Getting sick of the slow burn...
June 28, 2010 7:38 AM   Subscribe

Despite trying pretty hard, my weight's been staying at a flat line for the past solid month. What's up?

Okay, starting on May 17th, I've been sticking to a 1500-2000 Calorie diet and have been doing a progressively larger amount of exercise over the weeks. I started out at 225 lbs and by June 7th was down to 209 lbs. The problem is that I've been at that weight since then. I'm 5'7" so I still have a long ways to go before I'm anywhere near a healthy weight.

Diet-wise, I'm doing nothing appreciably different from the first few weeks, however I've increased my time on Wii Fit from 40 minutes a day to a full hour and have started walking an average of 9000 steps a day. Is it possible that I'm building muscle faster than I'm burning the fat? Keep in mind that before I started doing this exercise regiment I was doing literally nothing and would spend most (if not all) of my time either at a desk (work) or in bed reading. I also quit smoking, should that have any impact.

I realize that the first three weeks of dramatic weight loss isn't going to be usual, but I feel like with the amount of effort I'm putting in I should be doing more than maintaining my weight. Is there something else I could try? Be stricter with my diet? There's a lot of processed foods in it, which I know isn't great, but it's cheap and convenient and it works well within my Calorie counting regiment.
posted by bookwo3107 to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Eating processed foods is never a good idea, especially if you're trying to lose weight.

Eat whole foods, meaning fruits, vegetables, meats, etc.

You may be building muscle, though I would be surprised if the Wii fit routine has much of anything to do with muscle building.

It would be helpful if you gave us an example of your typical diet. People could respond with suggestions for non-processed equivalents.
posted by dfriedman at 7:42 AM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: Your body has become more efficient (your heart pumps more blood, your lungs absorb more oxygen with each breath, etc), and so you have reached equilibrium where the energy used during exercise equals your energy intake from food. Do more exercise (where more means harder and/or longer) and/or eat fewer calories.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:47 AM on June 28, 2010

There's a lot of processed foods in it, which I know isn't great, but it's cheap and convenient and it works well within my Calorie counting regiment.

Calories in, calories out is not a great method of losing weight. Eat more whole foods, especially leafy, fibrous vegetables, fishes, lean meats (or any kid of meat if you go low carb, really). Lean Cuisine Anything is just terrible for you for a host of reasons--they're rife with useless carbs and empty calories that make you sleepy and crave more bad food. Eat foods that don't jack up your glycemic index and instead actually give you energy. Exercise more, and step it up--walking is okay, but you're definitely not building up muscle through mild cardio alone. Start lifting weights at the gym, go swimming, and consider high intensity interval training like sprints. Read this book.
posted by zoomorphic at 7:48 AM on June 28, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah, I kind of doubt that the Wii Fit routine is building muscle too, but I'm just trying to come up with a reason of some sort for why my weight would flatline. For what it's worth, people are still telling me that they can tell that I'm losing weight.

Anyway, my typical daily diet is something along the lines of:

Yogurt & Granola Bar

Morning Snack:
Raisins or some other type of fresh fruit

Protein Meal Bar (Special K or Slim Fast or some equivalent)

Afternoon Snack:
Bag of Popcorn or a 100 calorie pack or something similar

Usually standard fare Meat + vegetable + pasta or bread (I usually consume most of my calories for dinner which I realize isn't great either but it's when I have the time to prepare a meal.)

If I still have calories leftover after dinner, either another 100 calorie pack or something like it.
posted by bookwo3107 at 7:48 AM on June 28, 2010

Where are you keeping your food log? Any chance you could post it?
posted by Loto at 7:49 AM on June 28, 2010

Response by poster: And fwiw, I like leafy fibrousy things. The problem is that it's much more convenient (and cheap) to have things I can grab to take with me to work for lunch. Do you have any suggestions for something that would be easy to prepare in advance that would work well there?
posted by bookwo3107 at 7:52 AM on June 28, 2010

Response by poster: Also, sorry, my food log is kept in a Moleskine, tough to post online!
posted by bookwo3107 at 7:53 AM on June 28, 2010

Diet is 80% of weight loss; you can't out train a bad diet. So look first at what you're eating. Are your calories counting accurate? If they are, does 1500-2000 represent the proper caloric deficit for weight gain? I would guess not; so consider cutting back a bit more, or at least sticking to 1500 consistently.

Muscle gain is probably not the culprit. Unless you're lifting heavy 3-4 days a week, you won't see substantial muscle gain. Wii Fit and walking simply can't provide the proper overload for muscle gain.

Cutting processed foods should help, especially if you replace them with fruits, vegetables, and high quality protein.
posted by kables at 7:54 AM on June 28, 2010

I wouldn't try to reduce calories if you're really at 1500-2000 a day. If anything, I'd think you want to be at the higher end of that range.

It does sound like your diet is very carb heavy though. I'd try to lower the carbs and get more protein. And yeah, spread it out over the day more evenly.

And if your main exercise is Wii fit and walking, you're doing cardio. Keep that, but add some resistance exercise to try to add muscle. Cardio won't do that.
posted by Naberius at 7:55 AM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: Again, I'm a broken record about going low carb, but I still argue that fruits are sorta bullshit--better than candy bars, sure!, but honestly nothing a good green vegetable can't beat out in terms of nutrition, vitamin content, and less sugar.

This is how I'd modify your diet, keeping in my mind that I take a very extreme approach to carby foods. However, my boyfriend and I have done this over the spring and I've dropped about 12 pounds and he's dropped over 20.

Thick Greek or Icelandic yogurt, plain, 0% or 2% because they have the most protein. Yes, yogurt has carbs, but also a very low GI effect and studies show that any yogurt with live cultures have most of the carbs eaten away.

Almonds or walnuts

Salad with salmon/sardines, hardboiled egg, nuts.

Afternoon snack
You don't need this if you're eating mainly high protein foods. You are snacking on crap, even if it's marketed as high protein. It's making you hungry, and specifically hungry for bad foods that don't add lots to your diet.

Tuna/Steak/Roasted Chicken with brussels sprouts, salad, asparagus, another roasted vegetable that's not too starchy.

Almond butter with whipped cream, if anything all.

If you follow this diet, you will very likely have energy for more strenuous activity like weight lifting.
posted by zoomorphic at 7:57 AM on June 28, 2010 [8 favorites]

For the food log, take a look at It lets you track both food intake and exercise, and the food intake portion will break out your grams of fat, protein, and carbs, which I think you will find very illuminating.
posted by Naberius at 7:57 AM on June 28, 2010

How long did you track you weight before you started this diet? Possibly you cut out salt and some the the initial weight loss was water?

Keep at it and think long term. You'll spend more time near your target weight if you work your way towards it very slowly (rather than crashing and bouncing back up).
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:02 AM on June 28, 2010

The Wii Fit is not serious exercise. Find a frisbee practice, start running, play raquetball for hours, swim thirty laps a day. You need to be out of breath, with a competitor or friend spurring you on. Diet is easy to lose traction on; exercise is tougher to mess up.
posted by tintexas at 8:03 AM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: To answer your question, everybody hits a plateau, and some hit it harder than others. Considering how much of a change you made to your lifestyle, you probably are building muscle, which is taking your fat and transferring it to something leaner and more useful.

The most important thing is to look at the other ways your body is changing beyond the scale. Are you still losing inches on your waist? Are you looking more toned, feeling less tired? Keeping such a close eye on the numbers in your scale can blind you to the fact that you are getting better looking every day.

Pick some other traits like your waistline, chest, or the notches on your belt to measure your success, and you'll get through this plateau and feel a lot better doing it.
posted by anotherfluke at 8:04 AM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: Congratulations on giving up smoking and starting a more active lifestyle, thats two big steps to take at once, not sure I could have done the same. The ciggies were probably a big part of your routine - youre going to feel hungry more of the time or youre going to want to fill that empty feeling with something else, possibly food.

Combine this with being more active and you may find that you're eating more than you expect so do keep track of what youre eating and beware of rewarding yourself with poor choice treats and undoing all your good work.

My WII fit was fabulous to get me started but I soon realised that I needed something more challenging or I ran the risk of spending hours on the damn thing. Better to go do something really tiring, like a spin class, for 40 minutes than have to spend two hours achieving the same in your living room. I look at the WII now as a gym induction - I probably never would have gone to a gym if I hadnt gotten some confidence exercising in private to start with.

The low(er) carb, good calories/bad calories approach has worked well for me so far, I still eat carbs, just less of them. Best of luck.
posted by Ness at 8:05 AM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: Metabolism does slow a bit when you quit smoking, so that could be playing a role. Increasing your exercise seems like a good way to combat it, however. Are you doing the same routine every day? Try to mix things up so your body doesn't adjust to the same movement every day. Alternate days with cardio and strength training, and try different activities--different Wii Fit routines if they are available, integrating walking like you are doing, swimming, tennis, etc. Also, while you have increased the amount of time you are working out, make sure you aren't cutting back on effort. I do this. I get on the elliptical or whatever and for the first week, really go gung ho, but as I get more used to it, I dial back on how much effort I'm expending without really realizing it, so I'm not really working out efficiently even if I've increased the amount of time I'm putting in.

While the range of calories is the easiest way to go, rather than agonizing about hitting a particular calorie count, I've always had more success where I try to aim fairly close to a calorie target and then when you reach a particular milestone (say, 10 pounds lost), drop down another 50-100 calories--if you start out eating a pretty low amount to begin with, you don't give yourself any room to adjust as you lose the weight. (You really don't want to go much lower than 1200 calories regardless of your size because it isn't sustainable over the long term for most people, and I think that is even on the low side, though I know people do it.) So, aim for 1800 calories every day, and then when you lose 10 pounds, drop to 1700, etc. If you like a range over days to help with flexibility, maybe try for a target weekly calorie consumption, and then when you hit a milestone, reduce that total by 350-700 calories. (Of course, if your doctor told you something different, probably far better to listen to him/her.)

And yes, cutting out processed foods can help. A lot. Believe me, I understand the convenience, but all of the sodium, etc. in them doesn't help with weight loss. I've always lost weight more easily when I cut back on processed/prepackaged meals, and I have more energy. I wouldn't cut them all out all at once because that could be overwhelming and derail you, but try to figure out a way to phase them out over time. Start replacing processed meal or snack a day with a non-processed alternative. Next week, try two and so on. If you are worried about time/convenience, maybe set aside some time twice a week to prepare your own meals and snacks that you can then heat up or eat later. Put almonds into individual baggies, make a stir fry with lots of vegetables and lean proteins that you can just do a quick reheat with, etc. There are lots of sites with calories counts and recipe builders so you can figure out what the nutritional breakdowns are (CalorieKing, The Daily Plate, FitDay, etc.) on what you are eating. Playing around with recipes also helps stave off diet boredom.

Also, try not focusing on the scale so much. Water weight, increased muscle mass, etc. will have an impact on those numbers. Try measuring instead. Chest, waist, hips, upper arms, thighs. Get a tape measure and record your digits on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. This is probably a more accurate reflection of the changes in your body you are trying to see and you aren't in a constant battle with the scale.

Also, if you can, try to avoid the temptation to weigh yourself every day. It just makes the progress seems even more incremental. Once a week at most.

Good luck!
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 8:09 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been through exactly what you're describing; I went from 255 to 210 with a normal amount of exercise and a good diet. Nothing crazy, an hour on the treadmill a couple of times a week, and some weightlifting. The weight drops were large and exciting. Getting from 210 to 200 was a whole different story, there were plenty of times where I broke down, stopped going to the gym, started smoking again, etc. With the help of bootcamp, I pulled through.

Getting from 200 to 190 has really required a full lifestyle change. For a long time I could not break 194 to save my life and started using dailyburn to count my calories - I was well below my limit and still not making any progress. So I changed it up. I take a class at my local Y for an hour each day, I do some light weightlifting every other day, I've added a protein stack to my diet, and I don't eat any meals after 7. I would say that my mind at this stage has some pretty cool ways to talk itself out of exercise; like "it doesn't work" or "you're doing something wrong." If you're in a rut, I really, really recommend taking some yoga regularly. It'll make you appreciate how much your body has yet to learn, and that not all aspects of health can be measured on a simple scale.
posted by phaedon at 8:27 AM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: I'd take some measurements - things like waist, hips, bust... maybe arms and thighs if you like too. That way you'll be able to say "Well I didn't lose any weight this week, but look, I lost an inch on my thighs!"

Quit the processed food. Here's a short video on processed food, if you want some reasons to stay away from it.

When you go to the grocery store, just stay around the edges - produce, meats, fish, things that could have been eaten 5000 years ago (Paleolithic Diet)

Go to your local dollar store, and buy a small plastic container to hold a light salad dressing (oil and vinegar would be my recommendation). Throw some salad in a larger plastic container, and bring the salad dressing and salad to work, and make yourself a salad for lunch.

Burritos are pretty easy to make in advance and freeze indvidiaully and bring to work. Avoid cheeses and sour cream, but it's a simple snack, and I'm guessing it's cheaper than the processed food you're eating now.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:49 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm curious about the pasta/bread part of your dinner. Whole grain or processed? Is it just a scoop on the side, or are you eating a plateful with a little bit of veggies on top?

Carbs aren't evil, but they're the least necessary part of anyone's diet. If you're eating pasta, rice, or bread with your meal, it should be the smallest thing on your plate, and whole grain whenever possible. A good guideline is to mentally divide your plate into four quadrants: vegetables occupy two of them, protein gets one, and grain gets one.

The better you get at preparing meats and vegetables, and the more variety you have, the less you'll miss the carbs.

If you're eating regular yogurt, switch to Greek yogurt - it has way more protein. If you like it plain, so much the better - that cuts out sugar.

And it helps a lot to make big batches of healthy food that you can take as lunches throughout the week. Bean salad, chicken salad, or make twice your normal dinner and set aside half of it for tomorrow's lunch.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:49 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Also, consider HIIT. If your body's adjusted to your workouts (i.e., you don't get out-of-breath and you're not covered in sweat), you're at a training plateau.

The cheapest, easiest, fastest way to try HIIT is to buy a jump rope. Every 5-10 minutes, stop the Wii fit routine you're doing and jump rope as hard and as fast as you can for 30 seconds to 1 minute. (The goal is to be breathing so hard you almost feel like you're going to have to sit down/feel slightly nauseated.)

Other HIIT options that are free/easy/can be done without equipment:

- Burpees
- 30-second sprints in your back yard/up your driveway/etc.
- running one flight of stairs, then walking back down (5 in a row should KILL you)
- shadow-boxing drills

Do any of these 6 times throughout the course of your workout and see if that doesn't shake up your metabolism again.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:00 AM on June 28, 2010 [6 favorites]

Most yogurts are awfully sugar-enriched and high in calories more than if you were eating Captain Crunch. Stick with the lowest calorie plain yogurt you can find and just add your own fresh fruit. The same goes for granola bar. Eat plain Quaker Oatmeal or equivalent with some berries thrown in for good measure. Ditch pasta altogether.
posted by JJ86 at 9:19 AM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: Yes yes yes to HIIT. Any of those exercises will kick your ass in far less time than Wii tennis. I used to dread burpees because I couldn't do a single real push-up, but now I can do about 5 sets of 10 (the last two sets are really awful, though).

And fwiw, I like leafy fibrousy things. The problem is that it's much more convenient (and cheap) to have things I can grab to take with me to work for lunch. Do you have any suggestions for something that would be easy to prepare in advance that would work well there?

Invest in tupperware containers and start making salads. Spinach salad with toasted walnuts and canned tuna is just divine. Almonds in a bag are great, too, as is edamame with garlic salt. I also pack heirloom or cherry tomatoes with mozzarella, basil and olive oil. Canned sardines are good, or buy a roasted chicken for about $7-9 at the grocery, de-bone it at home, and eat half of that at your desk and half for dinner.

Sure, processed food is indeed cheap. It's not a coincidence that the poor of America are morbidly obese and suffer from heart disease and type II diabetes--cheap, processed food makes people fat. One of the paradigm shifts you have to make in eating right is making food matter and caring enough to spend money on it. Food goes in the only body you have. It directly affects your health, determines how long you live and how well you live. It means you cook the night ahead rather than throwing a Lean Pocket in your briefcase. You will spend more on fresh vegetables. Because you're committed to eating right, you can't microwave your entire in 45 seconds in the office kitchen. Yes, it's less convenient than eating a sugary Luna bar, but it's a lot less hassle in the long run than giving yourself daily insulin shots.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:23 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You've already gotten tons of great advice here - but just wanted to throw in the concept of limiting how often you actually weigh yourself.

I'm sure you already know it, but it bears worth repeating...

Your weight can fluctuate up and down by literally pounds on a daily basis. It's only a good measurement of body mass in the long term. A much better measurement of how you're doing with your program is measurements... waistline, neck, arms, chest, thighs, etc. That and a body fat test - either with calipers or submersive.

Keep up the good work... plateaus happen but you'll eventually break through it! The concept of either upping the exorcise or lowering the calories (or both) is tried and true. Getting rid of those processed foods sounds like an easy first step.
posted by matty at 9:27 AM on June 28, 2010

I like, which is like but totally free. You aren't eating nearly enough fruits and veggies--you may be eating less, but to be honest, it's crap. No one has time to make a healthy lunch in the middle of the day, but you can always make/prepare your food ahead of time.
And the Wii Fit isn't exercise. (There, I said it.)
posted by blazingunicorn at 9:54 AM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: Dinner:
Usually standard fare Meat + vegetable + pasta or bread (I usually consume most of my calories for dinner which I realize isn't great either but it's when I have the time to prepare a meal.)

This isn't just not 'great', it's backwards. I'd make my dinner mostly protein with a small portion of carbs and little to no fat... then follow up before bedtime with a protein snack.

It's really going to take an adjustment, but you need that 'larger' meal for breakfast. There's a REASON it's called break-fast.

Loading up on calories not far before bedtime is just not gonna work for you - but you CAN make the changes with some planning. Keep it up!!!
posted by matty at 10:07 AM on June 28, 2010

Response by poster: Okay, so I've got a lot to work with here.

The current diet regimen I'm on is, ironically coming after a brief flirtation with hopping on the slow food bandwagon. I do like to cook but I gave it up after just being burned out preparing everything from scratch every day, but I suspect some previous AskMe questions can help me manage that better.

Anyway, bullet point to-do list:
-Prepare food from scratch
-For lack of better words reverse "heaviness" of meals, weighting most of my calories on breakfast.
-Vary my exercise routine. Since I'm still actually getting sweaty and out of breath from Wii Fit (I do the 60 minute routine that involves 3x reps of lunges, jackknifes, push-ups and side planks, etc.) I think I'll keep that up for now and add some HIIT to the routine. Burpees sound like just the kind of stupid thing I'd love to do. As of now there are days where I'll also toss in some badminton or swimming instead of walking so I'll just try to make those days more frequent.
-Change my rubric by which I define success. I like the idea of getting a measuring tape and seeing how much my stomach is shrinking.

You've all been awesome and there's a bunch of great answers that I'm sure I'll come back to as I build up to them (the weight-lifting for example). Any more advice is still welcome. Thanks guys!
posted by bookwo3107 at 11:35 AM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: I just wanted to chime in with the suggestions to focus on diet change- I agree that cooking from scratch can be overwhelming. but it doesn't have to be! I would agree that it might be helpful to phase out the processed stuff while adding in the fresh stuff (green veg, fruit, etc.) rather than cutting out processed stuff cold turkey.

One of my favorite breakfasts is steel cut oats with walnuts and agave-maple syrup. Steel cut oats take a little more time to prepare then regular rolled oats but are chewier and more filling, in my experience. You could add some Greek yogurt or a banana or an egg too.

I also wanted to wish you GOOD LUCK! I admire you for your efforts to live healthy. :)
posted by sucre at 1:04 PM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: I would just like to add that plateaus do, in my experience, eventually work themselves out. I lost no weight at all for two months. I persevered with the changes I had already put in place and eventually, became unstuck. I was, however, dropping inches. I have no idea how that works and it makes no sense to me, but I second:

1. Recording your measurements
2. Using an online tracker
3. Weekly weigh ins
posted by DarlingBri at 2:50 PM on June 28, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks guys. Yeah, I have a tendency to view things in a very binary fashion which I need to work on: I'm either losing weight and everything's working or I'm not and it's all shot to hell; I either prepare everything from scratch or I'm having fast food every night, etc etc etc. I guess right now I'm working on finding that middle ground.

You've all given me a lot to think about, and I got everything I need to follow zoomorphic's diet plan. I started doing some Burpees tonight mixed in with my normal Wii Fit routine and I think that that's going to work out fine.

Thanks again!
posted by bookwo3107 at 9:00 PM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: You're getting excellent advice, just wanted to add my voice of assent to some of the key points: cut out the processed, sugary crap from your diet, up your intake of protein and eat it leveled out throughout the day (you can't use it efficiently to build muscle in one gigantic meal, it's something like 30 grams max at a time which is, I forget exactly, half a chicken breast or so), and make your training more intense and varied, in particular by adding some weight training and/or HIIT (yes yes yes to jump roping--cheapest way to intersperse your routine and get your heart pumping HARD; I walk outdoors and every so often whip out my jump rope from my pocket and go go go, just wear the right shoes for it). What you want now is to make as much lean muscle as possible to help you get over this plateau, and as others have said, mild cardio won't be very effective for that.

And double check that you aren't overeating to compensate for your exercise. A lot of people have no idea how little calories exercise really burns and right after a workout undo it all with a heftier snack than called for. People keep saying it but srsly, avoid carbs, especially sugar. Ditch the bars and eat an egg or some tuna or nuts.
posted by ifjuly at 9:40 AM on June 29, 2010

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