Help me find the right workout system for loosing weight
April 7, 2012 11:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm 22, 6'3" and about 270 lbs. I have been steadily gaining weight over college (which I'm starting my senior year next semester) and really haven't had much time to devote to fitness and weight loss. I know diet & exercise are key. I want to drop down to at most 250 in weight. I've started to have lots of back pain, mostly I think due to being overweight.

What's the best system for fitness and weight loss given these requirements?

-Needs to be something I can do at home
-Needs to work all major muscle groups (arms, legs, butt, back etc..)
-Can fit into an hour or less

Weight Loss Diet:
-Affordable (I'm in college)
-Cannot eat (due to allergies): All fish and nuts
-Gluten-Free friendly
-Lots of healthy snack options

More then anything I don't need/want a beach body, I don't need the abs (I'm engaged to someone who doesn't care), more then anything I just need to find a healthy life style.

I've looked at P90 for the moment, P90x seems a bit extreme currently. Any advice on what I'm looking for?
posted by snow_mac to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
So this isn't a direct bit of advice, but if you've got health insurance or can see someone cheaply through your school, it couldn't hurt to get some pros in on this. A physical therapist will be able to help find a workout that doesn't make your back worse, and can probably even recommend specific exercises that help directly with the back pain. (From personal experience — this is so, so worth it. Chronic pain sucks balls and being able to do something about it is awesome. Different people's back pain has different causes, and we won't just be able to be like "Here, do this one exercise and it's guaranteed to help," but someone who has the relevant skills and actually examines you in person will totally be able to assign you a workout that will make things better and keep you from injuring yourself as you try to lose weight.) And though I can't speak to this one from personal experience, a dietitian may be able to help with the diet plan end of things.

Neither one's totally essential and you can absolutely take a DIY approach to this if you're broke and uninsured, but if you can get professional advice without breaking the bank you should really do it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:16 AM on April 8, 2012

I can't say much about exercise, because I don't regularly exercise. I can say that I lost about 40 pounds in the last 9 months eating a low-carb, high-fat diet. (more info)

And I didn't just lose weight. I also feel healthier and more energetic, and I have more consistent energy throughout the day without crashing after meals.

A proper low-carb diet is also a gluten-free diet because wheat (and all grains) are out anyway.
posted by bigtex at 12:49 AM on April 8, 2012 [11 favorites]

Oh, and since you mention back pain, I'll also say that my back pain is totally gone now. I'm not sure if it is entirely due to weight loss, or also from eliminating inflammatory factors from my diet. Either way, my anecdote says that it can be done.
posted by bigtex at 12:51 AM on April 8, 2012

It shouldn't be too hard to go down from 270 to 250, just because at that weight you burn a ton of calories in daily activity. Have you tried the minimal approach? By which I mean: cut out some of the biggest diet offenders (sugared drinks, whole milk/cream, and most alcohol are a good start, plus crap like pizza, candy and cheeseburgers), reduce portion sizes, and maybe do a reasonable 3x/week workout? (Reasonable: compound exercises like squats, pushups, etc., and a bit of cardio.)

Something like that, if you're currently eating whatever you want and not doing any exercise, would probably take that kind of weight off... though not necessarily as fast as you want (what kind of time frame are you looking at?)
posted by paultopia at 1:02 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Time frame, start this month, meet my goals by August 2012.
posted by snow_mac at 1:23 AM on April 8, 2012

Except for your "something I can do at home" requirement, walking fits the bill. Especially walking a route that takes you uphill as much as possible. No other exercise can beat the ROI of using your muscles to actually move your body, even at a leisurely pace.

If you think about it, walking up a 10 ft tall incline or staircase expends the same amount of force as bench pressing your entire body weight 10 to 15 times, depending on the length of your arms, and thereby around the same amount of calories. Except it doesn't require any equipment and it's much easier because walking around is what the muscles in your body are designed to do.

Diet: I would say, try oatmeal. Normal steel-cut or rolled oats that take a good 5-10 minutes to cook, then try out every possible way you can to spruce it up: traditional breakfast treatment with sugar or sugar substitute, cinnamon, and dried fruit combinations: I've even tried boiling coffee beans in the pot with it and I've liked it. Try to have it for every meal of the day if possible. Try this Asian Fusion version which is more of a lunch or dinner thing.

My current record is losing about a hundred pounds in three to four months with a combination of increased exercise, mostly walking, and improved diet, mostly oatmeal, so I guess you'd be looking for a mild version of this. Don't forget to stretch, whatever sort of exercise you do...
posted by XMLicious at 1:28 AM on April 8, 2012

You're young and it doesn't sound like you've been fat before. I'm 50, currently very fat after a long history of intermittent struggles to control my weight. And my best advice to you is don't diet to lose weight. Just don't start.

If you set yourself a weight loss goal and deadline, and approach the thing with commitment, you will undoubtedly lose weight. And if your goal is realistic (and at your age, 20 pounds in 20 weeks is perfectly realistic) you will undoubtedly achieve your loss goal by your deadline. So, no immediate problem.


by making weight loss your primary goal, you're setting yourself up for rebound weight gain that begins the day you stop your weight loss program. And the fat will come back faster than it got there in the first place, and there will be more of it, and it will be harder to shift. And if you let yourself get stuck in a cycle of regular episodes of weight gain and dieting for weight loss, then by the time you're 45 the loss parts will become ridiculously hard work and by 50 everything will hurt and losing the weight you know you need to lose will seem pretty well impossible.


what I think you need to do instead is make striking a balance between eating and exercise your primary goal, and commit to doing that relentlessly for the rest of your life. There's no need to be precise about this. Just look at your tummy, and if it's flabbier than you'd like it to be and it's been that way for the last few months, work out a way to build more exercise into your regular patterns of living.

It has taken me a hell of a long time to let go of Losing Weight as my main health goal, because apart from a few glorious years around the turn of the century I've been fat all my life. But I feel old now, and everything does hurt now, and I just can't do Losing Weight again. Can't cope. Fuck it. Just way too much miserable bloody unrewarding rigour. Not again. Had enough.

What I've done instead is taken a good hard look at my life, worked out that for most of it I've been paid a handsome wage to sit on my arse (I'm in IT) and consequently have done far more of that than of anything else. So now I have a magnificent new bicycle and I'm in the process of training up to commute to work on it (which will amount to two days per week, 35km each way). Seems to me that spending 8 hours per week propelling myself up and down hills with my legs is a pretty good antidote to an IT career, and is something I can see myself doing for the rest of my working life, and that if I just keep doing that then excess fat is just not going to be an issue by the time I'm 60.

Exercise done for its own sake is just a tedious bloody grind. Building more exercise into something you need to do anway - especially in ways that remove your option of bailing half way through a session - is much, much less so.

What do your present transport patterns look like? How much time do you currently spend going from place to place? Could you add time spent doing that to your proposed exercise budget and come up with walking and/or cycling replacements that work for you?
posted by flabdablet at 2:16 AM on April 8, 2012 [19 favorites]

A low-carb, high-protein diet and a kettlebell are all you need. There's lots of info/videos on the net on kettlebell training and it can be done in your room, provided you've enough room to swing the kettlebell.
posted by essexjan at 3:02 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hello chap. Welcome to the awesome world of body-weight workouts. You don't need a gym, they're free and they work.

To get started, I would recommend 1) light squats, 2) planks, 3) push-ups, and 4) deadlift without weight. The first three will build your core strength, and the last one will start stretching and strengthening your lower back.

If you really want to start easy and master one exercise, push-ups are the way to go. Do them correctly, protecting your lower back. Short sets. If you spent 30 minutes every other day doing push-ups, you will notice a massive change in your entire frame in three months time.

Also, schedule a time and stick to it. Like a job. You need a routine. When I was in school, it was lunch. Most people would go for lunch. I grabbed a pre-packed fruit salad or two and spent that hour doing push-ups, sun salutations, followed by a 15 minute meditation.

@flabfablet's recommendation on the bicycle is probably the best. Walking and running are going to be challenging for your knees, especially if you add in body weight exercises. Cycling is probably the lowest-impact entry point into weight loss. You need to 1) lose weight, and 2) strengthen your respiratory and circulatory systems before you start running. Bicycle will do both whilst being very easy on your joints.
posted by nickrussell at 3:27 AM on April 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

jiu jitsu lifestyle
posted by the cuban at 3:54 AM on April 8, 2012

Another thought to amplify my previous point: weight gain is not something that happens overnight. Fat creeps on. But if our lives are set up so that it's doing that all the time, we end up fat and sore and tired.

So focusing on being too fat, and taking steps to deal with that problem head-on, actually doesn't deal with it at all. What we need to do instead is focus on the real problem: finding a balanced way to live. If we can achieve that, then fat will creep off instead of on.
posted by flabdablet at 4:11 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

What worked for me as far as diet was cutting way down on carbs and eating smaller portions, plus reading labels to see what I was really eating. More protein and fruit and veggies, very little bread and low carb pasta (Dreamfields) when I must have some pasta. If you drink soda or eat a lot of sugary things, cut back on that too, if possible cut out the soda altogether and drink water or seltzer. I was surprised to find that since cutting way back on carbs I am much less hungry than when I was going back for second portions of bread and pasta. My blood sugar has dropped back to normal and I feel 100% better.

I am also working out three times a week at the gym with a trainer and walking half an hour a day. If you can just fit in the walking if nothing else, that will help a great deal in conjunction with diet changes.

It is a big plus that you are young, it will be easier than for an older person like me. One of my sons who was your size, overweight and out of shape at your age started a training program then, and now in his early 40s is in superb shape and training for a decathalon! You can do it, just get started now.
posted by mermayd at 4:21 AM on April 8, 2012

Yoga helped me lose weight. I felt more in tune with my body (physically, not spiritually), so I tended not to over eat. it will help your back too.

Losing weight is very much about what you eat. Start with smaller portions. Stay away from soda and fruit drinks. Cut out dessert. Eat lots of veggies, and minimize pasta, bread, and white rice, which you may do already on a GF diet.m

There is a diet designed to have you lose 20lbs in the "4-Hour Body" book. I have no need to try it, but it might be worth looking into for you.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:22 AM on April 8, 2012

Nthing a low carb diet and regular exercise. I started by walking every day but cycling or swimming might fit the bill for you.
posted by Snazzy67 at 6:19 AM on April 8, 2012

My mom dropped 20 pounds in the span of a couple of months by walking an hour every day at a pace that made her sweat and by cutting back on the number of simple carbs (pastas, potatoes, anything with white flour in it) she ate. I now have her doing light weights around the house and she's still losing and feeling really good about herself.

Jumping into P90x or strength training at home (even with body weight, you can hurt yourself pretty easily if you're not following correct form) when you already have pain is a red flag; you really should see a physician if that's the route you want to take, as you should get a professional opinion that your body can handle it.

If you hurt yourself, you'll likely be worse off in terms of your goals. Walking, however, is pretty universally healthy and a great place to start. Plus, you could take your fiancee with you and engage in some quality time.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 6:28 AM on April 8, 2012

Similar to flabdablet's comments, rather than looking for an emergency/crash diet and exercise program, I'd suggest thinking about your long-term, post-college life and looking for something that you can sustain over the next forty years. Small changes carried out over a long time will have a much bigger impact than a temporary big change.

And, as suggested, make sure you are picking the low hanging fruit first. Cutting soda can be enough on its own for some people, for example.
posted by Forktine at 6:30 AM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

6'5", 225, age 45 here.

One thing that's not been discussed here is how your height may influence the type of exercise that's appropriate. I've found through hard experience that I'm just not cut out for certain exercises. Anything that involves bending and lifting kills my back. My height is disproportionately from the waist up, and those back muscles weren't designed to support that kind of activity. Thinking about P90x sends me into a spasm. Running, too, doesn't work--I'm too big for that. You probably are, too. I've spoken with trainers and doctors and physical therapists, and have experimented widely. Walking, cycling, and weight machines are what work for me.

I independently found flabdablet's approach to work. Little adjustments here and there, watching the diet, taking a long-term view. I recently lost 30 pounds, but it took 2 years. That pace has been easy to maintain because I didn't do anything radical.

The steady exercise angle is a good one, too. I live 1 1/3 mile from work, a good 30-minute walk, each way, every day. Rain, heat, cold, I get in an hour walk, and it doesn't take any real time away from my day--it'd take almost that much time to pull the car out, inch through traffic, find a street parking spot. And, like flabdablet said, I can't quit half way through.

You are right to start now. I've been fairly disciplined throughout my life, though never, ever what anyone would call athletic or buff, and am in good health now. I know a lot of big guys, lots of uncles and cousins, who run into major problems in their 40s. You don't ever see old, fat tall guys.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:44 AM on April 8, 2012

Yikes, I disagree with nearly everything XMLicious says, and nth the low carb, high fat approach. Oatmeal is better than bread and beer and cookies, but it's still a densely carb-heavy food. Eat steak and broccoli and butter and eggs to your heart's context. The link to the LCHF diet is a great start.

Weight loss is 85% diet. It is very easy to lose weight when you eat under 40 carbs a day. Walking is fine and dandy, but cardio exercise, especially low intensity cardio, is not going to help you lose weight. To maintain muscle mass and remain strong and fit for the rest of your life, learn how to properly lift weights.

And yes, this is not a "diet," this is a lifestyle change. When I started the low carb, heavy lifting thing several years ago, my first two weeks were the worst. I had this "when will it end so I can eat pasta and veg out in front of the TV again?!" mindset. Now I've reprogrammed my brain to see juicy steaks and buttery scrambled eggs as healthy foods I can eat any time, and low-fat pastas and breads as things I can only have on special occasions. I wake up at 6AM three times a week and lift weights. I also practice intermittent fasting, which has all but curbed any mindless snacking.

This is my life now, because I'm not eyeing a specific goal weight. It's just how I have to behave in order to remain strong and lean instead of puffy and fatigued. Find something you can do forever and start there.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:05 AM on April 8, 2012

I lost 80 pounds over two years while in college using Weight Watchers (online). It's not an expensive diet since it forces you to return to food basics and get away from processed foods. You don't have to go to a meeting or buy their branded items. You can do it totally in secret if you want. It's simple and while you don't have to know a whole lot about food to start it, you pick up a lot of knowledge along the way.

I learned to adapt the food-intake style into my own eating plan and quit paying for a subscription a couple of months in. I managed to fit in plenty of beer, bar food and snacky type stuff. Setting a protein focus worked great when I was working out concurrently.

The hallmarks of this program include being honest to yourself through food measurement and intake logging. If you choose not to go with Weight Watchers, writing down exactly what you consume every day will always be a step in the right direction. I always had access to and therefore used a Google Doc for this, but a notebook works just as fine.
posted by theraflu at 9:10 AM on April 8, 2012

Walking is fine and dandy, but cardio exercise, especially low intensity cardio, is not going to help you lose weight. To maintain muscle mass and remain strong and fit for the rest of your life, learn how to properly lift weights.

To be fair, it must be pointed out that walking or cycling uphill (on even quite moderate hills if you're fat) amounts to lifting weights i.e. you, and builds mass in the biggest and most metabolism-affecting muscles you have i.e. bum and legs; and if you're doing that in order to get somewhere, you'll probably end up going at it rather harder than "low intensity cardio".

By all means do some upper body exercise if you enjoy it - for people who don't weigh far too much, pushups and pullups and chinups are great - but if your body's main symptom of exercise deficiency is creeping weight gain, you will get more bang for your exercise buck from working your biggest muscles more.
posted by flabdablet at 9:30 AM on April 8, 2012

I'm not eyeing a specific goal weight. It's just how I have to behave in order to remain strong and lean instead of puffy and fatigued. Find something you can do forever and start there.

This is the correct mindset, in my opinion.
posted by flabdablet at 9:32 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was close to your situation (though not in college, more than a few years outside it), and what helped me were metrics-based diet/exercise plans.

My feeling is these sort of things either work really well for you or they don't work at all. But if you are any kind of geek, and in particular if you like or can at least tolerate data analysis, quite a few people that I know have done very well.

If your budget is $0, try the Hacker's Diet. It doesn't require any equipment other than a scale (to track your weight), and maybe a tape measure if you also want to track hip/waist measurements or estimate body fat or something. You basically enter numbers in a spreadsheet and what you end up backing out is the number of calories you need to eat per day to sustain your weight, or lose it. The only real discipline required is to enter what you eat into the sheets and stop eating when you hit the max. In my experience with it, you only need about two weeks of really intense willpower, after that it becomes habit, and you start to learn which foods fit into your maximum number of calories and leave you hungry, and which fit and leave you sated the rest of the day. (In essence, you will learn on your own the value of higher-fiber foods. But if you're stubborn and hate salads, you can do that too; it's just a little harder if you don't space your meals out well.) There are also exercise recommendations, but as just about everyone will tell you, weight loss is much more about the input than the output. Exercise is for your health and appearance, it's a hard way to lose weight, particularly if you only have an hour a day.

Note that the Hacker's Diet doesn't make any health claims -- in fact quite the opposite. It's quite possible to have an entirely unhealthy diet while losing weight on HD. I'd imagine it's possible to get your weight into a healthy range while pegging your cholesterol numbers, if you really wanted to. But my experience was that I had to do one thing at a time: getting net calories down got me started losing weight, and once I got over that particular hump, I started eating better for its own benefit. Trying to eat healthy and less was a non-starter for me; I just didn't have the willpower to eat both less volume than I wanted, and have to avoid food that I liked. YMMV, of course, but I think that success begins with realizing your limitations and how much time and mental energy you have to invest.

If you can afford to buy some toys tools, I use a FitBit. It's basically a glorified pedometer, but it has a really nice, tightly-integrated website that will basically perform all the Hacker's Diet-type data tracking for you (except trailing averages, unfortunately). I'm a big fan, and I credit it with helping me go from about 200 lbs to 170 in about six months, and to a very respectable 5K time (it's very popular with C25K folks). In my experience you should budget to replace the FitBit itself a few times a year, since I have lost or destroyed a couple of them already (they are not waterproof, they can fall off if you are not careful, etc.). But still, even if you go through one every few months, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than a gym membership and a lot more effective.

Of course, the FitBit is geared towards walking/running and "incidental exercise" that you get by modifying your lifestyle to be less sedentary (e.g. taking the stairs rather than the elevator, getting up and walking around rather than staying sitting all day, etc.). If what you really love is biking, it's not that great a tool -- you might be better off with a Garmin and its accompanying web service; although Garmin's site doesn't do diet/nutrition tracking, a huge issue IMO.

But the key for me was to keep track of what I was eating, and then what sort of exercise I was doing, and over time watching the numbers improve. If you can stick with it just long enough to start seeing improvement, then it turns into a positive-feedback loop that breaks the most difficult part of diet and exercise modification: the difficulty in seeing slow changes occur in your own body over time.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:32 PM on April 8, 2012

Oh ... one other suggestion on the exercise angle (keeping in mind that it's really the diet side of things that is key to weight loss, and losing weight will make exercising less painful by removing stress on your joints and spine!). If the exercise isn't fun, you won't do it long-term. That is my experience, at least.

If you really enjoy P90 or P90X type workouts, great. They're awesome. Personally, I can only do them for a few days in a row before getting bored, but everyone's different.

I have a cheap exercise bike (Craigslist special, $100) that I clamped a piece of wood to, in order to form a laptop rest, so I can use the internet while pedaling. It was great in the winter, and I still use it when I'm feeling too busy to drop everything and go outside and bike for an hour. Other people I know have had great success with treadmill desks -- same concept. Other friends of mine have certain favorite TV shows that they only let themselves watch on their iPod while at the gym doing cardio.

All the same concept -- you need to figure out how to build exercise (if you're going to stick with it) into your daily routine, either by finding something that you really enjoy and look forward to, or by making it as un-intrusive as possible in your life.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:40 PM on April 8, 2012

I am someone who was horribly out of shape and NOT an exercise-inclined person. However, I recently started doing Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred, and it is AWESOME! The DVD cost me $9, and whatever the cost of two hand weights. It takes about 20 minutes a day, and I am definitely seeing a difference after 10 days. It's intense, and the first few days are hard, but it's doable. Also seconding the advice about walking. Walking is something you can do almost anywhere, it's free, and it can give you a great workout.

As far as eating goes, I haven't made any extreme changes, but I have tried to clean out all white flour/processed foods from my pantry, and try to incorporate fruits and veggies into every meal. I am not trying to get super ripped or anything either, I just want to be healthy!! I think this is helping a lot (and I've lost 20 pounds over the last year just on diet alone...I had a baby a year ago January, and weighed the most I've ever weighed. Changing my diet was absolutely a factor in that weight loss!).

Also, have you looked at They are pretty great for tracking food/giving you meal suggestions/fitness tracking. I find it motivating. Oh, and it's free. :-)
posted by I_love_the_rain at 3:02 PM on April 8, 2012

nthing walking around...try this one: dont drive for food...make yourself walk to the store....saves gas too. (this of course depends on your grocery is six blocks away) plus, hauling the groceries back will give your arms a workout, and as you wont be able to carry as much as you can fit in a car, you'll be doing it more often, which = more exercise. (also, (and i don't remember where i read this, buut..) skinny people keep less groceries cuts down on snacking if you dont have a huge stockpile of options) ...don't order in.
posted by sexyrobot at 3:47 PM on April 8, 2012

I do P90X and was able to drop 30 pounds in three months and my back pain and acid reflux are gone. That's without doing the P90X diet, or any diet at all. I also just feel better in general. At first, it seems very hard, but you just have to do what you can while still pushing yourself. I'm sure I sound like an infomercial, but I do recommend it to others often.

That being said, you do get tired of the same workouts. Although you only do them once a week, they can get old, as does Tony. I do it with the sound off now because of his annoying personality and comments. Also, finding the time to do it every day can be difficult. Yoga, for instance, takes 90 minutes. By the time you get set up and cool down, that's two hours of your day. And if you miss a day it's hard to get back on track as it screws up the whole schedule.

Still, I do feel better and I can do it in my living room. I just wanted to add my two cents because it sounded like you had looked at the P90 system.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 7:56 PM on April 8, 2012

Yikes, I disagree with nearly everything XMLicious says, and nth the low carb, high fat approach. Oatmeal is better than bread and beer and cookies, but it's still a densely carb-heavy food. Eat steak and broccoli and butter and eggs to your heart's context. The link to the LCHF diet is a great start.

Weight loss is 85% diet. It is very easy to lose weight when you eat under 40 carbs a day. Walking is fine and dandy, but cardio exercise, especially low intensity cardio, is not going to help you lose weight.

I guess I've violated the laws of physics or something, but I've repeatedly lost between fifty and a hundred pounds this way in a matter of months during the last couple of decades, including when I was in college myself. I won't claim to have kept it off (though I never keep up the walking or eating habits) but you can definitely lose weight this way and lose it quite rapidly (enough for people to say "oh but it's dangerous to lose weight that fast!" - random acquaintances, I've never heard this from my doctor) and become noticeably healthier at the same time. Long-term healthy lifestyle changes are by far a better goal but I think that everyone knows that at this point in history and the OP is specifically asking about how to lose weight in the next four months.

Oatmeal is definitely carb-heavy but for those of us with cholesterol concerns (or who just don't like steak and butter) it's a better option than steak and butter and eggs. (And may be easier to prepare/acquire for someone who may be living in a college dorm without a stove or refrigerator on a college budget.) I've never heard of anyone getting fat eating oatmeal three or four times a day or any other kind of gruel.
posted by XMLicious at 8:25 PM on April 8, 2012

Well, now you have. It's my cereal of choice and has been for many years.
posted by flabdablet at 9:54 PM on April 8, 2012

Just for breakfast or is that all you eat? That's what I'm saying - like, 70% or 80% of all the calories I eat when I'm doing this is oatmeal, not just breakfast.

Maybe Oliver Twist was being greedy when he said "Please sir, may I have some more?" ;^)

In any case, saying that you will never lose weight by walking definitely is not true.
posted by XMLicious at 10:32 PM on April 8, 2012

If you're thinking of going the low-carb, high-fat/protein approach (which I recommend) there's a great community for it at There's articles linked there on doing a low-carb diet on a budget. Good luck!
posted by at 9:32 AM on April 9, 2012

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