Women's health says this will get me a beach body
May 14, 2011 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Dear metafilter: I'd like to get your opinion about this eating plan. I'm a 5'6 36 year old woman and I need to lose 20lbs to have a normal BMI. I've been strength training 4 times a week for eight weeks. I've been trying to eat only whole foods and lots of vegetables since the beginning of the year but I've not lost any weight mostly because I will eat big fatty meals at a restaurant after being good all week. I also haven't been counting calories and even though i've been eating whole foods my snacks of hummus and cheese and crackers have probably had too many calories. The only exception to the whole foods has been chocolate from the office candy jar and diet soda, which I really need to quit.

I just started p90 but I think their eating plan is not right for me. I'm really looking for a healthy way of eating for the rest of my life. In the past I've lost weight with low carb diets but those made me feel weak and gave me headaches. Weight watchers worked in the past, but I don't like the new system.

The linked eating plan appeals to me because it seems healthy and manageable. But It doesn't count calories or fat. I'm just wondering whether I need to add some additional "rules" about sugar or fat to make it work. Any insight would be appreciated.
posted by bananafish to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Remember that muscle weighs more than fat.
posted by brujita at 9:37 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

It seems sort of incoherent to me. I mean, eating breakfast is good, protein is good, fruits and vegetables are good, but other than "these things are good for you" it doesn't have much to do with weight loss. I recommended this recently and I'll recommend it again - after about three months I'm 30 pounds down and have pretty much figured out what rules I can stretch, which I can ignore, and which I have to keep absolutely. And unlike every other eating plan I've ever tried, I have no desire to stop doing it.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:41 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

here. do this. read this book to understand why it works. in short: eat more fat, eat less carbohydrates. i know you said low carb diets make you feel sluggish, etc., but that's likely what's known as "carb flu", which only persists for a week or so for most people. once your body switches over to burning fat as the primary fuel, you'll feel better. also, you must eat fat. don't try to do some low-carb low-fat thing where you're only eating dry skinless chicken breasts and broccoli with lemon juice on it. just don't. sorry, i know this probably sounds crazy & wrong, but it really works. don't eat carbs. eat fat, and a bit o' protein. you will then be sleek & lithe.
posted by apostrophe at 9:42 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Cut out the chocolate and cut out the burgers and fries. (There's a school of thought that all refined sugar is bad and should be avoided.) Also consider counting calories with the crackers/hummus/cheese snacks - they might be fine as snacks, but you don't want to eat them excessively.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:50 AM on May 14, 2011

Are you the type of person who stops eating when she isn't hungry anymore? (Or do you keep eating because there's food on the table?) Can you resist temptation at restaurants, in your kitchen cupboard, and in the grocery store? Do you eat a lot of filling foods like whole grains and vegetables, or does your diet still contains fats, simple carbs, and sugars?

If you have good self-regulating mechanisms, I think a very generic eating plan like that one works. But it sounds like you don't. You're eating cheese and crackers and hummus as snacks and eating too much of them, you're having soda, chocolate, and fatty restaurant meals on a regular basis. Whole foods or not, if you eat too much you will gain weight. The exercise may be making you hungrier without realizing it. Maybe it would be best if you use some sort of tracking mechanism, like counting calories, since your goal is very specifically to lose weight, as opposed to just being healthy.
posted by unannihilated at 9:54 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are eating good food and exercising then it sounds like calorie counting is what you need.

I read The Hacker's Diet and found it useful. It talks about food and metabolism from a mathematical perspective and is quite convincing. It isn't about nutrition at all, but from your post it sounds like you feel pretty comfortable with that part.
posted by keeo at 9:59 AM on May 14, 2011

For individuals, BMI is not a reliable gauge of whether your weight is in a healthy range or not. A person could be quite muscular and have very low body fat and according to the BMI, be obese.
posted by bunderful at 10:00 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Note - the plan apostrophe links to and the one I linked are pretty much the same - I'd cheerfully endorse that one as well.)

It's also definitely worth repeating that BMI is a load of crap. It only has meaning when applied to large populations (that's "large" as in "with many members" not "large" as in "tubby.") For individuals it's worse than useless. Pay attention to your health, athleticism, and strength-to-mass ratios, and at most, body fat percentage, but never BMI.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:03 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

You are working with a dearth of data except what is on your scale. You don't have enough information to make a decision about a new or revised eating plan.

Instead of counting calories, I suggest you simply log your eating using Fitday.com or similar. Do not have a daily calorie goal at all; just log the calories you are actually eating to get a look at your overall nutrition and intake over the course of an average week or 10 days. LOG EVERYTHING.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:10 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're not counting calories, and you probably should. You should at least count carbs, fat, protein. (You don't have to commit to reduce them, I'm certainly not in favor of low-carb diets, but you should know how much you are typically eating.) If you measure them with cold honesty your snacks will probably shock you with how many carbs you're casually munching down. I certainly see members of my family scarf down a meal's worth of food as a snack, and THEN have a meal after. Hummus is good stuff! Cheese and crackers, not so much. If you make any rules, I recommend it be: Know how many carbs, protein and fat you are eating.

I'm doing P90 right now too, just reaching the 30 day mark. For the first two weeks I did not change my diet at all; just faithfully did the program. Two weeks in, I started wanting to eat better. Healthy stuff I didn't much care for before is becoming delicious. I haven't cut out goodies forever, just for now, and some things I haven't even stopped but have radically reduced how often I have them. Diet soda is a big one, I was swilling a 2 liter bottle every day. I couldn't bear to give it up altogether, but now I just have one small bottle and it's kind of a treat.

I have only lost about two pounds so far. But OMG I have lost inches. Sizes. Clothes I wore when I was twenty pounds lighter are now loose on me!

I use SparkPeople to help me keep track of food. (there's even a MeFi team!) And the internet abounds with great alternative snack ideas. Baby carrots with bacon salt*! OM NOM NOM.

*bacon salt is actually vegetarian, contains no real bacon
posted by tomboko at 11:11 AM on May 14, 2011

If it's rules you want (self-defined, but you are given a lot of good ideas), you might want to check out Metafilter on Health Month. It's an easy way to track what you're doing, plus your teammates will give you encouragement and share ideas. I just started and I dig it.

As for the details in your post, you're doing great things. As someone else posted, muscle weighs more so results at the scale aren't the only ones to measure. Do you feel better? Are your clothes looser?

Hummus, cheese, crackers, yup, a lot of calories. Try substituting berries, almonds, or other whole foods for some of your snacks. And kick the diet soda, for sure - that one thing could make a lot of difference. And if I can also say this: don't stress out about one bad meal per week. It's not going to wreck your progress and you shouldn't berate yourself about it given all the things you're doing so well with. imho.
posted by Glinn at 11:32 AM on May 14, 2011

I have to say that I've had a lot of success by counting calories. It seems petty, but in the long run it really makes you think about those treats that you reward yourself. It's true that BMI isn't a good indicator, but you know when you have excess bodyfat and when you don't. If you've been told to lose 20lbs to get to a healthy BMI (as was I, as it goes) you know when you're there. Count the calories, don't cheat and carry on exercising and you'll get there. Also, I'll second hummus as a good thing...
posted by ob at 2:07 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Agreed with restless_nomad and apostrophe, but wanted to note that Archevore is not necessarily low-carb. I am roughly Archevore (or Primal, or whatever you want to call it) and I definitely do best with 15-20% carbs. I also have noticed I need carbs post workout to gain strength, so don't feel too bad if you need some. Just eat good carbs like vegetables, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and possibly a little white rice.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 2:43 PM on May 14, 2011

For emphasis, these primal eating plans allow you to have a lot of fat, as long as it's healthy whole-food fats like animal fat or minimally processed tropical plant fats. So, very dark chocolate isn't bad! Fat is most satiating when paired with protein, though, so maybe have it after a meal.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 2:47 PM on May 14, 2011

Start looking at your portions, which will naturally cut the calories. When you say you snack on cheese and crackers, how much are you actually eating? A serving of cheese is the size of two dominos and a serving of crackers (whole grain, white?) can be 5 to 7 pieces. If you are eating half a box of crackers with 6 or 7 slices of cheese in one sitting, there's part of the problem.

And if you do nothing else, cut out the soda. Diet, regular, whatever, if you stop drinking it that may make a huge difference. If you need something sweet to drink, tea with stevia is great. Or try a mint tea with no sweetener. Once you stop drinking the soda, "real" drinks with organic flavors will taste so much better you won't want to put anything else in them!
posted by lootie777 at 5:31 PM on May 14, 2011

Ditto the suggestions to count calories to ensure successful weight loss. I'm not sure what restaurants you're going out to, but I've heard estimates of some restaurant meals in the range of 1500 - 2000 calories. For me, eating one of those meals would negate the efforts of 2-3 days during the week, which would mean losing half a pound per week rather than a pound. And it could be that the portions of your snacks are negating the work of another few days, which would keep you at the same weight.

I'd suggest tracking calories for a week or two just to inform how to move forward. I stopped counting calories a while back, but now I want to drop a bit more weight. Counting was/is a pain, so I avoided it for a while and just increased my exercise - I wasn't seeing any changes. So I started counting and sticking to a goal number of daily calories, and I started seeing progress.
posted by Terriniski at 7:02 AM on May 15, 2011

Nthing the advice to count calories.

You don't have to do it forever, but it's really, really helpful to do it until you have a true sense of how much you're eating.

For me, it also had the beneficial side effect of reducing guilt over "bad" foods. I now know that a cookie is 65 calories. It's not a mortal sin; it's just a number that's part of my total for the day (or week). Do I have room for 65 calories in my calorie budget? Yes? Then hey - no guilt over the cookie.

Similarly, it helped me gravitate toward nutrition-dense foods. I don't have any strict low-carb or even low-sugar rules for myself ... but I do naturally limit carbs more than I used to, because carby foods are high in calories. A 2-ounce serving of spaghetti is 200 calories, before you even add the olive oil and parmesan. And that's fine - you just need to know how many calories that is.

It also seriously helped with meals out (although those can be difficult calories to count - unless you're going to a national chain, there's no easy way to know how many calories there are in your local Thai restaurant's curry or the neighborhood diner's meatloaf plate). I did my level best to estimate restaurant calories, though - and then reminded myself that if I ordered something that made good leftovers, I could eat half, then eat the other half the next day, thus (a) spreading those 1000 calories over two meals and (b) enjoying my favorite restaurant meal twice.

The biggest impact for me, though, when I started counting calories was with the everyday stuff. Best example: I used to eat granola with yogurt and berries for breakfast. The side of the box says a serving is 3/4 cup, or 55 grams. One day, I had the kitchen scale out and I decided to measure the 3/4 cup of granola. Turns out it was more like 75 grams. Weird. So I cut the 3/4 cup down to 1/2 cup. (Before I did that, my 260 calories worth of granola was probably closer to 375 calories, if the mass was a more accurate measure than the volume.) Over time, I decided I could probably feel good eating even less, so I switched to a bit over 1/3 cup. And now, anytime I eat a bowl of granola with yogurt and berries, I know roughly how many calories, total, I've eaten in that meal.

Before I started counting calories, I focused on what I was eating without really thinking at all about how much I was eating. Whole wheat spaghetti? That's really healthy, right? Whole grains are good for you. But a serving size is 2 ounces. Lots of online recipes call for 3 or 4 ounces. I had plenty of experiences of eating even more than that. It's obvious that doubling (or tripling!) the portion size changes the equation of what's healthy, but until I started paying attention to calories and portion sizes, I was completely oblivious to the difference between 200 calories of spaghetti and 600. To me, it was all whole-grain healthy goodness.

You're probably eating a lot more calories than you think in your crackers and cheese and hummus. That doesn't mean you need to stop eating them; it just means you need to know how many calories you're eating. If it's more than you mean to eat, just remove a few crackers and a couple of slices of cheese from your plate before you start snacking.

Everybody's different, and what worked for me might not work for you, but counting calories really worked for me. I get to eat whatever I want, including big fatty meals at restaurants and chocolate; I just eat less of them at a sitting, because I know how many calories are in that big fatty meal and how that needs to balance with what I'm eating the rest of the week. I'm shorter and older than you, and I've lost 25 pounds and kept it off, pretty painlessly, just by learning how many calories there really are in the serving sizes of the foods I eat.

So, tl;dr: in answer to I'm really looking for a healthy way of eating for the rest of my life, my advice:

* count calories until you know how much you're eating
* pay more attention to how much you're eating than what you're eating
* exercise because it's good for you, but not to lose weight; to lose weight, eat fewer calories

Good luck! You can do this - and if my experience works for you at all, you can do it fairly effortlessly, with lasting results.
posted by kristi at 9:44 AM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just to give everyone here and update. Based on the advice here, I decided to suck it up and count calories in addition to the women's health plan. I use the lose it! app which recommended that I eat 1,641 calories a day to lose one pound a week and so far it's working. I've lost 5.5 lbs but I also feel stronger and healthier (thanks in large part to P90). Counting calories got me to give up the chocolate, cheese and hummus snacks. For the most part I've given up snacking except for a small serving of popcorn. I've also given up diet soda. I'm also burning a lot of calories with P90 but I've decided to only give myself credit for calories burned through exercise on the weekends. That allows me to eat a little more on the weekends but still stay within what the lose it app recommends.

The surprising thing for me about counting calories is that I'm eating enough food so that I don't feel deprived.
posted by bananafish at 11:58 AM on June 17, 2011

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