHat at 6:38 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

1. Eat less to lose weight.

2. Exercise to improve health.

Bottom line, a hard sport like running still burns only circa 90 calories per mile. Unless you're training hard (and while your regime sounds good it certainly doesn't qualify as Olympic-hard) you need to cut calories to lose weight. The only athletes I've ever met who genuinely could eat whatever they wanted were heavyweight male rowers. They were doing some of the hardest sustained exercise you can do, for THREE HOURS A DAY EVERY DAY. Plus other training like specific strength and fitness gym sessions on top of that.

So, calories come down if you want faster results. Using any of a number of software/online tracking options is a good idea to make sure you're still getting the nutrition you need. Every calorie going in should count for something.

Also, someone upthread said cut the processed meats and have just meat, and I agree. If fit of clothes is important to you the added salt of processed meat, even if it's low-cal turkey sausage, will retain water.

Good luck, you're clearly dedicated and doing well. You WILL get there.
posted by Cuppatea at 6:17 AM on August 5, 2009

Calories in versus calories out is overly simplistic and misses the bulk of the issue. It IS all about quality and timing of calorie intake. If you eat all your calories right before bed, they will get stored in fat. You will burn those calories off during the next day, but in the process of burning fat calories, your body gets the "OMG starving" signals and does its best to retain and build fat. What you need to do is feed your body for the activities ahead. Have the fuel in the gut, being digested, when you need calories. This causes your body to hit its fat stores only to the extent you are eating less than you are burning. Far fewer stress hormones, which means weightloss is easier. Similarly, by eating a wide variety of wholesome foods, your body gets all the various amino acids and whatnot, it is more "willing" to create muscle and lose fat.

Its all about maintaining a steady stream of good food so your body barely even notices that you are ever so slightly starving it. Use the same methods a diabetic would use to keep their blood sugar steady. In their case, it's because it will hurt them. In your case, its because you don't ever want any excess calories hanging around that will get converted to fat.

(I know this is considered quackery, but read the Dr. Atkins book. I found it very inspiring, made perfect sense, and works. Even if you don't follow his program, the dietary information is first rate, and only recently is being shown to be true. It's not magic. It's just feeding your body what it needs. (Double parentheses: there is a touch of quackery in there, with the suppliments and whatnot. This is probably a good idea for the truly obese who are going to be losing a significant percentage of their body. Not necessary for general maintenance, I don't think.) Yes, part of the magic of low carb dieting is that it is really difficult to eat 600 calories of meat and vegetables. But the other part of the concept is the maintaining a steady blood sugar level. Maybe for people who have rock solid metabolisms it is not necessary. But those people probably never gained extra weight in the first place.)

(Heart rate- I forget the terms, but I think what you want to do is keep yourself in the aerobic heart rate zone. If you go into the anaerobic zone, you are creating those stress hormones and freaking your body out. I forget the reasoning. For me, the target heart rate tends to be just at the point where I am sweatting and can feel my heart beating. But when I go into the higher zone, I sweat profusely and my heart feels more poundy.)

The people who say you are on the right track and doing fine are correct. You are in the process of building muscles and burning off fat. Give it another month or two and I think you will see excellent results. You don't want to go too deep in your calorie cuts- the fact that you dropped a size means its working. You may find that you don't lose a tremendous amount of weight, but I'd bet that you will find yourself looking and feeling better. It's just a number- the result should be building your fitness level and body shape into what you want.

Yes, it sucks to compare your own successes with someone elses. Male bodies tend to be more muscley, and muscle burns calories just by being there. That should be inspiration- build muscles and your metabolism will improve. This is just anectodal, but I've got this friend. His genetics tend toward round and doughy. He chose to counteract that by working out. He's not muscle bound (except in the head, but that's a different story), just fit and cut. Michelangelo's David, roughly. This SOB eats like a frickking horse. But because he is all muscle, it gets burnt off. AND, because he is strong, the mere act of working out burns more calories because he is lifting more weight. I once sat next to him on a road trip. The guy radiates heat! Just sitting there (eating a dozen hard boiled eggs, but that's, again, another story), the guy is burning calories. Now, you may not want to be that cut. But that's a good bridge to have to choose to cross or not. If you start getting more cut than you'd want to be, back off the weight and up reps to maintain what you've got.

(And yes, avoid all the phoney low fat crap. When you are burning all the calories you are eating, you need fat. Real, honest, greasy, delicious fat. Fat got a bad name because it correlated with people overeating, not because it caused it. The reason is that delicious, gluttony inspiring foods happen to have fat. Eating an entire pizza is bad form, whether the cheese is low fat or not. Also, in the case of coffee creamer, look at the serving size. I forget the specifics, but I remember comparing Coffee Mate to Half and Half. The serving for Coffee Mate was a teaspoon, but Half and Half was a tablespoon. When I compared what I actually used, the amount of calories on the Coffee Mate was horrifying.)
posted by gjc at 6:41 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is a lot of stuff up here but I think the heart of the matter is go lower on cals and be patient. Drop to 1500 for 3 weeks and see what happens. You can drop to 1200 if that is too slow. Throw in one 're-feed' day a week where you up those cals back to 1800 using 'clean' food. The first 3 weeks can be discouraging. The next three weeks will be better.

Also echoing that weight loss is about food. Body composition is about exercise. You probably have gotten rid of some intramuscular fat and put on some muscle which is most likely evening you out on the scale pounds-wise. Also - body fat scales suck when it comes to reporting body fat. Use an accumeasure caliper and even then, pay less attention to the number and more attention to how the number changes.
posted by jopreacher at 10:27 AM on August 5, 2009

If you are losing SIZE but not WEIGHT, your muscle gain might be perfectly pacing your fat shrinkage. That's a fine line to walk, but not unheard of. People get fixated on the number, but it's really not your weight that should be your focus, it's your body fat percentage and how fit and capable you are. I would argue that what you're experiencing is actually not in any way, shape or form a red flag, except for you focusing on the wrong result metric.
posted by davejay at 2:37 PM on August 6, 2009

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