Getting My Life On Track: Health and Fitness Edition
November 12, 2009 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Getting My Life On Track: Health and Fitness Edition! Can you recommend a weight loss (diet and exercise) plan for a 5'5" 175lbs female?

So, after gaining about 40 lbs due to anxiety issues I got some help (yay help!) and now I'm well on my way to being mentally healthy, (yay mentally healthy!) but I need some help on the physical side. I know I need to exercise and eat healthy, but I don't know where to start. My insurance pays for the mental help but not a nutritionist, so that's out. So, do you have any tips? What does your workout look like? How do you keep from getting bored? Any diet/exercise advice would be appreciated.

(Hopefully) Relevant Details:
-Have access to KU Fitness Center (machines etc.)
-Walk about 30 min./day already (between classes)
-Own an mp3 player (downloadable workouts?)
-Have about 2hrs/day M-F to workout
-Take a multivitamin
posted by julie_of_the_jungle to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I am not an expert on any of this, and need to lose weight myself. I started getting "Shape" magazine which has really great ideas. It covers nutrition, exercise, healthy living and seems to have a very realistic approach to things. Articles also show real readers and how they got in shape and learned to live more healthy. It has a lot of recommendations for cardio, weights, music, stretching etc.
posted by maxg94 at 2:01 PM on November 12, 2009

The Couch to 5K plan has struck me as a good one.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:16 PM on November 12, 2009

create a food journal and track all your calories. cut what you can. when you feel hungry, drink water. if you still feel hungry a half hour later, go eat something.
posted by Stynxno at 2:25 PM on November 12, 2009

You might have access to a trainer at the fitness center, at least a session or two with one - I think that would be helpful in giving you an idea of how much you should expect to exercise and make fitness progress without getting burned out. Try to have a reasonable variety of activities: some weight-bearing, some outdoor, some aerobic, some muscle-building. But don't get too ambitious and let it overwhelm you. The whole point is to enjoy living in your body. Have fun!

(I love listening to podcasts while doing anything that lends itself to earphones. Feels more productive than music.)
posted by lakeroon at 2:32 PM on November 12, 2009

Immutable law: "The ONLY way to force the body to call on stored energy (e.g. body fat) is to create an imbalance between energy intake (from food) and energy expenditure." And for that diet is the key. You can eat 1500 calories of lard-covered ice cream and you'll still lose weight. You can exercise all day long but if you eat more than you burn, you'll gain weight.

Check that link out and it'll give you a better idea of where you need to go with your diet. There's only 4 steps.

Own an mp3 player (downloadable workouts?)

Couch-to-5k is popular and well regarded.
posted by anti social order at 2:34 PM on November 12, 2009

Good luck...I've been there and it is hard work since there isn't any magic formula besides more exercise, less food (and probably better for you food). Also keep in mind that it is very easy to over estimate the number of calories burned by working out and if you aren't diligent it is super easy to under estimate what you consume.
posted by mmascolino at 2:54 PM on November 12, 2009

As far as just the food portion or your question-- I've been having pretty good success with SparkPeople, and bonus! It's completely free.
posted by Zoyashka at 3:16 PM on November 12, 2009

My latest favorite thing is an iPhone app called Lose It! -- it's basically a calorie counter that keeps track of your intake/output balance. anti social order is absolutely right, all you have to do is expend more than you take in. All the diets, all the exercise programs, all the books are basically support towards this goal and the "best" approach is the one that keeps you adherent to the proper intake/output balance.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 3:18 PM on November 12, 2009

I missed that you also wanted diet advice. Keeping a food diary is really effective. Either write down everything you eat in a little notebook you keep with you all the time, or you can use one of several websites (and some iPhone apps) that let you enter foods - these also calculate calories and other nutritional information.

You probably know most of what a person needs to know about keeping calories in check. Lots of fruits and vegetables, lowfat dairy, lean meats, not too much bready stuff. Cooking your own food lets you control ingredients more easily than starting with prepared foods. Restaurant food tastes so good because it usually has more sugar and fat than you would put in if cooking for yourself! Eat slowly; it takes a while for your stomach to realize it's full.

Totally agree with mmascolino about the ease of overestimating calories burned in exercise. Most calculators of calorie expenditure for various exercises don't subtract out basal metabolism, so they overstate what you burn through the exercise itself. My best advice is to exercise moderately enough that you don't feel like you should get to eat more because of it. Exercise has all sorts of benefits, but changing your diet is a more efficient way of reducing your weight.
posted by lakeroon at 3:26 PM on November 12, 2009

Fit Day is a wonderful tool for helping you keep track of daily exercise and calories (and it's free). Also the FDA's website has My Pyramid for guidelines on what you should be getting nutritionally.

Keeping a food log helped me lose nearly 100 pounds. It was a great eye-opener when I saw exactly what I was eating and how many calories I actually ate in one day. I also cannot emphasis portion control enough. I didn't cut anything out and I never eat diet food - it's all about portions. Keep them under control and the world is your oyster. The government doesn't put those serving sizes on the packages for nothing.
posted by patheral at 3:27 PM on November 12, 2009

Body for Life. I started this about 16 weeks ago and it has changed my life. The book can be had for around $4, used. It's a straightforward diet and exercise program, and the key is that it is rational and sustainable (i.e., you won't find yourself thinking "I can't wait till this diet is over so I can eat normal again", because you will be eating normal and well). The exercise portion is fairly intense, but as you see results, it will encourage you to continue.

MeMail me if you want more specifics on the program. FWIW, I owned the book for about 3 years before I was able to get past the cheesy cover and open it. Reading it was one of the best things I ever did for myself.

As my brother likes to remind me, "If you eat well and exercise, you will see results. Period, end of story". So any of the suggestions above will probably benefit you. Find whatever works in your life, and stick with it.

Good luck!
posted by jclovebrew at 3:50 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Couch to 5k is amazing. I started in August and am now running 6 miles at a time, and I have never ever been the least bit athletic in my life. I can't tell you what it's done for my body image and self-esteem.

I have always had luck with Weight Watchers for losing weight, but any way to limit and track what you eat will probably have the same effect. Keeping an honest food log is key, though.
posted by something something at 4:07 PM on November 12, 2009

I'm posting this on behalf of my wife (written by her), who is similar in height and weight and has tried different things starting around July and this month has had more success than in the past:

I echo everything previous posts have said about counting calories and just making sure you burn more than you eat. That said, here are some recent lessons learned.

- I started Couch to 5K without being diligent about calorie counting, and while it helped me complete my first 5K, I didn't lose any weight. It wasn't until I started being very particular about recording calories that I started seeing success. Now I'm going through the Couch to 5K plan a second time, this time running faster, and I do that three times a week. The other days of the week I do about 30 minutes of whatever cardio I feel like. I also spend about 10 minutes a day using my gym's weight machines (legs one day, arms the next day).

- I'm a creature of habit, so I do best if I book time to do some exercise every day. Even if it's something easy like walking leisurely for half an hour, as long as I make some effort (and adjust my calories accordingly) I count it. Previously, when my goal was to work out 5 days a week, it was easy to cut down to 4 and say I'd make it up the next week, but then I wouldn't.

- I like the Lose It iPhone app for tracking exercise and calories. But before I got my iPhone I kept a small moleskin notebook in my purse.

- As others have pointed out, it's very easy to underestimate what you eat. I find it helpful, when I eat out, to try to eat at restaurants that post nutrition information. I bought a kitchen scale to measure portions for food I make at home. It's a bit of a pain, but I figure it will be worth the reward. I still eat plenty of dessert, just not when it would put me over my daily total. For times when I still want a dessert but don't have a lot of calories left for the day, I turn to Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches. And when in doubt, overestimate calories for a dish.

- In general, you'll have to try things and see what works for you. If you're hating the whole process (if the idea of being more fit/weighing less doesn't outweigh the turmoil of losing the weight), it's going to be tough to lose the weight. So figure out something that can be incorporated into your daily life and can be maintained over the long-run.
posted by SNWidget at 4:40 PM on November 12, 2009

Seconding jclovebrew's suggestion of body for life. I started it right around the same time he did, and it has made more of a difference than I ever thought it would. I had resigned myself to thinking that it was inevitable that I'd have a belly, but now I've seen that I have more control over whether I do or not.
posted by umbĂș at 5:33 PM on November 12, 2009

Ok, I have good advice. I'm 40 years old, 5'2" and a classic hourglass figure with DD boobs and wide hips at any weight. I've been every weight as an adult from 235 to 145. Right now I'm at 156 and sustaining/losing. I've been in this awesome phase since February of this year.

The only thing that works is hard f'ing work. There is no gimmick, there is no trick, there is no secret. You must burn more calories than you consume. I've done low-fat, low-carb, all of it. They're all extremes, and you probably can't stick with them.

30 minutes a day of walking is likely not enough to lose more than 10 or so pounds. You need to work up a real sweat. You need to feel sore muscles a few days a week. You need to experience the feeling of "Oh my god, I don't think I can do this" and do it anyway. You need to question whether you can continue, and to gradually learn that yes, you can continue what you need to drop some weight and get healthy.

I recommend you sign up for 5-10 sessions with a trainer. More than just enough to learn how to exercise--you need to have someone watching your form for a while, someone to monitor how you exercise, how you progress, how and whether you'll keep going. Pay someone to talk to you straight up so you can continue to hear their voice in your head once you're on your own.

In addition to cardio exercise (like treadmill running or elliptical machine or rowing machine) that gets your heart rate moving and burns calories, you need to be doing weight resistance exercises. The machines you have access to are single-purpose or dual-purpose muscle exercises, and they are perfectly fine. BUT a trainer could show you exercises you could do that would work out multiple muscle groups at one time--in other words, exercising more efficiently than what machines can do for you. e.g. Holding a weighted bar over your head and doing forward lunges, or lifting free weights while balancing on a medicine ball.

If you need help with nutrition, here are some incremental steps you can take:
- Read labels! Avoid all high fructose corn syrup. This includes lots of "fat free" foods.
- Avoid foods marked "fat free." Most of them are full of chemicals or sugar to be palatable.
- In fact, avoid processed foods in general.
- Cut back 95% on the white things you eat: potatoes, rice, all of it.
- Change from white bread to whole wheat.
- Do not buy bread with high fructose corn syrup or sugar in it.
- Then, eat bread only once or twice a week.
- Change from half & half to 2% milk for coffee. (Skim if you can hack it.)
- Do not use fat free half & half. It's a processed food.
- Don't put sugar in or on anything.
- Most yogurt has sugar in it. You might as well eat chocolate pudding.
- Don't drink sodas, even diet sodas. Switch to iced tea or water with lemon.
- Eat a breakfast every single day.

Most importantly:
How MUCH you eat is 90% of how much you weigh. Try eating only half a sandwich sometimes. Leave half your dinner on your plate and save the other half for later. If you order Chinese, eat only half of your dish, and eat very little or no rice (brown rice!). If there's pizza at work, eat just 1 cheese slice. That's your lunch! When splurging, you don't need a burger AND fries. One or the other.

Last thing about food:
I know very well all the emotional stuff surrounding food. Know that it's perfectly ok to feel hungry. It's not desperation. It's not an emotional need that must be filled. It's not a signal of lacking love. Your body just wants some food. And know that it's ok to wait a little while to eat even after you feel the first pangs of hunger. You (presumably) live in the first world, and you're not going to starve. Do not reach for the first thing that occurs to you when you're hungry. Don't settle for fast food if you feel a hunger pang. Wait for the fish you have at home.

Good luck!
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 6:02 PM on November 12, 2009 [13 favorites]

I have a gimmick. I recently lost 10 lbs with it. I no longer eat lunch during the day. I buy tons of fruit and vegetables as well as healthful snacks and munch on those all day instead. Sensible breakfast + fruit, veg, low cal snacks during the day + tasty dinner. And limit or curtail your alcohol intake. Bonus: this routine will also save you money.
posted by Lieber Frau at 6:56 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yogurt is awesome, but read the labels; I usually get the natural 1 percent fat. It's more filling than the fat-free (and the difference is maybe ten calories or so) and 5-8g sugar/serving (as opposed to 20+ for the fruit ones). Cocoa powder and a little splenda or white sugar and you have a dessert. I usually add chopped fruit or toasted oats for breakfast. Cinnamon, pumpkin or apple pie spice, vanilla or almond extract are all good.

Splenda, etc. are okay in small amounts for me, but I think they just keep me used to thinking things have to be sweet to be yummy. So I try to trade for other tastes I like, such as tart lemon.

Spices. As long as your diet plan doesn't restrict them and you're open to new things, start experimenting.
posted by variella at 8:24 PM on November 12, 2009

Everything ImproviseOrDie said, plus the following:

- Find an exercise group or class to attend, even if it's once a week. These are fun and motivating, and sometimes they provide great ideas for other exercises.

- Educate yourself! Clearly you have taken the first step by posting on here, but there is so much to read and learn about diet and exercise, and a lot of it is online. Even basic news sites such as and often have interesting food and exercise related articles. Reading these when they come up adds up to a wealth of knowledge. Health and fitness magazines can help at first too, although after a while they all start to look the same.

-While I'm a believer in do-it-yourself, I also think there might be something to getting help from someone who is "in the know" for a little while at the beginning. Maybe you have a friend or relative who is already into exercise and would be willing to show you a few moves. At the least, maybe you have a friend who would like to try and get in shape with you.

- Vary your fitness routine so it never gets boring. Join a rec sports team or take a yoga class - these things help a lot when you don't feel like getting on that same boring treadmill yet again. And they will push you much harder than you push yourself. My weekly schedule usually incorporates at least three different types of exercise (swim, run, lift, yoga, etc.), and I know without the variation I'd get bored.

- This tip (which I read in some online fitness article) has helped me maintain a routine and prevent any downward spiraling: take one day off of exercise, that's fine. Take another day off, that's fine too. But on the third day you must, must, MUST move your body and burn some calories. Make it a rule set in stone, and it is actually pretty easy to follow.

- Quit watching tv. Try cutting back one hour per day for a month, then cut back another hour per day. You will be shocked at how you find interesting, often more calorie-burning activities, to fill your time.

- Don't eat fast food, frozen dinners, or anything that comes in a box. When grocery shopping, focus on fresh meats, fruits and veggies, dairy, and whole grain breads and pastas. If you don't know what to make, turn to magazines such as real simple or women's health for ideas. also has an entire section of low-calorie meals.

- Journals and calorie counting can all be quite effective, but what has worked for me is focusing on eating 5-6 small meals (think 100-300 calories) per day, all of which are healthy, and never worrying about calories. Space the meals about 3 hours apart, beginning within the first hour that you are awake in the morning.

I'm sure this sounds like a lot but it is easy once you begin moving forward. My lifestyle (and happiness levels) have changed dramatically since I started trying to follow these guidelines. Best of luck to you!!! I know you can do it!!!
posted by angab at 8:34 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

My husband and I have both lost weight since July (he 43 lbs., me 25) under the care of an physician with a specialty in anti-aging and preventative medicine. As a bonus, my husband's need for antidepressants has ended (after 10 years), and we both feel great.

There are six methods to the weight loss program: low carb/high protein diet; weekly weigh ins at the dr's office; 96 oz. + of water daily; aerobic exercise (I've been bad about this); weight bearing exercise; and an appetite suppressant Rx in the beginning.

I know it's been easier for us because we're both on the same program, and because we're not having to cook for anyone besides the two of us. But it's been a pretty comfortable way to drop the pounds we've needed to. We figure we'll both be at our ideal weight some time around February.

Good luck to you!
posted by northernlightgardener at 9:14 PM on November 12, 2009

It sounds like you've got a lot going for you right now. The Couch to 5K could fit really well, I think, as you could do it outside or on a treadmill. You can check out the plan online, but at the end of the first week of it myself, I love and recommend the free Chubby Jones podcast. The Couch to 5K plan basically is a run-walk-run-walk (etc) plan, and you never run more than 60 seconds at a time the first week. And it's only three days a week.

You could add in some light weights for your upper body one or two days/week, and you'd have a great fitness plan.

As for nutrition: when I'm trying to make conscious changes to my diet, I try to focus on getting enough fruits and especially vegetables. If I think my meals around fruits and veggies, I usually find I eat much healthier. And, they fill you up so you don't eat so much other stuff. It's a simple approach, but it works for me.

Good luck!
posted by bluedaisy at 10:28 PM on November 12, 2009

These are some very, very good suggestions. I have only one thing to add: go slow. If you throw all sorts of rules and challenges at yourself right away, it's easy to burn out and abandon them just as quickly.

When I started working out three years ago (I was about 85 pounds overweight), it was pretty much 20 minutes on the exercise bike twice a week, because that was all I could handle. But I stuck with it, I got better, and I added more. Now I, an avowed lazy-ass, work out six days a week (a combination of running, lifting, bodyweight exercises, yoga, and sometimes swimming) because it's a well-ingrained habit and it makes me feel good. Weight loss was the initial goal but now it's just a pleasant side effect.

Developing a workout routine that you stick with takes a bit of time, and involves a lot of trying out things and seeing what works. For the first month or so, consider making your goal just getting to the gym n times a week - carving out a permanent spot in your schedule for workout time is the hardest part. When you've established a routine, evaluate your progress every couple of weeks and see where you can level up; working out always needs to have some element of work to it. I've found that with nearly any type of exercise there's often a sweet spot of "oh arrgh I'm not sure I can do this... okay, phew, did it." You don't want to make things so hard that you risk hurting yourself or dread working out, but if your workout is easy it's probably not effective.

You can totally do this! It takes time and effort, but if you give yourself both of those, it will work.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:40 AM on November 13, 2009

Weight Watchers, for me, is like "dieting for dummies." I get overwhelmed when I think of calories and carbs and portions and vegetables and etc. WW boils it all down to points. I also find the weekly weigh-ins helpful b/c they force accountability. You can do it in person or online.

As for working out, I think the important thing is just that you do something. As others have pointed out, you're going to lose weight more b/c of what you eat than what your workout is. Be sure to include some weight-lifting exercises in addition to cardio. Building muscle mass is good for your bones.
posted by Mavri at 8:40 AM on November 13, 2009

I've just dropped 31 pounds (started in June) using Livestrong's DailyPlate and pretty much nothing else. Count your calories eaten and burned and be conservative (over estimate what you eat and underestimate what you burn). Ignore all other diet advice on the site (It is a waste of time. There is no magic trick or secret food to weight loss and almost all nutrition advice is just plain wrong and not support by research)

I set my base rate to being sedentary and started out with losing 1.5 lbs a week. I've upped it to 2 because I want to hit a healthy BMI before xmas. I weight myself every morning first thing because it is usually rewarding.

It is simple math and physics. You have to expend more energy then you put in.

I still eat most of the same foods, including potato chips, but less of them. I get at least an hour exercise a day - walking or cycling but nothing too heavy duty.

For me I think the big change was when I realized that I was on a calorie roller coaster because I didn't eat more on high exercise days so the next day I would binge.

I'd suggest avoiding things like weight watchers because it only works as long as you use their system. You need to learn what foods are high calorie and how to portion them properly yourself rather than letting someone else do it for you.

Good luck.

(Also start putting aside money for a new wardrobe - success will mean that nothing fits anymore)
posted by srboisvert at 9:13 AM on November 13, 2009

I highly recommend Start with the "Primal Living 101" category and go from there. I didn't need to loose weight, I was 120 and 5'7 but following this lifestyle I feel much healthier, have even, consistent energy, my skin has improved dramatically AND I lost 5 lbs along the way so am now as lean as I've ever wanted to be. Good Luck and congratulations on the progress you've made with mental health issues :-) This thing called life....its a constant dance towards finding and keeping balance.
posted by LivinginYes at 5:39 AM on November 14, 2009

Oh I should have mentioned that I found to be a great application. I learnt alot about what I was putting into my body!
posted by LivinginYes at 5:45 AM on November 14, 2009

I know it gets panned quite a bit, but I had great luck with BeachBody's P90X program.
posted by gb77 at 4:28 PM on November 28, 2009

« Older Clear Wireless Keys Automatically?   |   A small suitcase for my mobile office? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.