Abominable Abdominals
June 15, 2012 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Help me deal with my middle - either through weight loss or learning to cope.

My stomach has always been the part of my body that makes me most self conscious. For most of my life, it seemed like that's all it was - me being self conscious. But now, unfortunately, my middle is growing and getting the better of me.

I don't keep a scale in the house or measure myself because I thought it would lead to unhealthy habits - I didn't want to put myself in a place where I would feel happy or sad because of a number. But instead of my weight, my size is bothering me. I saw a picture of me running (true story) and it nearly made me cry. I looked like a blob with legs.

Specifically, a year ago, I was about a size 8/10. Now some of my size 10 clothing feels too snug. As does size 12? I've just about given up on shopping for pants, skirts, shorts - anything that's form-fitting. I spend most of my days in knit dresses and jackets or cardigans.

I work out about 4x a week. I started a thing with stickk where I try to work out 5x. That has happened maybe once or twice but I get really close. I mostly run or do yoga though I've been doing less running and more yoga lately. I struggled to work out at all over the winter - I had a lot going on at work - but I've been trying to work out more seriously for a few months now and I'm not really seeing results. However, my health generally seems fine - I haven't had a physical lately but I went to my OB-GYN a few months ago and she said everything was fine. Every time I get my blood pressure checked, it's good.

I've been more stressed out lately over the last year. My husband quit his job to work on a start-up so I worry about money. I had some health issues related to sleep. I have a graduate degree lurking in the background that I sure would like to finish someday. I've thought of doing therapy. But this gut is really bothering me.

I feel like I put on maybe 10 lbs within the last year or so right in the waist and even though I've been trying to be more committed to working out, it is not going anywhere. I've contemplated joining a gym and working with a personal trainer.

I think about doing things like taking laxatives or the stupid things advertised on TV like Hydroxycut but that doesn't seem healthy and I think the point of this is to get healthy. Right?!

I'm trying really hard not to take this personally and behave in a healthy way. I don't count calories, don't obsess over things. I don't keep track of everything I eat (but maybe I should? I generally don't think I've overeating). I try to eat when I'm hungry, not when I'm bored. But the fact that my clothes don't fit is just getting me down. I want to look professional for work but I feel like my suits are simply too snug. I can buy new suits but then I feel like I'm spending too much money.

TL; DR - Why don't my pants fit and what can I do about it? How can I lose weight in a healthy way?

PS - Please be gentle, Metafilter. I'm trying to be gentle with myself because I don't think it's effective to tell myself that I'm a blob person. But I don't think much has been effective so far.
posted by kat518 to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I think about doing things like taking laxatives or the stupid things advertised on TV like Hydroxycut

If you are that concerned, I think you would be VASTLY better off with a scale in your house. You seem super active (at least, compared to me!) and I suspect that at this point, you'd get a lot of mileage out of having some numbers - ie, data - to work with.

Joining a gym and a handful of sessions with a personal trainer might give you a starting point, some focused exercises and a metric for measuring improvement you can then go on and work with on your own.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:24 AM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do a couple days where you count calories. It doesn't have to be a forever thing, but really make an effort and see how much you're really eating. These things can be deceiving. Always reach for more raw fruits and vegetables.

Also, go easy on yourself. Winter poundage happens. You are taking care of yourself quite well. Don't let yourself get too discouraged. Weight loss is a weird thing (I don't believe it's as simple as calories in, calories out). More raw fruits and vegetables always, keep up with the exercise, track your calories for a few days just to check in with yourself. You don't mention how old you are but metabolic changes do happen over a lifetime. All any of us can do is try and keep ourselves healthy and you are a person who takes very good care of themselves and is active and healthy. There, your mind should be free of blob.
posted by Katine at 9:33 AM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you're saying that you think that counting calories or weighing yourself regularly would be unhealthy... but then you also say you're thinking about taking laxatives and using Hydroxycut, which (to me) seems way more unhealthy than counting calories and weighing yourself regularly.

I weigh myself all the time, because I like data. I like data that is more concrete than "I look bloaty in the photos from S&G's wedding," or "I thought these pants were more flattering."

It is really hard (some would say impossible) to lose weight through exercise alone. If you want to lose that weight, you are probably going to have to make changes to the way you eat. To me, the easiest way to do this is to count calories (you can eat *anything* you want, you just can't eat *everything* you want). Someone else is going to come in here and suggest Whole30.

You might even just want to try writing down everything you eat (without counting the actual calories) or taking photos of your food before you eat it. Most people eat less when they are writing down what they eat.
posted by mskyle at 9:37 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

You mention being stressed -- that may be the area to work on, since stress is related to excess abdominal fat. It may be why the exercise and eating right aren't helping as much as they should.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 9:37 AM on June 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Some things to look at:
- what is your fitness like? I am firmly of the view that my weight can go hang as long as I am fit and healthy.
- form-fitting/structured clothes that fit are more flattering than shapeless clothes at any size. Baggy stuff will only make you look bigger.
- what is your diet like? Try cutting down sugar/carbs. This definitely keeps my bloatedness down.
- what kind of workouts do you do? for more muscle/definition around your waist you might want to look at specific core and posterior chain workouts. Free weightlifting (barbells) and throwing medicine balls are some things that are great for this. Possibly also kettlebells. A trainer can give you good advice.

I refuse to focus on my weight or size or comparing myself to others - this way lies madness. 8/10/12 is by no means 'amorphous blob' size, by any stretch! (I'm a UK 12 myself and I am rather fond of my curves). Fitness and health are the goals I allow myself.
posted by corvine at 9:38 AM on June 15, 2012

Hi there, kat518. Weight is a tough thing to struggle with. By way of background, I've been overweight my entire adult life. I, too, went through phases where I exercised very regularly and it didn't seem to have much of an impact. Buying clothes was always a horror-inducing process. I've been self-conscious about my appearance, especially my weight, pretty much forever.

So that being said, the one thing I noticed that you barely mentioned at all was diet. I, too, thought that focus on exercise and being active would let me eat what I wanted. For the most part I only ate when I felt like I was hungry, and I don't think I ever used food as a reward or as an emotional crutch. Last fall, though, I finally decided I needed to try and focus on diet instead of (or in addition to) exercise. And let me tell you, the difference has been amazing. I started by cutting out wheat and sugar, and have since cut out pretty much all grains aside from occasional rice. I eat a lot of meat and veggies and some dairy, and make sure to get enough fat to feel sated. I don't count calories, but I do step on a scale every morning. Without changing my exercise habits at all (indeed, without really any exercise at all), I lost 50 lbs in nine months.

In other words, based on my reading of your question I think you are missing a crucial piece of the puzzle: diet. I heartily recommend checking out the keto and paleo subreddits. I don't follow either diet strictly, but I've gotten a lot of inspiration there.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:38 AM on June 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

If you don't want to use a scale maybe take measurements? That's always something good to do because then you know if you're putting on the wrong kind of weight or not..

I'd recommend lifting at least once a week. I don't find running\yoga\etc to be very good weight management activities.

If you want to go pretty extreme -- I did a V-Diet about 3 years ago and it changed my life completely. Got visible abs lean while increasing strength, stopped bad food cravings, educated me a lot about nutrition and lifting (a lot of time to read when you aren't making food). Male, 175lbs @ 6ft and lost about 20lbs in 6 weeks.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:40 AM on June 15, 2012

Thanks, everyone. I'm interested in writing down everything I eat but I always worry that I will eventually become Bob Graham. That is its own path to madness.

My main interest in joining a gym is related to weight training. I don't own weights and I've never been into weights but I thought that might help, as would having a personal trainer, even briefly.

Please keep ideas coming. Thanks again.
posted by kat518 at 9:46 AM on June 15, 2012

Laxatives are just going to dehydrate you. You will "lose weight" but it's just going to be water. Indeed you may notice like many women you can have a 5lb wobble around your cycle- I have pants that only are comfortable part time thanks to this.

One of the things that 'cheats' in so far as belly issues is lots of sit ups and things that improve your posture. You can't spot reduce, but you can make the muscles underneath more dense. When I was doing situps as a before bed ritual I noticed a tightening in the region based entirely on the lovely post workout muscle clench also exploited by fitness models doing beefcake shots. Not slouching will make you look less like a marshmallow.

I also cheat with my body balance issues. Now mine are not yours (I'm a wide shouldered, wide hipped lady with a small waist, though my stomach is pinch-able) but I found that choosing a padded bra was a not uncomfortable way of matching the swollen bits of myself with the thin bits of myself. My clothes even fit better! I'm in your dress size range, but because my weight is mostly carried lower not higher, going up almost a cup size makes everything hang better. A tailor may also help, since if your clothes don't fit, they'll bag in all sorts of annoying ways, and you may find that getting your pants adjusted, while not the cheapest option (though tailoring is surprisingly cheap!) will make them fit better on your frame. Certain cuts and brands are also just better for certain frames- I spend more on jeans because I loathe low waists, and forty extra dollars at a Levis store where a nice lady eyeballs my measurements and tosses pants at me based on good training and experience is a vast improvement over sniffling in a cheap store's dressing room because not only do I look like a blown sausage, but everything hurts.

Second of all you might want to check the self perception "how can I do things with a fugly belly?!" Keep in mind that the washboard abs thing is a fairly recent fashion invention and if you look at say, sexploitation style footage of women from past decades, while the look favoured was a small framed hour glass, the women usually had squishy tummies. Victorian era sex descriptions go further into this by talking about soft bellies the same way one would talk about big breasts in a modern porn, so while fashions vary, what was once good is still going to be good to plenty. Of course having a potentially sexual characteristic in abundance is a bothersome thing too, since none of us were put on this earth just to facilitate the making of tumescence in others, but just assume that if people venture out of their self absorption to note you jogging past, you could be jiggling like a freight truck full of jello and the people watching may just as likely be saying to themselves "I am such a pervert, I must stop looking at the woman, must stop looking at the woman, must stop..." or "Wow, I wish I was filled out like -her-!"

Also I look better if I have an exercise ball instead of a chair at my computer, among many things because me bouncing up and down like a manic kangaroo is stress relieving while forcing me to fidget and improve my posture/core strength. That and smiling humans are generally prettier and bouncing on a big bouncy ball is fun.
posted by Phalene at 9:57 AM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I find one upside of having a scale and weighing myself often is that you notice the progress you are making before it starts to appear on your body. It might take 10-15 pounds to really notice that you are changing, but seeing the scale start to tick downwards slowly lets you know that you are making progress.
posted by Nightman at 10:22 AM on June 15, 2012

I totally struggle with this too. Sometimes I think belly fat is the worst place, because it just seems so obvious and wrong. For me, I am trying to do a mixture of being mindful of what I eat, working out, and getting rid of stress, because that is really killer. I have put on more weight from having a bad job than any amount of hamburgers instead of salad action.

Another suggestion, is to maybe check out chub-positive Tumblrs like Curve Appeal and Curvaceous Confidence. There are so many cute girls on there of every size, and honestly it makes me feel SO. MUCH. BETTER. about my own personal adorableness. I am not saying don't try to lose weight if that's what you want, but I know I am happier and find being in shape easier when I am not also beating myself up about my obvious hideousness. I also think that as age comes along, we need to accept not being ideal (which can be tough for women), so I am starting now, and these types of blogs really help.
posted by dame at 10:22 AM on June 15, 2012

Free-weight strength training, a low-carb diet, and food/weight tracking would be my solutions. The Hacker's Diet has free instructions on the best way to track your weight using moving trends -- like you said, it can be counter-productive to just weigh yourself every day and obsess over the individual numbers, so this program will give you an Excel sheet that turns your weight into a long-term trend. Likewise, you can use a free program like FitDay to track the calories and nutrients; just enter what you eat every day, and it'll spit out a calorie total and nutrient charts for you. I would suggest aiming for a 40% fat / 35% protein / 25% carb split to start (don't be afraid of fat, as it's what your body will use for energy in the absence of carbs! Avocados, almonds, and full-fat Greek yogurt are your friends.) The low-carb thing is the only diet I've ever tried which really did let me live the mythical "eat what you want" lifestyle, so I'd suggest paying more attention to your fat/protein/carb spread than the calorie count to start -- once you're eating fewer carbs, the calorie total will probably drop on its own. The exception is foods which are full of empty calories, which will become obvious once you start tracking (my own culprits were corn chips and alcohol!)

In the gym, I'd suggest a free-weight program based on compound lifts. I think strength training is one of the best investments anyone can make in their general health, whether their pants fit the way they want or not: if you do just one thing, do this. There are many programs to choose from, but the most popular beginner's programs are Starting Strength and Stronglifts. Stumptuous is another great site geared at women who are starting to lift. A personal trainer can help you learn how to do the lifts correctly, and can help with motivation in the beginning... once you feel comfortable with what you're doing you can strike out on your own.

The thing I like the most about these techniques is that they build good lifelong habits rather than a string of painful temporary interventions. Crash diets, Hydroxycut, laxatives, etc. will stop working the moment you can't stand them anymore, but lifting and cutting carbs are things you can do for a lifetime.
posted by vorfeed at 10:29 AM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Whoops, I meant to link directly to the workouts on the Starting Strength page!
posted by vorfeed at 10:31 AM on June 15, 2012

When people do what you're doing, like not wanting to keep a food journal or keep a scale around because of some imagined effect on your psyche, they are sometimes told, "don't borrow trouble." You are inventing reasons not to do something that is good for you.
posted by rhizome at 12:03 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Blob people don't exist, therefore you are not a blob person.

Echoing the idea of getting into weightlifting, though with a small caveat - a good trainer who will watch and teach you proper form is a must. Some trainers won't bother, and that's not worth your money, especially if you get injured due to some small form issue that could've been easily avoided.

Another option is bodyweight exercises. You can work out at home or anywhere else - burpees are a simple, killer exercise you can do almost anywhere, jump-rope gets the heart going, push-ups, pull-ups, lunges and squats all work the major muscle groups and require very little equipment (exception is a pull-up bar - I like going to playgrounds and using the monkey bars).

And as cheesy as this sounds, try to find joy in your body. Find something you like doing with it - bike or rock climb or find a martial arts class you really enjoy, or one of those crazy yoga classes where they twist themselves into upside-down pretzels. Do something that makes you happy with your body, no matter how silly it may be.

Good luck!
posted by zennish at 12:19 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, yoga is awesome for many things, but burning calories and weight loss is not really one of them. And sometimes weight just creeps up due to aging metabolism, a bit more stress or a few more candy bars here and there.

Lifting weights is absolutely awesome for putting on some muscle (which most women badly need, and lift up the butt, firm up the arms, and define shoulders, quads and back). I lift pretty heavy twice a week and love what it's done to my figure. Highly recommend personal trainer to get you started and teach proper form. Bonus: if he's hot, you'll work harder. But my weight loss didn't happen until I added twice a week hard cardio and yep, polished the diet.

I still have about twenty lbs to lose - currently size 7/8 goal 4, and I know that only with dietary vigilance will I get there. I will echo paleo as a great meal plan, and anything that lowers carbs and by default sugars. It's a hard road, but you'll get there.
posted by tatiana131 at 12:22 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

After having a child, I was the same weight I've been for a while, but it was all shifted around. I have a gut now! Four years after her birth, I am finally buckling down and doing something about it. Here are two things to keep in mind:

1. It took time to put the weight on. It will take time to take it off.
2. One day at a time. Small goals. Build upon your success.

If you're very self-critical, like I am, you may be afraid of keeping a food journal because you're afraid of what people will think or say of your food habits. That was my thought; what will my doctor say if he sees I eat Pop-Tarts for breakfast, or a bowl of cereal for dinner? I decided to let that go, and instead focus on the fact that writing down my foods can bring me an awareness that is not to be judged. It is what it is. I like data, I like trending and patterns and analysis, so I'm looking at it like that kind of project. I'm using MyFitnessPal, and I've successfully tracked for five days now, which is a record for me (no kidding). I even tracked yesterday when I went 300 calories over my target. That is a big step for me. I noticed in the first four days, I'm down 4 lbs--just from getting my eating under control. This is BIG. I am feeding (pardon the pun) on this success.

The other thing food journaling is doing is absolutely changing my relationship with food. I am viewing it more as nutrition and less as reward, enjoyment, stress relief, or something to fill the time when I am bored or watching TV. I am making choices about what I eat, not just indiscriminantly eating. This is also a big thing for me. The bottom line is, this is something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life, without fear that it is going to ruin my life, turn me OCD, or restrict me from never having a drink or a slice of cake.

For most people, weight loss is a very simple equation. You need to eat fewer calories than the calories needed to survive. Your calorie needs vary according to your age, sex, and how much activity you do every day. I set up my weight loss goal with MyFitnessPal and it calculated it all for me. It's free, too. If you like points, try Weight Watchers. Either way, you can track it all with your smartphone/Internet.

I'm not a jock. My favorite sports are walking and golf. I can't run at all and I really don't have any interest in running anytime soon. I am normally pretty afraid of Jillian Michaels, but I like her DVD the 30-Day Shred. Each workout is only about 20 minutes. It's a combo of getting your heart rate up, and then working different muscle groups with free weights. You will probably have trouble getting through it the first week or two. But it gets easier very quickly, and it is a comprehensive workout. Give it a try.
posted by FergieBelle at 1:27 PM on June 15, 2012

I'd like to amplify what vorfeed posted. There is some great stuff in there.

First, this is absolutely something that you can take action on. It requires hard work and behavior changes, but it is absolutely achievable. Second, I think it's a great idea for you to do strength training. Have a look at this awesome transformation to see how strength training changed this person's life.

Here are things that I have found useful when I have gotten rid of unwanted weight:

1. I plan out what I am going to eat in advance; then I eat what is on my plan. This is the single most effective thing I have ever done. I use fitday to figure out how many calories are in the food I eat, and how they break down into proteins, fats, and carbs. I use a metabolic rate calculator to get an estimate of my daily caloric need, then I plan out my meals so that I (1) come in about 300-500 lower than my estimated daily caloric needs and (2) get 1g of protein for each pound of my bodyweight (the higher your weight, the less crucial this is). Then I buy the food I need, make meals in advance, and each day I execute the plan. I don't worry about being hungry, because I know when my next meal is coming. I don't worry about being tempted by other food, because I packed my lunch and snacks. I don't make bad choices in moments of hunger because I rarely get hungry (since I've planned out my meals thoughtfully) and I always have healthy food ready to go.

2. I strength train. It is fulfilling and motivating to get stronger, and you soon feel like the food you eat is fueling your leaner, stronger body. Setting achievable strength training goals and then meeting those goals makes you feel great, and you feel like you're making progress on your plan no matter what else is going on. I recommend starting strength and stronglifts just as vorfeed did, and I'd recommend for you the book The New Rules of Lifting For Women (well, I read the New Rules of Lifting, but I'm a guy, and I assume the book for women is just as good). I have never had a personal trainer.

3. I participate in online communities that help keep me accountable, surround me with people doing similar things, and provide access to excellent resources. The two best online communities I've come across are nerdfitness.com and John Stone Fitness.

4. I take measurements and use them to track my progress. I use a soft tape measure, and as I get leaner I also use body fat calipers. Once a week I weigh myself, too. I also have taken "before" pictures. Taking them sucks. But it is amazing and motivating to use them to show your progress, so I recommend them.

5. I commit to the plan and then prepare for any disruptions that I can foresee. I've found it takes me about 3 weeks before I really notice a change in my appearance, and then after that it really takes off. So the times I've started this, I always commit in my mind for at least 3 weeks. It takes maybe a week or so of committed, consistent effort before you start to feel great about yourself. If I know I have to go out of town or have a dinner planned with friends or family I make a plan for it so I don't go totally off track. There's nothing worse than having a few great days, going out for pizza, and then the next morning getting derailed and feeling so demoralized you don't want to start again. So, make a plan: have as much pizza as you feel like, but your next meal, and the meal after that, and the meal after that, is going to be healthy.

6. I eat almost exclusively healthy, whole foods. My one major exception is whey protein powder, which is obviously processed. My diet is mostly eggs, egg whites, greens, cucumbers, peppers, fruit, broccoli, squash, asparagus, oats, beans, cheese, mushrooms, natural peanut butter, greek yogurt, skim milk, and protein powder. This works for me.

You can definitely do this. The hard part is making the changes in your life so that you take the time to plan out and prepare healthy meals in advance and do regular strength training workouts. There's no doubt it's a challenge. I find that I do great with these things for weeks and months at a time, then I slip and I'm gaining weight and unhappy with how I look and feel. But I know these things work, and I've returned to them with success time and time again.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:29 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't want to scare you unnecessarily, but you should know that "weight gain" of the sort you're describing can be a symptom of serious illness. If you can't trace the additional "weight" to eating more or exercising less, you might want to visit your doctor just to be sure there's nothing wrong. (I'm coming from personal experience on this. I was getting a very large gut -- more than I could reasonably attribute to overeating. My doctor ordered a CT scan and, surprise!, turns out I have a rare cancer that causes mucus build-up in the abdomen with resulting abdominal distention.) So... something to keep in mind if it seems like a possibility.
posted by rhartong at 2:48 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Diet to manage your weight, yes. But also if you're like my friend who is a reasonable weight but also a classic apple shape*: make sure you build muscle in your legs, especially your thighs, to balance out your upper body. You probably need some combination of weights/machines and bicycle sprints for this, yoga is great but won't add all that much muscle.

*We're talking apple on two toothpicks here. Her stomach looks large simply because she carries no weight at all in her lower body.
posted by anaelith at 7:38 PM on June 15, 2012

in addition to what rhartong said above, a less-scary possibility is a simple (well maybe not "simple" but it's incredibly common especially in women) thyroid malfunction... and thyroid issues can definitely be exacerbated by stress, and also, I am told that one of the first places hypothyroid weight tends to go is onto the belly.

I've had a slender torso nearly all of my adult life, like, the kind of flat stomach you could see visible abs on regardless of how much weight I carried elsewhere (my thighs are another story...). In 2010 I underwent a ton of stress related to a death in my immediate family. Put on 15 lbs that just would. not. go. away. regardless of what I did. And every ounce of it went straight onto my waist. I had muffin top for the first time in my life and it was terrible.

In addition I had, what I now know in hindsight were the symptoms of low thyroid. Lack of energy, my hair was shedding a lot, I noticed I was cold all the time which is weird because I'm not generally one of those people who's always cold. Dry skin, low sex drive, the whole works.

I got a full blood panel/workup last winter, which indicated that my thyroid levels were low. Right about the same time my husband was having some GI issues that (we now believe) were related to a gluten sensitivity, as well as struggling with an ongoing iron deficiency that he'd been tested with for 3 years straight. So we both decided to cut grains and legumes completely out of our diet and add some weightlifting to our regular program of exercise (we're both really active anyhow, but riding bikes and running; i.e. lots of cardio, wasn't helping our weight or energy levels at all). It was tough for my husband especially at first, as he was raised from birth as a vegetarian. He voluntarily gave that up, at first as an experiment, and now because he feels so much better.

Six months on a reasonably low-carb, whole foods locavore type diet comprised of mainly veg, fruit, eggs, nuts, fish, some lean meats (like a serving per day or less); limited dairy and zero grains, processed food, sugar, pseudograins or legumes, and both of us have lost quite a bit of abdominal weight and bodyfat in general. Husband was the classic "egg-on-stilts" body type i.e. skinny with a buddha belly - he now has visible abs. I've lost over fifteen pounds and am below my average summer weight and have visible abs again. The better news is that our energy has increased, his GI problems are in remission, his iron deficiency is stabilizing, and my thyroid tested mid-low normal at my checkup a couple of weeks ago.

I am in my mid 40s incidentally, so the answer also doesn't necessarily have to be "getting old sucks".
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:52 AM on June 18, 2012

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