Help me start losing weight again
February 3, 2013 6:37 AM   Subscribe

So a couple months ago, I started dieting, and I ended up losing about 20 pounds. Which is great. I was hoping to lose about 20 more, but in spite of taking in fewer calories and exercising more, my weight loss seems to have basically stopped cold.

I have read about this, and a lot of outlets are saying that my metabolism has likely slowed because I wasn't eating enough calories. Whoops. I'm 210lbs now, I'd like to get back on track to eating enough to lose 1-2 lbs a week. does anyone have any idea how I can ease back into eating more calories and kickstart my metabolism without my nutrient starved body packing pounds back on?
posted by to sir with millipedes to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Eat the correct total calories for a 7 day period but vary the daily calorie amount. Say, for argument's sake, that you get 16,100 calories a week at 2300 calories per day. On Sunday eat 2000 calories. On Monday, eat 2400. On Tuesday, 2200. And so on until you've got your 16,100 calories for the week. This has worked for me on more than one occasion--I call it metabolism interval training. ;) I doubt I invented this wheel, but it's the method I use to get past plateaus.
posted by xyzzy at 6:54 AM on February 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

what sort of things are you eating? how do you exercise? incorporate some higher intensity intervals into your exercise if you haven't already, this will help you get past the plateau. (ex. if you normally run three miles at a certain pace, a couple of days a week try running 30 sec as fast as you can, rest 30 sec, & repeat until you're exhausted).

try eating more calories composed of high protein + fat instead of carbs.
posted by zdravo at 6:55 AM on February 3, 2013

- How many calories were you taking in? How often did you have cheat meals, and were you low-fat/low-carb/etc?
- How long have you been plateaued?
- What's your activity level?

Significant metabolic slowdown, enough to halt weight loss entirely, generally requires extremely high levels of activity (causing a prolonged spike in cortisol levels) combined with profound caloric deficit.

Alternatively, extreme activity paired with extreme leanness (i.e. if you already have veins and abs everywhere) combined with even a moderate deficit can quickly cause metabolic issues

What is generally more likely in these cases is it's necessary for you to be stricter about your caloric intake than you were in the past, such as weighing everything, less cheat meals, etc. Or if you took a break and now the plateau has only been a week or two, you just need to keep on keepin' on and you'll see a "whoosh" in weight loss.
posted by Anonymous at 6:59 AM on February 3, 2013

Response by poster: I have been trying to stick to a diet of mostly protein (meat, eggs) and fruit/vegetables. I've been keeping my carbs very very low (no sugar, no grain.)

I have not been doing interval training - I have simply been jogging a couple miles a day, occasionally walking to work (5 miles). Interval training is frightening to me, because everyone talks about how it makes them sick after a while, but if I have to do it to kick start my metabolism, I'll gve it a shot.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 7:00 AM on February 3, 2013

If you're eating fruit beyond a few berries, I don't think you're keeping your carbs low enough to be on a low-carb diet, if that's the type of diet you're trying to do. It sucks, but you can't eat much fruit if you're low-carbing.

And interval training doesn't have to be to the extent of making you sick. If you just run harder for a minute out of every five, for example, I don't see how that's going to lead to getting sick. I haven't tried it but I've heard great things about "Zombies, Run" where I think you run away from zombies (according to your mp3 player at least) and when they're about to get you, you have to run faster.
posted by hazyjane at 7:05 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Interval training makes people sick when they overtrain on interval training, not as a matter of course. Which means doing a lot, lot, lot of interval training, not 3-4x/week or whatever.

"Starvation mode" doesn't really exist for 99.99% of the dieting population. There have been way more studies indicating people think they eat less calories than they actually do as opposed to studies confirming the existence of "starvation mode".
posted by Anonymous at 7:07 AM on February 3, 2013

Response by poster: - How many calories were you taking in? How often did you have cheat meals, and were you low-fat/low-carb/etc?

Usually taking in between 1400-1700 cals a day. Sometimes a little less. I have had maybe 2 cheat meals in the past 30 days, both cheats only in the sense that they were grain/carb heavy. As I mentioned in previous response I've cut out all grain, sugar (also have not been eating dairy)

- How long have you been plateaued?
About 2 weeks.

- What's your activity level?
Gym exercise (jogging, etc) 2-3 times a week, walking at least 2-3 miles three times a week.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 7:08 AM on February 3, 2013

Are you incorporating a weekly cheat day into your diet? I believe the idea behind it is that it keeps your body from getting accustomed to the new diet and adjusting your metabolism.
posted by xqwzts at 7:09 AM on February 3, 2013

There's a MetaFilter group over at My Fitness Pal now and we're just getting started. Sometimes I feel that logging your food and having people peeking at it to look for little places where you might be getting the calories a little off. They have a very friendly forum there where people are pretty helpful but also good at scrutinizing this particular thing. I had week of plateauing and usually found that I was a little off on something or I was eating a bunch more salt & retaining water or I'm not sure what. What always got me out of t, weirdly enough, was eating one big (and healthy) meal as opposed to the small healthy meals I'd mostly been eating. I know that's just anecdata, but it was helpful for me. Everyone has their own theories, but the rule of thumb there was that "starvation mode" [i.e. where you're eating so little that your body starts hoarding fat and you don't lose] is actually fairly difficult to achieve though a lot of people think it may be happening to them.
posted by jessamyn at 7:09 AM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I've been using the Lose It! app on my phone to log calories, although I have not had any outside scrutiny of my tallies. So maybe joining the my fitness pal group would help!
posted by to sir with millipedes at 7:16 AM on February 3, 2013

Two week plateau is pretty normal. Frustrating as hell, but normal. You may want to keep the calories under 1500-1600 for a bit, and just be really, really strict about what you're eating if you haven't been already. Remember that the 20lbs you lost is 20lbs less your body is carrying around, which means your body is just burning less calories as a matter of course. If in another 2-3 weeks of being very strict you still haven't seen progress, then take a few days where you eat at maintenance with more carbs, 100+g/day, limiting the carbs to sweet potatoes, brown rice, stuff like that. Then drop the calories again and go back to low-carb.

You also want to remember it is so easy to retain 2-4lbs in water weight, especially if you're overweight. I can hold 8-10lbs of water weight easy if I'm on my period and have had high salt or carb intake.
posted by Anonymous at 7:17 AM on February 3, 2013

I think it is very important that you track both calories consumed and calories burned via exercise. It is the Net that matters not the Gross. Depending on your age 1700 calories is a lot (if that is the net). That is more than my maintenance Net and I am 45 yrs old 5'11 and 175lbs.
posted by srboisvert at 7:32 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I kept plateauing until I started cleaning up my eating. Now I do what bodybuilder's do when they are getting ready for a show (i.e. not the building muscle part but getting lean.) It's usually called "Eating Clean" on websites and books. It's very boring because you eat the same well-chosen foods over and over but it works pretty well. I basically learned the amount of energy my body needs, which is fun.
posted by acheekymonkey at 7:33 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

A two week plateau is not long. I would just keep doing what you're doing. You'll probably start seeing results again soon.
posted by something something at 7:41 AM on February 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Nth-ing that a two-week plateau is not long at all, and also that it is very, very unlikely that your body has gone into some kind of 'starvation mode'.

Re: exercise - people list 'working out at the gym', but you might want to take a critical look at what you actually do there. I've been to Body Pump classes, for example, where women do the entire 1-hour class with 1.5 kg stacked on each end of the bar. Not suggesting you'd do that, but to lose weight through exercise, you really need to kick it up a notch beyond what most people think.
posted by Salamander at 8:02 AM on February 3, 2013

Yeah, I think that you're panicking a little prematurely here; two weeks it not enough time at a plateau to get upset about. I've lost 25 over the last six months and it's been in a punctuated equilibrium pattern, some weeks nothing, some weeks a nice loss. Just keep eating healthy and working out.
posted by octothorpe at 8:10 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you considered intermittent fasting? I've never done it (I don't want to lose any weight), but I'm intrigued by the health benefits. It does seem to help a lot of people lose weight.
posted by barnoley at 8:31 AM on February 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think you can probably drop the fruit, and get back into ketosis (which is the goal, if you're low-carbing.) Look at the glycemic scale and pick accordingly. I think the starvation! stuff is a myth, personally. You can try jump-starting with a fat fast (I could never manage it, myself) and/or adding weight lifting to your workouts. Lifting heavy (not 5 lbs) helps build muscle, which helps burn calories all day, not just while you're exercising.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:31 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm on SparkPeople, and the best advice I've seen for small plateaus is "Just change something, doesn't matter what." Eat more calories, eat fewer calories, exercise harder, exercise gentler, do different exercise, rest more, whatever. Just change something.
posted by jaguar at 8:44 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

You didn't mention your long-term goals. Are you just hoping to lose a few pounds really fast, or change your weight permanently? The advice given suggests you are looking for a quick fix and not a lifestyle change.
I am very slim/fit (5'9", 125lbs) and despite having 4 kids and gaining a combined weight of over 200lbs during my pregnancies, I lost it quickly and easily and no one can ever guess that I have kids by looking at me. The key is LIFESTYLE.
I don't diet, count calories, I don't do structured training or exercise. Healthy is my permanent lifestyle and lifetime goal.
What works? Don't binge drink all weekend. Eat takeout/fast food one a week only and enjoy the shit out of it. Every very little to no meat. Make a habit of converting to a produce based diet. Cut down on carbs. Eat very spicy food (indian, korean), the spices leave you satisfied long before you get full. Eat until you are no longer hungry, but NOT full. That full feeling is not your body saying stop, its your body saying you stretched you stomach beyond capacity. Meals? Whats a meal? Eat ONLY when you are hungry, not when the clock dictates. Don't eat within 3-4 hours of bedtime. Walk everywhere as much as you can and don't stop once you've lost the weight. Change what you do for fun, biking, hiking, canoeing, yoga, walking around the city exploring and rollerblading are all awesome fun!
posted by tenaciousmoon at 8:51 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing making small changes here and there in your exercise routine and diet to see what your body responds to. I think adding some weight training (light) will make a difference in your weight loss, and if done properly will also benefit you with a stronger, better postured body. In terms of diet changes, try adding some complex carbs like quinoa or brown rice (both sources of protein as well). I would be wary of eliminating carbs in the long run. It is useful short term, but I had a friend who ended up with gout as a result of practicing a similar diet for a long period of time. Aim for a healthy balance. Maybe also try switching up the type of cardio you do throughout the week to give your body a bit more of a challenge.
posted by sassy mae at 9:15 AM on February 3, 2013

Also, are you drinking enough water?
posted by sassy mae at 9:25 AM on February 3, 2013

Calorie counting and restriction is, in my experience, frustrating and wretched. Because it's so much suffering and effort, but it doesn't work. Metabolism is more complicated than that. Obviously, or you wouldn't even have to ask this question.

It sounds like you need to seriously ramp up your physical activity baseline. Start by walking to work every day, rain or shine. Or better yet, get a bike. You said you have a 5 mile commute; I don't know if that's one way or round trip, but either way. 25-50 miles of biking per week is serious business. Memail me if you want a quick primer on bikes and bike commuting.

If you have to sell your car to make yourself exercise to work, do that. Not even kidding. I bike everywhere in Ron Paul country exurban Texas; you can, too.

If you can get a standing desk at work, get a standing desk at work.

If you watch a lot of TV, consider not doing that anymore. Get rid of the TV, or, if you can't bear to do that, then get rid of the couch.

Dedicate your gym time to lifting weights. Heavy weights or you're wasting your time. Use the gas money you're saving to hire a personal trainer to show you the ropes.
posted by zjacreman at 10:12 AM on February 3, 2013

Weight loss is hard because your body starts to fight it! Nobody keeps losing in a completely linear fashion, there are plateaus and sometimes even slight gains. Decrease the number of calories you're taking in. I'm on Weight Watchers, and every time I dropped 10 lbs the system gave me one less Point (hard to calculate into calories exactly, but let's say 50 or so). If you're eating a ton of fruit, maybe switch some of that to vegetables which have less sugar.
posted by radioamy at 10:38 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

You may not be eating enough - many people restrict calorie intake too much when they are trying to lose weight. Where did you get the 1400-1700 calorie number? There is no one-size-fits-all for the optimal number of calories to consume. You need to find out what your Basal Metabolic Rate is (ie, how many calories it takes just to maintain your body's functions) and calculate your intake from there. This calculator is pretty great for that sort of thing. I just took a wild guess and put in a 210 pound male at 5'10" and 35 years of age, and the BMR for that person is 1898 - ie, if you fit those parameters and you are eating 1700 calories, you are eating too little.

Also, 2 weeks is not a very long plateau in the grand scheme of things. I have lost 42 pounds over the past six months, and some weeks I will see no loss or a slight gain (water retention during PMS, for example) and then I'll see a big drop a couple of weeks later. Body weight is tricky - the scale measures everything in your body, including water, fat, muscle, the food you ate that day, bowel movements you haven't evacuated yet, etc. Because of these things, body weight can fluctuate quite a bit from day to day or during the same day. What you want to see is an overall trend down. It sometimes requires a little bit of patience, but stick with it and you'll see results.
posted by bedhead at 10:58 AM on February 3, 2013

I'm thinking you might be building some muscle, and as soon as you do you are going to hit another dip.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:20 AM on February 3, 2013

but in spite of taking in fewer calories and exercising more, my weight loss seems to have basically stopped cold.

One of the best things I learned from The Hacker's Diet was to NOT look at the day-to-day weight loss. Instead, look at 30 day, 60 day or 90 day rolling averages. Day-to-day or even week-to-week introduces a lot of noise.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:27 AM on February 3, 2013

I have read about this, and a lot of outlets are saying that my metabolism has likely slowed because I wasn't eating enough calories.

Yeah, that's bro science. "Starvation mode" is something that most people will never experience until getting to 5% body fat for men or about 10% body fat for women. You aren't anywhere close to that.

While metabolism is complex, ultimately everything in the physical universe, including your body, must give way to thermodynamics. You need to cut your food intake. I don't know where you got 1400-1700 from, but I think the 1700 is way to high for net calories.

I wouldn't be surprised if you are underreporting your calories, too. Most people inadvertently do.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:03 PM on February 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: get a bike. You said you have a 5 mile commute; I don't know if that's one way or round trip, but either way. 25-50 miles of biking per week is serious business. Memail me if you want a quick primer on bikes and bike commuting.

Nice in theory, but I live in NYC, and a few years ago, after bike commuting for 6 years I was doored and then my leg was crushed by a passing car (see that bone on the right? It is sticking through the skin right there). My biking days are over. This is my first foray back into regular exercise after that traumatic injury.

I wouldn't be surprised if you are underreporting your calories, too. Most people inadvertently do.

I've actually been trying to over-report calories. 1400-1700 is gross calories, not net. Net is closer to 1000-1200.

Adding weights to my routine seems like a good idea. I just don't want to end up adding so much to my exercise routine that I'm at the gym all day. But I guess 90 minutes isn't so bad. Anyone have a good weights routine they'd like to suggest?
posted by to sir with millipedes at 4:32 PM on February 3, 2013

You don't go into detail about how you know you are plateaued. If you aren't using a rolling average to measure your weight, then it's just as likely that you are actually slowly losing but not seeing it in the day to day noise. Weigh yourself every day, use a rolling average to determine your trend, only worry when your daily weights are consistently above your average line.
posted by OmieWise at 7:11 AM on February 4, 2013

Caveat: My diet is now extremely strict Primal/Paleo after determining that I had several food sensitivities including gluten/grain and dairy (sinus, thyroid malfunction, fatigue, etc.). Sugar in any form basically makes me fat, congested and achy, and screws with my endocrine system (thyroid). I also eliminated all artificial sugars / sweeteners as they seem to incite and mimic sugar cravings / weird insulin spikes for me.

I initially lost about 15# on diet alone, but plateaued at ~140 after not being as clean/strict as I apparently need to be.

Intermittent fasting, severely limiting fruit and dairy intake and incorporating a military style bodyweight workout plan (pullups, pushups, squats, etc.) has really kickstarted fat loss / muscle tone in my 44 year old female body. I've lost a pants size plus a bit in just ten days. I don't know if I've lost any actual weight (n.b. IF tends to do quite a bit of body re-composition before actual weight loss occurs if you're lifting as well). I do a modified intermittent fast as it's not recommended for premenopausal women to do daily IF (various hormonal / cortisol triggering issues). I do IF 2x/week on Tuesdays and Fridays, which are my rest days from cycling training. I wake up after 8 hours' sleep, have a large cup of coffee with a dollop of coconut oil and cinnamon at 7AM, then nothing else except tea or water until I feel truly hungry again (learning to distinguish between psychological hunger "pangs" and physiological (true) hunger is one of the key percs of IF that I've discovered so far). I typically make it until after work, so 6 or 7 PM before I really feel a need for something, at which point I eat a small high protein, high fat dinner around 7:30 or 8, and then go to bed at 10.

I do the bodyweight stuff because I am lazy, hate the gym, and don't have lots of room for equipment at the house. I also got 2 cheap kettlebells from Amazon (on Prime, shipped free!) - a 20# and a 35#. My husband and I started incorporating these in squats and swings as we gained strength from the workouts.

I would also caution anyone who is not completely adjusted to a very clean Primal/Paleo type diet (high fat, high protein, extremely low carb) to avoid IF as if you're still in a "sugar-burning" body composition you will encounter wild blood sugar swings, severe hunger spikes (the "hangries") lightheadedness and potentially fainting. You really need to reliably switch your system to a fat-burning system prior to doing this.

In order to get to the right metabolic setpoint you REALLY have to increase your "good fats" intake. Like, way more than you think. The bonus that comes with it is an incredible lifting of what I now refer to as "carb fog" - my mental alertness has increased tenfold, I don't have weird energy slumps, and an odd side bonus is that I now dream vividly and sleep very restfully. Part of this maybe also due to fixing my chronic sinus problems that had led to some minor snoring. Nothing bad or apnea-like, just apparently enough to disrupt my REM phase or something.

Try really cleaning your diet for ten days, like super super clean, and lift more. It will not hurt, and it might help. See if you notice any benefits. I'm not sure Primal/Paleo is any kind of "one size fits all" panacea, but I've seen a lot of people report very, very good results from it.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:48 AM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm going to politely disagree with many posters and say you should try eating more. Having been through a lot of weight loss cycles, I did a couple of weightloss programs through my Y and found that Everybody in the group needed to eat more than they did at first. Not a ton more calories, but more protein and veggies. True, we were all trying to add muscle along with losing weight, but the most successful folks ate Way more calories of healthy foods than they thought they should. The trainer said it was about being anabolic (building muscle) instead of catabolic (consuming it for energy), which is what I think a lot of folks mean by starvation mode.

I also like the idea of varying daily intake - I've felt like that helps keep my metabolism from falling in a rut. So while I favorited the "just change something" comment because it's gotten me through more than one plateau, I mostly recommend you eat a little more, at least some days.
posted by ldthomps at 11:49 AM on February 4, 2013

A two week plateau is totally normal. If previous to the start of your diet you were eating a lot more simple carbs that would explain your large initial weight loss followed by a stabilization in your weight. I lost 30 lbs. last year using MyFitnessPal to track my daily calorie intake/energy expenditure. You can weigh in as often as you like which is very helpful in seeing how weight comes off. (it's usually not in a straight downward line, but rather a zig-zag fashion)

As other posters have stated (and it worked for me) keep your body guessing. Change up your calorie intake and change up your workouts. I don't have access to the gym, but I do have a stationary bike so my workouts usually consisted of bike riding and jogging (which I considered "light" days) and "heavy" days of interval training via programs like the 30Day Shred or Insanity.

Are you drinking enough water? If I was not diligent about drinking at least 70-80oz. of water a day it was evident on the scale.

One final note - be careful relying on an app to accurately gauge your energy expenditure. The basic rule for jogging is 100 calories per mile and walking is a little less than that. I am not as familiar with LoseIt, but I know MFP's numbers are way too high for a lot of the activities listed. If you really want an accurate snapshot of your calories burned I would invest in a heart rate monitor.

Good luck! Permanent weight loss is a long, steady slog.
posted by garden hoe at 1:58 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

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