Ideal body stats and how fast to attain them
December 22, 2010 2:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to make 2011 the year I keep my New Year's resolution to lose weight. Can you help me figure out a realistic target/loss rate?

Hello all,
I’ve ‘tried’ many times to lose weight over the last few years; every time I seem to find an excuse – work, the weather, a holiday – to stop. I’m making next year the year I stick to my New Year’s resolutions. I’m also going to set up a StickK account to give me a major financial incentive to reach my goals.

The problem is – what should my goals be? I plan to go running, do some bodyweight exercises, and some light dumbbell work – this may mean I bulk up, so should I aim to reduce body fat, rather than weight?

My vital stats currently: 22 year old male, 182 cm (~6 foot), 95 kg (~210 lbs), BMI of ~29, 21.1% body fat and 78.9% lean mass. What should I be aiming for? And what is a sensible rate at which to change? (I don't want to set myself a silly target and then lose money unnecessarily.)

Thanks in advance for your help.


P.S. I am otherwise healthy and have been medically approved for dieting and exercise.
posted by edbyford to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
If you are going to set rewards/penalties, they should be based on something you have maximal control over, otherwise you might easily get dispirited. If I were you, instead of setting goals of reaching particular weights or body fat, I would set and track goals like exercise at x intensity y times a week, and/or eat 5 portions of vegetables a day, and/or don't eat junk food except on Saturdays, or something like that.

That doesn't mean you won't lose weight or fat, but it is more easily measurable, more predictable, and less prone to short term fluctuations.
posted by lollusc at 2:25 AM on December 22, 2010 [8 favorites]

BMI has its flaws as a diet planner but it does have the advantage of giving you hard figures quickly: yours is 28.7 making you about half way through the "overweight" band. To get to the top of your "normal" band you need to weigh about 77 kilos meaning that you need to loose 18. To loose each kilo of weight you need to create a defect whereby you take in less energy than you consume - you need to balance your eating/exercise and food intake so as to try to set up a steady rate of loss. A conventional target might be that you aim to loose 1Kg every 2 weeks - so that would put the "end" of your diet in mid April - you could go on longer but this is the least you need to do to stop being overweight. Most of your weight loss is likely to come from a change of diet rather than from calories burnt off in exercise. The hardest part is staying at the correct weight long term. If you want a personal recommendation for a diet: Dukan - it is up to date in nutritional advice, sensible in approach and the food tastes good.
posted by rongorongo at 3:05 AM on December 22, 2010

In general, a weight loss plan that aims at dropping a pound a week is considered both realistic and healthy. Dropping too much too fast is 1) hard, and 2) hard on your body. A pound a week will let you lose weight with less likelihood of provoking an extinction burst.
posted by valkyryn at 4:28 AM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: But if I'm gaining muscle, won't that increase/slow down the rate at which my weight goes down? Should my body fat percentage come into this at all?
posted by edbyford at 5:02 AM on December 22, 2010

Response by poster: But if I'm gaining muscle, won't that slow down the rate at which my weight goes down? Or increase my weight, as muscle is quite heavy? Should my body fat percentage come into this at all?
posted by edbyford at 5:03 AM on December 22, 2010

Response by poster: Apologies for the double post - also can someone confirm that to get to the top of the 'normal' BMI range I need to be 82kg (not 77 as posted above)? Just want to check my maths...
posted by edbyford at 5:23 AM on December 22, 2010

"Losing weight" and "getting fit" are not the same thing. You can do both, or you can do just one or the other. Personally I'd suggest making your goals about fitness and function, not about the pounds. Aim at functional goals (running X distance in Y time, climbing a mountain, swimming Z laps, etc) and you'll be healthier, regardless of bmi, than you will if you sit on the couch and diet your way to weight loss alone.

You'll still end up having to think about diet, because there's no way to do big physical things on a diet of donuts and candy. But long-term, I think you'll get bigger and more sustainable physical changes by having them as outcomes of ambitious physical goals than you will with diet alone.
posted by Forktine at 5:43 AM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

First thing to do is to take measurements. If you're going to be doing a lot of weight training, the amount of inches you've lost will be a better indicator than the scale a lot of the time.

The best way to lose weight is to eat better. Much easier than exercise. Not to discount the importance of exercise, but it's not a fantastic weight loss tool.

My personal recommendation would be to buy a copy of the basic Body For Life book. It's a 12 week program that involves an eating plan and an exercise plan. The reason I recommend this is because I had a lot of success with it, and it makes setting goals easier. Your goal can just be to follow the Body For Life plan for 12 weeks. No concern about the amount of weight you've lost - just stick to the program.

After that you can look into other similar programs - like P90X (which I'm reluctant to recommend to a beginner).
posted by backwards guitar at 5:46 AM on December 22, 2010

If you have access to relatively accurate body fat percentage measurements, that's a better place to look to for progress than BMI. You're about 3% away from normal health for your age.

Another measure worth using instead of the changes to your body is tracking the number of days you're actually exercising, or if it's mainly aerobic exercise, the number of minutes your above 60% of your max heart rate. When you lose the 3 kilos and get into a healthy range, it's still good for long term health to exercise regularly.
posted by garlic at 5:48 AM on December 22, 2010

Also, obviously everyone has different ideas of what works and what doesn't. The key is to find something that works for you.

One more caution, and then I'm done: I've had issues in the past trying to make changes too quickly to my exercise and diet plan, in a manner that's not sustainable. Going to hard in the beginning can make sticking with what you've chosen difficult, so I'd recommend starting with small changes.
posted by garlic at 5:54 AM on December 22, 2010

also can someone confirm that to get to the top of the 'normal' BMI range I need to be 82kg (not 77 as posted above)? Just want to check my maths...

Yeah, 82 is correct (per here).

I was losing weight around this time last year by strict diet control and about 10 hours/week cycling, about 3/4ths of which in heart rate zones 3-5 (read: with moderate to high intensity). I ate about 1500 calories/day plus 500 for each hour of training I did that day, and lost about 25 pounds in 12 weeks, dropping to 172 lbs at 6'1". 1500 cals was a deficit of about 1000/day, or 2 lbs/week; most days I burnt more than 500 cal per hour cycling, but that extra deficit I made up by eating out occasionally. While it was gratifying to see the weight go down so quickly, the regime was definitely extreme, and hard to keep up after a few months. So 2 lbs/week is attainable, but difficult, and you'll probably be more able to stay consistent by aiming for 1 lb/week or so.

A few years back, I was started weightlifting 3 times per week along with some cardio (running, rowing machine), not really keeping track of what I was eating. I dropped down to 182 at the lowest, but I looked and felt much better than I did last year at 172. I had more visible muscle, less fat, and a smaller waist, despite weighing 10 lbs more, and I felt strong and great overall. Because of that experience, I'm a big, big fan of weight training in addition to cardio, and I'm actually going back to that this year myself. You'll add some body mass in muscle, but you're not going to have some crazy net weight gain and turn into a muscleman unless you really work at it.
posted by The Michael The at 5:59 AM on December 22, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice guys! I am a little concerned that some posters seem to think I need advice on how to lose weight - this is definitely not the case; I just need to know how best to realistically track my progress. As I'm putting money on it this time, it's even more important for me to know that the goals I'm setting myself are attainable and realistic. For example, I'd hate to set myself a weight goal and then put on so much muscle that although I've lost my belly, my weight has not changed!

With this in mind, it seems that BMI/weight alone is too unreliable to use as a measure of health.

I'm thinking of using my Withings scale to measure my body fat. Currently it recommends that I reduce my body fat to 14%. Is this realistic, and if so, over what period should it be achieved?
posted by edbyford at 6:15 AM on December 22, 2010

First, yes on the BMI. I used this calculator, and this one. 77 kg would give you a BMI of 23.2 (squarely in the normal range), and 82 kg would give you 24.8 (so, the highest weight in the normal range).

I've found it helpful to track (i.e. write down) what I eat. This helps you to be realistic both with portion size and with "it's just a small cookie" snacks. I highly recommend WeightWatchers if there's a chapter near you (they may exist only in the US--not sure). Two options with WW: you could do it full on, and attend meetings and have a weekly weigh-in, or you can just use their online tracker (I think it's around $13 a month). The thing I like about it is that it's not strictly calories; they have a points system that is designed to encourage you to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and less sugary packaged foods. They've been around a long time, and keep updating the program as new research comes out (both research about nutrition, and research about long-term behavior modification, which is key). Also, their emphasis is definitely on long-term lifestyle changes over short-term crash dieting. If there is a meeting near you and you can get to it, I think they're really helpful, at least for the first couple of months. The meetings depend a lot of the chemistry of the people involved, but they're a good way to get oriented to the program, to hear about good recipes, and to get a support group who's going through the same thing. Also, knowing that you're going to weigh in and get a little sticker with your weight printed on it each week can be really good motivation to stick to the plan. That said, even just using the online tools without the meeting can be really helpful.

Two other tracking options, both free, are: sparkpeople and thedailyplate. These are both straight-up calorie counters, but they also let you track nutrients (carbs, protein, fat, also sodium, magnesium, etc.). Both allow you to set a daily goal and to produce graphs and charts showing how well you're doing at staying within those. One thing I don't like about these vs. WW: WW gives you a budget of daily points, and also a number of weekly points, the idea being that you may want to plan to go out Saturday night (or whenever) and save some points for that, without depriving yourself all week to do it. So the weekly budget is built in. On sparkpeople and dailyplate, it's assumed that you'll eat the same amount every day, so if you exceed that on a given day, it kind of makes you feel like a failure (or it made me feel like a failure, and that was enough to make me not want to go and track certain days, and the next thing I knew, I wasn't using it at all).

All three of these allow you to get extra points/calories if you exercise.
posted by pompelmo at 6:17 AM on December 22, 2010

Response by poster: @The Michael The:

Thanks for that post, only just saw it after I posted! You say that you felt better after weightlifting, although you were 10 lbs heavier - this is why I'm unwilling to set a weight goal. Do you know what your body fat percentage went down to?
posted by edbyford at 6:18 AM on December 22, 2010

Do you know what your body fat percentage went down to?

No idea. I was working out very unscientifically. Really, I think any way you define your goals will be fine, and you shouldn't overthink it. If you're lifting and doing cardio, your weight and body composition will change for the better regardless of whether you're aiming for 77 kilos, or 13% bodyfat, or 4 workouts/week, or whatever. The goals are just drivers for consistency, so pick one that's easy to see and chase it hard.
posted by The Michael The at 6:26 AM on December 22, 2010

I think the problem is not your aspiration to lose weight, but rather the rate at which you do it and how you achieve that. One of the biggest problems people run into is that they try too hard and eventually come crashing back to their previous lifestyle because they really haven't changed anything, they've just given it up for a bit. Here's what I suggest:

1) Do nutritional research on the foods you eat, all the way down to snacks.
2) Choose what you feel you can live without forever (gas station food, snickers, ice cream, pizza, bread, pot pies, ....) it doesn't matter what, just choose a few things that you think you can give up, and replace them with some healthier options.
3) Understand your environment and your friends and how they influence your choices: don't hang out with the friend that always wants to eat the foods you have decided to give up.

Don't shoot for the moon, just start hiking towards the foothills. Oh! And join to see if there are some groups in your area that might do some semi-aerobic exercises (hiking, walks around a lake, dodge ball, Disc Golf, ...), anything to get you out there and having a bit of fun.

Just remember that there is no such thing as a diet, you are making a lifestyle change, so that means more than just a change of food and exercise, it might mean dumping a friend or two to the side if they don't support you, or it might mean bringing a home-made soup for lunch instead of going out.
posted by zombieApoc at 6:37 AM on December 22, 2010

I recommend the No S diet for the rest of your life. With anti-charity contracts to back it up. Really effective and easy once you get used to it. Your weight will settle into something reasonable. I also find the no s habit cal and a monthly weight chart handy (I use google docs).
posted by mgogol at 7:14 AM on December 22, 2010

Set exercise goals, not body goals.

Running? Set your goal to run an extra n miles. Or run the same # faster.
Weight lifting? Set a goal for weight for each of a few exercises.
Bodyweight exercises? Goal is to do n reps.

The last one is particularly useful, because you'll get better at bodyweight exercise if you gain muscle, but worse if you gain fat.
posted by nat at 7:20 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was just about to post exactly what nat said: "Set exercise goals, not body goals." You don't lose weight by setting a weight loss goal; you lose it by doing the work (including -- and especially -- with your diet). Having your ideal body is just a happy side effect of all the other stuff you're doing.

This post has a great plan: (although you'll probably want an eating plan as well.)

And as I say in every thread like this: Don't worry about the scale. It's deceptive. Pictures don't lie. Take naked (or near-naked) pics of yourself from different angles every week -- you'll get a much more honest and accurate view of your weight loss than a scale is going to give you.

Finally, get some support. There are a billion online forums where people discuss this stuff and where you can keep and track your stats. This is a great way to force yourself to stay with it during the tough times.

Good luck!
posted by coolguymichael at 7:58 AM on December 22, 2010

I once dropped 50 pounds in a little over a year so the rate of 1 pound/week seems very reasonable and consistent with other things that I have read. For me, it was very much like a roller coaster that went mostly downhill. I weighed myself very frequently and found that I might loose 1.5 pounds and then the next weighing I would gain .5 pounds and so on. The trend however was mostly downhill. You'll also find that you'll eventually reach a plateau (or a series of plateaus) that can be hard to push through.

While I am not down on weighing yourself (since that is at least something that is very easy for you to accurately measure at home) you should at least consider some other slightly less objective measurements. I know that I felt really good about myself when some pairs of pants started to fit better.

Good luck.
posted by mmascolino at 8:59 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

The trick for me was to keep re-starting the diet. Just doing this is what changes your patterns over the long term. Falling off is no tragedy if you just get back on.

Eat smaller portions of good food and it'll come off a pound or so per week. I also vote for daily weigh-ins but keeping track of the general trend rather than the actual number of pounds.

Do any sort of exercise you enjoy and don't even think about how it's going to effect your weight. Just make sure you get the proper percentage of protein in our diet.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:20 AM on December 22, 2010

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