Weight loss fail despite calorie reduction - WTF?
May 28, 2012 2:42 PM   Subscribe

I have been carefully counting calories using the MyFitnessPal iPhone app since the beginning of May. I have tried to keep to a net 1200 and have rarely gone over net 1500. I am 5ft 6in tall, early 40s, I started the month weighing 133 pounds, still weigh 133 pounds and would like to get back to 126. I am not forgetting to log anything I eat or drink, including condiments. I am not doing regular exercise yet (this will start on Friday). Does anyone have an explanation for this?

Perhaps I'm being punished for my glibness earlier, when I told a fellow MeFite it was easy so maybe this is a case of pride goeth-ing before a fall... but I need more evidence for that. Well, it *is* easy to stay at 1200 calories - I don't particularly feel hungry, and I have at least managed to drastically reduce my appetite. But the weight, she stays the same.

This is the first time I've ever tried to lose weight solely by counting calories; I don't hold with it, exactly, nor do I plan to do it forever, but it's good for getting a reality check.

Previously, I've been able to lose weight, albeit gradually, just by thinking about eating less and exercising more; I've never done that thing where you write everything down. I don't bother to count calories on weekends, and I guess I am eating more on Saturdays and Sundays, but definitely not a week's worth of more. I am not eating things and forgetting to write them down. I am not drinking alcohol and forgetting to count that. I count every beverage and every condiment. I don't weigh and measure everything I eat, as I don't have the means to. But it's unlikely that the quantities I record are wildly inaccurate; I actually err on the side of overestimation if I'm not sure.

Even if my exact calorie count is inaccurate, I am 100% certain that I'm eating dramatically less in May than I was in April. I haven't had a change of meds, an illness, nothing.

So, what the fuck?
posted by tel3path to Health & Fitness (54 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
running the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious here, but are you keeping as close track of your exercise as you are of your food intake?
posted by deadmessenger at 2:49 PM on May 28, 2012

How much of a calorific deficit are you maintaining?
posted by gergtreble at 2:51 PM on May 28, 2012

Response by poster: Yes, I log all my exercise but I only do it 1-2 times a week at this point. As I said, that will change on 1 June.

MyFitnessPal thinks I need around 1600 calories a day so the 1200 would be a deficit of 400. Apparently one shouldn't go below 1200 ever.
posted by tel3path at 2:52 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

"net 1200"? Net of what?

5'6 and 133 is quite slim to begin with. You have a far smaller caloric target to hit than a larger person and without exercise you're trying to starve off what little lean muscle you have on your frame, which slows down your metabolism and makes that small target a teeny tiny moving one (and moreover, one which I question you even want to hit -- you should be holding on to muscle mass for dear life from now until the end of your life).

I don't mean to be glib myself, but you must understand that it is silly to obsessively counting calories five days a week if you are literally not tracking anything two days per week.
posted by telegraph at 2:53 PM on May 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

And by that I mean have you calculated your BMR? This site says your BMR is about 1300 so to lose you would need to be below that at all time. Perhaps you are still eating too much.
posted by gergtreble at 2:54 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are your clothes fitting any differently? Are you taking measurements with a measuring tape?
posted by quivering_fantods at 2:54 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

IANANutritionist, but here's what's occurred to me as a "duh" moment in my own efforts to lose weight using one of these programs - if you track it for a while and find you're not losing, crank the calorie allowance down another hair? Everyone's metabolism is different, and that's the big variable. Let's assume your portions are within hooting distance of accurate, and that little mistakes there are balancing out. The only way to move the equation then would be to run your calorie allowance down. Set a slightly more aggressive weight loss goal, set your body weight a little lower than it really is, set your normal activity level to sedentary, or otherwise game the thing into giving you a lower calorie allowance?

Also, watch your nutrient balance and quality. I have a tendency to eat too much sugar, not too many calories overall.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:55 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Starvation mode is pretty much bunk by the way. You can eat below 1200cals a day if your BMR is close to it.
posted by gergtreble at 2:55 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

and on review, what telegraph and quivering fantods said...
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:56 PM on May 28, 2012

Sometimes you run the risk of not eating enough calories at 1200. That is very low. I'd stay above 1500 for a couple weeks and see what happens. I bet you lose weight (anecdotally, I've had a similar experience where my weight wouldn't budge and then ate what felt like a lot over a holiday weekend only to find I dropped weight. You might not be getting enough calories).
posted by marimeko at 2:56 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Could be diet composition rather than caloric volume. 1200 calories of protein, fat, vegetables and minimal fruit affects your body differently than 1200 calories that includes sugar, bread, rice, potatoes, pasta with a little meat and low fat.
posted by yogalemon at 2:58 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Hopefully this will be a little more useful coming from a non-health-person who lost weight by using FitDay to count calories and exercise. In other words, not some iron person.

The weekends involve a LOT of calories if you're not logging them. Even if you don't eat anything too weird.

Also, what randomkeystrike just said: the algorithm has your BMR set too high, in other words, you aren't burning as much per day as it thinks you are.

You can tell this because, conversely, over time, if you're losing MORE than calorie deficit predicts, it means your BMR is set too low.
posted by skbw at 2:58 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't count on the weekend? That is very likely your problem. I used to do the same thing and them forced myself to at least track what I ate on the weekend, even if I wasn't going to actively diet. I was easily overesting enough to totally negate what I had not eaten during the week. Easily. I'm actually surprised I didn't gain.

Also you should weigh and measure. It's very easy to be 10% or 20% off and there goes half the calories you think you're cutting. A food scale is not expensive.

Also you aren't overweight, you're just trying to get off some vanity pounds and those are very hard to budge and that weight may be under your natural set point, which will make it much harder to lose.
posted by whoaali at 2:59 PM on May 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Your expenditure of calories is not a constant and depends heavily on your intake of food. These are not independent values so it's not reasonable to expect that if you eat less food you will automatically lose weight since there are so many ways in which your body can compensate to hang onto fat if it wants to -- such as being more sluggish and lethargic, increasing the efficiency with which you produce work (i.e. producing less heat). A big mistake that all these calories in = calories out type diets make is expecting all these variables to be unrelated to each other. They're very much related and it's not any sort of paradox that you're not losing weight -- your body wants to hang on to its fat and it will tweak various processes to ensure that it does.
posted by peacheater at 3:01 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I suspect you are underestimating how much you are eating on the weekends and possibly overestimating your basal metabolism. But simply not counting on the weekends could all by itself account for all of this.

Counting 70% of the time and not counting 30% of the time is functionally equivalent to not counting at all.
posted by Justinian at 3:02 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't weigh and measure everything I eat, as I don't have the means to. But it's unlikely that the quantities I record are wildly inaccurate; I actually err on the side of overestimation if I'm not sure.

I also think you don't actually know if your estimates are accurate. You only have to be off by 10% consistently to throw all your calculations off. Get a kitchen scale.
posted by Justinian at 3:04 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe instead of changing how many calories you eat, you should change what you eat. You don't mention anything about what you are eating, but maybe if you start eating better quality food (always room for improvement) you would have better luck with the weight loss.

I'm of the belief that it is not as simple as [calories in < calories expended] for weight loss. Since our bodies are not a closed system, there are obviously other factors that come into play.
posted by fromageball at 3:05 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Is it *really* going to make that big of a difference not to count on weekends? I'd have to be taking in a whole fucking lot of extra calories 2 days a week to obliterate the other 5 - like, an extra 2000 calories in 2 days - and I think that is pretty unlikely.
posted by tel3path at 3:07 PM on May 28, 2012

Also, though we women of a certain age are superior in all other ways (*wink*), we do tend to have a bit of a slower go of losing weight. It used to be easier for me, that's for sure, in my dewy youth.

Even taking on a ketogenic diet, which generally produces fast results, took me over a month for my body to finally get with the program. And I still lose in weird "whooshes"...it almost feels like an overnight loss after weeks of nuthin'.
posted by quivering_fantods at 3:11 PM on May 28, 2012

Why do you think it has to be an extra 2000 calories? Unless you are really certain about your basal metabolism, it may not need to be that much. The easiest way to answer that question is just starting logging every single day. Just do it for the month of June, along with increasing the exercise, and see if things budge or not.
posted by ambrosia at 3:12 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

You don't know that you've got a deficit of 2000 calories from the other 5 days; you've already said you're just estimating and not measuring. But, yes, I think not counting on weekends could make a big difference.

I mean, it's no skin off our backs if you continue on this diet or try a different one or any of the other options. But if you want to actually try counting calories legitimately you have to legitimately count calories! That means weekends included and getting more exact measurements rather than guessing.
posted by Justinian at 3:14 PM on May 28, 2012

Is it *really* going to make that big of a difference not to count on weekends?

I think it depends on the person, and it can change too. I used to be able to lose or at least maintain while eating whatever (maybe up to 2000 cals/day) on weekends as long as I counted during the week, but now I can't. It might be an age thing.

Also, this is the ultimate YMMV, but I am one inch shorter than you and I have to eat more like 800-1000 cals/day to get down to ~125. (Where I'm not exactly thin, but feel much healthier and look at least normal-sized.) Once I'm there I can eat up to ~1300, but for losing I just have to eat way less. My BMR, last time I checked, was something like 1325 so I suppose that makes sense.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 3:18 PM on May 28, 2012

I think you could easily eat an extra 2,000 calories over the weekend. How often do you eat out? You can easily eat an extra 1,000 calories with one restaurant meal without even going that crazy.
posted by whoaali at 3:19 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I do not eat out on weekends. This weekend, for lunch, I had a piece of grilled salmon the same length and width of my hand, accompanied by 5 cherry tomatoes and 4 florets of boiled broccoli with a half-teaspoon of butter. I may be over-or under-estimating that.

Today, at lunch, I had my usual serving of frozen yogurt (that is plain yogurt with fresh fruit, mixed before my very eyes) and I saw, from the way the assistant was measuring it, that I am in fact getting 1/2 cup whereas I had been estimating, and logging, 1 cup.

Since I underestimated the yogurt by 50% I guess I could also be overestimating other things by 50%.
posted by tel3path at 3:27 PM on May 28, 2012

Ah, if you're eating the same on weekends, just not technically recording what you eat (as opposed to "not counting" meaning "eating whatever") then yes, it seems unlikely that thousands of extra calories would be sneaking in there.

I would try, just as an experiment, to eat less for a few weeks and see what happens.* As much as people go on about how all women should be eating 1800-2000 cals/day or some ridiculous thing, my unscientific but supported-by-the-anecdotes-of-tens-of-people theory is that some women just need a lot less food than is commonly preached these days.

*Obviously if you become ravenous or feel ill then you need more, but I personally don't really get hungry unless I go under 500 or something. (Which I don't do, because it seems weird and wrong.)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 3:41 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is it *really* going to make that big of a difference not to count on weekends? I'd have to be taking in a whole fucking lot of extra calories 2 days a week to obliterate the other 5 - like, an extra 2000 calories in 2 days - and I think that is pretty unlikely

Yep. I follow the hacker's diet which is pure calorie counting and it's easy to see the effect a day of not rigourously counting (family dinner or eating out for example) has on my sinkers. May 21 my extended family got together for dinner and even though I moderated my intake it's tough to estimate calories in food and I didn't bother bringing my scale. I obviously ate too much from the behaviour of my sinkers in the days afterwards.

And maybe you are only off by 1500 on the weekends and the other 500 is coming at a 100 per day during the week.

Also seconding that if you aren't actually weighing anything with calories (IE you can afford to estimate lettuce 'cause being off a 100% is still a negligable amount of calories but not butter) then you aren't getting an accurate count of calories. 300 calories per day on 1200 is only 25%; really easy to overestimate by that much.

Finally one of the things advocated for in the Hacker's diet is having a one day fast when you are stuck at some weight. It's some woo-woo reasoning as far as I'm concerned but a day without calories should be visible on the scale even at only a 1250 cal per day deficite.
posted by Mitheral at 3:49 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you know how much your weight normally fluctuates over the course of a month? When I'm dieting, my weight stays pretty constant, then drops 3-5 pounds in the course of a week. (Guess. which week. ;) )
posted by BrashTech at 4:23 PM on May 28, 2012

Try getting a pedometer and check to make sure you haven't accidentally reduced your activity to compensate for the reduced caloric intake. Unless it's from a long hike in the woods, two hours of wandering through the mall nonstop, or walking a 5k as fast as I can, I personally do not "feel" the difference between 3000 step days and 8000 step days. In my case it usually means that I'm delighted to find that I walked 6500 steps on what I perceived to be a "lazy" day, but an error in the opposite direction would be trivially easy to make, and could totally work against your efforts here.

(And if this keeps up, get a blood test for all the usual CBC stuff, vitamin D, etc. Lots of things that could cause this effect are easy to detect.)
posted by SMPA at 4:25 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, not counting on weekends does matter -- it's net calorie intake over the week, not daily. Try something like physicsdiet.com to track every day. If nothing's moving, then take down the caloric intake. I was 133 in February, 5'3" and it took me eating at under 800 for a couple weeks (Lyle McDonald's Rapid Fat Loss Diet) to move the scale at all.
posted by mrfuga0 at 4:26 PM on May 28, 2012

My guess is that the software has your basal metabolism wrong. My weight loss program used a rule of thumb of 10 calories/day/pound of weight for women, 11 for men. That would put your daily burn rate closer to 1300 than 1600 - enough to pretty much eliminate any weight loss. On the other hand, if you add 300 calories a day of exercise with the same consumption, you should find it easy to start losing weight at a steady speed.
posted by metahawk at 5:27 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just another data point: I lost a good amount of weight by counting calories. I always counted on weekends, but didn't necessarily keep up with my diet on weekends, so I have the records of how many calories I could put away on weekends.

I found that even though I was running a 500-800 calorie deficit Mon-Fri and working out twice a day, it was trivially easy to make up 100% of that deficit on weekends. Like, without pigging out even once. The human body rapidly adjusts to the availability of food. And it doesn't require eating out or cooking rich food. It only takes a few extra dollops of peanut butter to make up 300 calories. Go a little overboard and congrats, I just blew Monday's deficit away with peanut butter and rice cakes. At dinner, have an extra helping of those sauteed carrots - you know, the ones I added extra oil to so they'd have some flavor. That's 200 calories of oil, and I haven't mentioned the extra-large portions I took of other dishes because I was so good this week.

(As an aside, the idea that peanut butter is a good food for weight loss because it's satisfying is insanity. I love PB, and had to banish it from my house to lose any weight. Get anything calorie-dense out of your house if you're serious about this).

I could go on, but I'll summarize: eating an extra 1,000+ calories in a single day is trivially easy. If you drink, bump that to 2,000. I'm not a big person, and a 5,000 calorie day is only a little more filling than a 2,500 calorie day.

I had a piece of grilled salmon the same length and width of my hand

If you're serious about counting calories, you have to get a kitchen scale. The salmon you just described is 12+ ounces using my hand as a measure. Here's the one I use and love - it's $25. (Not to mention that salmon is often cooked with butter; did you include a large amount of butter on your 12-once salmon when you did your calorie count?)
posted by Tehhund at 5:32 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

You set up an intriguing question, and then give away the game at the very same time. I've talked to dozens of people who make claims about "eating very little", and EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. they are wrong when it comes down to actually measuring things.

It's an astounding contradiction. Look at this:

"I am not forgetting to log anything I eat or drink, including condiments."

I was prepared to be very impressed...

and then:

"I don't bother to count calories on weekends"


"I don't weigh and measure everything I eat, as I don't have the means to."


And of course, this I've heard from every single example I spoke about above:

"Even if my exact calorie count is inaccurate, I am 100% certain that I'm eating dramatically less in May than I was in April."

You are 100% certain based ON NO EVIDENCE. Because of the two statements above. Sorry. If you don't count, you don't count, and your certainty is based on nothing but your feelings. And the human mind is incredibly maleable.

I would say: go forward and do what you actually need to do. Record and measure scrupulously. And only then can you make the following statement:

"I am not forgetting to log anything I eat or drink, including condiments."

If you still don't lose weight, then we can look at other possibilites, such as:

1) Your metabolism gains a small percentage of efficiency - I've seen this measured at between 5% and 10%. The good news is that it's a one time deal - if you cut the calories further, your metabolism will not continue to become more and more efficient - the 5%-10% is the limit.

2) Your body has found other means of economizing: incidental movements and thermal control. You will fidget less and economize in movement, you'll sleep more, and you will become cold much more quickly at much higher temperatures etc. Good news: you can counteract this by engaging in voluntary exercise and putting on more clothing.

3)The first month or so is really not the optimal time to measure weight loss. For some, the weight loss such as it is often is confined to water loss. But for many, the body is engaged in the full panoply of behaviors to defend your weight set point. This is a time of battle - your body can maintain that state for a limited time, under the evolutionary assumption that it's just a temporary state of affairs and you'll get back to what it's been habituated to regard as "normal caloric intake". Once you push beyond that period of time, the body will resort to other strategies to deal with what is now clearly a long-term new reality of fewer calories: by shedding weight and utilizing (fat) reserves.

Note of caution. One of the reasons why you want to exercise is because when losing weight, the body has tendency to cut back not just on fat tissue but also muscle and bone tissue. You want to preserve the latter two, and you do this by a balanced cardio and weight-lifting regimen.

Finally: if you've cut your calories by X, and have not lost any weight after 8 weeks, the solution is amazingly simple: cut back by X + Y. If that doesn't work, cut back even more. At some point you'll get to where you want to - I guarantee you that... if not, you can present yourself to scientists and let them copy your body's design for a perpetual motion machine./jk/.
posted by VikingSword at 5:44 PM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've been in the same boat. It took about six weeks for me to lose any weight over and above the initial 5 lbs I dropped. I'd suggest a few things

- Yes count on the weekends. Seriously you could eat one whoopie pie and have two extra beers and depending on your BMR you've basically balanced out the calorie deficit for the week. Just do it.
- Use a scale and measuring implements to measure food. All the time. Get a postage scale at the dollar store for $4.
- Ask this in their forums, people there are super helpful and friendly. Make your food list public and people can look at it and give suggestions.
- Try checking out the "eat more to lose more" or whatever it's called - there is a group of fitness people there who basically do a ton of exercise and eat a ton and that seems not only more fun but more effective.
posted by jessamyn at 5:50 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Keep in mind that there can be a large error in how many calories you think are in a serving of food, plus an error in how your digestive system absorbs those calories, plus an error in your metabolism rate. Add these errors together and your actual caloric equation can be wildly different from what your spreadsheet tells you it is.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 6:41 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

stop eating carbs
posted by larry_darrell at 7:04 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, to echo what others have said, I think you have to count on the weekends too. There might be a lot of variables in play, and eliminating that one will give you better data and help you to better assess the other variables.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:39 PM on May 28, 2012

Everything VikingSword said. Unless you are weighing your food you do not know how much you're eating for sure, and unless you're measuring it all the time (even on weekends) you still don't know how much you're eating.

MyFitnessPal has no fucking clue how much you're burning. Those estimates are just that, estimates, and tend to err towards the side of "wildly inaccurate." If what you're eating is not producing weight loss, you need to eat less.

Not to mention you are 5'6'' and 130lbs, which means you're already quite slim and your body is not going to let go easy. The fact that you are older makes it worse. The fact that you only work out 1-2 times per week, this has only been for a month, and you are a woman also means you are probably under-muscled, which makes it even harder to lose weight. If you feel you still have extra body fat you need to get rid of, then you have two choices:

1) Go on increasingly stringent diet parameters--investigate protein-sparing modified fasts, carb-cycling, calorie cycling, a food scale, weighing your food stringently every day, dropping calories further (getting involved in a figure competitor community will help you find good strategies, this gets detailed so I won't go too crazy here)

2) Focus on maintaining your weight while building muscle--you will not turn into an insane muscle cartoon, but you will drop body fat and "tone up", as they say, and feel better. Very good example here, scroll down about halfway to see what happened when she focused on lifting rather than further weight loss (after initially losing quite a bit)

I would strongly suggest going with #2, especially since you're entering the age range where you really need to start worrying about osteoporosis in 10-15 years and weight-training is a powerful deterrent to it. It is a lot easier to prevent osteoporosis and physical degeneration by preventing than treating it when it happens.
posted by schroedinger at 7:48 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

like, an extra 2000 calories in 2 days - and I think that is pretty unlikely.

What do you drink? Do you drink alcohol on the weekends? Coffee drinks? Some Starbucks drinks can have over 500 calories and alcoholic drinks can have 100-300 calories. Are you considering this when you are thinking about your caloric intake for the weekend?

Also, are you doing a lot of strength training? Are you considering that your lack of weight loss could be attributed to muscle gain?
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:05 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

How long have you been at 133? Maybe 133 has become your body's "set point" it can be VERY difficult to shift pounds if that's the case.

Sodium? I lived on veggie juice for a week once and "gained"- because it was v8, packed with salt, and I was retaining a shed load of water.

Fiber? If you've increased your fiber intake- the extra bulk likes to suck up water

Heat? its been hot here in the UK the last week... and I always put on a bit of water if the temps change...

Accuracy? Calorie counters can be really off as well, that's why scales are so important... and from what i understand the legal requirement for calorie accuracy is grayer than one would like to think... and little things that you don't realise you're taking in do as well... like that little bit of milk in tea and an after dinner mint.

Also, when you do lose weight- that space where the fat was can fill up with water, which then dissipates later...

Finally, lets crunch the numbers, if you're logging a 2000 calorie deficit a week (5 days of under eating by 400 calories) that adds up to 8000 calories since you started a month ago, divide that by 3500 (calories in a pound) and you should have lost 2.2 pounds... That's hardly enough to notice... and a paltry overeat of 500 calories each weekend would seriously eat into that. Throw in any water weight whatsoever and here you are.

Good luck!
posted by misspony at 10:40 PM on May 28, 2012

"5 days of under eating by 400 calories" That is based on a 40ish woman who's calorie need is sitting at 1600...
posted by misspony at 10:42 PM on May 28, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, to answer some of the questions:

I weigh daily, and at the same time each day. My weight has not fluctuated at all except for 2 days this month, when it went up by 1 pound. Normally it varies by around 2 pounds in both directions from one day to the next, but not this month. Not measuring myself because there's no point, I think, until I restart my exercise program at the end of this week.

I have been at 133 since about January. I was at 126 about this time last year. There's no mystery in my mind as to why this happened, I started eating an awful lot, and knew it. Also, in the past, when my weight has crept up I've been able to push it back down more or less by deciding 'don't eat so goddam much' and I only took this approach because my appetite seemed to have gotten distorted and I thought I was still hungry even after a display of gluttony to shame the Cookie Monster, which couldn't possibly be right. Now my appetite is much smaller, so hopefully this won't have been a complete wasted effort even if I'm doin it rong in other ways.

When I do log, I don't forget anything or leave anything out. The only thing left is wrong estimation and not logging every day. I just ate one piece of whole wheat toast (55 cals?) with butter (guessing 1 teaspoon, which is a lot, 23 cals?), and drank one cup of percolated coffee with whole milk (37 calories?). That's a total of 115 calories for one piece of buttered toast and one cup of white coffee. Maybe that's too conservative an estimate or maybe it's right but I'll get things wrong later in the day.

I don't have evidence to *prove* that I'm eating dramatically less than I was last month, other than that I know what my habits were. I know I was eating more than one slice of bread each breakfast time, I know I was having a mid morning snack and that I am no longer having one, that I was having a bedtime snack and that I am no longer having one, and that I sometimes have a snack between 4pm and 6pm as I used to (since I usually don't get my dinner before 11pm) and that it now includes one item where previously it would include two or three items;
and I know that each meal is smaller because I'm now eating only one food (e.g. One slice of cafeteria pizza) for lunch where previously I would have had that same food but added three or four things to it. I can't prove it in the sense of being able to refer to a diary, but I'm not imagining it and I'm not forgetting to log stray cups of coffee, random squirts of ketchup, or stealth Big Macs.

If two soft drinks and an ice cream cone on the weekends are enough to obliterate everything else I'm doing the rest of the week, then, wow, I'm amazed but I guess the laws of physics got me bang to rights. I had read advice here and there that not counting calories on the weekends could be a good way of coping with a drastic change of habit, but according to everyone here it's the express train to failure town, so I guess I have to reconsider that approach.
posted by tel3path at 12:39 AM on May 29, 2012

Best answer: If you know you've essentially halved some of your meals and eliminated routine snacks, you know enough to be puzzled by the weight loss; I don't buy the arguments that you need to be even more precise, and eliminate more calories, for further weight loss.

Since you're 5'6", early 40s, and 133lbs, that's bang at the point where it'll be really hard to lose more weight. Probably the exercise alone will fix this, once you start? Much healthier nutritionally/for your body image than cutting calories any more. Good luck!
posted by pickingupsticks at 1:27 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

The only thing left is wrong estimation and not logging every day. I just ate one piece of whole wheat toast (55 cals?) with butter (guessing 1 teaspoon, which is a lot, 23 cals?),

This seems awfully low to me.

The only breads I have ever seen that have less than 60 calories a slice have been actual diet brands. A normal humdrum slice of bread normally has about 95... the better yummier breads have a bit more.


Is your app american by chance? Our cooking teaspoons are tiny tiny tiny.... and calorie counters assume that that is levelled.... A very light (half tablespoon?) spreading of butter I would estimate at easily 45 calories.

I'm curious if I'm right.
posted by misspony at 1:44 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah, wrong brand there. The brand I actually ate today has 75 calories per 30g slice, not 55.

I use American teaspoon measures routinely.
posted by tel3path at 1:59 AM on May 29, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, so this seems to be what the hivemind is telling me. I'll start with the answers I ruled out, and the reasons why I ruled them out.


not keeping track of exercise
gaining muscle weight
these can be ruled out because I know exactly how much exercise I'm doing now, and I know it isn't enough to build muscle

going by weight instead of measurements
going by weight instead of using fat callipers
going by weight instead of taking before/after photos
going by weight instead of clothing fit
measuring at different times of day
these can be ruled out because of my lack of exercise (see above) and the fact that I do measure at the same time of day

unawareness of calorie contributions of beverages
not counting condiments, after-dinner mints, milk added to tea/coffee
treating Friday as a weekend day and therefore not recording/restricting calories 3 days a week instead of the 2 I admit to
definitely sure I'm recording these things, and restricting calories, 5 days out of 7

emotions causing confabulated memories of last month's eating habits and/or blocking awareness of current eating behavior
well, I guess if I were doing this, by definition I'd be too irrational to know it

And here are the answers I haven't ruled out:


entire venture completely undermined by not tracking calories 2 days per week
entire venture completely undermined by eating too much 2 days a week
entire venture completely undermined by failure to measure portions using postal scale (rather than plate size or hand size)
MyFitnessPal unreliable source for calorie estimation

BMR should be 1300, not 1600
calorie allowances are idiosyncratic
1200 calories is too many
1200 calories is too few
allowance should be 800-1000 and not 1200
minimum allowance can be as low as 500/starvation mode is a myth

nutrient balance too sugary
nutrient balance composed of bad food/not nutritious enough
nutrient balance too carby and not proteinful enough
nutriƫnt balance contains any carbs at all

calorie underestimation + bmr overestimation + variable absorption rates = lardass
set point fixed around 133
vanity weight inherently hard to lose
too old+female to lose weight easily any more
already slim/narrow target to hit
probably moving less to compensate
probably producing less heat to compensate
lack of exercise causing muscle loss and slowing metabolism
one month is too early to tell because body is still saying 'FU calorie reduction, watch me hang onto this fat'
measuring at night
calories are weird

water retention
too much sodium
too much fibre
hot weather conditions

insufficient exercise

Overall, one message comes through much more strongly than all the others:


Without recording 100% of foodstuffs and beverages consumed, 7 days a week, weighed and measured with a postal scale (instead of my hand/size of plate/calorie data from MyFitnessPal), any estimation I make of my past or present eating habits is invalid and more likely attributable to self-deception than any rational system of order.

My perception that I've halved my portions and cut out 2 of 3 daily snacks, even if true, is irrelevant if the total calorie intake is too much - which we can assume it is, because I haven't assembled enough evidence to prove otherwise.
posted by tel3path at 4:58 AM on May 29, 2012

minimum allowance can be as low as 500

Just to clarify, in case this idea came from the mention of 500 calories in my post. I'm not suggesting you should eat that little regularly, just that eating less than 1,000 is not (for me, at least, and probably for many other relatively small non-athlete women) the gulag-like experience most people seem to believe it is. I know there are some 500-cal/day diets but I think they're weird liquid things, and possibly need to be medically supervised. OTOH it might be fine, but I've never done it and wouldn't recommend it. (Though I do think starvation mode is a myth - I mean, if it was real it would be great news for people in concentration camps, famines, and shipwrecks, wouldn't it?)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:29 AM on May 29, 2012

You sound pretty frustrated. Weight loss can be frustrating, especially when it feels like you're doing everything right and nothing is happening. Nobody is implying you are an irrational emotional female for underestimating calorie intake. This is something that literally everyone does, ever. The only people who do not do this are anorexic. Weight loss is not impossible, but unless you are very, very overfat (and sometimes even then) it can require being a lot more careful than anyone expects.

You have to be OK with not caring about the raw calorie number, and just increasing it if you lose too fast and decreasing it if you're not. Literally the only way I have found to track how many calories you're burning exactly (save techniques only available in labs) is to use a BodyMedia device since they're the only ones that actually track multiple biometrics rather than just make estimates based on heart rate or age and weight. And the only way to track how many calories you're eating is to weigh everything. weigh your food. Check here (beware cheesy music).

MyFitnessPal doesn't know how many calories you're burning because that number varies wildly from person to person, based on their daily activities, movement, individual metabolism, weight, age, muscle mass, etc etc etc. You cannot stake your life on it. You also can't stake your life on what MFP says how many calories are in, say, a slice of pizza, because that is a generic slice of pizza, and slices of pizza can also vary wildly from place to place. How big is the slice of pizza MFP is talking about? We don't know. If you picked generic "chocolate ice cream" from MFP, the difference in the calorie content between Haagen Daaz and lesser brands is HUGE because of the stuff they use to make their ice cream. Same goes for everything on there.

(regarding "starvation mode"--yes, it pretty much is a myth. There are very, very rare situations involving people who randomly start packing on fat due to too little calorie intake, usually involving bodybuilding or figure competitors who have been starving themselves while doing billions of hours of cardio and taking drugs, and it results in such a high degree of stress to their body their cortisol goes into overdrive and stress hormones start fucking their body up. If "starvation mode" wasn't a myth, then everyone in countries with massive food shortages would be fat.)
posted by schroedinger at 5:59 AM on May 29, 2012

Response by poster: Ah, schroedinger, you sent me off on another tangent about wearable sensors. Have you any other recommendations for such, using just the iPhone?

Previously (as in within the last 12 months), I was able to get my weight under control pretty quickly, more or less just by thinking about it. (Thought leads to action, anger leads to fear, fear leads to hate &c.)

This time, I go all out to do the one thing that is officially supposed to work, and so far it seems like a mug's game. At least I'm eating less than I was last month, that I do know. That PacMan-like relentless scarfing was not sustainable.
posted by tel3path at 6:31 AM on May 29, 2012

Also, one way to get your head around calories is to memorize how many calories is in a gram of protein, carbs, and fat... fat has 9 (?) calories per gram and its almost always the same "size"... a tablespoon of oil/cream/butter/cheese is almost always right around 100 calories because they're all mostly fat... thats how I visualize it when sizing up a meal...
posted by misspony at 9:40 AM on May 29, 2012

Ah, schroedinger, you sent me off on another tangent about wearable sensors. Have you any other recommendations for such, using just the iPhone?

. . . This time, I go all out to do the one thing that is officially supposed to work, and so far it seems like a mug's game.

Yeah, it can really suck. It may have been by counting calories you ended up eating more than you thought because of the way you measured them.

As far as I know, the BodyMedia/BodyBugg/whatever line of products produced by the BodyMedia company are the only ones that have been independently tested to measure calorie burn within acceptable accuracy (90+%).

I would urge you to not get too hung up on what you are exactly burning or exactly eating. You don't need accuracy, you need consistency. That is, maybe by the way you're measuring calories you need 800 calories to lose weight (I am totally making that number up). Do not get too crazy about the low-seeming number. It is quite possible that what you measure as 800 is not actually 800, maybe it's more like 1200 (again, making the number up). The point is, if you find that 800 by your method of consistent measurement is what you need to lose weight, go with that and don't worry too much what online estimates tell you that you need.

My suggestion would be you first get a food scale and start weighing everything for a couple of weeks. If you don't see progress, then drop the calories by 100-200/day. Knowing exactly how much you're eating and exactly how much you're burning becomes more important when you're being a little more complicated with your diet, like say you're a competitive athlete who needs to drop a weight class by a certain competition date but can't afford to lose any strength. That's when you have to start being super precise about this stuff. All you need to know is whatever you're eating is not producing weight loss, so try eating a little less.

If you find you are eating much, much less and all you're getting is ravenously hungry and weak, then it is time to revisit your exercise program and start getting more anal. Like I said though, I would recommend you focus on a bit of weight lifting.
posted by schroedinger at 2:04 PM on May 29, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, well, at the end of the day I posted this I found I had lost 1 pound.

Yesterday I found I had lost another pound.

Maybe they'll turn up again, but at least the needle is moving now, whereas it wasn't before.

Thanks, HiveMind, for all your attention to detail. I can count on you. I will be paying careful attention to what you've written here.
posted by tel3path at 3:33 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So, the couple of pounds came back and only went away for a day or two at a time since May.

On the rare occasions when I had the chance to weigh my food, I found that I'd been *over*estimating the weight by more than half - recording an ounce of cheese when I'd actually been having a third of an ounce. But that doesn't mean anything because I wasn't weighing my food all the time. Garbage data in, garbage data out.

So I stopped the calorie counting. The one thing it did do for me was give me a reality check about how much I was eating, so was eating less after calorie-counting than before. That's probably why I didn't gain any more weight when I gave up the calorie counting. But I still looked bulbous.

In October I couldn't stand it any more and I went back to my roots of eating only natural foods and ignoring calories. I read the first chapter of the Mediterranean diet book that was the first diet I ever followed, sticking to the first chapter for 20 days. I lost the same two pounds, they came back. At the end of last week I started following the second chapter.

Last Saturday I was tearing my hair out because I'd actually GAINED a pound. I weighed 134 pounds and I looked short and squat and bulbous. ARGH.

On Tuesday I thought "that's funny, I could swear I suddenly look thinner" and I had apparently lost 4 pounds.

On Wednesday I looked thinner still and had apparently lost 2 more pounds and was weighing in at 128 lbs.

Today, Friday, I still weigh 128lbs and I still look thinner. I went from bulbous to Modigliani-like in one week.


But I have learned one thing - calorie counting is a mug's game, at least for me. I don't want to knock it because it apparently is working very well for a lot of people here, but I'm having more success with the "ignore calories and they'll go away" approach, so I guess I'll stick with it.

What I don't understand is why I built up so many self-defeating habits in the first place. I know better than to eat processed foods, so why did I? I am weird.
posted by tel3path at 6:12 AM on November 16, 2012

Thanks for the update, tel3path. Maybe I'm strange, but I sometimes wonder about various weight-loss related AskMe's and how the people who posted them are doing. So I'm glad you're finally doing well!

Do you mind saying what the book is, or describing what it says (aside from "no processed foods")?
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:45 AM on November 16, 2012

Response by poster: The stepwise version is The French Don't Diet Plan by Dr Will Clower. I am on step 2 of 10.

Mind you, I just had my nightly weigh-in and 2 of those pounds are back, I now weigh 130lbs. It's Tuesday all over again. I guess pride goeth before a fat.

Still, 3lbs in 7 days isn't bad. I'm probably over the hump now.
posted by tel3path at 1:38 PM on November 16, 2012

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