Getting into Shape
May 11, 2014 1:07 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any suggestions for working out and dieting that has worked for them? Although I do not have any health problems (knock on wood), I would really like to get into shape. I typically use the elliptical at the health club and I enjoy running out side except I tend to get shin splints. Not sure whether anyone has any book recommendations that helped motivate them? I can't stand how I feel and look as of late, so I need to do something drastic. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.
posted by nidora to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
How old are you? How overweight are you? Have you tried and failed before to get in shape? If so, how many times before? There seems to be a good deal of truth to the notion that dieting and weightlifting for a period -- before starting aerobics -- is a good idea to get your body lean first.
posted by pallen123 at 1:11 PM on May 11, 2014

Everyone goes through shin pain when they start running - it might not be shin splints. Starting to run is frustrating but you may find it rewarding.

In addition that, what worked for me was very heavy calorie restriction, and weighing myself EVERY DAY. Dropped 1.25 lbs a week for 40 weeks.
posted by ftm at 1:23 PM on May 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm in my mid forties and roughly fifty pounds over weight.

So you recommend that you lift weights and eat healthy before beginning a cardio program?
posted by nidora at 1:23 PM on May 11, 2014

I'd focus mainly on diet. I'd add cardio and weight training as well.

Personally, I love rock climbing/bouldering (lower to the ground, mats instead of ropes for protection), and it's much easier if you're lighter - so maybe you can find a gym nearby to start that?

Also, I know a few people who've had success with the Body for Life program.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:29 PM on May 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thank you.
posted by nidora at 1:31 PM on May 11, 2014

In my view, especially as you get older and your metabolism slows, you need to get really strategic about the weight loss and how you sequence your pursuit of fitness. You should obviously try to get professional help but in my experience it's better to focus on a very low calorie diet or a protein sparing modified fast (under medical supervision only) (both low carb) for 2-3 months in order to lose your FIRST 25-35 pounds. Put all your energy -- physical and mental -- into the discipline it will require to consume less food and shed this weight. There is now medication that can help and I suggest seeing an endocrinologist or two until you find one that will work with you -- if you need help losing the weight. Once you've lost about half the amount you're striving to shed you can start lifting weights to tone your body and burn more fat. Gradually you can start to introduce aerobics as your body chemistry gets leaner. Doing aerobics too soon in my experience if you're overweight can cause a cascade of metabolic demands that make it really hard to keep the calories low and shed the weight. So your body may remain flabby and demand more glucose and carbs to drag it around while you increase aerobic activity creating an unvirtuous cycle of effort-ful exercise and lack of weight loss. Not very fulfilling or motivating.
posted by pallen123 at 1:39 PM on May 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

Interval workouts. I've lost just over 50 lbs in the past 14-15 months through exercise alone, and while I've done a lot of things including running, I definitely give interval training a lot of credit (plus it helps keep me from getting bored).

Lately, I like walking on a treadmill with a high incline. I'll walk at an easy pace, but change up the incline every few minutes. Walking at 3.0mph is nothing, but kick the incline up to 15 and sustain it for at least a couple of minutes? You'll definitely get a great leg workout. Work yourself up to whatever levels are challenging for you (and let your arms go - don't hold on to the railing).

Or use the elliptical, but play with the resistance as if you're trudging through a lake of thick molasses. Or change the incline so you do some really high kicks.

The point is to have alternating moments of high/low activity. Go easy for something like 2 minutes - then hard for 2 minutes. Then easy/recover for 2 minutes, and go hard again. Mix it up.

People don't believe me that I didn't change my diet (although it was an "all things in moderation" diet to begin with), but if you do any dietary changes, make it very limiting on outside food. Don't eat out more than 1 meal a week. That one change can go a long way.

But most importantly, do some kind of activity that you enjoy. I've started joining some Zumba classes at my gym, and while I have ZERO coordination and cannot for the life of me tell my left from my right, it keeps me moving and I work up a big sweat, so it's doing something. It's definitely a lot of fun, though!
posted by raztaj at 2:10 PM on May 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

Lifting heavy weights changed my body and my outlook. I don't like cardio, don't really love carbs, but learning how to lift and lift heavy really increased my strength and my mental attitude. I'm female, and middle-aged. I can now move all my own furniture whenever the mood strikes. I didn't lose pounds as much as inches. (And gained some, too, but that was fine with me.)
posted by Ideefixe at 2:17 PM on May 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was in a big slump a year ago; I started back up really, really slowly. Stretching a couple of times a week; and on to more from there. Always left myself wanting more. A year later, workouts are again back up to an hour or more; and biking is back to 15-20 miles a week. Lost about 10lbs of chub in the process; which was also a slow process.

My knees and shins have always gotten banged up by running; but running is about the only way to get a good, aerobic workout quickly. For myself; only the $150+ caliber of running shoe; a spenco insole, and a good thick thorlo have been able to make it more bearable.

The $5-10 a day I save by riding a bike as compared to driving motivates me somewhat; and at times; shamefully; high school reunion pics of classmates serve to put the fear of OMG into my routine.

- Seconding the no changes in diet. Exercise needs good fuel; it is not going to happen on carrots and tofu.
posted by buzzman at 2:23 PM on May 11, 2014

I'm 52, male, and had very slowly gained weight over the years due to a sedentary job, lack of exercise, and, although I was never one to eat big meals, I just ate the wrong things without thinking. At my last checkup, my doc told me it was time to stop playing around and lose weight. I've had high blood pressure for years, and he said I was close to being diabetic.

So, in the last 7 months, I've lost over 40 pounds. I have another 30 or 40 to go, but I already feel so much better, and have stopped taking one of my 2 blood pressure prescriptions, and my BP is lower than it was when I was taking both. I'm hoping to be able to stop the other medication within a few months.

There are as many methods, opinions, and anecdotes about healthy weight loss as there are people. This is one of them.

The magic words for me: Eat better, move more.

I had to be careful not to get overloaded with (sometimes conflicting) information, and just find what worked for me. I had to be honest about what I know about myself in order to do something that was sustainable for the long term, not just a quick fix. I have seen many people I know lose weight only to gain it back almost as quickly as they lost it. I don't want to do that. (In fact, I have done that a time or two in the past.)

So, for the "eat better" part of my plan, I know I'm not going to eat anything I don't like just because it's "good for me." I'm willing to try new things, but if I don't like something, or it's just too difficult to prepare, it won't work for me. So the first thing I did was download MyFitnessPal to my iPhone. You can also use their website, but using on a smartphone is so easy that it eliminates any excuse I have for not being consistent. MyFitnessPal tracks my calories, as well as the protien / carb / fat breakdown of where the calories are coming from. This helps me adjust what I eat, and is very educational. I currently try to eat under 1500 calories per day, and it's really not that difficult, as long I plan ahead a little, and make smart choices. I focus on eating lean protiens (all kinds of meat, really) but without frying in extra oil, or adding high calorie sauces. I eat very little starch (rice or potatoes) and eat a lot of carrots, green beans, onions, celery, etc. as side dishes. The internet has countless recipes for making things taste good without adding too many calories. If I have to eat out, or get fast food (work lunches, for example) I plan ahead to pick something low in calories, and (hopefully) not too high in sodium. The MyFitnessPal database has all this info. I also take one day every week or two where I don't really care about how many calories I eat. I do track them in MyFitnessPal, but I REFUSE to feel guilty if I go over my calorie budget on those days. Interestingly, now that I'm in the habit of eating better, even those "cheat days" are not very high in calories. I think the last time I did it, I was still right around 2000 calories for the day.

For the "move more" part of my plan: I hate "exercise." I know, no matter my best intentions, that I am not going to join a gym and go several times a week to work out. But, I like to have fun, and some of the things I enjoy most are also active, such as bike riding and tennis. I can do either of these activities for hours at a time, and have fun. But I don't usually last more than 20 minutes on a treadmill. (I did purchase a hybrid elliptical / recumbent bike exercise machine, and used it semi-regularly in the cold months, but it takes a lot of motivation for me to use it, and laziness / boredom usually prevents me from making the most of it.) So, I bike to work as often as possible, about 5 miles each way, and bike for pleasure on weekends whenever I can. I don't try to race, or set a new personal-best speed record. I just bike at a pleasant pace and enjoy the ride and and the sights. My round trip to and from work burns about 600 calories every day, but it doesn't feel like work. I look forward to it. My last weekend ride was 15 miles, with numerous stops to take pictures and enjoy the scenery. This is not ironman-level biking, but who cares? I'm having fun and being active. I have also taken to standing at work instead of sitting. Fortunately, my office has power-adjustable workstations for just this purpose. At first, I figured I would stand for half the day, but by the second say I was standing all day except for lunch time. has some interesting info about this.

I know that reaching my weight loss goal will not mean I can stop my tracking and activity. I know that to sustain, I have to continue what I'm doing for the rest of my life. So I'm making sure that I only do things that are sustainable for me.

A side note: As I said, everyone has an opinion about this stuff. Once you find what works for you, don't worry about everyone else's opinion. Yes, you should still learn, and read, and try new things. But I find it exhasusting to have everyone give me their unsolicited advice about what I should or shouldn't be eating. So I have made it a point to not discuss it with anyone besides family if at all possible. Besides not wanting to hear their opinions, I also don't want to BE one of the voices that tells them what to eat. So, when someone notices I have lost weight, and asks "what I'm doing," I just say I am paying more attention to what I eat. If they seem interested in wanting my advice, I recommend MyFitnessPal and leave it at that. So, find what works, and ignore the others, including me!
posted by The Deej at 2:48 PM on May 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Weight lifting has been a part of my routine for years, and still is. It's great for feeling a sense of progress as you keep bumping up the resistance, and seeing progress as you shape up and jiggle a lot less.

When I added cardio to my workout - and specifically interval training - I started feeling increasingly more "fit". Dropping a lot of starches from my diet took real willpower and made me miserable for a few days, but allowed me to shed two pants sizes without intentionally dieting. Plus, bacon!

Just another note: I've found that shin splints are often a signal that I need to replace my running shoes. I get new ones about every six months or so, which seems ridiculous but makes quite a difference.
posted by DrGail at 2:57 PM on May 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

I know a few people who found using a Fitbit (or equivalent Smartphone app) got them moving more. I prefer the simple Fitbit Zip since I just replace the battery every few months rather than need to charge it from the USB. I also found reading the book The Spark by Chris Downie and then reading case studies of people who had lost a lot of weight on gave me gentle encouragement. With my depression I still find motivation a struggle so I can't claim great personal results with these three resources but many others have.
posted by AuroraSky at 3:06 PM on May 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Cutting down on carbohydrates caused me to lose weight very quickly as I started to consume vegetables and fruit to make up the difference. Any change of diet that you make has to involve eating things that you enjoy in order for the diet-related weight loss to be sustainable though.

In terms of fitness, I mix up normal jogging with ultimate frisbee and recommend the sport to anyone who wants a good workout without spending money. If you live near any major city there is definitely a pickup game near you. I've never run across a game that lacked friendly people who want others to enjoy the sport, and even if you've never played before it's easy to learn basic throwing and catching. You can play one or two points at a time and then take a break, so it is really a good option if you aren't in the best shape.

I hate lifting weights and just do pullups for upper body fitness. If you can't do a single pull up, start with negatives and work your way up. My upper body workout takes less than 5 minutes 3 days a week, a big improvement over the hours that I used to spend at the gym. Granted, I didn't--and still don't--know how to lift weights effectively, but why learn if you don't enjoy it? Once you're able to do 10-15 pullups at a time, you are going to look pretty toned no matter who you are, and there are all kinds of pullup schedules on the internet.
posted by _cave at 3:43 PM on May 11, 2014

Couch to 5 K got me past a lifelong problem with shin splints in my early 40s.

I got my weight down to a reasonable level first (dropped about 50lbs) before taking up running by counting calories using Livestrong's Daily Plate. It is the only way I can lose weight.

A lifetime of exercise didn't prevent weight gain and didn't take it off. I had to actually monitor my inputs and my outputs.
posted by srboisvert at 4:28 PM on May 11, 2014

You could do worse than with a ketogenic diet, at least 20 minutes of walking every day, and perhaps some simple progressive compound barbell work (5x5) three times a week.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:41 PM on May 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

See my answer to a previous question on the green. Also, to add a little to that:
  • I use MyFitnessPal, something magical about the calories going backwards to zero, plus the bar code scanner and the memorized meals, etc.
  • I found foods/meals that really tasted good but were reasonable in calories...that gave me something to look forward to and to substitute for my old evil foods/meals
  • In defiance of the world's advice, I eat increasing sized meals: tiny breakfast, medium lunch, big dinner...otherwise I would run out and be climbing the walls at night
  • For motivation: I said to myself, "you are 57 and have been overweight almost all your life, do you seriously want to start getting life style diseases like diabetes or heart disease, and/or be unable to move around properly from a combination of obesity, arthritis and limited mobility?" You are not as old as I was, but still, ask yourself if you are willing to lose a few pounds a month for a few years for that kind of benefit?
FWIW. Feel free to MeFiMail me if you want clarifications on any of the above.
posted by forthright at 5:56 PM on May 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've never fluctuated wildly in terms of my weight (since teenage years 148 at my highest and 115 at my lowest) but for me, diet has always been the #1 determinant. Sticking to three meals a day/limiting snacking and just generally cultivating healthy food habits to the point that my body doesn't really care about or crave potato chips and cookies and stuff works for me. So I'd really focus on what you are eating if weight loss is your goal. Find the healthy things you enjoy eating so you can start mentally replacing cheeseburger cravings with like oranges cravings.

Getting in shape is wonderful for your general healthy, though for me, I get more hungry as I workout more. Running is probably the fastest way to get you in good physical shape. Couch to 5k is a good program for easing you into it without taking a major toll on your body. Try running every other day instead of once per day. You might be going too hard. Shin splints are usually from too much too soon.
posted by mermily at 6:12 PM on May 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are able to afford it, get a trainer at the gym.

I made a commitment to myself I would only do 30 min twice a week so I wasn't overwhelmed or all caught up in the newness and over do it.

Getting a trainer taught me how to lift free weights properly. You don't need the trainer forever but six months or so should be good. You should have a good idea of workouts you can do by then, and Pinterest is just full of ideas.

Strength training with a trainer taught me to push myself a lot harder than I thought I could because this person is not about to let you keel over. It gave me a LOT of confidence about working out.

So even if I have a few weeks where I don't work out as much, my workouts are much, much better than they used to be when I did an elliptical.

Most trainers are into doing plyo and circuit stuff, so you'll get cardio as part of the strength stuff. I do things all the time now I couldn't do a year ago (like I can do 3 mostly the whole way down regular pushups. Let me tell you how cool that makes me feel! I am SheRa!)

Anyways, all of the above fixed a lot of other issues I had like leg problems running and general body aches and tiredness. Which I wasn't expecting.

It's literally investing in yourself to pay a trainer. It's probably the best thing I've ever done in my years of trying to exercise. It's your very own personal fitness class.
posted by sio42 at 6:28 PM on May 11, 2014

Crossfit! I'm a 57 yo woman packing extra pounds, but after a year of CF I've dropped 40 lbs and can do things I never imagined I'd be able to do. Find a good gym that has supportive instructors. I'm not an athlete, never have been, but with CF for the first time in my life I actually feel like I'm able to keep up with my young grandchildren, work a very demanding job, and still have enough energy to play. :)
posted by OkTwigs at 7:29 PM on May 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I can tell you what worked for me, but I wouldn't advise it if you're over 40 with 50 lbs of extra weight on your joints. (I wouldn't advise it to my past self, either.) What I would advise is shifting the sentiment behind "I need to do something drastic" to "I want to make changes that I can sustain throughout my lifetime to support a stronger, healthier body".

To that end, my suggestions would be to:
- Count calories using one of the apps for a week to see where you're at now, and then cut that by a conservative amount (say by 200-300 calories to start with). This will reduce the sense of deprivation caused by an aggressive deficit and will ensure you have energy for activity and recovery
- Emphasize proteins and fibrous veg and good fats in your diet - keeps you satisfied on fewer calories
- Work up to 30-60 minutes of a different cardio activity most days, to minimize risk of overuse injuries - a gym membership helps with this as you have more varied options, or else go outside
- Strength train 2-3 times a week, in an 8-12 rep range. Give yourself time to get used to this, and be confident you can handle a given weight before adding to the bar. Get help with form; people hurt themselves and the criticism is always 'well, you had crappy form or biomechanics'. Have something to say to these people
- Listen to your body - any asymmetrical or sharp pains, just stop; give yourself rest days; any pain of any kind afterwards, don't push through beyond easy walking. Recover, and then get back to it.

(What I did: running, lots of plyometrics, weight training on a linear progression (adding weight all the time, not giving my ligaments etc time to acclimate). What I wound up with over three years: plantar fasciitis, peroneal tendinosis, tendinosis in shoulder, patellofemoral syndrome, osteoarthritis [multiple joints], and lots of time spent in doctors' offices and money spent on PT [well spent, but still]. Also, possible umbilical hernia, under investigation. I have a few years before I hit 40. n = 1 and I may well be a special snowflake with exceptionally shitty technique (though I got training, read tons and tried hard), and probably at least some of that would have happened anyway. Some of it, I am pretty sure, wouldn't have. I wish I could go back to my heavier self and say "slow the heck down", so I am saying that to you, in case you have the potential for any of those kinds of things.)

tl etc: Changes to diet are the key thing; consistency there will make the biggest difference. Exercise is important for many reasons, but get into it gradually, and listen to pain.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:59 PM on May 11, 2014

One thing that worked for me, in my forties, was the information available through the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) -- which YMCAs have started providing (although that's not where I learned about the program). It's an evidence-based program designed to help you lose 7% of your body weight, slowly, so that you don't yo-yo.

If there's a Y near you, I believe that with a physician referral, you don't need to be a member of the Y to participate in the program. (I lost 25lbs in about 20 weeks, before getting sidetracked by whooping cough and a few other medical conditions that made me both instantly sedentary and sad enough to not want to work hard at food.)

But here's what my process looks like:

1. Buy some new clothes that look great on me right now. It's a nice confidence booster.
2. Following the suggestions of the the DPP program -- track what I eat for a week -- without significantly changing what I eat.
3. Week 2 - add fiber to my diet -- the nutritionist told me what my daily goal should be. Track what I eat, and the fiber content for a week or two. The pounds started coming off right away. This is when I start eating more fruits and vegetables in order to meet the fiber goal.
4. During these first 2 weeks, try increasing exercise -- even if it's just moderate (not slow) walking. The goal is 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise in increments of at least 10 minutes each session (ie. walking up stairs for less than ten minutes doesn't count toward the 150). Walk hard enough to breath heavier (but still be able to talk or carry on a conversation.)
5. I think after fiber, the nutritionist gave me a "total fat" per day goal -- I started losing weight in week 1. But this is the first time I'm actually being asked to deny myself something or cut back. It's not that hard when I'm filling up on fiber.
6. I hate tracking all the food I eat, even with apps and food calculators and what not. But I only needed to track total fiber and total fat to be successful -- I never needed to count calories or sugars or protein, although that came up in the program.

150 minutes of exercise per week -- it didn't matter what the exercise was (cardio, weights, yoga, walking, etc.) Most weeks I got 120 minutes and I still lost weight each week.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:17 AM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

My husband (47) has made major fitness and health improvements with Crossfit. I was completely against the idea, thought it was a cult and dangerous, but he picked a gym that is really careful with form and not pushing people too far, and it worked out incredibly well for him. His physique is massively improved after a year of going 3-4 times a week, and running, skiing, and rowing 1-2 times a week as well. He's committed to his fitness plan, and pushes himself very very hard, so this isn't a guaranteed recipe for success without being tough on yourself.

The advice upthread about diet and weightlifting is spot on. This combination will help you drop weight, and once that happens, aerobic exercise will be much easier. Crossfit can help you with this if you're looking for something structured and well rounded (and you find a supportive gym).
posted by Capri at 8:28 AM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

N'thing getting your diet in order.

I'm a big proponent of calorie restriction i.e. fasting. There are quite a few programs that you can do. A cursory search of Me-fi and AskMe-fi will turn up quite a few posts. Reddit also has a subreddit.

For starters you could just try skipping a couple of meals, a couple of days a week and eat normally the other days.

Also look up intermittent fasting.

What's worked for me is basically fasting M-F from dinner to dinner, coupled with a paleo-ish diet and crossfit. Weekends are cheat days and I eat what I like (within reason).

More info - feel free to memail.
posted by rippersid at 11:59 AM on May 12, 2014

People have already given you my favorite idea, Crossfit, so I'll just add that the Most important thing is that you Like your diet and exercise choices. You might not always love them if you're in the midst of a heavy workout or refusing junk food, but the only really good program is one you'll Stick with. And we stick with things we Like.

At various points in my last decade that has meant: Crossfit, paleo, paleo-ish, mostly vegetarian, kickboxing, boxing, yoga, bike riding, bootcamp, Nautilus machines...

The most important part has been to do something Fun. I'm a middle-aged woman who's probably still 50 pounds overweight (beats the 100 pounds of 15 years ago), and the most important parts are having good safe form (trainers/coaches/professionals are great for this!) and Enjoying your choices.
posted by ldthomps at 12:49 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

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