How to stop the weight gain?
November 12, 2013 7:10 PM   Subscribe

Stressed out and at my heaviest, how can I gradually start to lose weight?

I'm currently at my heaviest, at 5"4 and 145 pounds. I know that statement must sound silly. I'm not morbidly obese. My ideal weight would be 125. I've had body image issues since the age of 10 that I've just come to realize are pretty significant (I'm 25 now), and am waiting for an appointment with a therapist in a week. But I'm in a state of anxiety because, well, my pants won't fit and I can't afford to buy new ones, among many other things (irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, anxiety about hunger, stressed in my job, relationship issues, family issues, legal issues etc.)

I've been through the whole gamut of weight loss articles: calories in and calories out, smaller meals, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. I feel like I know what's good for me, and what I should do. But instead I enjoy a dinner of pizza, fries, and ice cream.

My main question is, what can I do right now to stop gaining weight? I keep telling myself it's a "lifestyle change," it's a "marathon not a sprint," but my cravings win.

TLDR: Need advice on how to stop overeating, stop eating badly, and start losing weight gradually. Also would welcome advice on improving female body image.
posted by elisse to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I find that it's much easier to start by finding some sort of exercise that you enjoy, developing on that habit, and then tackling the food. The trick is to find exercise that you genuinely enjoy and so it's not just another horrible chore.

For me, the exercise subtly shifts my thinking about the food. It becomes easier to turn off the "I want french fries!" signals and think about food in terms of "oh, tomorrow's a running day, so I should eat A, B, and C so that I don't feel crappy in the morning..." Exercise also has the benefit of improving one's mood, which makes it fractionally easier to resist one's junk foods of choice.

Also, if you go this route, when you start on the exercise, make a conscious choice to not worry about the food yet. So those nights when you have french fries and ice cream for dinner, and you start to tell yourself how horrible it is? You get to tell your brain to stop doing that, because you specifically aren't worrying about the diet portion of the proceedings yet and it's not allowed to make you feel bad about yourself anymore.

Anyhow, that's what works for me. I'm sure other people will come along with totally different ideas that worked for them, and some combination of them will work for you too!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:26 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

I can only tell you what has worked for me. This chart shows my weight over the past 6 months or so.

I don't have to tell you at what point I started keeping track of how many calories I was eating each day—it's immediately obvious when you look at the chart. What's not obvious from the chart is that I'm also keeping track of how much I walk each day by using a Fitbit. For me, it's the combination of these two data inputs (and the output, i.e. the scale) which are keeping me on track.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:27 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Not all calories are created equal. Educate yourself on carbs and try reducing your carb intake as much as possible (I lost most weight when I reduced my carbs to about 30gr per meal - that's two spoonfuls!). Don't reduce fat though, it's what keeps you feeling full. Weigh yourself every morning and keep track of the curve.
posted by Dragonness at 7:33 PM on November 12, 2013

Change your diet really slowly and incrementally. Swap out unhealthy drinks (soda/sugar laden coffees/fruit juices) for water. Just do that for 2 weeks. Then, drop something like ice cream. So instead of a dinner of pizza, soda, fries, and ice cream, you go for pizza, water, fries, and fresh fruit. Eventually each small change in your diet will accumulate until you're eating what you should be eating.

Cooking for yourself can help fix a lot of the overeating and you can control more of what you put in your food. If you know you overeat, just don't cook that much. If you do cook a lot of something, do it with something like green vegetables. I think it's quite frankly impossible to overeat on green vegetables. It also helps to rid your kitchen of temptations. I don't keep any snack bars/candy bars/soda in my fridge for this reason.

Another important thing is that don't beat yourself when you slip up for a meal. Then you just get into a terrible hate/guilt spiral that lands you back to square one.
posted by astapasta24 at 7:36 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've lost over 40 lbs. in the last 10 months by counting calories, using (There's even a MeFite group there, but it's not very active.) Sometimes my dinners are pizza, fries, and ice cream, though rarely all three at once. But those calories are all counted in my daily log.

It's true that some foods increase satiety and others don't, though people vary. But basically, you have to want to lose weight strongly enough to put up with deprivation. I find that vegan cooking, with its emphasis on legumes, vegetables, and plant oils, works well for me, especially if I use lots of whole grains. Lean animal protein is also good. I try to avoid sugars and fatty baked goods. But I haven't cut anything out, because I'm engaged in a lifestyle change, not a short-term diet. And since my diet in the last 10 months has basically been what I ate before, only less of it, it's not a major lifestyle change, but rather, a tweak or revision.

As for practical tips: the single most important one I can think of is to measure out your meal portions, with a food scale, before bringing them to your table. Don't have other food within reach. Have a glass of water (I like fizzy water, because it feels elegant and fills me up faster), and drink it up before getting seconds. If you do feel like seconds, ask yourself: "Am I really hungry, or do I just feel like chewing some more?" If the answer is the latter, then either don't eat anything else, or have something like a pickle that has very few calories.

Another idea is to plan your day's eating in advance. If you know you're going to have a couple hundred calories of cheese and crackers after dinner, it's easier to deny yourself at lunch.

Good luck!
posted by brianogilvie at 7:42 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

As per ocherdraco's chart, keeping track of input is the very first step to managing weight. I use Myfitnesspal on my ipad and android phone. I love the bar-code capture feature. My input changed quite naturally once I started recording what I was eating. Honestly recording your input creates a space of mindfulness where your true wishes not to eat bad foods can come to the fore.
posted by Kerasia at 7:43 PM on November 12, 2013

I agree with taking on an exercise habit, purely for the body image part. Being able to think of your body as primarily functional, as opposed to decorative, is such a gift. For that reason, I'd avoid straight gym-going (which can seem like it has no purpose beyond sculpting your body into something prettier) and do anything - from yoga to weightlifting - in which your progress is measured in something other than pounds lost.

The other thing I'd suggest is forgetting about dieting entirely - at least for the moment - and see if there's just one fattening thing you habitually consume that can swap for something else. I don't know if it would help you cut a full twenty pounds, but twice in my life I've lost close to ten just by changing a single habit: once by swapping out the calorie-laden cafe sandwiches I'd been snarfing down for lunch for a healthy-ish burrito bowl, and once by swapping out my sugary breakfast cereal for a smoothie. The important thing is that you avoid the feeling of deprivation that accompanies dieting - you're not starving yourself, you're just getting yourself in the habit of doing something different.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:43 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

3rd-ing ocherdraco's use of keeping track of input and using a fitbit.

That being said... nowhere in your post did you mention the word 'exercise'. Think about that. Humans are meant to be active - not just sit in a chair in front of a screen all day. You've stated that you've read all about calories in and calories out, but you're not putting your knowledge to use!

You don't have to train for an Ironman competition, you've just gotta get moving. Go for a walk! MAKE time for a walk. Use a FitBit to track your exercise (I combine mine with the Endomondo app). It'll make a difference.

Good luck!
posted by matty at 8:11 PM on November 12, 2013

Even though most of your weight loss will come from eating less, I agree with the suggestions above to exercise. After I started exercising, for some reason I craved sugary drinks and snacks less. I would think "but if I eat that, I will be putting to waste all the exercise I did yesterday."
posted by pravit at 8:14 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

New rule: at each meal, you can eat anything you want... after you eat a plateful of salad.
posted by nicwolff at 8:17 PM on November 12, 2013

In the short-term, I'd be very careful about exercise. If you're taking in extra calories right now and/or if exercise makes you ravenous, you might gain a lot of muscle quickly and bulk right up. That happens to me *every time* I need to start excising more and it's irritating.

My Rule of Thumb:
When it comes to eating, what works for me is to pay attention to my satiety level and keep it in a reasonable range. Keeping myself reasonably satiated is easier if I'm eating nourishing food and pacing myself appropriately for the situation.

Types of Food:
Try to eat the most filling, nourishing food possible, especially anything with a lot of fiber, so you feel satiated after eating a reasonable amount. YMMV, but I need dairy and fiber in the morning or I feel like I'm running hungry all day, so I eat either a piece of good bread with cheese or a bowl of mini-wheats (and coffee, of course). Likewise, I need to eat something with meat or fish at night, or I am going to need a hefty midnight snack.

When you get hungry during the day, go ahead and have a real snack/meal, that you put together and sit down to enjoy. Don't try to eat some tiny amount or junk food and expect not to over-eat later. But if you're snacking as an activity as opposed to because you're especially hungry, try drinking something hot or eating something that requires a lot of fiddling around for very little caloric gain, like sunflower seeds that you have to shell or fruit you have to peel.

When you're thinking about eating/while you're eating, pay attention to how full your stomach is at any given time, and make sure you're always keeping a little room/not filling up *all* the way. I learned how to do that the hard way, through a lot of many-course meals where I had to at least have a bit of every course. You don't have to fill your stomach up, you don't have to pack it, there *will* still be more food coming around. If you're still overeating at meals, try to have a glass of wine or a bottle of beer as you're eating. It'll pace you, and your meal will reach a clear end when you're done drinking. I don't know why that works, but it does (for me).
posted by rue72 at 8:35 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

"In the short-term, I'd be very careful about exercise. If you're taking in extra calories right now and/or if exercise makes you ravenous, you might gain a lot of muscle quickly and bulk right up. That happens to me *every time* I need to start excising more and it's irritating."

Rue72's post makes some great points, but I can't disagree with this particular statement emphatically enough. Women simply aren't hormonally engineered to 'bulk up' through walking or other mild exercise. In fact, women's exercise and 'bulking up' is a myth. Anyone's particular genetics and milage may vary, but abstaining from exercise out of a fear of bulking up isn't a rational, researched approach.

Your goal, should you choose to pursue it, is to monitor your calorie intake and increase your daily caloric burn. It's simple math... Calories IN vs. Calories OUT. I have a marathoning friend who's skinny as a rail... (not saying you need to run marathons). He eats horribly - whatever he wants, but he burns those calories off!
posted by matty at 8:57 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

I recommend finding a group-based exercise, say, a running club. Motivation to work out is easier to come by when there are others alongside you. You are in DC, so I imagine there are lots of options (pardon a lack of links; I'm on my phone).

For the eating, don't make drastic changes. One thing at a time. And don't cut all delicious things from your life. When you have pizza or cake or cheese, order your absolute favorite kind. But get it once a month.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 9:09 PM on November 12, 2013

At the moment you're using food as medicine to try and make yourself feel better. And it does. In the short term. While you're chewing. And then it stops and you feel terrible, so you eat some more.

There are three things that should help with stopping/slowing the weight gain:
1. Solve the problems that are making you feel overwhelmed.
2. Shift your coping method to something else (Bad TV, tooling around on the internet, meditation, exercise, painting your nails, whatever).
3. Reduce the amount of calories you eat and exercise more. This will be much easier if you're also focussing on 1 and 2.

The main issue is getting your head in the game. Much of this is about having a good reason not to over eat when you want to. Some people find having strict rules helps. Others find flexibility to be absolutely necessary. Or distraction, or substitution of comfort foods with less calorific versions. Some people change everything at once, others need to do things slowly. Finding what works for you might take awhile. I still haven't fully worked it out myself.

You'll probably find 'Fat is a Feminist Issue' interesting.
posted by kjs4 at 9:38 PM on November 12, 2013

Google Whole30 and the book, "It Starts with Food". These made a huge difference for me in how I approach food and got me off the diet roller coaster. I have the best relationship with food I've ever had. Embrace your body for what it can do for you, take good care of it, and good luck!
posted by ms_rasclark at 9:55 PM on November 12, 2013

It really helps me to keep carbs, especially processed ones, relatively low, and to focus on proteins and healthy fats. Even if I overeat those things, I will not gain weight, whereas an excess of grains or other carbs shows up quickly on the scale. It also helps to keep asking "am I satisfied?"instead of "am I full?"as I eat.

Re the body image stuff, find a hobby or interest that has nothing to do with your weight, appearance, or dating. You are a whole person and honouring that will make the other stuff less fraught.
posted by rpfields at 11:38 PM on November 12, 2013

Hi! I have a woman's body, and I bulk up when I exercise. I also get ravenous when I first increase exercise. I exercise anyway, because I also get strong and healthy, and if I want to be frivolous, I look better when I exercise.

I think there is no "one answer fits all" here. Some people do better counting every calorie they eat, and some do better eliminating specific foods ("no more Starbucks coffee breaks for me, but I'm not going to track the spinach salad with grilled chicken that I had for lunch"). It may take some trial and error to figure out which works for you. I find a goal-tracking app like Lift to help me when I'm at that "pizza or salad?" time of night.
posted by instamatic at 3:44 AM on November 13, 2013

Best answer: I used to have a really bad diet and struggle with my weight in a way similar to what you describe. I constantly put on 10-15 pounds and ate way too much fast food.

One of the things that has helped me over the last couple of years is getting a bit of self respect.

That sounds horrible, I know.

But frankly, I knew that eating fast food everyday was plain ol' bad for me, and by continuing to abuse it I wasn't respecting myself.

And you know what!? I am actually awesome, my body is awesome, it deserves healthy and wholesome foods.

So I changed over night and just didn't buy that stuff anymore.

It took a while to find food choices that made me happy- but now I enjoy curries, salmon, soups... and I always cook in bulk so that there is stuff in the freezer and I have no excuse. ONCE IN A BLUE MOON I will buy a frozen pizza or eat a McDonalds.... and I ALWAYS enjoy chips if they come with my meal at a restaurant. But I only really crave that stuff once in a while now, and I get a stomach ache when I do eat it.

ALSO- I exercise 3x a week with a 25 minute exercise video and I walk a lot....

I didn't start off enjoying healthy living, but I have made it tooooo easy to have any excuse not to. I found wholesome food that I like and pretty minimal, but very effective exercise!
posted by misspony at 4:11 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, anxiety about hunger, stressed in my job

If you don't have a formal IBS diagnosis, I'd check in with the doctor about these symptoms. There are medical diagnoses that can cause bloating, IBS-symptoms, anxiety, fatigue (which often goes along with IBS and can make you crave simple carbs and make it harder to exercise), etc. There are things your doctor can do to help you. There may be something medical causing or exacerbating this and if so, get that sorted first.

If you already have an IBS diagnosis, there may be additional things you can do to help with that -- peppermint oil, probiotics (try the higher-end ones if possible -- not the super-expensive ones but the Whole Foods refrigerator case types), yoga or other exercise for stress reduction. Getting a referral to a dietician to talk about an elimination diet to find potential triggers. Ask your doctor about drugs -- they have drugs that might help. (Bentyl for the pain -- if you're in a lot of pain getting something to cut it back that can really help -- or some of the other options. They don't work for everyone but if you're one of the people they help, they're a godsend.)

Also, whether or not you have an IBS diagnosis, you could try keeping a food diary that includes your IBS-type symptoms. (If you're not diagnosed, it'll help any doctors you see; if you are diagnosed, it'll help you see patterns and would also be helpful if you see a dietician.)

I have a friend with IBS who gets ill if she eats too far on the whole grains/veggies/fiber side of the equation, and I understand that that's not uncommon. If you do have IBS, you may be eating the way you are now because unconsciously, you know eating "healthy" is exacerbating your symptoms. A food diary could help you confirm that, and identify other healthier options that don't exacerbate your symptoms.

On the body image front: If you already do, stop reading women's magazines (Cosmo, etc.) and even some of the Healthy Eating magazines ("Stay Trim Without Trying!", that sort of crap). Stop watching America's Next Top Model-type shows. Start watching Drop Dead Diva (it's funny and excellent and if you have Netflix, it's available to watch online. Excellent stress relief).

You may not be willing to do this, but if you are: Take a small amount of money and hit a thrift store (Value Village/Savers are a bit more upscale) and buy yourself some new-to-you pants that fit. The pants will be cheap (4+ pairs for the price of one pair at Kohl's). They do not have to be forever pants. But you won't have a pair of tight pants biting into your waist and increasing your stress level, and you'll have something to wear.

I'm sorry you're hurting right now, but I hope you can remember that This Too Shall Pass. Because it really will, and while it doesn't feel like it now, you'll be a happier, healthier person once you work through these things.
posted by pie ninja at 5:43 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another good trick that always works well, is to have your last meal before 18h. So try not to eat after that. I know it's tough, but you will see results. Only drink water after your last meal (or a carrot). If you can combine it with running for 20 minutes every second evening, then even better.

Good Luck :)
posted by dreamsandhope at 6:28 AM on November 13, 2013

Best answer: I hear you, every day is a struggle for me. But here's what I've discovered, once I've gone cold turkey on garbage, I don't want it anymore.

So set up a non-fail environment. Prepare your dinners in advance, have fruit washed and ready to go, and make a nice hot drink to enjoy after dinner to tell yourself that the kitchen is closed (I like homemade cocoa, it satisfies the sweet craving, has milk for calcium and is rally yummy.)

1c Milk (I get grassfed local dairy milk, the CLAs are good for you!)
Teaspoon of sweetener
Dash of vanilla
Cocoa mixed with water until it's a liquid.

Combine and warm slowly on the stove until warm. Finish up with a blast of whipped cream.

Soon, driving through for a bag of sad food won't be appealing. It's a white-knuckle thing for the first few days, but afterwards, it's pretty easy.

Hang in there. Just not eating foods that you know are not good for you will probably help you get back to the weight you are comfortable at.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:54 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I gained weight steadily all throughout high school and college. By the time I left school, I was obese, though not morbidly so. But about three years after that, I started losing weight just as steadily as I'd gained it. I didn't try to lose it -- in fact, the important, definitive factor was that I *stopped* trying. During the years when I was gaining, I constantly tried to diet and follow strict exercise regimes, which would inevitably end in binges. My body, stressed by the cycle of undernourishment and overnourishment, went seriously out of whack. But once I stopped that and gave myself permission to simply eat normal meals without regard to whether I "deserved" them, the excess weight disappeared. Normal meals sometimes consist of a cheeseburger and onion rings; sometimes they're grilled salmon over kale. I trust my hunger instincts. Food isn't a moral issue! Since I started actively fighting against food anxiety, my weight has self-maintained at a natural set point that puts me toward the low end of "healthy".

As pie ninja said further up, your digestive symptoms may indicate a treatable medical condition. And if you often have diarrhea, you are losing enormous amounts of nutrition, which prompts you to crave more calorie-dense food. Finding a way to alleviate your digestive issues will go a long way toward helping your body feel out of danger, and it'll reduce your general stress. So I'd make that priority #1.

Sadly (as I'm sure every woman everywhere knows) there's no magic body image-fixing bullet. When we're surrounded by people, pictures, videos, articles, and ads that tell us we could be so much more attractive if only x y z, it's hard not to get worn down. Even after losing 60 pounds, I have body anxiety. The only way to combat it is one thought at a time. 'Ugh, look at my huge stoma--- NO. Look at my sexy hips.'

Here are a few great resources for body image acceptance and escaping food anxiety:
Your Eatopia
The Fat Nutritionist
Junkfood Science
posted by Sullenbode at 7:53 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was in the same position, about 15 lbs above my normal weight. The weight gain came slowly and after a move/career-change, so instead of stressing about weight loss, I thought about small changes that would make a difference over time: walking more, eating less baked goods and processed meats, practicing yoga every week.

Soon enough, I was ready to get more ambitious: cycling on a daily basis, yoga every other day, bigger changes in diet. In three months, I've lost the 15 lbs and developed some good habits.

Here are some suggestions:

- Instead of calorie counting, I take one day of the week where I eat limited carbs and limited calories (though still nutritional). I based this on the 5-2 diet. The meal plans of the 5-2 are very helpful and easy. For my one day where I restrict carbs, I plan out meals and stick to it.

- Nutrition. The 5-2 meal plans helped me learn just what foods and vitamins my body needed on a daily basis in order to serve me right. I also thought I "knew" what was good, etc, but when you see this presented to you in an easy plan, it actually becomes do-able. For me, food knowledge and a plan were direct remedies for cravings.

- As someone else suggested, pick a sport or hobby that is not measured based on weight loss. Yoga and cycling are my choices.

- Challenges. I found some of these 30-day fitness challenges motivating and not overwhelming.

Hope this helps!
posted by Cwell at 8:51 AM on November 13, 2013

My doctor advised me to eliminate carbs and double my daily exercise until I reached my desired weight. It worked for me. 10 lbs was all I needed to lose and I did it in a few weeks.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 9:50 AM on November 13, 2013

I would just like to add another vote to those that recommended a Fitbit. My wife and I really love ours.
posted by Silvertree at 10:15 AM on November 13, 2013

To me, the key here is community - it could be a free weight loss website like Spark People, something like Weight Watchers, or a diet/exercise buddy among your current friends. But I've found that (at least for me) it's impossible to do it alone - I need the community aspect and the accountability of being in it with other people. You might also check out Live More Weigh Less - you don't need to sign up for the whole (EXPENSIVE) program - she has a lot of free info on her website and I think this philosophy (focus on making your life whole, happy, and exciting so that you're not filling in the holes with comfort food/emotional eating) is awesome.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:24 AM on November 13, 2013

Get enough sleep! It makes a big difference for mood, stress, and appetite. Think of it as part of the global project of taking care of your body.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:51 PM on November 13, 2013

Best answer: I find it helps to get super excited about whatever food I feel like I should be eating. I go hunting for healthy recipes occasionally and stick them all together on a Pinterest board, and I like to go around the produce section at the supermarket and find new things (and smell the oranges).

You might not be able to eat lots of fruit and veg because of your IBS, but if you can - I read an article a while ago about ways to get toddlers to eat fruit and vegetables... so I figured, "Hey, these things could work on me." I cut up fruits into little chunks before I eat them, I keep raisins and dried fruit around for snacks (sometimes I put them in tiny tupperware boxes because OMG SO ADORABLE) and I put veggies in my normal comfort foods (mac and cheese and peas!). I try to concentrate on eating loads of fruit and veg, eating plenty of proteiny things (I'm a vegetarian, so it takes a bit of thought), and only eating as much as I want at each meal, not how much is on the plate.

If I really feel like I need to eat something that isn't particularly exciting (bran flakes, you crunchy little disappointments) then I make myself a sticker chart. Honestly.

After all that I figure, if I want pizza for dinner one night a week - why not?

The Fat Nutritionist also has a bunch of awesome stuff on eating competence.
posted by teraspawn at 6:50 AM on November 14, 2013

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