Baby you can have whatever you like
August 31, 2010 12:44 PM   Subscribe

How much exercise do I need to get before I can eat whatever I want?!

Ok, I know my question is sort of ridiculous. I get that some people just can't do that. Most people can't do that. Like eat whatever they want and stay skinny. Nor do I even really want to eat whatever I want. I like eating healthy most of the time. But for some reason, it seems like even though I'm pretty active, doing swim/yoga/walk 3-5 times per week I'm not really losing any weight. I don't really even have that much to lose, but I wish I could just be active and then not really have to think about what I'm eating. Like eat healthy most of the time and work out...and then eat ice cream if I feel like, or bread, or pizza or a steak and potatoes and burritos. Srlsy, should I just cut all the crap out? But that sounds like no fun at all. For the record, I don't drink soda or sugar drinks of eat fast food so it's not like that. I have a garden and cook a lot- I just like to EAT. Who doesn't? And I like to eat out, and host parties, and drink beer. Again, who doesn't?

Also I know I need to recognize that my body, like a lot of bodies, is probably not meant to be skinny/small/super trim. I'm more muscular/curvy type. But I am wondering if anyone is a exercise machine out there and also can just eat what they want. Or if you can't do that but have figured out another (SANE) way to stay slim, I'd love to hear from you, too.
posted by Rocket26 to Health & Fitness (50 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
And I like to eat out...
...who doesn't?
I don't

But how often do you eat out? Restaurant food is notoriously chock full of butter, salt, cream, and all sorts of delicious, wonderful things that really aren't conducive to weight loss. I don't have an overall answer to your question, but if you focus on this one thing (like, cut the number of times per week you eat out in half, take your lunch to work, etc) it will probably have a positive effect.
posted by phunniemee at 12:49 PM on August 31, 2010

Run marathons if you want to be able to eat without thinking and not gain weight.
posted by dfriedman at 12:54 PM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Ok my question is: Are there any people that are able to lose weight just by increasing their exercise routine. And by how much then?

Phunniemee: Yes, you're right. Not everyone likes to eat out all the time. And I was sort of exaggerating. I probably eat out 3 times a week. Good suggestion though, for sure.
posted by Rocket26 at 12:55 PM on August 31, 2010

Unless you are willing to commit to serious hardcore exercise, it's all about what you eat. Exercise has minimal impact for me (a woman in my early 30s). I'm training for a half marathon - I run about 25 miles a week - and have managed to gain five pounds in the last two months from good old fashioned eating regardless.

You don't have to cut all the crap out, but you do have to cut most of it out. I love to eat, too, but I love being fit more, and I also feel quite a lot better if I'm not full of fat and sugar.
posted by something something at 12:56 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was at a point once where I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain, but never at "eat whatever I wanted and lose".

I was exercising hard, very hard, about 10 or so hours a week, easily burning an extra 1000 + calories a day, and man, can I eat! Yoga and walking do not fit into exercising hard. They are great for general, overall well being, but they do not require loads of energy.

Working out that hard is, um, very hard. It was exhausting and it seemed like I couldn't eat enough to keep it up, so I let myself gain ten pounds back and excersised moderately a couple times a week and was a much more balanced person.

Its a cost benefit anaylsis I guess, if you are at a point where eating and exercising can be an almost full time job, its actually kind of fun, if not tenable in the long run.
posted by stormygrey at 12:57 PM on August 31, 2010

Ok my question is: Are there any people that are able to lose weight just by increasing their exercise routine. And by how much then?

I know a few people who've dropped a couple tens of pounds over the course of several months without making any changes to their exercise or eating habits other than switching to a bike commute five days a week, for a commute of several miles each way.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:00 PM on August 31, 2010

Also, keep in mind that if you're seriously exercising, you may not see a lot of weight loss because muscle is denser than fat. One friend of mine is barely losing weight as she goes through a pretty serious exercise regime, but is shedding dress sizes fast enough to be inconvenient for buying clothes. Don't obsess over weight; if your goal is to change your appearance, focus on that, not a number on a scale.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:02 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Of course, it depends on your metabolism and body chemistry. Hell, some people can eat all they want and never gain a pound. However, the math is in the controlling eating favor: It's just far, far easier to not eat a hundred calories than it is to work off a hundred calories. According to this from Runner's World, running a mile will burn an average of 124 calories. Is that worth cheese on your pizza? Resistance training will burn more calories than aerobic, but it's still harder.
posted by General Malaise at 1:06 PM on August 31, 2010

Oh, seeing your reply, I lost almost 50lbs with really just exercise, so that is completely do-able, but as mentioned above it takes a lot more than you think.

I had always watched my calories very carefully because I had to and never made dramatic progress with "typical" exercise, but adding a lot of exercise enabled me to drop it all. Typical is a nice easy weight training circuit, walking a couple of miles a day, stair climber, crunches,etc. Hard was lots and lots of boxing till you have to stick your head outside to puke then more, lots and lots of strength training till your muscles are shaking and screaming.

At my lowest weight, I was still exercising a lot, but I found I could eat a ton and not gain weight, so I did and it was pretty awesome.

Then again I have really low blood pressure and my cholesterol levels are "immaculate" in the words of my doctor, so don't go giving yourself a stroke or something. "Genes? How do they work?"
posted by stormygrey at 1:06 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I started biking to work, I lost about 25-30 pounds over the course of about 8 months. My commute is about 7 miles each way with some hills. Once I got into the swing of things with commuting on nice weekends I would sometimes get in a 20 or 30 mile ride.

I would say I eat pretty much as you describe - I eat fish but not other meat; I love snacks and sweets but don't have them everyday. I try to avoid processed food. When I started out I actually increased how much I ate. I'd get home and be ravenous. Eventually that balanced out and now I eat pretty much what I want and stay more or less at the same weight (I'll usually gain a bit over the winter and then lose it in the spring).

Right now I'm at the same weight I was before I gained 30 pounds, and in generally better health than I was ten years ago.
posted by mikepop at 1:07 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was training for triathlons (full Ironman distance) not only could I eat anything I wanted, I *had* to in order to keep enough gas in the tank for the next workout. Of course, these (very hard) workouts added up to 20+ hours a week of swimming/biking/running which doesn't leave much time or energy for anything besides training, eating and resting. Ah, the good old days.....

Technically I didn't lose any weight, but I do look completely different than I used to. My waist is at least 2 sizes smaller, but my muscular legs mean I still have to buy a larger size so I can get them on! I have the same issue up top too. If it fits my shoulders, its huge everywhere else. The tailor is my best friend.
posted by the_shrike at 1:18 PM on August 31, 2010

Scrolling by all the "you're crazy" answers: a few years ago, for a few years, I kept to a solid routine of running 3-5 times a week, for 30-60 minutes a run, and doing weightlifting up to 2 times a week. I could basically eat whatever I wanted. That is, I didn't binge and I didn't go looking for super unhealthy things to eat. But I could sit down, enjoy a good meal, have a burger and fries now and then, eat some ice cream for dessert, and use it all up. In other words, it didn't take that much exercise.

Now my routine is more like yours, and my calorie needs are much less than they were, so I've gained weight, which I hate. Even though I walk between 3 and 5 miles at least 5 days a week, and do yoga about twice a week, it's not enough to use that many calories. The reasons for it not being enough are twofold: the exercise isn't intense enough, in that it doesn't elevate the heart rate for a good long time during and after the workout, and the exercise doesn't include weightlifting, which builds muscle and so increases the resting metabolic rate.

So I'd recommend adding weightlifting to your routine, and either increasing the walking to running, or stepping up the intensity and frequency of your swimming so you are getting a good cardio workout. It's really hard to get good cardio in the pool, but it can be done.

I like this simple acronym, FIT: If you want to increase your calorie demand, you have to increase in one or more of the three categories over what you do now: Frequency, Intensity, or Time spent exercising.
posted by Miko at 1:20 PM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was in a Biggest Loser-type contest with my family. I was losing to a guy (sister's brother-in-law) who was going through a messy divorce, so he was winning. I had been working out - swimming, riding, running some - up til the last 6 weeks, and losing steadily, but slowly.

Then I started swimming every morning before work. And running 3 mi at lunch. And riding 30 miles after work. I was eating, conservatively, 4500 cal/day, and still dropping three pounds a week.

More recently, I started watching what I eat, kinda. I also started riding 100 mi/week (I don't allow myself to drink any beers, except at the rate of one beer for every 5 miles over 100/week). In this six-week period, I've dropped 8 or nine pounds.

So yeah, it's possible. You'll hurt, though.
posted by notsnot at 1:21 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, I eat a lot (for my size). An average lunch for me would be something like two cups of whole-grain pasta with fresh tomato sauce and ground turkey, two oranges, a cup of broccoli and red peppers on the side and four cups of tea because I love my tea. And then a Clif bar and an apple or something for a snack.

I also run maybe three times a week with a circuit of bodyweight exercises afterwards, do Crossfit two/three times a week, rock climb three times a week and log an average of about 8000 steps a day. I make myself sweat on pretty much a daily basis - I spend more time in a sports bra than I do in work clothes. It's work-out, work, work-out, cook food, sleep.

Have I lost weight? Not really - my body fat went down, but I've put on at least two/three pounds of muscle. I'm not interested in losing weight, though, I'm interested in running faster, but if I stopped with the sweating I'm damn sure I'd gain weight from the calories I take in.

I can't eat anything I want - eating too much of the sweet/fatty stuff makes me sick and gag during my runs, so I stick with healthy stuff like a high-fibre high-protein smoothie with hemp seeds, whole-grain toast with hummus, brown-rice fried rice with broccoli, tomatoes, egg whites and hard tofu tossed in a light sauce. Do I like all this stuff? It's not bad, but an epic chipotle-spiced blackened chicken burger on white bread with jack cheese and deep-fried yam fries would even better, only I'd barely be able to log two miles on a meal like that. On the other hand, if I don't eat enough, I can't last. So the large amount of food is somewhat required so I can run faster.

So... I don't know if one could eat anything they wanted and still lose weight - but then again, I haven't tried to seriously lose weight since my teenage years and those were a hilarity of depressiveness and wretched body image, so. YMMV.
posted by zennish at 1:37 PM on August 31, 2010

Are there any people that are able to lose weight just by increasing their exercise routine. And by how much then?

Yes, everybody. This is simple physics.

The trick is, you can't increase your dietary intake at all. Most people will exercise more, but then eat more to compensate.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:40 PM on August 31, 2010

I'm not skinny and never have been - my BMI is currently about 24 - but I've lost about ten pounds this summer without really trying, and don't seem to be in danger of gaining them back.

I work out six days a week, hard - mostly running and lifting heavy weights. My weekly yoga class is my "easy" workout. When something starts to feel easy, I increase the speed/distance/weight. And I only miss workouts if I am sick/injured or if I'm traveling and genuinely have no time. I'll run on my birthday and Christmas, even. It took me about three years to establish this habit, and it took a long time and sucked at first, but now it's as essential to my health and happiness as showering or getting enough sleep.

My commute also involves about 1.3 miles of walking each way, which is more zone-out time than exercise, but it's noticeably helped.

As for food, I used to have a really bad relationship with food, but I've been able to improve that a lot over recent years, and now I eat what I want without feeling shame. It's helped that I've incorporated a lot more fresh vegetables and fruit and protein into my meals, and I can tell that I feel so much better after eating fish and broccoli than I do after eating a bowl of pasta. As a result, "whatever I want" doesn't necessarily mean "junk."
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:53 PM on August 31, 2010

Short answer: No (if anything you want is really anything)

Long answer: It's harder than you think

There are a couple of things going on with people who can exercise and then eat all they want. Barring professional athletes from this. If you're Michael Phelps and are working out six hours a day then you are exercising enough to have a dozen waffles for breakfast and lose weight.

1. They're usually male
Men have testosterone. Testosterone builds muscle. A man taking on a serious weightlifting or exercise regimen is always going to have a lot more leeway than a woman who takes on the same regimen because the dude, due to his testosterone, will be lifting more. Actually, a woman can be working harder than a guy and still won't necessarily burn as many calories. I weightlift for a few hours a day on top of conditioning work and other stuff, but guys in my gym who lift half as frequently as I do still burn more calories overall because they're lifting more than me--that is, someone who squats 250lbs three times is not burning as many calories as someone who squats 400lbs three times. This extends to other forms of exercise as well. A dude can generally move faster and do more difficult exercises than a woman due to the T, and that means he's going to burn more calories.

Not to mention estrogen actually encourages fat storage and insulin resistance and a whole host of other factors that work against women not storing fat.

2. They're usually young
Puberty requires calories. This is self-evident. Also, as you get older the metabolism slows down, in no small part because our lifestyles generally become more sedentary, aging doesn't let us keep keep up as active a lifestyle because our bodies don't recover as well, and we start losing muscle mass.

3. They're seriously into athletics
High-level athletes are able to apply an intensity to their exercise that a lower-level athlete cannot. Go back to the squatting example. A stronger person will burn more calories because they can do more work. Your thirty minutes of running will not be the same as a track athlete who covers four miles in that thirty minutes. The latter guy is doing more. This means his or her two hours of exercise is going to burn more calories, and leave more leeway, than someone who is not as conditioned.

4. What they want to eat when they "eat all they want" is usually an awful lot less and includes more healthy items than what fatter people want to eat
This relates to a comment I posted a while back. Skinnier people may be eating all they want, but they simply don't have as big an appetite as bigger people do. They don't want as much food, they don't want pizza all the time, so they end up staying smaller.

Yes, there are people who down three pizzas and a carton of ice cream and it's no big deal. But I will bet you anything they fit in Categories #1-3.


Getting to the point where you can literally "Eat whatever you want" and look how you want to look is not going to be a matter of just increasing exercise, unless you plan on working out intensely for eight or nine hours a day. You're also going to have to increase your conditioning and muscle mass to ensure you're burning enough calories during the time you're exercising. To put things into perspective, a 150lbs person will burn maybe 300 calories running three miles, which will probably take the normal person at least thirty minutes when you include putting on shoes and whatnot. 300 calories is three Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. How long does it take you to eat three Reese's Peanut Butter Cups? Probably not half an hour.
posted by Anonymous at 1:58 PM on August 31, 2010

It really depends upon how close your "eat whatever I want?" calorie intake is to your rest calorie burn rate.

If you put on around a pound a week by doing nothing at all while eating whatever you want. You could probably get away with doing about an hour a day fairly high intensity workout and not gain weight.

You can just plug your numbers into one of the many calculators like this, and then weigh and calculate your calorie intake.

But if you look closely you can see that even an hour of ex. running a day wont really burn much compared to how much you burn by just being alive.

Odds are you'd probably hit a sweetspot about 3-4 hours a day of fairly intensive work where your normal eating habits wont "keep up" with you're burn rate. but its probably easier just to eat a bit less then "whatever you want"
posted by Greald at 1:58 PM on August 31, 2010

I knew someone who was a gymnast. On some Olympic team, though I do not know how far she went with it. She ate a lot because she typically spent multiple hours a day exercising, spinning through the air, what have you. We would go out, she would have an appetizer, at herself. And an entree. Maybe another. Sides, at least two: maybe a soup, maybe a salad, maybe something else. Dessert. And she'd sneak my fries and stare longingly at anything left on my plate. Three hours later, she wanted to eat again. She was under a hundred pounds and ready to nom upon something at any moment. She wasn't found in a wooden crate under a forgotten stairwell at the university, but I have no idea where all of that fit inside of her.

She was just at the far, far end of physical activity for someone in a Western country. Olympic.
posted by adipocere at 2:08 PM on August 31, 2010

Best answer: The best way to do this is to increase your muscle mass as muscle consumes calories. This will up your daily maintenance level.
Increasing cardio just so you can eat an extra cookie or something isn't a very fun long term goal, especially if you aren't on the thin side already. Look at it like every mile you run\walk is 100 calories. That's really not giving you much room to play around with unless you are running 5 to 10 miles every day.

For some with your attitude towards food I think a few simple rules would help you.
Put in 5 hours a week. You need to put in 5 hours of some kid of strenuous activity. Running, Sprinting, Weight-lifting, hard Swimming.
The yoga, walking, stretching, are nice things to do every day but they don't count towards your 5 hours.

During the week eat at or below your maintenance level of calories and don't eat bread or lots of fruits. On the weekends you eat whatever you want. Down a bottle of Jäger while dumping olive oil on a large pizza and consuming the whole thing, whatever.
Do this for a month and see how your body reacts.

For your self example stuff: as long as I don't drink alcohol I can basically eat whatever I want, whenever I want, without gaining any fat. It's why I need to eat 4 to 6 LARGE meals and drink a gallon of milk a day to put on muscle mass. HELLO 4000-6000 calories. Unfortunately, I don't like eating too much but I like to drink =\

On Preview: I like schroedinger's post and I fit into all 4 categories except for the part about the appetite and non-clean food's like BBQ wings make me feel like I have a hangover the next day.
posted by zephyr_words at 2:24 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These answers are all super fly.
posted by Rocket26 at 2:25 PM on August 31, 2010

The more you exercise, the more "treats" you can have and not gain weight! It's as simple as that. If calories in = calories out, then you'll maintain your weight. Any imbalance in that equation and you'll either lose weight or put on weight.

Yes, there are people who don't do any exercise and eat loads of junk food but still stay slim. Most of them are under the age of 25 (it catches up with you soon enough!) and those that aren't probably have a thyroid problem (yes, okay, I'm just jealous, that's probably not the case at all). For normal people, your body reflects what you eat and how much you exercise.

I'm like you - I love eating out, icecream, chocolate, all that unhealthy stuff. And giving that up would make me unhappy. So I've learned to exercise more often and more intensely - and I enjoy it! And exercising makes me crave healthy food, which helps with the healthy eating too.

Also, I always phrase it in my mind in the future rather than the past. So I'm not on the treadmill to work off that chocolate bar that I feel bad about eating at lunchtime, I'm doing a spinning class because I'm going out for dinner tomorrow night and don't want to feel guilty about having dessert.

So if you eat healthy most of the time, up your exercise intensity a bit (keep the yoga though, yoga is great for so many other things, just not for losing weight) - maybe by jogging rather than walking, for instance, and that pizza on Friday night will be fine.
posted by finding.perdita at 2:29 PM on August 31, 2010

You sound like me and I think the answer is probably realistically no, unless you are will to dramatically change your life and workout similar to an elite athlete. I was like you about a year ago. I dramatically upped my exercising. Working out harder than I ever had before 4 times a week for 1.5 hours. I ate generally healthy, except when I didn't... you know at parties or going out to dinner or happy hour.

I cut my exercise routine in half and started counting calories pretty consistently and then I finally started to lose weight. Slowly, but now I'm more or less the thinnest I've been in 5 years and in another 5-8 lbs I'll be the thinnest I can ever remember being. I didn't have the natural athletic ability to exercise anymore than I was at my peak. It wore me out big time and I was constantly starving. People said they could notice a difference in how I looked, more toned, but my clothes fit the same and the scale didn't move. Counting calories is kind of lame, but I have to say you'll miss a lot more parties by being at the gym for 2-4 hours a day than you will by skipping the appetizers and having a single vodka soda instead of 5 beers at said party.

For me, I've found exercise is for weight maintenance and for allowing me to "cheat" on my diet and get away with it, not for actual weight loss.
posted by whoaali at 2:43 PM on August 31, 2010

As has been indirectly suggested--determine the minimum daily caloric intake necessary to maintain(or achieve) your desired weight. Tables that will be sufficiently accurate are available on line--considers sex, height, current weight etc. Then establish that as your baseline caloric intake and then add calories proportionate to your exercise. Roughly, 100 calories for running/walking a mile, 10 calories per minute for running, 6 calories per mile walking, 8 calories per mile biking. This information is readily available online. If you want to splurge on 1000 calories then you do your baseline intake plus expend 1000 calories. Very easy and very hard. This is how I lost 30 lbs. years ago and kept it off.
posted by rmhsinc at 2:56 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mega-ultrarunner Dean Kamazee used to eat entire pizzas and cheesecakes during his runs. Granted, he needed to cut out sleep to make room for all his training...

Alas, even he seems to watch his diet closely now.
posted by teekat at 2:58 PM on August 31, 2010

Are there any people that are able to lose weight just by increasing their exercise routine. And by how much then?

Yes, this is basically me (late 20s, female). I'm crap at dieting and so I almost never count calories or restrict myself (although my eating habits are generally healthy, the occasional bacon cheeseburger nonwithstanding), so my weight is at one end or the other of a 20-pound range based on how active I am at any given time. To give you a bit of an idea of what it takes for me:

--No exercise: top "set" weight, around 165

--Add on 30-60 minutes of moderate cardio (elliptical stepper, bike), 5 times a week: drop 5 pounds, to around 160

--Add on long, intense weekend workouts (hiking for 5-6 hours on Saturdays twice a month, backpacking with ~35 pounds for entire weekend twice a month): drop another 10 pounds, to around 150

--Add on a vacation, so instead of sitting at a desk I'm walking around sightseeing for 8-12 hours a day, on the days I'm not hiking or backpacking: drop another 5 pounds, to 145 (about as low as it goes for me)

I'm always surprised that the nearly-daily cardio workouts don't really drop my weight by very much compared to not exercising at all, but on the other hand perhaps it's not surprising that you can't counteract the effects of a fairly sedentary desk job with just enough exercise every day to finish an episode of Family Guy. Plus it's really a net loss of 5 pounds, as I can feel that I'm gaining muscle even as I'm losing some fat. However, to really hit that zone of being skinny for your given build no matter what you eat, it takes finding something fairly strenuous that you really enjoy doing for most of the weekend, every weekend (or hell, your weekdays if you can get paid for it!).
posted by iminurmefi at 3:09 PM on August 31, 2010

Ok my question is: Are there any people that are able to lose weight just by increasing their exercise routine. And by how much then?

Yes. But they are not you. They do not have your body structure, your genetics, your metabolism.
There is no magic formula. If there was a magic formula everyone would just do it.
posted by micawber at 3:26 PM on August 31, 2010

I lived like this once. I ran 8 miles a day. Alas, over 2 miles at a stretch is now too much for my knees (25 years later).
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:33 PM on August 31, 2010

How often do you snack and what do you snack on? I have a friend who insisted to me that something must be wrong with him as he was doing plenty of physical activity yet was still quite lardy. I spent one day with him as he did his weekly shop. I knew then why he was fat. He considered a bag of Doritos a snack. He bought cakes. He had more chocolate biscuits in his weekly shop than I would (seriously) get through in a year. The thing is, he completely lost sight of this because (in general) he was eating healthily. You can have low fat tuna salad for lunch etc, but if you eat six chocolate biscuits and three packets of crisps before dinner...

Oh and for people who say "It's about genetics, you may not have the genetics to lose weight..." I propose the following formula:

1500 Calories in minus 2000 calories out equals net deficit of 500 calories.

I would ask anyone to explain to me how someone can maintain weight or put weight on when suffering a calorific deficiency.
posted by Biru at 3:48 PM on August 31, 2010

The Hacker's Diet covers this.
posted by benzenedream at 3:49 PM on August 31, 2010

I could burn a lot more than 400 calories in an hour of swimming, and seriously... all three examples of the calorific intake of foodstuffs are junk food. If someone is looking to lose weight I'd say scrapping the junk food would be priority number one.
posted by Biru at 3:57 PM on August 31, 2010

You can make progress in your calorie-burning by adding longish bouts of low intensity cardio to what you're already doing. See the people above who mention walking a mile to and from work, etc. Don't let that kind of exercise replace your "real" exercise, just add it on top.

Also, if you put the treadmill at full incline and walk for an hour at around 3.0 speed (you can read or watch TV while doing this), you burn 600+ calories. If you're an average nonathlete, you're going to have a hard time running or swimming far enough to burn that many. Walking uphill is easier, and you can keep going and going.
posted by kestrel251 at 4:24 PM on August 31, 2010

I am kind of like this!

No, seriously. I weighed 160lbs in high school (as a 5'10 girl, that's not a lot but I wasn't particularly slim for my build) and then I took up rowing and lost ~20lbs in 6 months, eating just about everything I could get my hands on. I was exercising twice a day, for at least a vigorous hour each.

Currently, my weight sits at 140, I'm pretty muscular (for a lady), and I eat whatever I want. I have a huge sweet tooth and love bread. I still exercise ~10-12 times a week, fairly vigorously. However, I have found that as my weight has gone down and my exercise level has gone up, I want to eat different foods than I did before. I still want that super gooey chewy delicious chocolate chip cookie, but after 3 my stomach will hurt instead of the whole dozen. So, your wish may be a double-edge sword - you'll exercise enough to eat whatever you want, but what you want to eat may change!
posted by hepta at 4:43 PM on August 31, 2010

I've stumbled on a method of exercise and diet that result in me being able to eat pretty much what I want to eat while losing weight and developing muscle mass: move to a farm. Rain or shine, everyday you will be out and doing at least 30-60 minutes of intense exercise, more so if you
own many animals or have a dog that loves going for walks. Best of all you will likely have a garden where you can grow tons of tasty ingredients for your home cooking, saving you money and encouraging you to cook healthily. I have come to realize that I truly hate exercising for exerise's sake -I need to be active with a goal or purpose beyond just becoming more fit. Now with my farm I have an endless list of tasks suitable to whatever pace I want to go at, whether back breaking (cleaning out a barn), casual activity (hanging up laundry outside, tending to the garden and turkeys), or indoor relaxation (you'd be surprised how fatiguing spinning wool can be). Basically I changed my life and priorities around and my body changed to be more suitable to my new needs. While living in the city I found it hard to prioritize physical fitness, and even now it is a side effect instead of being actively prioritized - then again the fact that the activity is caring for my animals and that without my actions they will suffer is a better motivator than even a gym trainer could be, at least for myself.
posted by Meagan at 5:06 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I stayed at a steady, too-high weight for long stretches - when I worked as a stock girl running up and down multiple flights of stairs carrying 50 pounds of stuff fifteen to forty hours a week; when I was practicing Irish dance ten hours a week and doing a lot of walking; etc. I didn't watch what I ate at all, and I'm a soda and "so picky I only eat five things" girl. You can probably pull this off without going to Olympic extremes, but I doubt you'd be "slim."
posted by SMPA at 5:14 PM on August 31, 2010

Yes, absolutely, but not in a practical way.

I like to go on long bike tours. I find that once I am biking more than about 125km per day for many days, I tend to lose weight, even if I eat as much as I want. This is equally true of long hiking trips (6+ hours of hard hiking per day), but that may be confounded by my packing less food than I would eat if I didn't have to carry it on my back.

At some point, if you are exercising all day, you will find that you just can't eat enough to maintain your weight. This is something that extreme endurance athletes, like those who race bikes across the USA, deal with all the time - their digestive systems simply can't keep up with their caloric needs and they lose weight. Sadly, this isn't really practical for the average person (though I think anyone could train a little and then go on a two week bike tour and lose 10lbs easily (but keeping it off is another matter)).
posted by ssg at 6:09 PM on August 31, 2010

I'm like you - I eat pretty healthy, nothing processed, mostly veg, etc. and I love to eat. Recognizing this as a young adult, I have cultivated an equal love of endurance sports! When I was training for a marathon, and now that I ride 50-100 miles at a time on my bike (plus yoga and running), it takes effort to eat enough to maintain my weight. Seriously, after a long bike ride I'm famished, and then I eat enough that I don't want to eat any more, and then an hour later I'm famished again. I am not an "extreme endurance athlete," but I do spend A LOT of time exercising. Thing is, that's how I have fun! If you find something that uses tons of energy (calories) that you don't mind doing for five hours at a time, you can probably eat whatever you want. (FWIW I also find that I want unhealthy food less when I'm exercising a lot.)

Alternatively, you could exercise more moderately and have small portions of whatever you want to eat.
posted by TrixieRamble at 6:18 PM on August 31, 2010

I've fluctuated back and forth between 150 pounds and 180 pounds through my adult life while continuously doing some kind of exercise and competing in various sports. In all cases I was either lean, very lean, or shrink-wrapped lean -- the 150 was a low when I was doing Ironman distance triathlons and running ultramarathons, the 180 was from focusing on Olympic weightlifting; my steady state weight is 165. The only time I was able to eat truly whatever I wanted was when I was doing enough volume for half and full distance ironmans. So there is your first answer: if you are willing to spend 15+ hours a week doing high intensity running, swimming, and cycling, you can definitely get there.

I don't subscribe to the "thermodynamic" view of weight loss (calories in vs. calories out), but rather to what I'll call the Gary Taubes Good Calories, Bad Calories world view. In a nutshell, your body reacts differently to different macronutrients, which will in turn affect weight gain and weight loss. Said another way, eat less carbs. If you are interested in learning more, here is a link to his 2002 NY Times magazine article, What If It Has All Been A Big Fat Lie?

So keying off of the last line of your post, "Or if you can't do that but have figured out another (SANE) way to stay slim, I'd love to hear from you, too." -- if you are willing to change up your diet, I believe you can eat quite a lot of things without counting calories, do moderate exercise, and maintain whatever your goal weight is. I spent quite a few years eating a super high carb diet; for the last few years I have gradually switched to a lower carb diet that is mostly built around vegetables, lean meats, fruit, and nuts and seeds, plus some dairy. There are a number of diets that all converge on these same ideas; any of these will work: the Zone Diet, the Paleo Diet, the Primal Blueprint Diet, the New Atkins Diet, or a couple of others.

So my experience is you can either (a) do 15+ hours a week of aerobic exercise and eat whatever you want, or (b) do a moderate amount of exercise and eat specific types of foods until sated. I'm in my 40s, all of my blood chemistry markers are excellent; I don't count calories, but rather eat until I feel full; and have no trouble maintaining a goal body weight. I've watched about 25 people in my gym conduct the same experiment over the last two years: without changing their exercise volume, they all adjusted their diets. A few fell off the wagon, most lost weight (even though they were lean to start with) and felt better. Obviously YMMV, but I wanted to put out the idea that you'll have better luck adjusting your diet (and by all means keep exercising!) rather than cranking up the training volume.
posted by kovacs at 7:02 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I recommend using something to track your calories (SparkPeople, FitDay, The Daily Plate, they all have website plus most have apps for smartphones).

Once you are tracking how many calories you take in, it will be easy for you to calculate how many calories you need to burn to lose weight while eating that much.

For example, you track your calories and find that you are eating about 2,500 calories a day. You want to create a calorie deficit so that you are losing weight at a healthy rate of approximately a pound per week. 3,500 calories equals a pound, so you have to create a calorie deficit of 500 calories a day. Therefore you have to burn a total of 3,000 calories each day that week. Burning 3,000 calories in a day is really hard!

This calculator will allow you to calculate how many calories you usually burn in a day.
I just tried it out for myself and got 2,038. So I need to eat about a 1,500 calorie daily diet to lose a pound a week, or, eat more and burn it off through extra exercise. I find that I can exercise a few times a week and burn 400-500 calories, then I alternate with easier days where I burn only about 300 calories. This takes me 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the day.

By knowing these facts it's easy to infer that in order to eat whatever I want, I'd need to exercise probably at least an hour more per day if I wanted to keep losing weight. I just don't have time for that. So, it's a lot easier to eat less. Luckily once I reach the rate I want, it becomes easier because all I need is to eat what I burn, I don't have to maintain a deficit. If you do a few of these simple calculations for yourself, you'll see how it affects your weight loss. You really have to spend at least a week or two trying to track calories as honestly as you can though, or you will not realize how many calories you take in. People consistently underestimate how many calories they eat if they don't specifically track them.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:28 PM on August 31, 2010

I forgot to add the link for the basal metabolic rate (how many calories you burn per day on average) calculator. Here it is.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:29 PM on August 31, 2010

This has already been covered but seriously
swim/yoga/walk 3-5 times per week
is not much exercise. Unless you are quite obese, or walking most of the day, it is not exercise. Wherever you got the idea that light cardio and yoga was "exercise" is probably the same place you go the idea that a person who might otherwise be chubby can be thin just by adding a touch of exercise to their daily life. It doesn't always work for a chubby teenager, and it works less well the older you get. I know plenty of chunky marathon runners, swimmers, weight lifters, rowers, martial artists, bikers... you name the activity and I can think of people that actively participate in it that are above skinny, above "healthy", whatever. Exercise is great for keeping you from being really, really large. Really intense bouts of exercise plus a good diet practiced over a long period of time can set you up to start trim and gain weight more slowly than your lazy peers, but in the end, you can never eat everything unless fitness is your job, and then you're probably doing a bad job.
If you really want to eat more though I would recommend giving up the booze. It's the easiest way to have another candy bar + worth of calories to play with per day, depending on how much you usually drink.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:45 PM on August 31, 2010

Response by poster: Ch1x0r-regarding your comment above: Ok maybe it's not vigorous exercise, but since when has swimming not been considered exercise?

Point taken that cardio is essential for weight loss. But still. You go do some bikram yoga and then tell me that's not exercise.
posted by Rocket26 at 7:58 PM on August 31, 2010

Point taken that cardio is essential for weight loss. But still. You go do some bikram yoga and then tell me that's not exercise.

I don't think it's vigorous exercise. It might be exhausting because of the heat, but in terms of muscular movement it's identical to normal yoga. Sitting in a really hot sauna may be exhausting, but you're still just sitting there.

As to your original question, when I was in college, I was a person who could eat whatever they wanted and I did not gain any weight. But during this time, I was walking upwards of six miles a day to/from classes and racing my bike 150 miles a week. That is one and a half hours a school day walking and ten hours a week bike riding. Total of at least 17.5 hours a week doing "exercise".

But if you asked me, I would never consider my walking to be exercise - it was transportation. As far as bike riding goes, I think I trained about the average amount of time compared to my teammates. I wasn't special in my training schedule.

Now as an adult with a full time job there is simply not enough time to get this much exercise. If I actually got this much exercise now, I wouldn't even have time to eat, much less sleep.
posted by meowzilla at 8:59 PM on August 31, 2010

Oh and as an added data point: three hours of hard cycling might be around 2400 calories. This is greater than the average amount of calories a person eats in an entire day.

I used to eat a huge burrito (~1000 calories) and drink a whole two liter of soda (800 calories) after these rides just to stay awake. Even so, this would put me at a calorie deficit for the four hours of riding and eating. After this amount of exertion, your body feels like it's going to pass out unless it gets some food and stimulation. If I didn't eat anything, I wouldn't be able to function afterwards (probably fall asleep standing up) and be extremely lethargic for the next day or so.
posted by meowzilla at 9:15 PM on August 31, 2010

Don't forget about brown fat.

I think there are adults who can eat a lot and digest it, not exercise, not be fat in the first place and not gain weight because they have retained lots of brown fat from infancy which burns away the excess calories.

They may have trouble getting rid of the excess heat in some circumstances, however.
posted by jamjam at 9:40 PM on August 31, 2010

Swimming can be vigorous exercise, but it can also be akin to walking at a moderate pace - not that vigorous. This all depends on the type of swim workout you're doing.

Also, swimming is not as effective as land-based exercise at burning calories:
If weight loss is one of the main goals of exercise, however, swimming is not the best choice. Exercise out of water is more effective because air insulates the body, increasing body temperature and metabolism for up to 18 hours. This process expends extra calories after exercise as well as during exercise. In contrast, water conducts heat away from the body, so that body temperature does not rise and metabolism does not remain increased after swimming. Also, swimming tends not to build muscle, because the muscles are supported by the water, which restricts the type of movements the muscles make.
As I mentioned above, if you are not losing (or maintaining) your weight on your current regimen, you have to increase frequency, intensity, or time - one or more categories. Presently, it looks like all your workouts are quite low intensity. Even bikram yoga, which is a great strength builder, is not a cardio workout and will not produce a big calorie burn. This article compares various types of yoga to running and walking and shows that, despite the outrageous claims you see on yoga websites, yoga burns fewer calories than running - even Bikram. If you would like to be burning more calories so that you can eat more, I would really recommend stepping up the intensity of your workouts.

What is a typical swim workout for you? How long are you in the pool? How many laps do you do? How long does it take you to swim half a mile? A mile? Do you swim in sets, do sprints, etc?
posted by Miko at 6:01 AM on September 1, 2010

I suspect I'm the same body type as you (tend to gain muscle, slow to lose weight). I get in a lot of activity (lifting weights and training for my first marathon) and while the long runs allow me to get in a few more servings of carbohydrates than I otherwise would, I still cannot eat whatever I want. When I was an undergraduate student, I was on the rowing team and worked out hard 3 hours a day, 6 days a week. This was when I was 21 and had a much faster metabolism than I do now at 30. Still couldn't eat whatever I wanted then. It's just my genetics. This may be the case with you, too. It sucks, but there is a middle ground between eating whatever you want and total deprivation.

Echoing recommendations of FitDay, etc. Even without setting any goals as to how many calories you want, it really helps you be aware of how much you're taking in, especially if you find out how much restaurant foods an drinks are. You can also use it to make sure you're getting enough protein. Some things that I started doing after using FitDay: never ordering anything other than a skim latte at coffee shops, starting adding tuna, jerky and tofu as snacks to get more protein and feel fuller, and never having more than one cocktail at a sitting. (Seriously, you'll be shocked at how quickly even a little bit of liquor adds up.)
posted by Kurichina at 8:38 AM on September 1, 2010

I don't really put on weight and I eat whatever I want but only when I'm hungry and stop when no longer hungry. This means I graze all day pretty much.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:49 AM on September 1, 2010

Posted on behalf of a friend:

This really is not such a stupid question. As a matter of fact, I have a lot of people ask me this question every day.

First off don’t think that there is a magic formula, there is none. There are a few things that I would like to point out to you and please understand I am only trying to help you improve on your overall health and fitness.

Everyone likes to eat. If you run into a person who says they don’t, I’ll show you a liar or a very anorexic person. We need food for nourishment for your bodies. Food is good! God designed it for us to enjoy. The bigger problem is our over consumption. We eat just too much and at all the wrong times. There is nothing wrong with having a hamburger or steak or pasta or bread. Calories are our friend. We need them to survive. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different and if they do they are clueless and ignorant. There is no problem with having a cookie or even a pastry. Yea, I said it.

Did you know that some of the vitamins we eat on a daily basis can only be used and travel through the body by way of carbohydrates (carbs)? Some of your Vitamin B’s which are very important, without carbs, our body could not breakdown and use. They would just pass through us like water.

Here is the problem as I see it. People are lazy… But they love to eat. People want to enjoy the pleasures of life without ever having to work for them. Well unfortunately this cannot happen. For you to enjoy the fruits of this world you must help your body help itself. You must help your body become more efficient at how it processes the food you give it and there is only one way that this can happen. You must burn off the food (calories) you have stored or have eaten. What better way of doing that then through working out.

You mention in your question about you not losing weight even while you are exercising. Well this can be true for a few reasons:

1) You really are not exercising to a point where you are getting your heart rate up to a level where you can feel the exercise more than just at a social level.
2) You are kidding yourself and spending more time socializing and less time working out.
3) You have no goals that you are aiming for.
4) Because you have been doing the same thing for such a long time your body is comfortable with it and does not feel as though it needs to work hard enough to give it more stored energy.

Now as far you stating that you do not eat any junk food. Come on now, who are you kidding but yourself. Did you not say that you liked beer and assorted other foods? Beer is high in alcohol and the effect it has on the body is huge. Let’s not even think about the Vitamin B you are depleting in your system every time you suck down a “brusky”. I won’t apologize for my honesty but my hopes are that you learn from this and improve on your health by looking at it honestly and making the necessary steps to improve it. Go see a nutritionist or contact me and we can chat.

Finally, you mentioned something about you not being skinny. A sign of skinniness is not a sign of how healthy a person is. Not by a long shot. Here is how you can tell. Check your cardiovascular system, BMI, BMR, your energy level by day’s end and while doing exercise. Finally compare it to others… Then improve.
posted by mcarthey at 4:32 PM on September 2, 2010


I bicycled 7600km in the past four months and lost 4 kilograms. I've always eaten whatever I wanted. I'm a 22 year old male and have always been skinny.
posted by BeaverTerror at 11:16 PM on September 2, 2010

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