Help me budge the pudge!
February 22, 2005 4:30 PM   Subscribe

What are your tricks for staying motivated while trying to lose those last few pounds? [more inside]

The deal: I'm a very active twenty-something female. About 3 years ago I lost close to 100 pounds, through diet and exercise changes. I've kept the weight off, and am currently at a "normal" weight for my height. I now compete in marathons, so I run nearly every day, and I practice yoga at least twice a week. My desire to lose a few more pounds is admittedly superficial…I carry all my excess weight around my middle, and I'd like to streamline that area a bit by toning exercises and losing maybe 5-10 pounds. The problem is that I have a big sweet tooth, and I have a hard time reigning it in and getting into a "diet" mentality, precisely because my goals are so small. It was much easier, both physically and mentally, to lose weight when I was larger. Has anyone here experienced this difficulty? How have you successfully lost those last few pounds? Anyone have any tips or tricks?
posted by Bella Sebastian to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in a similar situation (female twenty-something, lost 85 pounds in the last year or so, about 20 pounds to go). The last few pounds are definitely a total motivation-killer. What's been working for me, and admittedly it's a bit on the obsessive-compulsive side, is making losing the last of this weight a full-time project. I follow a diet plan with a specific calorie range and break down the nutritional content of all my food into protein/carb/fat percentages. Writing it all down helps; it's amazing how you'll rethink what you're putting in your mouth if you know you have to account for it later.

Running is awesome, and it's been my workout of choice as well. I find that keeping with one workout routine for more than a few months tends to stagnate my weight loss, though. Have you tried spinning classes or kickboxing or some other sort of intense cardio? Mixing things up might help.

Also, I recommend getting a personal trainer for a few sessions if you haven't already. Learning proper technique and key exercises was worth every penny. And if laying down the cash for a trainer doesn't motivate you, nothing will.
posted by makonan at 5:01 PM on February 22, 2005

I always recommend including weight lifting in an exercise program. It'll increase muscle mass, and maintaining that muscle mass will mean burning more calories even at rest. (It can also help fend off osteoporosis, so I consider it especially important for women.)

You said "I'd like to streamline that area a bit by toning exercises". Just in case you thought otherwise, you can't target weight loss. The only way to lose weight around your middle is losing weight in general.

Your reference to a sweet tooth makes me wonder whether you're a sugar addict. (That sugar is literally physically addictive for some isn't yet a mainstream idea, but it's being considered.) Check out the first link and see if things sound familiar.

And in more easier said than done news, examine your motivational strategy. Being motivated toward something is a lot more powerful than being motivated away from something. If you're motivated away from something, your motivation gets weaker the further you get; if you're motivated toward something, it gets stronger.

good luck!
posted by Zed_Lopez at 5:30 PM on February 22, 2005

I'm a 40 year old male. I lost 70 pounds in the past year. I'm also stuck with 10 pounds to go. Most of my exercise has been running and swimming. A friend who is quite knowledgeable advised me that the only way to lose the tire is to use get one of those big balls and to also do weights. I haven't got into it yet because I can't stand 'going to the gym'.
posted by Hash at 5:47 PM on February 22, 2005

I'll second Zed_Lopez's suggestion to try weight training. If you're running every day you don't need any more cardio. The benefits of training your lower body with weights should be obvious (especially if you're going for speed), but increased upper body strength can also improve your running performance. Marathoners particularly benefit from having the strength to hold their arms in up for the duration of the race. mention this just so you won't be put off from trying weights because "you're a marathoner."
posted by zanni at 5:51 PM on February 22, 2005

Sometimes it helps to stop caring. Not in going wild and eating twelve packs of Oreos every day, but just not worry yourself whether a food is "good" or "bad". Just eat what you want and in moderation. Not depriving yourself will make the "bad" thing less desirable, and thus you'll want less of it. Worked for me, anyway.
posted by Anonymous at 6:36 PM on February 22, 2005

I'm an avid runner... and while I'm not trying to lose weight or anything, I still have a lot of trouble staying motivated while in between races... what works for me, is trying to connect back to that sense of fun that comes with getting outside and being active. Forget about target weights and all that stuff and try to just enjoy getting out and being physically fit.
posted by ph00dz at 6:40 PM on February 22, 2005

I'm bookmarking this thread since I'm about halfway to my goal of losing 60-70 lb. They're still coming off relatively easily, but I'm sure the last 10 or so will be tough. A lot of the advice in this thread sounds great. Thanks!
posted by Doohickie at 8:18 PM on February 22, 2005

First of all, HUGE congratulations to all who posted here with stories of great weight loss. You have all achieved great results by staying focused, and working hard at achieving your weight loss objectives.

Regarding losing those last few pounds. Bella, given that you love to run, simply increase the pace at which you are running. Chances are that at least one of your marathon-training runs are long SLOW distance.

First, add track workouts to your running week. Once a week, go to the track, and do 10 x 400m with 200m recoveries. Or, if you are feeling brave, do 5 x 200m with 400m recoveries (faster pace for the 200m workout than for the 400m workout). The key thing is to maintain an even pace, eg your first interval will be run at the same speed as your last one. But run this session fast. The last interval must feel oh-my-gawd hard to complete.

Second, add tempo workouts to your running week. Increase the pace of (for example) your Friday run. Don't run as far as your weekly long run, run perhaps 80% of the longest run, but run it at a fast pace.

Essentially, increase the pace of two of your running workouts, and increase the distance of your weekend long run. Those last 5 - 10 pounds will be gone-baby-gone, in no time.

More advice - the biggest running myth is 'you can eat what you want when you train for a marathon'. Not true. Keep watching the carbs, protein and fats. Watch the sizes of portions. Light of foot, fast of foot.

And, remember to be kind to yourself. Watch the mental language that you use to describe your body and yourself while you lose the weight. Don't be at war with these last few pounds, just patiently work away on getting them off your frame.

Again, congratulations to you Bella Sebastian, and to you Makonan and Hash, on your tremendous achievement in losing these great amounts of weight. And Doohickie, hang in there! Half-way to 60 - 70 is a great achievement!
posted by seawallrunner at 8:31 PM on February 22, 2005

I lost around 140 pounds and have kept it off for 5 years and going. The last, oh, maybe 20 pounds were lost almost totally through diet and not exercise because of a nasty bike wreck that sapped my enthusiasm for the solo huffing and puffing.

Beginning and finishing a major weight loss period entailed almost opposite mentalities for me. When it was obvious that I had many months in between me and my goals, I did everything I could to make my diet automatic and completely minimize the amount of attention that food got from me, to the point of not even weighing myself for months and months and months.

As the mirror told me I was leaving obesity and even plain ol' heftiness behind, flat out ignoring my day-to-day weight and food became a silly proposition, since clearly I was approaching a time when the routine I'd established would no longer be appropriate.

That meant my weight and diet came ever more to attention. As that happened, I could no longer put off thoughts of life after the diet, and that meant all those food temptations were front and center in my consciousness.

Instead of eating them, I made a list. I'd add and delete as the mood struck me, prioritize and reorder, explore varietal options among whole forbidden categories... You get the idea.

The list was a promise to myself. I fully intended to eat ALL of that crap! Seriously. Not all at once, but boy oh boy I was gonna eat ALL of it!

Knowing that I was going to eat all that crap after hitting the finish line, I realized that there was going to be a bounce. I realized that well ahead of time, and allowed for it by setting the finish line a few pounds below my actual desired weight.

As you might guess from my first sentence, it worked pretty well for me.

>maintaining that muscle mass will mean burning more calories even at rest

This is not true in any useful or meaningful way. Your body is very efficient. As a means of weight reduction, unused muscle isn't doing significantly more than unused fat.
posted by NortonDC at 8:36 PM on February 22, 2005

The folks at the John Stone Fitness forum are obsessed with getting basically perfect bodies. You might be able to learn from them.

(I'm making no claims as to the mental healthiness of such an undertaking.)
posted by callmejay at 9:20 PM on February 22, 2005

Is it possible that the extra weight around your middle is extra skin from losing such a large amount of weight? Some people can't get rid of that without that crazy surgery they like to show on Discovery Health about once a week where they cut you all the way across your abdomen and remove the excess tissue. And congratulations on your success so far!
posted by chiababe at 9:22 PM on February 22, 2005

I am using this website to lose my 10 pounds, it seems to be working albiet slowly. Good luck!
posted by yodelingisfun at 9:31 PM on February 22, 2005

A February 5th AskMe question had a lot of answers about muscle-building options other than using a gym.
posted by WestCoaster at 10:17 PM on February 22, 2005

You will never lose those last ten pounds.

I'm not saying this to be mean. What will happen is, either you won't lose the ten pounds, or you will lose the pounds, (the scale says so!) but you won't be satisfied with the fact that those ten pounds didn't come off the area of your body that you most wanted to lose weight.

Stop thinking of your weight as a number. It's not helpful. Just look at yourself, test your body fat percentage, go for a run. Do you feel healthy? Can you exert yourself without quickly tiring? Are you satisfied with having a small paunch if the almighty Scale says that you've technically reached your goals?

I say this because I read all-to-often (and even in this thread) people give themselves "targets" to work towards. Your target should be being healthy. Your goal should be, "I look at myself in the mirror and am satisfied." If you obsess with numbers, you'll eventually hit the number, then slowly sink back again because your mentality is all wrong. Exercising and eating healthy aren't tasks to be done each day. They are part of a lifestyle that you have to adopt if you plan on keeping your hard-earned gains.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:27 PM on February 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

Whoops, all-too-often.

And on reflection, what I'm trying to get at is that I see people looking at exercise/fitness/diet regiments in terms of "how long will this take?" "Am I almost there?" "Just a few more weeks and then I can go back to normal!" Which is all wrong. A good exercise regiment/diet/sleep schedule should take the rest of your life. Then you can go back to "normal" (i.e., dust).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:33 PM on February 22, 2005

You have to get naked more often. Not just for the average stuff (shower, etc.), but naked around the house, or at least stripped down to where you and any others will see your body. Maybe revealing exercise clothes. If your bum is your worry, reveal your bum. Go about your normal home activities that way. Then you'll get used to the way you look and you'll be encouraged to continue exercising and controlling your eating.

As for the problem with the sweet tooth: be smart at the store and you won't have a problem at home. Buy apples and oranges and bananas and so on. Buy no candy or pastries or whatever it is that you cannot resist. Forget the doughnut shop or wherever it is that the devil keeps leading you. When you're home and the craving hits, the worst you can do is have an apple or three, and that's much better for you than a bar of chocolate. If you're snacking while you're out or at work, be sure to keep fruit on your desk, in the car, in your bag, wherever you need it.
posted by pracowity at 12:03 AM on February 23, 2005

Civil_Disobedient -- Your target should be being healthy. Your goal should be, "I look at myself in the mirror and am satisfied." If you obsess with numbers, you'll eventually hit the number, then slowly sink back again because your mentality is all wrong. Exercising and eating healthy aren't tasks to be done each day. They are part of a lifestyle that you have to adopt if you plan on keeping your hard-earned gains.

Civil_Disobedient, your target should be to answer her question, which is very specific: "How do I lose this weight?" Assigning her a new goal is outside the scope of this AskMe. We're not here to assign larger goals like "Be healthy," or "Lead a good life." She has identified her immediate goal, and has identified her reasons for setting that goal. And, given that someone of 5'5" has thirty pounds inside of their normal BMI range, we have no reason to believe that her desire to lose 10 pounds despite having reached a "normal" weight is unhealthy.

If you obsess with numbers, you'll eventually hit the number, then slowly sink back again because your mentality is all wrong.

This is false, at least a universal. Yes, looking in the mirror does provide guidance, and I used feedback from the mirror to find the numbers that coincided with the weight at which losing weight no longer improved my appearance in my own eyes, all of this well within the normal ranges of BMIs. And, as I indicated above, my own experience shows that using numbers as your goalposts or boundaries can be sustainable.
posted by NortonDC at 5:43 AM on February 23, 2005

No, NortonDC. The question was not "how do I lose this weight?". Had it been "how do I lose this weight" I would have suggested swimming, walking, even some jogging.

The question was about motivation. Go read it again if you disagree. I'm happy that you are able to keep motivated to continue staying healthy by setting a few numbers for yourself, but for most people this is not sufficient. And let me be clear about most people: studies from the National Institutes of Health report that 95-98% of people who lose weight gain it back within five years. 90% of those gain back more weight than they lost.

Most people look at weight loss as a temporary measure, which is why they rebound. Their mentality might work for a few months, but it will not hold for the rest of their life. This is what I was trying to explain above. And as an aside, basing your overall health solely on your weight is both misleading and potentially dangerous.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:38 AM on February 23, 2005

I am going to also say that changing things up will probably help. Your body gets used to a routine and shocking it with something new can get it going in the right direction again.

As stated above you cannot "spot reduce" but you can "spot tone" by doing some ab work.

How to stay motivated? Keep telling yourself you did not come this far to quit now - at the last 5/10 lbs. Visualize yourself at your goal. Do this as often as you think about those last few pounds. Imagine the compliments, how it feels to look at your flat belly, how fun it is to shop for new clothes that accentuate your new body.

Finally, while there may be disagreement above, I am also going to say this is not a destination, but a goal in the process to having the healthiest happiest YOU that you can. Just a little reason to jump for joy that you have made it this far in your lifelong quest for health and fitness. It is not a stopping point.
posted by jopreacher at 9:34 AM on February 23, 2005

I agree with Civil_Disobedient -- when I started my weight-loss/get fit plan 10 months ago, I had a target weight in mind. I'm not there -- I have 15 lbs to go. But when I look in the mirror, I'm happy with what I see. I don't have to shop at plus size stores anymore, so I can wear almost anything. I fit in seats on airplanes, on buses and in theatres. It makes that last 15 lbs very difficult to lose because I don't feel the NEED to lose it like I did the first 40 lbs. So instead of obsessing over it, I am working out and trying to get in better shape. I don't really care what I weigh, as long as I'm happy with myself because that is all that matters. However, I do weigh myself once a week to make sure I don't gain more than a couple of pounds. My grandmother tells me this is how she stayed fit during her 87 years...she never let herself get more than 10 lbs off from her weight (on either side).
posted by suchatreat at 10:11 AM on February 23, 2005

I third Civil Disobedient.

I understand that you're already a superb runner. One way to shake things up would be to add another facet to your regime. I suggest weightlifting or a similar resistance training routine. The added muscle mass will push up your base metabolic rate and you will burn more calories.

This might push off those last few stubborn pounds. It might not. Either way, you will feel much fitter and stronger.
posted by sid at 10:24 AM on February 23, 2005

As a means of weight reduction, unused muscle isn't doing significantly more than unused fat.

One, the dude in your link is arguing against the straw man position of increasing muscle mass alone to lose weight. Yes, it's very easy to make almost anything else sound trivial next to food Calorie reduction. An hour of intense cardio exercise? Heck, you can get that much benefit by simply passing on eating a half-container of Ben & Jerry's! (He's right, of course, that increasing muscle mass alone is a much worse strategy than combining that with healthy eating and cardio exercise, but Bella Sebastian obviously has that covered.)

Two, every other reference I can find to the number of Calories/day an additional pound of muscle mass burns is 50, not 13 as he has it.

So, adding just 2 pounds of muscle mass could be the equivalent of 10 minutes of jumping rope every day (depending on weight.) With no effort.

Sounds like a good deal to me.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:44 AM on February 23, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! This discussion has inspired me to shake things up a bit and work on increasing my running pace, as well as adding some weight lifting and maybe a different cardio activity now and then. I appreciate all of the support and good suggestions, and cheers to everyone else who's in the same boat!
posted by Bella Sebastian at 11:40 AM on February 23, 2005

Zed_Lopez -- every other reference I can find to the number of Calories/day an additional pound of muscle mass burns is 50, not 13 as he has it. So, adding just 2 pounds of muscle mass could be the equivalent of 10 minutes of jumping rope every day (depending on weight.) With no effort. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Except that it's not true.
(if blocked, the indelicate login combo of "" and "password works)
The conventional wisdom: Muscle is metabolically active. It burns calories even when your body is at rest - 50 to 60 calories a day per pound of muscle. Ergo, if you add a pound of muscle, you can burn an additional 350 calories a week, 1,500 calories a month, 18,000 calories a year - the equivalent of 5 pounds of flesh.

In other words, if you gain a pound of muscle, everything else being equal, you can, in a year, shed 5 pounds of flab.

Trouble is, it ain't so.

"Putting it to the numbers" reveals that resting muscle burns a mere tenth of that - about 5 to 6 calories per pound per day, Ellis says. Since every pound of fat burns 2 calories a day, muscle hardly confers a hefty metabolic advantage - a mere 3 to 4 additional calories per pound.

How does this play out in the real world?

Suppose a woman who weighs 150 pounds begins working out, walking two miles a day, lifting weights three times a week. After six months, she manages to shed 18 pounds of flab and gain 6 pounds of muscle.

To feed that new muscle, her body needs 30 calories of food energy a day (6 pounds x 5 calories = 30). But because she has dropped 18 pounds of fat, her energy needs have also dropped - by 36 calories (18 pounds x 2 calories = 36). Result: Despite all that new muscle, she needs to eat 6 calories a day less to maintain her new weight.

Moreover, adding 6 pounds of muscle is no easy feat. When Ellis was working on his doctorate, doing body-composition studies in the lab, he found that the muscle mass of female bodybuilders, compared with that of untrained women, was greater by only 6 pounds.

"Steroid girls had only 8 to 10 pounds more lean body mass," Ellis says. "I'm talking about hard-core bodybuilding chicks - not someone lifting 5-pound dumbbells, but a gal benching 150, and going at it hard."

Ditto for guys. After several years of training hard, a man may be able to gain 10 pounds of muscle, max. Even with steroids and other anabolic aids, the most a competitive bodybuilder can add is 30 to 40 pounds of muscle, Ellis says. At 5 calories per pound of muscle, all that extravagant anabolic gingerbread revs the metabolism by a mere 150 calories - an amount that could be wiped out by a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.

"So when Diane Sawyer works out with rubber bands and 5-pound dumbbells and manages to add a quarter-pound of muscle, she may be burning more calories through the exercise itself," Ellis says, "but she's doing zip to increase her resting metabolism."

Can Ellis be believed? For proof, he showed me citations and tables from his trusty texts, including a real page-turner titled Energy Metabolism: Tissue Determinants and Cellular Corollaries. But more persuasive than academic data was this argument: "If new muscle burns 50 calories a pound, why doesn't already existing muscle burn 50 calories a pound?" Ellis asks. "How does the body determine that new muscle burns 50 calories, while old muscle burns only 5?"

Answer: It doesn't, because all muscle burns only 5 calories. Putting it to the numbers: If every pound of muscle burned 50 calories, a typical 200-pound man would have a resting metabolic rate (RMR) from muscle alone of 4,000 calories (80 pounds of muscle x 50 = 4,000).
Civil_Disobedient -- The question was about motivation.

I was wrong, and that assessment of yours is 100% correct. So why didn't you answer that question any better than I did? You're still assigning a new goal outside the scope of the question as you yourself formulate it. It is your assertion that her original question just cannot be answered?

And as an aside, basing your overall health solely on your weight is both misleading and potentially dangerous.

As an aside to who? Has Bella Sebastian or anybody else in here espoused a view anything like this?

Bella Sebastian, good luck finding your motivation reaching goals. We all hope you find something that works for you.
posted by NortonDC at 2:56 PM on February 23, 2005

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