How much can my body realistically change during a 5-month fitness plan?
February 15, 2013 2:46 PM   Subscribe

The good news is, I have a summer job. The bad news is, I have to go into a swimming pool for it. In a bathing suit. Every day. Yikes!

I am a mid-30s teacher who, for the first time last year, did not work during the summer. I was bored out of my mind. I just applied for, and was offered today, a summer camp job that has reasonable hours, is similar to jobs I have had before, and has okay pay for this sort of thing. The catch is that unlike my past camp jobs, which were primarily supervisory, this camp has a more egalitarian approach and all staff---right up to the director herself---perform the same functions. Which means I have to go into the swimming pool.

I am not a great swimmer, but I was told there are dedicated, qualified specialists who do the actual swimming instruction. As long as my body is physically in the pool with the kids, that's good enough for them, so no worries, right? Except that most of the other staff will be mid-20s college kids, and I am a 30-something who could stand to lose about that many pounds. The thought of baring my squishy, old-fogey body in front of all those kids terrifies me. I know it shouldn't. I know they probably will not much care how I look in a bathing suit. But for better or worse, this is scaring me. A lot.

So, I have fine months to get serious about my eating and to start working out again. I have a lot of workout DVDs, some of them pretty hard-core----Jillian Michaels, P90X and so on. I want to also adopt a nightly yoga routine because I was planning to do that anyway to try and manage my stress better and just in general be a healthier person. So, that's about 40 minutes of workout time per day. I am not sure I can afford more than that.

So, if I eat clean and devote this kind of time to reasonably intense workouts, how much progress can I actually expect to make in five months? Is it unrealistic to expect that I can make over my whole body in that time period? It sounds like a long time to me, but maybe it's only a long time if you have less work to do than I do. Maybe 30 pounds to lose is too much in that time period. So...what are my odds here? How much progress can I expect between now and the first of July?
posted by JoannaC to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
So, if I eat clean and devote this kind of time to reasonably intense workouts, how much progress can I actually expect to make in five months

This totally depends on how well you end up sticking to your plan, genetics, your body make up, whether you get derailed by illness/injury/emergency, etc.

I think your plan is good and 30 pounds doesn't seem unreasonable, but your goals should be more focused on stress reduction, fitness, and more confidence at the pool rather than weightloss.

I feel confident that if you stick to clean eating and working out, especially for five months but even if for a few weeks, you will feel better in your swimsuit even if you didn't lose a pound or inches.
posted by sweetkid at 2:50 PM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

I had a similar dilemma and started running. Slowly. And watching my calorie intake with an app. Don't do it too fast. Just be mindful of your intake and output.

Speed at which you lose weight predicts likelihood of keeping it off. Too fast and you'll regain, with more to boot. You will likely lose weight while there, too. Factor that in.

Eat well,'s very close to possible. Join the MeFi myfitnesspal squad.

Then buy a boy-leg racer-back swimsuit. Also...sarongs!
posted by taff at 2:54 PM on February 15, 2013

Two suggestions:

1) start swimming NOW. Not for the physical benefits necessarily, but to help your brain get though the anxiety. Wearing a swimsuit now may seem bad, but spending 5 months worrying about this will be awful. Even if you only put on that suit once a month from now til then, it will help you feel more comfortable and confident before you have to do so at work.

2) Reframe your expectations slightly so that you focus on how you feel in the suit vs. how much you weigh. Losing 30 lbs over 5 months means losing 6 lbs a month. Totally doable if you watch your diet carefully, but you will have to adjust your diet and stick to it... Only you know how disciplined you will be with your diet. If you reframe this about confidence and health, not weight, you'll be setting yourself up for a better time. Please show those 20-year-old girls that you can be a gorgeous, confident thirty something without being a skinnie Minnie-- they'll appreciate it!
posted by samthemander at 2:57 PM on February 15, 2013 [14 favorites]

So, if I eat clean and devote this kind of time to reasonably intense workouts, how much progress can I actually expect to make in five months?

I think it's good to track your calorie intake and expenditure if you can. Not necessarily in a stringently obsessed kind of way, but have a general idea that you know is accurate because you've actually measured it. You could do something that is so intense that it knocks the wind out of you and be shocked by how few calories it has actually burned. Just as easily, you can have the sense that you are eating "clean" and small portions and be shocked by how much it actually adds up to. Also, men can lose weight pretty easily through intense exercise but for most women, you can exercise up a storm and not shift much weight at all. (For a few reasons including that they often burn more calories for the same exercise/same amount of exercise because they have more muscle and often more body mass overall). Anyway, as far as how much progress you can expect to make, the conventional wisdom is that 1-2 pounds per week is a reasonable amount for an adult woman to lose and keep off.
posted by cairdeas at 2:58 PM on February 15, 2013

Thirty pounds in five months is... call it a little more than a pound a week. Assuming you don't fall below a healthy weight, you can afford to lose about 1% of your body weight a week. Notice that that means losing less weight per week as your weight falls, but still.

I think, as others have implied, that the question is less whether it'd be healthy to lose that might weight in that amount of time as whether it'd be doable. The answer is "Yes, in theory anyway, but it won't be easy." Consistency and dedication will be required, and you may find that, you hit a weight that your body just doesn't want to go below.

Not right now anyway. If you lose, say, twenty pounds and hit a wall, you should probably think of that wall as "for now" more than a permanent barrier. The body doesn't really like losing weight, and it will adjust your metabolism to protect itself. This can make losing weight really difficult. It can be adjusted over time, but it takes months, not weeks. You'll need to stay at that weight for quite a while before your metabolism will have adjusted to let you move below it. This compounds the dedication requirement.

So can you drop thirty pounds by July? Impossible to say. But without a pretty fanatical control over both your diet and physical activity, it ain't gonna happen. It may not even happen with them, but it almost certainly won't without them.
posted by valkyryn at 3:00 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was a very unfit thirty two year old at the start of last year and I lost about thirty pounds in 6-7 months by eating carefully (straightforward calorie counting) and doing couch to 5k. It is absolutely doable as long as you still to the plan and don't get injured. Start as you mean to go on though, don't go too crazy to start with and then fall off the wagon.
posted by *becca* at 3:01 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Too fast and you'll regain, with more to boot.
That's not true. That stigma exists from people that lose weight by doing something radical to lose weight then immediately going back to old habits.

JoannaC, it's hard to know how easy 30lbs would be for you to lose and the best way to do that without knowing your current weight. 5 months is tons of time though.

Generic advice based on the lack of information here is to track what you are eating each day for a week. Lower the daily intake by 350ish calories. If you aren't losing weight in a week lower the daily intake by another 350sih calories. Get in 5 hours of hard exercise a week. Walk at least 30 minutes a day.
posted by zephyr_words at 3:03 PM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

30lbs overweight? You can get totally ripped in 5 months. And probably would if someone locked you in a gym with a cute personal trainer, a chef and a $10,000 bonus for every 10lbs lost. Motivation is going to be your problem here, not physics or biology. Try setting some goals like a 100 pushups or a short triathlon or 5k with friends to keep yourself motivated.
posted by fshgrl at 3:04 PM on February 15, 2013 [11 favorites]

you could also wear board shorts and a rasher shirt, if you end up just not being down with the skin-showing. just a suggestion, as i have none about exercising.
posted by koroshiya at 3:10 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

I did this and went from a size 12 to a size 6 in 30 days. I felt better than I've ever felt in my life. And! It's been 6 years since then, and I'm a size 8 now. Learned healthy habits that changed me permanently.

It's a lot of work, and there's definitely an adjustment period, but if you're looking for a nuclear option, this is it.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 3:17 PM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Join Weight Watchers (and go to meetings). It took me about a year to lose 50 lbs, but I didn't have a specific goal like you did. You could do 30 lbs in 5 months, especially if you are exercising a lot.
posted by radioamy at 3:49 PM on February 15, 2013

I did a six-month online fitness program focused on improving body composition (more muscle, less fat) and had good results. That said, muscle is heavier than fat, so as I gained muscle, I didn't lose anywhere near 30 pounds. I did look better in a swimsuit though.

The program involved online educational lessons, bi-weekly "habits" to work on, a nutrition program, and an exercise program. The exercise program was 3 or 4 days a week of weight training, 2 days of high-intensity intervals, and 1-2 recovery days. Make sure to ease into any exercise program so you don't hurt anything.

In addition to weekly weight tracking:
  • Each week we measured "girths": get a measuring tape and total up the circumference of your neck+shoulders+chest+waist+hips+thigh+upperarm). Over time, this total should be going down.
  • Each month we took photos (front, back, side). The changes are slow, but noticeable over time.
  • Every three months we attempted body fat measurement with inexpensive calipers from Amazon: Not sure if this was all that accurate, but combined with the above, you certainly get an idea of where you are.
If you're organized and good at motivating yourself, you might be able to pull something like this off by yourself. But honestly, i think most people need some peer support or coaching.
posted by sarah_pdx at 4:02 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yoga is a great option. It tones you all over and makes you feel better about your body, in my experience.
posted by salvia at 4:05 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I did this and went from a size 12 to a size 6 in 30 days. I felt better than I've ever felt in my life. And! It's been 6 years since then, and I'm a size 8 now. Learned healthy habits that changed me permanently.

It's a lot of work, and there's definitely an adjustment period, but if you're looking for a nuclear option, this is it.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 3:17 PM on February 15 [2 favorites +] [!]

We used to see a lot of Ms McKeith on television here in the UK, thankfully no longer:
On her website McKeith claimed to have a PhD, degree or certificate from the American College of Nutrition. In the book Dr Gillian McKeith's Living Food for Health McKeith also claimed to have a PhD from the American College of Nutrition. She does not. Both her PhD and her Masters degree are from the non-accredited diploma mill Clayton College of Natural Health.
posted by humph at 4:52 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I just found a book called Total Immersion Swimming that completely changes how I think about swimming and I think it's going to make me a much better swimmer - and I wasn't bad to begin with. There are also videos.

As for losing weight, I've lost 20 pounds by eliminating all grains and starches from my diet, except for lobster ravioli for Valentine's day and cake for my birthday. I'm not counting calories and am rarely hungry between meals. It's a basic low carbohydrate diet which it seems most of the current diet books suggest. I like the book The Smarter Science of Slim because I like my authors to cite their sources.
posted by mearls at 5:15 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another option if the weight loss doesn't work out for you: Get a high quality slimming bathing suit. I bought a Miraclesuit brand bathing suit, and I love it. It's got some sort of spanx-type material which is very slimming and keeps everything in its place without being uncomfortable. The moment I put it on, I instantly felt more confident about being seen in it, it looks great and I get compliments all the time. It really is amazing, I've never had a bathing suit I've liked in my life until this one.

Also, it's the only bathing suit I've ever owned where the bra part actually fits properly.
posted by zug at 5:17 PM on February 15, 2013

There's a mefi group here if you're looking for support in your efforts. It's a good site for tracking both food and exercise.
posted by leslies at 5:30 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with fshgrl, it's almost certainly physically possible (barring medical barriers); motivation and method (and time constraints) would be the problems to overcome.

If you cut your goal to 20 lbs instead of 30, that's one pound a week until the end of June. Which is totally doable, if challenging. About a 500 calorie deficit average per day. The easiest way to cut calories from diet is to eat tonnes of low-calorie, high-bulk foods (i.e. raw veggies!) and the easiest way to burn the most calories is interval cardio. Add whatever else you need to into the "more activity, more efficient eating" equation. If you do 30 minutes of cardio and 10 minutes of yoga every day I can basically guarantee you'll look and feel awesome by summer. Even if you miss days. Just... don't miss all of them.
posted by celtalitha at 5:53 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would really second finding a swim outfit you feel comfortable in and getting used to appearing in public in it, starting sooner rather than later. For one thing, getting into a swimsuit and going to a pool will give you a real-life check in to keep you motivated. It will also defuse some of the anxiety you clearly feel- bite that bullet now, so that come July it's something you are accustomed to doing.
posted by ambrosia at 6:20 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Speed at which you lose weight predicts likelihood of keeping it off. Too fast and you'll regain, with more to boot.

Surprisingly, no.

"Myth 3: Slowing losing weight is better than shedding the pounds quickly. Quick weight losses are likely to be gained back.
Fact: People who lose weight quickly are actually more likely to weigh less after many years."

posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:46 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

A lot of other comments have focused on motivation. A big part of this is social. If you pick an aerobically intense activity (volleyball league, running club, masters swimming, whatever) where people will notice when you don't show up -- and preferably something where you have to be there several times a week -- you will be so much more likely to get out there on cold mornings or after long work days.

Also, if you frame your goals in terms of level of activity (4-5x per week, going through a couch to 5k program, whatever) then you can set yourself up for success and continued efforts even if the weight doesn't come off as quickly as you'd like. There is a health benefit to fitness even where it isn't reflected in short-term weight loss.
posted by genug at 7:54 PM on February 15, 2013

Diet is a much bigger factor than exercise. Focus on high fiber foods. Another trick is to not get tired of monotony. My diet was just 3 or 4 bowls of bran flakes a day, poached chicken and steamed green beans for dinner every night, no exceptions.

Building in one cheat meal a week helped me focus and not just give up. I could still have a milkshake, but only on Saturday evening.

Brazil Butt Lift changed my body really fast - I lost two inches in my waist during the first week - and I highly recommend that workout program for a swimsuit ready body.
posted by k8lin at 8:06 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Speaking of social: Metafilter has a team on HealthMonth. It's hugely motivating for me, and isn't just for diet/exercise.
posted by k8lin at 8:08 PM on February 15, 2013

Have you asked about uniform? I would say it is likely you will be wearing a shirt, this makes you easy to identify in the water (and has the secondary benefit of providing you with some coverage and UV protection).

When I was lifeguarding we had uniforms which included singlet and shorts for the ladies. Wearing the shorts in the pool was optional, but there were some (especially the larger staff) that opted to wear them in.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:39 AM on February 16, 2013

Many have had a lot of success following a paleo/primal diet - the Marksdailyapple the success stories are often detailed and impressive.

As for physical training, squats and deadlifts are two movements that, if done correctly, can safely and efficiently reshape your lower body. Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength is a great place to learn, although this will require a fair amount of courage and attention to detail, especially at the beginning.
posted by spacediver at 8:41 AM on February 16, 2013

It's completely feasible to lose 30 lbs. in 5 months. As others have said, counting calories is crucial. I've been using to do so since Jan. 7, after reading a positive review in a recent issue of Consumer Reports over the holidays. You have to be completely honest with yourself when recording data.

I'm also using Beeminder to track my progress. You can use it free, or you can pledge a certain amount of money that you'll lose if you fail to keep on top of things.

That said, I agree with those who write that your overall fitness level, and body fat percentage, matter a lot more than the absolute number of pounds that you lose. I'm aiming to lose about 55 lbs. between this past Jan. 7 and the end of November, or about 1.25 lbs/week. But if I lose a substantial amount of body fat and get into better shape, I'll be satisfied even if I don't hit that specific target. If you're not sure you want to commit to full-fledged calorie counting, it can still be helpful just to keep a food diary: write down everything you eat. People who do that are less likely to overeat.

For losing weight, diet is far more important than exercise. For being in shape, though, exercise is crucial. Moderately intense yoga is a good all-around way to keep flexible and maintain reasonable muscle strength. You could add resistance exercises for more muscle strength. Aerobic exercise (cardio) is also helpful for endurance and cardiovascular health. If you have access to a pool, swimming is a great all-around exercise.

Knowing how much work teachers do, I think that making time to exercise regularly is probably the biggest challenge you face. 40 minutes a day is great, if you can keep doing it every day (or most days--allow yourself a break every now and then). Rather than doing the same thing every day, mix it up--do strength training on 2-3 non-consecutive days, aerobic exercise on others, and yoga on others. You might begin each workout with a short yoga routine to warm up and stretch your muscles.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:10 PM on February 16, 2013

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