If I tried really hard to get healthy, how successful will I be?
July 19, 2012 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Let's say I'm a 5'5", 230lb female. Let's say tomorrow, I start eating very healthy and working out 4-5 times a week. How much can I expect to lose and what physical changes can I expect to see by the end of the year?

I've always been overweight but I come from a family full of plump people and I've never been too concerned about my weight or tried losing weight.

Now, I'm having some hormonal issues and my doctor has told me to lose weight to see if that will address the problem before trying anything else.

I already eat very healthy most of the time (lots of fruits and veggies, whole foods, lean meats, healthy fats, only water to drink, probably too many sweets still) but since I started eating so healthy about 2 years ago, I haven't lost any weight, so I'm assuming it's more portion control. I am going to aim for 3 400-calorie meals/day (with an additional snack on days I've worked out?) and alternating strength training and cardio 4-5 times/week.

If I stick with that schedule, what can I expect by the end of the year, in terms of weight loss and physical changes? I know everyone is different, but having a general realistic expectation will help me stay motivated. Right now, I have no expectations at all because I've never tried this hard and honestly, I don't even know anyone else who has. Will I be starving and exhausting myself for six months only to drop 10lbs and fit in the same clothes? Or will I suddenly be a size 8 and full of energy and have sad, deflated boobs?

I feel like this is a stupid question, but I've always been fat and I don't know what being less fat is like.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (53 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
The general guideline for healthy weight loss is 1-2 lbs a week. You may see more than that at the very beginning, but that's a good number to keep in mind for an average over the long haul. So, that would be probably 30-50 lbs of weight loss over the next five-ish months.

You don't have to be hungry all the time in order to lose weight, but 3 400-calorie meals would leave me pretty famished. I do better with eating a lower calorie breakfast (oatmeal + a spoonful of peanut butter is only around 250 calories and keeps me full all morning) and then fitting in a mid-afternoon snack. You can probably eat more than 1200 calories and still lose weight, though; I'd recommend signing up for My Fitness Pal or something similar, which tracks all your food and also gives you a daily calorie quota based upon your goals and activity levels.
posted by something something at 8:07 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's most certainly not a stupid question, but I think that what you can expect is going to vary wildly from person to person.

The standard, pat answer is that one pound = 3,500 calories. So if you take in 3,500 calories less than you burn, you will lose a pound.

There are calculators online that can tell you about how many calories you burn a day. You could start by simply eating as you normally do and keeping track of the calories you eat, to get a baseline idea of how much you normally take in - be careful to track any exercise you do.

Did you ask your doctor for advice on this? Did your doctor give you any guidance at all? It seems strange to tell you to lose some weight before trying 'anything else' and give you nothing to go on at all. I would either call that doctor back with your questions or find another doctor if I were you.

You could also try signing up for a site like Spark People - which is free, or weight watchers, which is not. Those come with tools to help you keep track and some guidance on your diet and exercise, but they also have pretty lively communities of people who can help you set a baseline.

But seriously, unless your doctor gave you something more to go on than you've posted here, I would seriously think about seeing someone else. "Go and lose weight and we'll talk later" is not helpful. "You need to lose at least x pounds and here are some resources to do it" is helpful.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:09 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Three 400-calorie meals isn't enough. While it SEEMS like a good idea, the baseline is "ten calories per pound of body weight to maintain your weight"... which means that to lose NO weight, you'd have to eat 2300 calories a day. Cutting that by 1,000 calories is REALLY drastic. While it might be okay for a few days, I honestly don't think it'd be tenable long-term. Something that works for a few weeks is fine. But something that's doable forEVER (as in a healthier LIFESTYLE, not a diet) is awesome.

If you can stay at, say, 1,800 calories a day, plus a healthy workout schedule, you'll begin to see results within a few weeks... clothing fitting better, more stamina when taking flights of stairs, etc. Strength training - with weights, not machines - is THE single-best way to get awesome results awesomely fast. You might not be a skinny little minx, but you will LOVE your strong, more-defined body, and the changes will happen pretty quickly if you stick with it.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:10 AM on July 19, 2012 [23 favorites]

I have not done this, but I do spend a fair amount of time thinking about health and weight issues (and their politics). here are a few thoughts:

1) that you haven't tried losing weight before improves your odds of success
2) you might very well be hungry on 1200 calories per day (down from no portion control), but your stomach will adjust. (I'd recommend some high-healthy-fat snacks to help with satiety meantime, like almonds.)
3) don't add much on the days you work out, because honestly, working out doesn't burn many calories -- it mostly helps with your overall health and metabolic rates.
4) a year-long commitment is pretty huge, but still, you could see anywhere from 50+ pounds of loss to just 15 or so, depending on how your body reacts. I'm not sure anybody can predict, without knowing more about how you eat currently (i.e., is this a *huge* change in quantity, or just a slight trim) and things about your body chemistry that are kind of hard to test. lots of really big people eat tiny portions and work out all the time just to stay their current size, so biology can really fight you.

Good luck! I hope you can make enough progress to help with your diagnosis without otherwise getting too overwrought about your weight, which shouldn't really be an issue in and of itself, if it's relatively steady.
posted by acm at 8:10 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh! AND! One caveat: exercise is kinda devilish in that it makes you feel great, but it can ALSO make you ravenously hungry. I used to get back from runs and stand in front of the fridge, cramming everything I could into my mouth. So be forewarned that that is a possibility.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:11 AM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

Before you start, take measurements of your waist, hips, arms, etc. You might not see huge changes on the scale, but you may see noticeable loss in the measurements you've taken (especially if you're doing weight training). Before photos are often a good motivator too. You see yourself every day (presumably), so it's tougher to notice changes than it is for people who see you ever few months.

You'll probably lose more weight initially, but then you're probably looking at 1-2lbs a week if you're maintaining the exercise and good eating habits.

If you can afford a trainer who also can help with nutrition, that would probably be worthwhile - especially for the first couple of months.

It's also easy to fall into the fiction of "well, I ran a mile today, so I can have this hamburger or piece of cake", but the math doesn't really work out when you look at calories consumed vs calories burned from the exercise.

I read recently that those who count their calories do better at weight loss, so do that. If you have a smartphone, there's probably an app that will make this easier. Otherwise, something like Weight Watchers (mentioned above) could be useful.

Good luck. You didn't gain this weight in a few short months, so be comfortable with not losing it that fast as well. If you look at it as a marathon and not a sprint, you'll do better, I think.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:16 AM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Will I be starving and exhausting myself for six months only to drop 10lbs and fit in the same clothes?

Very unlikely. When I was personally restricting calories enough to feel starved and exhausted, I was losing 2 lbs a week. You could potentially be ~50lbs down by the end of the year. (And I exaggerate a bit about the starved part - once you're on heavy calorie restriction for a week or two, your stomach can shrink [figuratively] and you may think about food less.)

Don't worry so much about the working out if weight loss is your goal - especially the strength training - unless you're Michael Phelps, it realistically can't compare to calorie restriction in terms of effects.
posted by ftm at 8:17 AM on July 19, 2012

It depends!

A year and a half ago I began eating differently (tl;dr version: mostly dropped most simple carbs), did not exercise, and lost 40 pounds. Have kept it off without trouble. YMMV a lot.
posted by rtha at 8:18 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not a stupid question, but hard to quantify- a lot is dependent on variables such as caloric intake, types of exercise, intensity of exercise, as well as your own physiology. You may not actually lose weight from a pounds/kilos perspective, as you may build muscle as you lose fat.

It will be easier to judge your potential results after a year once you've been on a program for a little while, and you begin to understand how your body responds to the changes in diet and activity. You may even find that you need to eat more as your activity level goes up.

Ideally, after a year of consistent exercise and healthy eating, you should feel smaller and you will likely have lost a size or two (although, again, you may not lose as much as you think in terms of weight). You will also likely feel healthier, and you will find that you recover faster from exercise, are able to do more while exercising, and are less exhausted by other day-to-day activity.

However, working out to exhaustion and cutting food to starvation may not be the best approach to the sort of results you want. A more effective approach may be a consistent program of diet and exercise, with periodic monitoring, and changes to intensity levels, types of exercise, and caloric intake as necessary. This is where consultation with a trainer and/or dietician can really help you. Additionally, if you do not currently exercise regularly, consultation with a doctor or trainer is important to identify your current fitness level, and flag any potential sources of injury.

The result you want to avoid is overdoing it and then having to slow down your progress.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:18 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Being less fat is extremely nice. This is not about looking good but about just general feel.

That said, I'm 5'11" and male and at 3400 calories a day I'd gain approximately a pound a week. Your BMR at 230 is like 1800 calories a day and at 130 would be more like 1350. Assuming little exercise you'd need to be around there, plus or minus, to lose weight.

Exercise does not take weight off, though adding muscle mass can increase your body's regulatory tissue (as far as becoming somewhat less insulin resistant). If the hormonal issues are PCOS the association with metabolic syndrome (and early death) is worth taking very seriously.

Short version: strength training and drop all sweets (and carbs).
posted by rr at 8:22 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I successfully lost weight at the suggested 1-2 pounds per week, following the advice of my nutritionist, who was using an evidence-based program, the first thing she told me to do was to increase my fiber intake and try to get 120-150 minutes (i think) per week of moderate exercise in 10 minute or more sessions. Fast walking counted.

After a week or so, she gave me a limit on my fat grams intake (personalized for my age and weight/height). I remember the number being more generous than I expected.

Those three suggestions alone got me losing the suggested 1-2 lbs per week.

She made a calorie suggestion after that, but I didn't track that --because everything else I was doing was working so well. I did this for weeks -- lost around 23 pounds. But got derailed by whooping cough.

Being told, at the start, to eat (fiber) rather than to limit my food made all the difference in my success. I had to eat (fiber) to reach my goals --and eating more fiber makes you feel full.

That's the closest I can come to answering your question. It really depends on what you're taking in. My personal trainer brother-in-law tells me that exercise doesn't have much to do with losing weight -- but is a good idea for lots of other health reasons!
posted by vitabellosi at 8:23 AM on July 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

Oops, misread the 3x400 as 3400.

Anyway, that's in the ballpark, plus a hundred or two.
posted by rr at 8:25 AM on July 19, 2012

Weight Watchers Online needs to become your new religion. Same height as you, 50lbs lighter, and I still lost almost 60lbs in 7 months with little exercise. It's all about portion control, and watching every damn thing you put in your mouth.

The first couple weeks will suck hard, but once you get past that the cravings subside and you learn to eat only what you need when you're hungry, it gets considerably easier. You learn to fill up on protein and fibre, and you stop eating crap carbs because they're just not worth the points assigned to them.

I don't work for them, I was just super impressed on how well it worked. Of course, I've gained 20lbs back, but it's my own damn fault.
posted by cgg at 8:26 AM on July 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

Honestly, I'd concentrate on eating less and doing mild exercise. The amount of strenuous exercise you intend is going to make you more hungry.

If you're goal is starve yourself, that is not a good and healthy goal. Counting calories and keeping a food journey would be more helpful.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:27 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Portion control is such a HUGE part of eating healthier. So is recording everything that you consume in a food journal. I am working on this journey of a healthier life and it's a process. But, just becoming more aware of what you consume and how active you are is a start.

I also recommend weight watchers but that's because I find counting calories to be a pain. There are a lot of great Weight Watchers resources that I can link you to, but please send me a memail if you are interested. Good luck!
posted by livinglearning at 8:33 AM on July 19, 2012

I'd also suggest you prioritize changing your diet before you start a new exercise program, because both are really big projects, and it's best to start only one big project as a time. Maybe spend August, September, October, changing the way you eat. And then maybe consider joining a gym in November. As Gary Taubes has pointed out, exercise and weight loss aren't well correlated. Exercise is great for health, but there's a reason people go on brisk walks to "work up an appetite before dinner." Exercise makes you hungry, and hunger is poison to a successful weight loss program!

That's right, I think hunger is the WORST thing you can feel when trying to lose weight. Yes, as usual, I'm going to plug the way *I* lost weight as a twentysomething woman five years ago: a very low carb diet (it was Atkins for me, but "keto" works fine too). No hunger. I DID need to relearn what was "healthy" and how to cook it. I'd say that if you don't have thyroid issues, you can count on losing 2 pounds a week (after the big initial drop of 6 or 8 pounds) without hunger, and that, to me, was the key to success.
posted by artemisia at 8:34 AM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Coming from someone who's always been overweight since childhood also, I just lost a lot of weight over the past two years and I have to report that it's INCREDIBLE to weigh less, totally mindblowing. This is worth all the effort, dead serious. A million things change. None of them have to do with clothes or the mirror. For instance, I can turn over in bed in one movement, not two weight shifts. Really worth everything. People that have always been thin, and people that have never been fit can simply not relate.

Smart food intake and portion control is key. And I had a serious sweet tooth to overcome too. I have a deal with myself now. During the weekday, I don't touch any sugar, carbonated drinks, desert, sweet snacks, nothing sweet, nothing sugary, no sugar in the coffee, no complimentary mints after dinner.. Over the weekend, if I still really want it, I'll reward myself for the weekday restraint by treating myself to my desert of choice, even if it's 3 scopes of Haagen Dazs. I don't feel like I'm deprived. If I'm dying for chocolate cake on a weekday, at maximum I'll have 4 days to wait it out. This really works for me. In the meanwhile, I eat normal meals, never junk food and I snack on fresh fruit, dried fruit, toast and tomatoes, etc. As for exercise, I mainly walk and always take the stairs (up to the 5th floor) but from time to time (like 2 a month) I swim. In winter I swim more, and I try to build the amount of laps I do in an Olympic size pool to my age in years. I started with 3 laps, and gradually built it up to 15. Next winter, I'm gonna work on being able to swim more laps - let's say 25. Something that helps me is that with every lap I swim, I remember that year of my life, and I spend some time pondering anecdotes, etc.. - Once again, thsi works for me, and gets me to swim past 7-13 really fast ;)
Anyway, have FUN in figuring out what works for you. It's a routine you have to establish, so it's very individualistic, but if you keep at it, you'll be amazed at the difference in quality of life that shedding those extra pounds can make. :)
posted by ruelle at 8:38 AM on July 19, 2012 [10 favorites]

1200 calories a day sounds really, really low, especially if you're planning to get active. I weigh about 150 and I would be hurting with that few calories.

Seconding rr except that I would add 30-45 minutes of moderate cardio (fast walking, biking) several times a week or as often as you can fit it in.

I would cut out all soda/sweetened beverages/fruit juice and watch it on the sweets and non-vegetable starches (bread, pasta, etc.) You may not have to do anything else.

What is your doctor saying about your blood lipids and A1C? Anything? I hope so (assuming that they are troublesome). They may be OK - not all overweight people have problems in this area. If there is room for improvement, you may want to have those monitored as you go along.

Check out HBO's recent documentary on obesity. It's available for free on VUDU. I kicked up my activity level a few notches after I watched it. NOTE: they start the first episode with statements about high BMI = trouble, which is a controversial statement at best, but things get better (IMHO) after that.
posted by Currer Belfry at 8:41 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel like this is a stupid question, but I've always been fat and I don't know what being less fat is like.

Not stupid! While the science behind weight loss is not super complicated, the psychology behind it is pretty complex. Your general goal should be to help yourself make some lifestyle and eating changes that will not only help you take the weight off but help you keep it off and be healthier. I concur with everyone else who has said that yeah, exercise on its own is great for fitness but not always great for weight loss because it makes you hungry and it doesn't burn off that many calories. There are a few useful websites that people suggest here all the time. Spark People, Weight Watchers and I use a site called MyFitnessPal.

The big benefit that all these sites have is that you have to really keep track of things and not do mental arithmetic [which is often flawed] to figure out "about" how much you're eating. So I told MFP a few things about myself [height, weight, level of regular activity, age] and that I wanted to lose 15 lbs and do a certain amount of exercise and the site gave me a daily calories goal and would allow me to track things like fiber and carbs and other nutrients if I wanted to. Then I just write everything down so there's no "oh this is about 400 calories of food" but more "okay that bit of deep fried moon pie you had basically undid that 20 minutes of walking you did" which was helpful for me.

At the end of the day I'd click a button and the site would tell me "If you eat like this every day by the end of five weeks you'll weigh _____" which was motivating. There are also support forums and etc which I find all the sites have. My go-to guide for learning about nutrition and exercise was Tim Caulfield's book The Cure For Everything which talks a lot about evidence and science based looks at what actually works to lose weight and keep weight off. He's generally found that science indicates there are a few small things that work including

- tracking what you eat & weighing yourself regularly [doesn't have to be daily, could be weekly, or just taking body measurements]
- small portion sizes
- avoiding what he calls "poison" foods [junk food with empty calories]
- making sure 50% what you eat is a real fruit or vegetable

For me the really big deal was knocking out most snacks and finding healthy alternatives to the things I really liked. More hummus less cheese, more tea less soda, more nuts less chips, more tortillas less bread, lots of lean meat, that sort of thing. So, yeah, it's totally at attainable goal and especially if you have a health care professional you can talk to about this [my doctor has been helpful for me, giving me good advice along the way]. There's no overnight miracle, but I also haven't been hungry or feeling "this sucks" the whole time. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 8:52 AM on July 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

The problem with exercise is that it makes you hungrier. Chemicals go to the brain that say eat eat eat! There was a study that found the best way to lose weight is to stand all day. No chemicals go to the brain that make you want to eat, but you burn calories.

From the NYT:
“In general, exercise by itself is pretty useless for weight loss,” says Eric Ravussin, a professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., and an expert on weight loss. It’s especially useless because people often end up consuming more calories when they exercise.

I would agree with julthumbscrew, that it is better to find a way to eat that you are going to adopt for life, which means that 1800 calories is a better idea than 1200.
posted by snaparapans at 8:55 AM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

My partner started last year a a bit lighter than you though she took a fair amount of exercise. She lost 56 pounds between January and September by cutting out chocolate, making more proper meals with low fat (I was eating them too and they were good) and exercising most days. In October she ran a half marathon, and having a goal really helped her to focus and keep motivated. She is not permanently exhausted becasue one of the things that will happen to you if you keep at your training is that you will get fitter, and as a result you tend to have more energy. She really enjoys being in better shape, performs better at her preferred competitive sport, feels better about herself and it doesn't hurt that people keep saying how well she has done and how good she looks.

Don't get me wrong, this requires a lot of effort but if you can keep yourself motivated and change how you think about exercise it is possible to make real changes to your fitness and weight. Do bear in mind you need to work up to serious levels of exercise and don't try something every day until your fitness improves. Always warm up and stretch before exercise.
posted by biffa at 8:55 AM on July 19, 2012

One other thing I'll note, going by what I've seen in friends trying to lose weight:

There is a ton of marketing out there focused on making it seem like losing weight and getting healthy are two things that are easily done, so long as you follow certain diets, or use specific tools that said marketers are trying to sell you. I think it's wiser to realize that, like most goals worth achieving, getting healthy and losing weight will be hard work at times. That doesn't mean it's going to be a constant struggle, but there are going to be times when you question whether the effort being made is worth achieving the goal, and it's a good idea to accept those thoughts but power through, regardless.

Just remember, you're making a huge lifestyle change, so there are bound to be bumps along the way, but in the not so distant future this new lifestyle will be the norm.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:58 AM on July 19, 2012

I'm 5'5" and weighed 226 lbs in Feb. 2011. At that point I started the "No-S" diet plan, combined with portion control (I ate pretty much the same 350 calorie breakfast every day, and a salad-plate sized lunch and dinner in the 500-calorie range), with only limited snacking outside of mealtimes. I probably averaged 1400-1500 calories/day over that period. When I started I was just doing Wii fit and some biking, etc., then graduated to running and assorted strength training after a few months, working out for 30 minutes or so 5 days a week. I lost 50 lbs over the course of the year, and went from a Size 22 to a size 16.

I WAS hungry some of the time, but I just learned to deal with it and keep myself distracted with other distractions rather than wandering out to the kitchen for random snacking. "Healthy" snacks like carrot sticks or an ounce of almonds just don't do much for me, so I found it easier to just rule snacks out as part of my routine. I'd rather eat nothing and be a little hungry, than to eat something I don't really want to eat instead of the thing I want to eat, and still feel hungry!

The weight loss was fastest in the earliest months (10 lbs the first month, 6 lbs/month for the next few months, then tapering down to about 2 lbs/month for the last 6 months). I was exercising a lot more during that latter period, but there is no doubt that my dietary willpower was less than it was at the start, plus the fact that if you keep your calorie level the same, you'll lose weight faster when you weigh 225 than you will when you weigh 175.

So, if your experience is anything like mine, if you stick to this plan in 6 month's time you may very well see significant, noticeable differences, but that rate of progress (indeed, any progress at all) becomes a challenge to maintain as you continue. I feel like for me, getting from obese to overweight was totally doable, but getting from overweight to normal weight is going to be quite a longer process.

I think the diet component makes the biggest difference in how you look (esp. in clothes), in terms of raw shrinkage of size. But the exercise component has made a big difference in how I feel, both in terms of mentally feeling good and motivated, and in terms of physiologically feeling healthy and strong. My resting pulse is now in the low 50s, and especially when I am getting regular extended cardio workouts (1 hr+) I feel like I have more energy and don't get as easily fatigued by everyday life.
posted by drlith at 9:04 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

What a great endeavor. Here are a few things that helped me without even trying. It was intended to help relieve my stress and skin condition. The amazing side effect was weight loss that I've kept off for the past 3+years.

I am 5.6" with a large frame and was 220lbs at my heaviest. I started with a diet that eliminated all processed foods, sugar (except for fruits) and inflammatory foods (tomato, eggplant, onions, garlic, white potatoes, etc) and drank a lot of water. This cleansed my system and without trying lost 30lbs. I did some exercise such as walking, but nothing excessive. I've managed to keep the weight off and incorporating some healthy processed but natural and organic foods such as bread, whole grain cereals, and such. I think the trick is not to go too drastic because your body will then expect that and if you cannot maintain the food and exercise at that level you will gain weight again. Our bodies have memory, so try to have it memorize your new lifestyle. Smaller portions to shrink your stomach is great, keep a food journal, but don't calorie count. The quality of the food you eat is very important and some calorie rich foods such as avocado, nuts, olive oil are good for you. Good luck!
posted by i_wear_boots at 9:08 AM on July 19, 2012

I think one of the most profound health-related nuggets I have heard is simply that you can't exercise your way out of bad eating habits. For permanent, sustainable weight-loss, what you eat, when you eat it, and how much you consume of it, will be MUCH more important than how/how long you exercise.

To begin with, I would focus less on hitting specific caloric targets and more on "what does full" feel like? Can I train myself to be aware while I am eating? To make the food my focus rather than the afterthought as I watch tv, check email, etc. Can I stop eating at 100% full? Can I improve that to stopping at 80%? These are life-long hacks, not diet-specific. If you later find that really tracking what you eat is important, go for that. But why not at first, just see if you actually know what full feels like?
posted by ilikecookies at 9:10 AM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think a lot of it depends on the diet plan you choose. I can tell you from my experience (5'10" and 240 when I started my current weight loss journey) that doing what you're doing never worked for me. I can exercise a ton, and eat within a specific calorie range and still not lose. Because I make poor choices. So I decided to try something I swore I never would - low carb. (The Dukan Diet, to be precise) and I've lost 40 lbs in less than six months. Supposedly I'm 25 lbs from my goal weight, but I suspect it could be lower. Anyway. I'd do some looking into it.

(BTW, I'm also exercising 5 days a week - running 3 miles, weight training, swimming.)

MeMail me if you want to see before and now pics or more details. That's what got me inspired - seeing the success that real people had, not spokespeople.
posted by pyjammy at 9:14 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hate to be pluging products but I have to say that doing weight watchers online really helped me stay conscious about everything I put in my body and helped me to set realistic goals. I also do The Firm DVDs - which is cardio fused with weight training (not heavy) and I truly do see results - even just after a few workouts - if I'm also eating right. Good luck!
posted by BlueMartini7 at 9:15 AM on July 19, 2012

I'd also suggest you prioritize changing your diet before you start a new exercise program, because both are really big projects, and it's best to start only one big project as a time.

I respectfully disagree with this. Everytime I've monitored my eating, exercising has made it easier rather than harder. The problem with diets is that they make you think about food almost all the time. If you're exercising and planning workouts, that gives you another thing to think about so that you do not think about food, or wonder if you're hungry enough to have that snack or expectantly wait for the next meal. Plus exercise makes you feel stronger and more awesome, while just dieting makes you feel fat and hungry.

It's better to do both, but to be easy on yourself on both of them. Don't go super strict on your dietary changes right away and don't plunge yourself into super vigourous training right away either. Ramp up both slowly. For food, you can start by just monitoring what you eat at the beginning (that in itself often leads to changes because of your heightened awareness). Then after a week or so of that, change one meal to be nutritionally dense and low calorie (I find lunch is easiest, because I can shop for work lunches in one go and then have only healthy, nutritious food at work to eat for the week). Then another meal a week after that. And so on, adjusting as you discover what makes you feel full and what is working for you. Also, don't approach food in a self-loathing, strict calorie-counting way, because that's a recipe for relapse. MyFitnessPal is useful because it shows you what tasty things are also good for you. And you can adjust the settings/goals to include stuff like getting a certain amount of protein each day, and getting the daily recomended allowances of vitmans and minerals, which is also important.

Same with exercise - start slow and ramp up. Go for walks to begin with and see how tired you feel. Then try walking faster. If your joints hurt, try aquafitness at a local pool for awhile (very easy on your joints). Or try some fitness classes at the local community rec centre. Experiment to see what you'll enjoy and what will make you feel awesome. Eventually, you'll want to start something that will increase strength (because this seems to be associated with long term fitness more than just cardio), but don't push it until you're ready.

I don't have any dramatic weightloss numbers to share, as I don't often weigh myself, but I was at a high mark of a North American size 16 and I'm currently at an average of a size 9 and have been for 5 years now. I credit exercise and a passion for athletics I gained during adulthood for maintaining my fitness, which is IMO way more important than trying to lose a whole bunch of weight quickly. I think setting intermediate goals and building from those makes long-term health a lot more likely than a very strict calorie restriction.
posted by Kurichina at 9:25 AM on July 19, 2012

Since you seem to eat pretty healthy and mention portion control, I would also strongly recommend Weight Watchers. You can do it online, and it would just help you track what you're eating and make sure that you are eating enough as well as not too much. 1200 does not sound like enough right now. Eventually, that might be your calorie count, but initially you will probably need to eat less than you do now but more than you normally would, if that makes sense. WW and exercise enabled me to lose 50 pounds, and if you can treat it like a lifestyle and not a diet, you should be able to maintain relatively easy. Also, as said above 1-2 lbs a week is a safe, consistent amount and you may see an initial loss of 3-7 lbs in the first week or two, but that will taper off pretty quickly. Oh, and as you gain muscle, you may see a slight gain. Don't freak out about it, that will not be the norm and, on those weeks, go by how your clothes fit and how you physically feel. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 9:30 AM on July 19, 2012

Another vote for sorting out your diet before adding exercise. Exercise is for fitness, not weight loss. Also, grains are not your friend, even whole grains. Keep them to a minimum. Don't eat LOTS of anything, seek to shrink your stomach.
posted by Dragonness at 10:01 AM on July 19, 2012

I cannot answer this question -- but I can help you estimate the answer. Go to loseit.com and set up a profile. Start tracking what you eat and how much you exercise. Set a goal (1-2 pounds a week is good. Mine is 1/2-pound a week). Then check your profile -- the site will estimate approximately when you'll hit that goal. You can then adjust your exercise and diet accordingly to get what you want.

One note: Loseit uses a different approach than other sites like weight watchers and spark people, etc. to tracking diet and exercise efforts, based on your baseline metabolic rate. This approach works very, very well for me and adapts easily to any diet you want.
posted by OrangeDisk at 10:04 AM on July 19, 2012

I really think that low-carb is the easiest way for someone to start--you don't feel deprived, you will lose weight, and it's not particularly difficult to do, unless you really love sweets and carbs. I like the Eades plan and most libraries have Protein Power. The people I know who've lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off permanently have all done low-carb plans.

On low-carb, you'll lose quite a bit at first, and then settle into about 1-2 lbs a week. You might stall, but then there's a whoosh! and you drop a couple more pounds. It can get boring, but on the other hand, if food is a real temptation for you or if you're an emotional eater, the boredom of low-carb is a great way to break those habits.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:08 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would recommend Weight Watchers in a qualified way. I don't think they really allow enough food, but you can always start with what they allow and then add some.

Forgive me if this was mentioned before and I missed it-- at least in the past, they made a big deal about losing 10% of your total body weight as a milestone. I'd suggest doing that and see how you feel rather than looking at a bigger goal. There seems to be some thought that the 10% can make a huge difference.
posted by BibiRose at 10:09 AM on July 19, 2012

You have got to enjoy the way you eat while you're losing so you continue to eat that way when you have reached your goal! The same goes for exercise/activity.

For me that means my diet is paleo (I like to experiment with recipes, I like meat, I like veggies) and my excercise is weightlifting, pilates, and riding my bike to work (my boobs hate running.)
posted by vespabelle at 10:22 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

two more pieces of advice:

1. start today
2. take before photos (but don't look at them until later!!!) I couldn't see my weigh loss (55 lbs!) until I'd compared my pictures side by side.
posted by vespabelle at 10:24 AM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

OH MAN, 1200 cals/day will make you quit so fast! do not do it to yourself! especially if you're going to be training that much. i did it, and it screwed with my metabolism HARD.

also, fuck the scale. take measurements of everything yourself. tits, waist, butt, thighs, bicep. record this somewhere. weigh yourself. take pictures, if that's your thing.

try to eat between 1700 and 1900 cals/day. if you can afford it, get a body fat/nutritional analysis done with a trainer. they'll be able to give you your basal metabolic rate (how much you burn just by living) based on your body comp, and thus you get even more accurate numbers.

eat lots of lean protein (meat or otherwise) and vegetables (not potatoes). these should be your main food groups, and everything else goes from there. eat some carbs + fat pre-workout. eat some protein + carb ASAP post-workout.

do this for 3 months.

measure everything again. record it. weigh yourself. if you can/feel like it, another body comp analysis.

repeat 4 times.

you will be leaner. if you're doing strength stuff, you've packed on muscle and lost body fat. this looks different for everyone, but you will feel HELLA RAD and STRONG AS EFF!
posted by crawfo at 10:36 AM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

I would recommend Weight Watchers in a qualified way. I don't think they really allow enough food, but you can always start with what they allow and then add some.

I have found that Weight Watchers allows enough food because you can eat any fruit or fresh vegetables that you want. It is so much easier to loose weight this time of year because I can substitute cherries for, say, the awesome cheese rolls that the bakery across the street makes.

When I'm trying to lose weight, I also try to allow myself extra money for really nice fruits and veggies- organic, beautiful, yummy farmers market things, not just the $2 frozen broccoli I use in the wintertime to fulfill the veggie requirement at dinner.

Even if you don't stick to their plan, Weight Watchers habits are really great to learn.

Personally, I do better if I go to a Weight Watchers in-person meeting, rather than just online. I quit going last year, though, because the only in-person meeting I could get to was full of awful people who just romped roughshod over the meeting leader. She wasn't up to the task of these jerks. I would come out crabby and thinking about eating.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:45 AM on July 19, 2012

All that said, I nearly always lose weight if I cut out white things- sugar, flour, potatoes, cheese.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:45 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everyone is obviously different, so YMMV but I changed my eating habits in July of last year and I remember being down about 50 pounds around Christmas time. I cut out starchy carbs, and really believe its the way to go. Best of luck!
posted by allnamesaretaken at 11:00 AM on July 19, 2012

I am no doubt older than you, was similar size, a little taller, and I have lost over 30lbs in 7 months by working out three times a week with a trainer, walking at least half an hour a day either outside or on a treadmill, very few sweets and cutting way back on carbs. I was eating way too much bread and pasta. I am still losing about a pound a week, feel much better and my blood sugar has returned to normal levels. I never dieted before, do not really count calories but cutting portions, cutting carbs, no soda or desserts worked for me. Also reading labels, you would be surprised at what some "healthy" foods contain.
posted by mermayd at 11:02 AM on July 19, 2012

A few thoughts for you:

1. Don't overdo the exercise, especially when starting out. Start slow and build to avoid injuries, and to avoid feeling that exercise is awful. Do something you really like, preferably more than one something. Alternate cardio and strength/flexiblity days. Think about incorporating at least one day of something more low key like yoga into your schedule. Always have at least one rest day a week.

2. Log your food. It is a powerful way to control how much you eat. It's easy to do it with current cell phone apps, or via helpful websites like Fitbit.com (which also markets a very wonderful pedometer plus.) And use a support group like ediets or Health Month. It makes a huge difference to staying with a lifestyle change like this to have social support.

3. Aim for calorie intake that isn't crazy restrictive. For you, less than 1500-1800 calories a day is probably not a good idea. Rather than 3 large meals a day, aim for 5-6 mini-meals, always including some protein in each meal, and eat every 2-3 hours. Prepare and pack your own food in advance.

4. Measure your progress with a chart, and with body measurements, and with noticing how differently your clothes fit, rather than being into the scale alone. Weigh yourself no more than once a day (at the same time) and preferably once a week.

4. Reward yourself periodically as you take this journey, with non-food things like a massage or a new item of clothing or flowers.

Good for you! Remember, this is a change in the way you live your life, not just for the coming year, but for good. So take it slow and steady. You should find yourself feeling a lot stronger, healthier, and more energetic as you progress.
posted by bearwife at 12:09 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

P.S. Do you like The Biggest Loser and/or Jillian Michaels? I have found her website (warning, must pay to join, as with ediets) very helpful and her recipes are delicious.

If you'd prefer to do something free with a lot of good resources, includingdiet buddies, blogging opportunities, good recipes and articles, I recommend everydayhealth.com.
posted by bearwife at 12:15 PM on July 19, 2012

Big man here. Tried pretty much everything. And nothing really worked for me long term.

As a last hope, I finally looked into low carb on the advice of a friend who had it work very well for her.

Like many people, I assumed it was a fad diet, blah blah blah, bacon wrapped hot wings.

I'll tell you right now, I have lost a ton of weight since February and I FEEL GREAT. Everyone is different, but man, oh man, does this work for me. I eat a ton of veggies and my blood work and blood pressure are better than they have ever been.

Eating low carb doesn't have to be boring. Can you cook? Do you like to cook? Do you want to learn to cook? You will cook a lot on low carb. I don't trust anything I don't make myself. Grocery shopping is snap though. All fresh, natural ingredients.

I have a ton of energy and just can't stress how much it works for me.

General advice: Plan ahead! Don't get caught without food options after a long day regardless of what path you chose to walk down.

Low Carb recipe site: http://www.genaw.com/lowcarb/recipes.html

Good luck, whatever you decide. YOU CAN DO IT!!! The hardest thing is making that decision and sticking to it!
posted by PlutoniumX at 12:39 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'd advise exercising at the same time as you make your dietary changes (though 1200 calories a day sounds too few). Some interesting results of the big longitudinal studies of health care professionals have come out recently, and one big result is that people who increase the amount of exercise they do tend to lose weight. But once they stop increasing, it doesn't matter; the absolute amount of exercise is not correlated with weight loss. (D. Mozaffarian et al., N Engl J Med 2011;364:2392-2404.) Of course there are individual exceptions but for the population as a whole, exercise-related weight loss appears to require continually increasing the amount of exercise one does.

That means that exercise will help at first, and probably make the long-term dietary changes easier to bear, but at a certain point you get diminishing returns. I think it's worth it just to feel healthy, though, and of course a fit body is going to be leaner at the same weight than an unfit one.

It's much easier to keep in the habit of exercising if you find something you enjoy, especially at first. Walking is surprisingly good for you, requires little equipment, and is low impact. I have found that I enjoy a range of aerobic activities, though cycling is my favorite, and I'm getting back into running (mostly because it requires little equipment but is more intense than walking). My wife, on the other hand, finds most aerobic exercise boring and distasteful, but she enjoys cycling outdoors, especially with a partner, so we tend to do a lot of that.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:18 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would just like to echo the advice at the beginning to maybe find a new doctor. If your doctor just said "Uh, you're overweight. Lose weight first and then we can try stuff", find a new one. There's a lot to be said for Healthy at Every Size. And I've heard there are quite a few dismissive doctors who might only look at BMI to determine health. Genetics play a huge part in a person's size.

That being said, I've used Weight Watchers before. I lost 20lbs using that method. And, like many others, have gained it back because it was restrictive to me and hard to do when I like to go out to eat.

As said above, aim for 1-2lbs on average to be lost over that time period with the quickest loss at the beginning. So, about 20lbs in the next 20 weeks is my guess. YMMV.
posted by jillithd at 2:08 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Like anyone else, I can only say what worked for me:

(a) Don't look for the weight loss, just do the right things and the weight loss will follow.

(b) Find a form of regular exercise you enjoy. The enjoyment should be peripheral to the exercise part of it. It usually helps for it to be skill based so your mind is engaged. But anything works as long as it isn't about "exercising" but about a goal of improving a skill, or getting somewhere, or whatever. "Regular" means you want to practice at least 3 or more times a week.

(c) Sweets don't kill you, *snacking* on sweets does. Every time you want to stop and have a sweet thing, practice your physical skill instead. It's like the smokers who miss hanging out outside of the building at lunchtime. You may just need a change of context or a distraction.

(d) in a similar vein. Keep a food log for a couple weeks. What goes in will amaze you, it'll also help you with (e). You don't have to keep doing it, just to start, and when you find yourself forgetting (or misleading yourself) how what you're currently eating fits into the pattern for the week.

(e) Every time you do eat it's a decision; make conscious choices about your food. Calorie counting is one way, but simply understanding the types of things you need to eat less (or none) of is another. Basically, know what you're eating and the rest will follow. If you're aware that this might be the 5th bread-like thing you've had today, because you've been paying attention, then you're going to be less likely to order it or make it, even if you really like breadish things (:-))
posted by smidgen at 2:32 PM on July 19, 2012

Good news is that when you have more weight to lose (at least 70lbs), the first bit of it will practically fall off in comparison to the last 10 or 15lbs you're aiming to lose.

Anecdotally, I'm someone who lives on 1200-1600 calories a day as the norm, i.e. not dieting, and I'm just fine. At 5'1" with a hard to treat thyroid issue I've found through much tinkering and testing that this is what works for me to maintain a normal weight. Everyone else's mileage may vary, but I have not fainted from the vapors and I'm far from anorexic, just small and a slow burner.

My advice is to use all of the available BMR and TDEE calculators and choose a reasonable average for your workout days. You'll find different numbers from Harris Benedict vs Mifflin St Jeor and the like but they're all within a couple hundred calories from one another. I find that the calorie tracking sites and apps (and I have used them all) tend to overestimate consumable calories as well as calories burned via various workouts, but again YMMV as I have a crap metabolism and compensate with a pretty aggressive workout schedule. Oh, and the gym machines lie badly on the calories burned front too. Get a good heart rate monitor.

Again, anecdata, but the key for me is to record every single item I consume no matter what. If I've been at a wedding every glass of champagne and piece of cake goes in the log. If I've had a perfectly clean eating day and hit 1200 on the dot that goes in the log. Same for workouts. My friends make fun of me for knowing the calorie count of ALL THE THINGS, but I treat it a bit like a job and the results make me so very, very happy. I never punish myself for having a terrible eating day or missing a workout, I just hit the gym twice as hard next time and then I'm stoked again. I am stoked for you too!
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 3:01 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

All that wall of text and I didn't answer your question...you'll probably lose about 40lbs if you stay on target by December. And your boobs will look rad, trust me.
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 3:13 PM on July 19, 2012

A ton of good advice above. I myself started at 210 pounds (5'4") and dropped 70 pounds in almost exactly on year, doing Atkins. (10 years later now, and still wearing size 8.) I did NOT increase exercise, since I know from personal experience that no matter what I'm eating, exercising leaves me feeling starving.

In addition to taking before photos, the one thing I wish I'd done was keep a pair of my largest pants. On those days when I feel fat (and believe me, after a lifetime of being overweight, even with a smaller body your brain still says "you're a fatty" horribly often) I'd love to be able to put on my old trousers and see how much smaller I am.

I did take measurements at the beginning, and that was a HUGE help. I logged my weight once a week, same time on the same day, and took fresh measurements every month. Usually, when the weight number wasn't all that great, the measurements were. It was great to have two different progress markers to follow.
posted by themissy at 8:13 AM on July 20, 2012

What stands out about your post to me is that you said you still have a sweet tooth.

I think quitting sugar is going to be the single most effective, and also most difficult, change for you to make in your eating habits. So I would start there.

I was quite sugar-addicted and I found that when I quit drinking soda regularly (I still allow myself a treat once in a while) a few things happened:

1. I got headaches, bad, for about a week.

2. I was ravenously hungry all the time as my body tried to make up for the lost calories. I found it useful to eat foods that were high in protein. I didn't worry about fat, I didn't count calories. I tried not to replace sugar with simple carbs, i.e. no white bread allowed.

Then it got a lot easier. Then work got stressful and I was eating too much candy. But now it's summer, stress is gone, so I tried again to really cut out all sugar. I went through the same hunger pangs but they have subsided and I feel that I am eating less and feeling less hungry than ever before - my blood sugar is no longer on a roller-coaster.

I find it helpful to:

1. Keep unsweetend drinks like iced tea on hand. Sometimes a cool drink can be a subsitute for a snack.

2. Eat plenty of protein - eggs, peanut butter, meat.

If I do these things I am not tempted to eat sweet foods.
posted by mai at 12:44 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yay! Best of luck! I struggle with weight too. I grew up heavy and most of the women in my family are heavy too. Sometimes it feels like genetics are against me.

I agree with these suggestions:

1. Measure your arms/waist/hips/shoulders/neck every week
2. Take photos every month
3. Make exercise a component, but start slowly
4. Get 8hrs of sleep each night
5. Drink lots of water
6. Eat lots of veggies and protein, some fruit, a few "slow" carbs

Exercise helps you "build a bigger engine" so that eventually every day you burn more calories. Types of exercise:
- weights
- high intensity intervals
- low intensity cardio
I would recommend weights and high-intensity intervals, but make sure to start slow and get help doing weights properly so you don't hurt yourself. Also build activity into your day (take the stairs instead of the elevator, take a walk at lunch, ...).

The measurements are important because if you start exercising you'll be building muscle mass as you lose fat, so the scale may not move but your measurements will decrease.
posted by sarah_pdx at 5:31 PM on July 20, 2012

I would have to nth weight watchers online. I had serious doubts about its effectiveness, but after a few friends had huge successes with it, I've lost 20lbs and 10 inches in 2 months. I've combined WW with (mostly) clean eating, cutting out all soda and significantly reducing my sugar intake, and tracking my sleep cycles more, and I have never felt better in my life.

(Also, definitely take measurements! It's incredibly satisfying to watch those numbers shrink.)
posted by kro at 9:17 PM on July 20, 2012

Probably been said before but exercise is not the main way you will lose weight. Restricting calories will be the main way.
posted by tarvuz at 8:57 AM on July 21, 2012

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