I don't think I should be eating 4 Steakhouse XTs a day, but about.com thinks I can!
September 9, 2010 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Multiple questions for diet/exercise for an extremely large individual.

I'm, 29, male, 6'8", and about 400 lbs.

A little background:

I was a wrestler in high school and have had periods of being in pretty decent-ish shape. I've been in IT for four years and have been almost completely sedentary. I'm now really looking to be in good shape. I've never had more personal will power and the fact I've been consistently getting up 2 hours early to go to the gym is nothing short of miraculous.

My main goal is rapid (as I can do safely) weight loss and toning. I carry my weight in my chest and my mid-section.

I have a few questions I'd like to ask you lovely folk:

1) When I calculated my BMR with this page, it came out to the mid FOUR THOUSANDS. That seems.... high. Is there some sliding scale I should be using for my situation?

2) When I was in peak physical condition (running many miles a day, lifting weights) I was about 290 lbs. This was eight years ago, so is this still a realistic goal weight?

3) I've been hitting the gym five days a week and doing the following: 2 miles at 3.8 mph and a 5% grade + 15 minutes of nautilus weight training switching body areas each day. Should I dedicate more time to cardio or to weights? This is my "standard" before work routine. Willing to go before and after work to achieve my goals. Is working out too much an issue? I have experience with very intense training (boxing, jiu jitsu, wrestling) and didn't burn out or injure myself previously.

4) I've been having this protein mixed with 1-2 bananas and 1% milk every morning. I'm stronger than anyone I know because of my sheer size and I'm not really looking to get "ripped", should I bother with protein powder if my main goal is weight loss?

5) Wildcard: if taste/ease is not an issue, what is the absolute fastest diet for weight loss? Kale and wheat germ? Some other horrible sounding thing?

Thanks all!
posted by lattiboy to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think you calculated your BMR wrong-- when I did it for you (with that same page) I got 3421. Still high, but 1000 less than what you got.

If you have health insurance, please go see a doctor/registered dietician for help on this. These questions may have very different answers depending on a variety of factors, and if it is within your ability to do so, it would be good for you to consult with medical professionals as you go through this.
posted by brainmouse at 1:58 PM on September 9, 2010

Ah, just realized you did the "incorporate activity" step in BMR, which I didn't. That is still a "maintain weight" number, it just says to eat "fewer calories" if you want to lose weight, with no quantification of that.
posted by brainmouse at 1:59 PM on September 9, 2010

Syntha is a bit high in carbs and calories for a protein shake if you're looking to lose. Also ditch the bananas and the milk. Protein is good for you and for weight loss. Sugar isn't.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:03 PM on September 9, 2010

Should I dedicate more time to cardio or to weights?

If you're looking to reshape your body (i.e., lose fat weight), then weights will likely be more effective. Don't stop doing the cardio, though; it's still beneficial even if it doesn't take the fat off like weights.
posted by asterix at 2:09 PM on September 9, 2010

Response by poster: Should also add I don't have health insurance and am not eligible for assistance because I make okay money, so a dietitian would be lovely, but not really an option.

Also, eating a LOT of fruit. Mostly apples and bananas. This seems vastly superior to any other processed snack I could be having, but is there a better healthy snack/breakfast solution? Not disgusting would be awesome.
posted by lattiboy at 2:11 PM on September 9, 2010

I'm going to be the first of many to say cut down on the fruits over time. They're still high in sugar (fructose), though as you say they are better than processed snacks. It's time to introduce some complex carbs for durable energy.

For breakfast I would throw in something that will give plenty of long-lasting energy and is dead easy to make: Steel-cut oats. They can be topped with just about anything, heat up quickly in the microwave and store in the fridge well with no loss in texture. User ourobouros has a way of making enough for one week with about 5 minutes' work; I've been using this method for months and it's infallible (once you get the water level to your liking).
posted by Hardcore Poser at 2:37 PM on September 9, 2010

Fruits have a lot of sugars in them. Nuts and string cheese may be better.
posted by shaarog at 2:39 PM on September 9, 2010

(BTW, re ourobouros' Steel cut oats: In my case the right amount of water to make the oatmeal a little less watery was 3 1/4 c. instead of 3 1/2.)
posted by Hardcore Poser at 2:39 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would suggest transitioning from nautilus to free weights as soon as you can. In my opinion those machines are a waste of effort because they do so much of the work for you. A big part of weight lifting is stabilization, which you dont get with machines and helps increase the rate of gain. Also you dont need to go twice a day, just keep the cardio at the existing level (although you are going to want to very gradually increase the speed and grade, to ensure a good heart rate), and increase the weight training slightly.

Also make sure to take it easy with the weights, this is a long term project, and hurting yourself is not going to help with that. But, you might want to focus on shoulders, chests, biceps, triceps at first because you will see results in those areas first, and results are pretty much the best reason to keep at it out there.

Lots of fruit and vegetables are great great snacks, the added fiber in your diet alone with make a big difference in keeping your insides nice and clean with the bonus of not being full of empty calories.

For protein drinks I suggest whey based protein powders, they usually dont have so much extraneous junk, and help with recovery. If you want to throw a banana or some fruit in there, then go for it.


Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint, if you go twice a day, you are probably going to burn out, but also remember that presumably you are doing this for a reason, and its a great use of your free time!

ps. do a lot of push ups
posted by BobbyDigital at 2:44 PM on September 9, 2010

If you do two sessions a day, make the second one a cardio one. Look into interval training - you can do some variation of that on pretty much every cardio machine in the gym. To avoid boredom (if you're getting up 2 hours early to go to the gym, you've clearly got the motivation at the moment, but over time that may wane), vary the cardio as much as you can. Try new machines, go to a spinning class, alternate normal sessions with interval training.

If you don't consume enough calories, you won't have the energy to train effectively, so things like the cabbage soup diet aren't going to work, and also they're not sustainable long term. Ultimately, any diet relies on eating fewer calories than you're expending, so that's the only answer for weight loss.

On the eating front, when eating less to reduce overall calorie intake, really try to eat clean. Fruit is good, but so are vegetables, so definitely eat more of them, and make sure there's lots of variety. Make your carbs slow-release carbs (i.e. less processed - so brown rice instead of white, etc). Make sure you're getting enough fibre so you feel full (fruit / veg / less processed carbs will all help with this). But as you're doing weight training, definitely keep up the protein.

Breakfast options - scrambled eggs or mushrooms on (wholegrain) toast, or porridge with lots of fruit?
posted by finding.perdita at 2:55 PM on September 9, 2010

Best answer: My main goal is rapid (as I can do safely) weight loss and toning.

"Toning" is not a meaningful term for what you're doing. By maintaining a caloric deficit, you can cause your body to burn up its energy reserves, reducing your bodyfat. You can maintain your bone and muscle -- the lean mass that makes you strong and dictates your metabolic rate -- through heavy lifting and a diet containing adequate protein. When you lose fat and keep muscle, you get more muscle definition and a higher strength-to-bodyweight ratio. You don't have to do "toning" workouts.

1) 1) When I calculated my BMR with this page, it came out to the mid FOUR THOUSANDS. That seems.... high. Is there some sliding scale I should be using for my situation?

That would seem high if you were someone else. You're a 6'8" 400 pound man with a history of lifting, your caloric needs are much different. It's not a crazy number, especially if you're exercising hard. Trying to eat 1500 calories would be crazy. But it doesn't matter that much what an internet calculator tells you. Write down what you're currently eating for a few days. Estimate what your daily caloric intake and macrunutrient ratios are now. Then adjust the macros if you want and reduce your intake by 5-10% or something and see what happens. If you're losing weight, good. This of course requires writing down everything you eat, at least at first.

2) When I was in peak physical condition (running many miles a day, lifting weights) I was about 290 lbs. This was eight years ago, so is this still a realistic goal weight?

That seems like a reasonable weight for a 6'8" man to be. But you could be in good shape and be heavier than that, too. Either way it's going to take awhile to get there. Slow and steady is the best strategy.

3) I've been hitting the gym five days a week and doing the following: 2 miles at 3.8 mph and a 5% grade + 15 minutes of nautilus weight training switching body areas each day. Should I dedicate more time to cardio or to weights?

Is it working? Are you making progress this way? If you are, keep doing it. If not, you should change it. In my opinion, "15 minutes of nautilus weight training" sounds unlikely to be very effective. I'd probably have you do something more like this: 3 days a week of barbell training -- focusing on sets of 5 with the squat, deadlift, bench press, and press, a la Starting Strength. Since you used to lift but have had a long layoff, I'd tell you to start light, use appropriately-sized jumps based on how you're recovering, and progress linearly as long as you can before switching to more complex programming.

I might have you do a brief conditioning/"high intensity interval training" type session at the end of the workout, probably involving hill sprints or sled drags or something. You might like to try using barbell complexes for this purpose.

I'd combine this with some steady-state cardio -- jogging, rowing, whatever -- on some of the days you weren't lifting.

Is working out too much an issue?

It could be. If you don't recover from your last workout by the time the next one comes around, especially if you are lifting heavy, you will begin to accumulate fatigue. If you do this chronically you will find your performance suffering and possibly experience injuries or other negative symptoms. It's important that your programming and diet allow for adequate recovery from your workouts.

4) I've been having this protein mixed with 1-2 bananas and 1% milk every morning. I'm stronger than anyone I know because of my sheer size and I'm not really looking to get "ripped", should I bother with protein powder if my main goal is weight loss?

What do you want to be, if not "ripped?" Skinny? Soft and pudgy but taking up less space? Do you want to look different than you do now, or look the same but smaller? I don't think it makes sense to look at your main goal main goal as "weight loss" -- it ought to be "fat loss." Losing muscle and bone doesn't make you healthier or more fit, so it's a good idea to try to minimize it while you're losing fat. So if you're concerned about maintaining your lean mass, which you should be, you need adequate protein in your diet. If you're going to be lifting heavy my ballpark estimate would be at least 300g of protein should as your minimum daily intake. Note that this is my own daily target, and I'm 6' and 200 pounds.

As for protein powder, yes, it's an excellent idea. Not sure about the product you're linking to, though. I like to go with the cheapest, purest whey protein I can find. There are good options at trueprotein and bulkfoods. Putting some oats in your morning shake, especially on days you're going to be training, can be a good idea.

5) Wildcard: if taste/ease is not an issue, what is the absolute fastest diet for weight loss? Kale and wheat germ? Some other horrible sounding thing?

Well, the fastest diet for weight loss is probably no food at all. But as I was saying above, you need to be more specific about what you're trying to accomplish. Losing weight quickly does you no good if it's not the right kind of weight loss. But in general, getting plenty of protein and focusing on whole, quality foods -- meat, fish eggs, dairy, rice, oats -- is a good starting point. Controlling carbs, especially sugars, and timing their intake around workouts is a good strategy for many people. I like to get good carb sources early in the day when I'm going to train, and immediately after my workout as well.

All of the above is just my opinion as an enthusiastic amateur. I'd strongly recommend taking a look at John Sheaffer's message board and considering doing a consult with him. Answering this kind of question for guys like you is what he does for a living.
posted by JohnMarston at 2:56 PM on September 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm 5'2" and at my heaviest I was 275. At that weight, exercise was very rough for me because of the impact on my joints; I had a lot of good success with water aerobics, though. But the thing that has made the hugest difference to my weight, metabolism, energy level, mood, etc etc etc has been moving to a carbohydrate-conscious diet. I say "conscious" rather than "restricted" because, really, it's not that restricted, and it's very easy to stick to.

The main trick is just not to base your meal around carbohydrates, and in fact don't really include them unless it's for a specific reason. I'm happy to supply specifics if you want. I've lost ~34 pounds since February, while also growing an intra-abdominal human (I'm 7 months pregnant), and while never really feeling hungry or anything at all. I started eating this way to help level my mood when I went off my antidepressants cuz I was pregnant, and I stepped it up when I got a borderline gestational diabetes screen -- I haven't been "dieting." Lemme know if you want the basics of what I've been doing.
posted by KathrynT at 2:58 PM on September 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

The fastest way to lose fat is via a Protein Sparing Modified Fast. I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist, so I won't describe it here. Look it up. It sucks, but it works.

Cardio would be a no-no on such a diet. As would most carbs and fat.
posted by hamsterdam at 3:02 PM on September 9, 2010

Response by poster: Wow! Thank you John!

I should've stressed that I am willing to dedicate as much time as necessary to this goal as I can. I know that everything takes time, but it'd be nice to be as little time as possible.
posted by lattiboy at 3:25 PM on September 9, 2010

5) Wildcard: if taste/ease is not an issue, what is the absolute fastest diet for weight loss? Kale and wheat germ? Some other horrible sounding thing?

Probably something like this, if you dont want to die of malnutrition that is. Although by the sound of it, its not very pleasant.

I'd just set a a target weekly loss goal, and try it out for a time, while tracking everything you eat. thats what I'm doing atm. (with some Intermittent fasting to make it easier).

1 lb is about 3500 cal deficit so its really not that hard to figure out. It only gets complicated if you don't want to loose muscle, get sick or die while dieting
posted by Greald at 3:29 PM on September 9, 2010

Best answer: I have lost 50-55 pounds and (based on crude estimatory methods) brought my body fat from somewhere around 40% to somewhere around 25%. Lifting helped me take off the first 25 pounds of the weight (I really should lift more, but I have limited time and I like cardio way better). I know that my weight loss probably would have gone quicker and spared more muscle had I continued lifting, but ah well... So I would definitely lift weights. Cardio is good for your heart, brain, and other important organs though, so you should still make time for (at minimum) three cardio sessions a week. I like John Marston's suggestion best; finishing off a strength-training session with 20 minutes or so of interval training really worked for me. I would use the elliptical machine at the gym to do intervals, because I liked the motions of running but I was too heavy to be able to run comfortably.

I also pay attention to the number of carbohydrates I ate, and try to roughly keep to a sort of "Zone-style" macronutrient ratio of 40:30:30 carbs:protein:fats. I found that this was really easy to maintain; basically all I had to do was eat way more veggies and way less bready things. I also completely stopped eating refined starches, and cut way down on sweeteners. For snacks, I eat stuff like plain full-fat yogurt with almonds, cut fruit, and maybe a tiny bit of honey mixed in, or kale chips (they sound disgusting, but they are actually really tasty), or cut vegetables, or string cheese, in addition to fruit. Snacks are a lot more satisfying if they have some protein and fat in them, so if you're going to have an apple or banana, try putting some peanut butter or almond butter on it. You'll feel more satiated that way. (I'm a little more relaxed about my diet now that I'm just maintaining my weight; if I'm training for a race or something, I clean up my eating a bit.)

I wouldn't really stress out too much about the exact number of grams of macronutrients you consume, as long as you are (in general) eating real food, and you are (in general) not getting more than half your calories from carbohydrates. Eating is for fuel, but it can also be pleasurable, and I think too many people only take the fuel or the pleasure part into account. Especially if you've been eating only for pleasure, it gets really easy to flip the switch and eat only to fuel yourself, which is a bit of a shame. Eat a healthful diet, yes, but it's OK if you have a cupcake on your birthday.

Also remember to NEVER eat less than your basal metabolic rate. Usually people say that a 1-2 lb./wk weight loss is a healthy goal to shoot for: you're overall a larger guy, so I would shoot for 2 pounds a week. That's roughly a 7000 kcal/week deficit, so you need to have an average caloric deficit of 1000 kcal/day (can be from eating fewer calories, exercising more, or a combination of the two). I generally prefer to overestimate how many calories I need, rather than underestimate it -- that way, I don't have to worry about losing muscle mass, entering "starvation mode," or other unpleasantries.
posted by kataclysm at 4:56 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: IANAD

I have lost over a hundred pounds, and this is what I am doing:
1) Eating for weight loss (not a "diet", because I am trying to make this a permanent change and not just doing this while I lose weight)
- cut out simple carbs (white flour and sugar)
- cut my grain intake drastically
- cut my meat intake in half
- drastically increased my fruit and vegetable intake

2) Exercise for fitness
- I started by walking 20 minutes a day
- When I felt good about that, I bumped it to 40, then 60
- when I was doing 90+ minutes of walking a day (about 5-6 miles), I started trying to jog (i.e keep the same distance but improve my time)
- now I run 6 days a week, taking 1 day off to let my legs rest

3) Weight training for strength
- I do a strength program (Power 90) three times a week

All 3 of these have made a complete health picture for me. Good for you for eating apples and bananas. Apples are great for me - filling, sweet, and lasting. Other fruits have been great - peaches and cherries this summer have been particularly good, but I do not know if it is exceptional quality, or because I cut the processed crap I am finally tasting them right for the first time.

Veggies are also very important. I rely heavily on the pre-cut broccoli and cauliflower from the store. 12 oz = 4 cups = 100 calories. That helps keep me full all day long. I usually eat them raw with a serving (2 Tbs, 60 cal) of low fat Ranch. Lately I have also been doing carrots and celery dipped in hummus.

One other thing, I have been trying to find alternate sources of protein to help build muscle. The hummus, plus I eat beans, edemame, nuts (in moderation).

This has worked really well for me, and I am hoping that I can make it a lifelong change. I have about 50 more pounds to lose, but right now I look like a "normal" American, instead of the big huge guy I used to be. After a lifetime of being fat, it is really nice.
posted by I am the Walrus at 8:56 AM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

You got a lot of work ahead of you, but you already know that. So let's look at some Physique Transformation 101. Here's a good article you should give a read - Seven Keys to a Successful Body Transformation
There's a couple of key points in helping you to avoid bad advice and will answer a couple of your questions.

#1: They Become A$$holes ... for a While
Drive, discipline, aggressivness.
#2: They Surround Themselves with Like-Minded People
At some point you'll probably want to at least look into a properly suited forum to have a sounding board. And, yeah, you may want to think about getting help down the line.
#3: They Set Specific Goals, With a Deadline to Reach Them
A goal has to be specific, and it must have a deadline.

Like really specific. What do you want to look like? Envision that! There's a corollary to this rule. You are either gaining weight or losing weight, pick one. We'll get back to that in a minute as this point will inform you what type of workout you'll want to follow.
#4: They Keep Logs
#5: They Choose a Plan and Stick to It
#6: They Train Brutally Hard
"People who make successful body transformations work out intensely at least six days a week," says Cassandra Forsythe

Another point we'll return to.
#7: They Pre-Plan Their Meals

Back to the goals. It's the one thing that I tend to bring up all the time in these types of questions. You've pretty much stated what yours are. You want to get down to 290lbs from 400. Remember that corollary from above? You're in the gym to lose weight. Rember that. So let's see how that informs the aspects of working out of rest, diet, program.
Rest - Like it said above, you'll should be working out six days a week. Just make sure you get a full night's rest.
Diet - What's there to say that you couldn't find out easily enough? I like the Green Faces diet, it's easy. Eat a lot of protein. Get a bottle of Flax Oil and dump a tablespoon into your protein shake along with a tablespoon of Peanut Butter. Get Fish Oil caplets, and pound them every couple of hours. Fat satiates and will help with hunger pains.
Workout Program - What type? You're looking to lose weight. Are you thinking about how much muscle you're going to build? No, you're thinking about losing a crap ton of weight. Are you worried about preserving a couple of pounds of muscle? You shouldn't be, you want to lose a 110 pounds. Are you interested in gaining strength? NO, YOU WANT TO LOSE A F@#$!NG 110 POUNDS! Do you see what I'm getting at here? Even if you lost 150 pounds and got down below 10% bodyfat, you would be one solid mutha. Also, I garuantee you'll be stronger at the end of weight loss regimen than at the begining so I'm not sure why people think that should be a factor.
I've posted this before but let's look at a common chart that should clue you in even more as to what you should be doing:

If you're goal is about an event of any kind i.e.: “I want to X event/time/reps/sets/etc. in Y event/exercise/time”, than make sure your training revolves around that. For example: if you're training for a marathon than the last thing you should be doing is a strength program, and so on.

Here's a nice chart to look at:
Rep schemes; listed with first, second, tertiary priorities & effects:

% of Max / Reps / Dur.(in Sec.) / =Effects
85-100 / 1-5 / 5-20 /
=1st Strength increase through enhanced neural eff.
=2nd Stimulation of functional muscle hypertrophy
=3rd Increase in muscle density
80-85 / 6-8 / 20-40 /
=1st Stimulation in functional muscle hypertrophy
=2nd Strength increase
70-80 / 9-12 / 40-60 /
=1st Stimulation of functional & non-functional muscle hypertrophy
=2nd Increase in muscle endurance and lactic acid tolerance
50-70 / 13-30 / 60-120 /
=1st Increase in non-functional hypertrophy
=2nd Increase in muscle endurance
=3rd improved capillarization
-50 / 30+ / 120+ /
=1st Increase in muscle endurance
=2nd Improved capillarization
=3rd Active recovery
=4th Speeds up recovery from tendon injuries

Okay, here's the thing people don't really understand, you only have so much go-go juice. BUT Oddly enough there's two different kinds. Your bodily energy reserves and your nervous system "reserves". You can run for miles before your bodily energy reserves are used up AND you can replenish them quites quickly. OTOH you can only tax your nervous system so much before it "fries out" You ever have a really stressfull day and drink a lot of coffee and are a little irritable and than you have all kinds of little muscle twitches (like eyelids or maybe larger muscle spasms) to boot? That's your nervous system burning out. The only way to get those "reserves" back is to relax and rest. Now, do you see how the rep ranges (i.e. weight) dictate the effects? There's a simple reason why people who take on "strength" programs, as opposed to a "hypertrophy" program, have to rest so damn much. Let me cut this short. You're looking to expend calories. You want to raise your EPOC as much as you can. Barbell Complexes are an awesome way to do this, but focus on that instead of as a secondary. You want to do interval training, more specifically as much as you can manage HITT. I'm not saying jump into doing the Tabata method, but you should slowly progress up to that point. As a trainer I would suggest a couple of points to stick by:
- The weight should be light enough to always do at least six reps, and you should shoot for around 10 to 15 rep average.
- The rest periods between sets shouldn't last longer than 1:30 and should be more like half that.
- I don't care what exercises you do, but they should be as dynamic as possible. If you say had to chose between doing some pullups and a Clean, do the Clean.
- Cardio on your days off.
- Enjoy your one day of rest.

P.S. I have a friend who was just like you and ended up in the same exact predicament. He keeps thinking that he can go back to eating chicken breasts and rice like before and rely on 5x5s. Meanwhile he's been spinning his wheels at 380lbs. I kind of watch helplessly from the sidelines because we grew up lifting together. He got stuck into one way of lifting and at this point it's useless for him because it doesn't match his goals. Don't do that.

P.P.S. Good luck! Keep your goals in mind when you buy food or eat a meal!
posted by P.o.B. at 3:10 PM on September 10, 2010

I was looking around for a Romaniello article and ended up running into something that specifically applies to your question: Losing fat as fast as you can.

Specifically he talks about why it's not a good idea to use a strength program to lose weight.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:58 PM on September 15, 2010

Mod note: folks, let's not turn weight loss/exercise into another topic AskMe can't do well. Please ease off the sarcasm, direct your answers towards the OP and ask yourself "is my answer helping the OP solve their problem" and start again, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:33 PM on September 16, 2010

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