Help me understand the oddities of my metabolism and weight loss!
July 15, 2014 9:37 AM   Subscribe

So, I been on a diet since the beginning of May (intermittent fasting - basically 4:3). Since that time, I've lost just under 10 pounds, which averages out to almost a pound a week. However the rate of weight loss has not been steady (I lost significant weight some weeks, and none others). Nor have I uniformly lost the weight off of my whole body (it has mostly come off my waist, when I was already hourglass shaped prior to beginning the diet). Why is this? (If relevant, I am a medium-sized woman in my late 20s.)

First: For weeks 1-2 and 6-8, I lost basically no weight. For the other weeks, I lost between 1 and 3 pounds each week. Why is this? Even accounting for the monthly weight spike during my period and ovulation (which don't seem to correlate with what I've been describing, anyway), this just seems odd, since I have been eating roughly the same diet for the past 10 weeks. For instance, I lost no weight for three weeks (weeks 6, 7, and 8), and then I lost three pounds the following week (week 9). What is going on here? Why is the rate of loss not even if my calorie consumption is roughly equivalent week by week? I don't think that this is water weight (as per this helpful question recently), because I have already accounted for that (I typically lose 2 pounds on my fast day, which I assume is mostly water weight, as I have then have gained 1.5-2 of those pounds back after a day of normal eating)

Second: Also, the weight has not come off my entire body uniformly - it has largely come off of my waist, and to some extent my thighs and upper arms. My bust is the same size as previously, as far as I can tell (the cups of my bras still fit fine, although I have maybe tightened the band), and my hips seem to be pretty much the same size too. I was already fairly hourglassy before starting this diet (38" bust (34C or 36C) - 28" waist - 38.5" hips), and now I am more so (27" waist [or maybe 26.5"], with the other measurements the same). If I am hourglassy to begin with, why would my body not pull fat from my hips and breasts to even it out rather than pull from my waist? I'm not complaining (it actually helps me because I like to wear 50s dresses and don't wear jeans much, so I'm not super concerned by my big hips right now), but it just strikes me as a bit odd. If I were to do a different sort of diet (low-fat or low-carb), would this change the places from which I would lose weight? What controls where I lose weight from, and can I influence this? Also, the only exercise I have been doing has been walking. Would other exercise influence where I lose weight from?
posted by ClaireBear to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
What controls where I lose weight from, and can I influence this?
Genetics, and nope. Spot reduction is unfortunately not a thing. You cannot target fat loss through exercise.
posted by sockermom at 10:17 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

1 - because bodies are weird. Anecdotally, I tend to lose weight in "whooshes" - I'll lose half a pound or stall out for two or three weeks, then lose three or four pounds in a week. Your weight will vary depending on water (you retain water for lots of reasons that can vary day by day) and the amount of food/waste in your body; I wouldn't worry too much about it and consider the trend to be pointing toward success.

2 - also because bodies are weird (maybe your waist seems even smaller proportionally because you're less bloated?). Body fat distribution is a function of age, genetics, and hormones, but in general people eventually lose (and gain) all over. There isn't much you can do diet or exercise-wise to make your body "prefer" fat from one place or another - breast, arm, butt and thigh fat are all subcutaneous and will come off eventually, though you might have to get REALLY thin before it all comes off - you can decide how far you want to go. Exercising more can help you get there faster is all. Again anecdotally, I hang on to a little lower belly pooch even when I'm super-fit and everything else is taut; it's just the (unfair) luck of the draw.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:17 AM on July 15, 2014

It doesn't sound like you're really losing weight at an unsteady rate, since you actually have only been at this for a relatively short amount of time, and water weight is probably a much bigger part of this than you are thinking. Losing two pounds on your fast day is absolutely water weight, unless you are somehow burning ~7000 calories on that day.

Spot reduction is a myth, you can't do a specific diet or exercise plan to lose fat in a specific part of your body. You can work on gaining muscle in parts of your body which might make it appear differently--but this won't cause you to lose fat from the area.
posted by inertia at 10:22 AM on July 15, 2014

I think you're coming from a flawed assumption that your body has any interest in even-ness. Your body wants you to make and feed and carry babies, and your genes influence what that looks like in your particular expression. It's likely that you have female relatives with whom you share a general frame shape and they will have the same booty you do.

Your weight loss rates are affected by everything from your period to your insulin resistance on any given day, your hydration level, medication you did or did not take, sodium/potassium/magnesium/many other things, barometric pressure, length of daylight/amount of UV exposure registered by your pineal gland, and many other things. Your body does not want you to lose weight, because that means you are starving because food has become scarce and you can't make/feed babies.

Obviously you can shape and sculpt your muscles with targeted training, but your fat is programmed. Ass and hips and boobs and thighs are why a lot of women strive to attain extremely low unhealthy BMI, because it's the only control that can be exerted on them, non-surgically.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:23 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Weight loss is not linear. Sometimes you do everything right and maintain—or even gain. Others you lose a whole lot for no apparent reason (whoosh!).

And where you lose is determined by genetics. Anectdata: my BFF loses first from her breasts & ankles. I lost 30 lbs., and still wear a 32DDD.
posted by editorgrrl at 10:25 AM on July 15, 2014

For what it's worth, when I cut calories but include simple carbs I get smaller overall but thick waisted. If I cut carbs and calories, then I get very hourglass shaped. Carbs do something in my body that results in carrying more weight through my mid-section. I've gone up and down the old scale enough times that I believe this to be a consistent observation for me. I believe this is probably about insulin and endocrine stuff, but I have no idea if that's generalizable across other women or just a quirk of me.
posted by 26.2 at 10:25 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've lost a ton of weight over the past year (70 pounds), and I did it by walking and eliminating carbs (flour and sugar).

Sometimes I "cheat" and have bread or whatever. I notice for the next few days that my pants are tight at the waistline. I think it's from bloating, because after a few days of abstaining from the stuff, my pants become loose again.

It may also be that your abdominal visceral fat stores are being depleted more quickly than other parts of your body.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:28 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Like editorgrrl said, weight loss is not linear. You may be interested in reading this article by Leah Peale that explains some of the theories behind why: The Science of Scale Fluctuations, Part 2.
posted by geeky at 12:15 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, your measurements indicate that unless you are very, very short, you don't have much to lose. You won't see hand over fist weight loss if your body is relatively close to where it wants to be.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 2:20 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why is the rate of loss not even if my calorie consumption is roughly equivalent week by week? I don't think that this is water weight

Hard to say without more to go on, but I would guess that it is in fact water weight masking fat loss, as discussed in this Lyle McDonald article.
I have often see this sort of weird ‘delay’ in fat loss when people first start a new diet/exercise program. And this tends to be far more so the case for women than for men (men always have it easier).
Trainees would be doing everything ‘right’ and absolutely nothing measurable would happen for the first four weeks. And then sometime after week 4, there will be this big change in body composition, seemingly overnight. On the Internet, this is often called the ‘whoosh’ (which usually comes after a ‘stall’).
posted by ludwig_van at 3:31 PM on July 15, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks all: this has been quite helpful (both the links, and the anecdotal replies). Chesty_a_arthur, I'm average height - around 5'5".
posted by ClaireBear at 4:40 PM on July 15, 2014

This is by no means scientific, but I did have 30 plus pounds to lose, twice in my life... so I know a thing or 2.

- Its easy to lose 10% of your weight.... but then your body gets a little bit freaked and you hit a plateau. Its best to just chill out during those times and wait until you feel a little plump again.

But remember, 10% of 150 is 15 pounds... 10% of 120 is 12 pounds. So the more you lean out, the less you can lose before your body gets a little concerned.

I am a firm believer in set points, and your body needs time to get used to each new one- before you can easily lose weight and go down to your new set point.

- The first place you gain weight is the last place you lose it. I have a bigger bottom and a small waist... I always lose weight in my tummy first and my boobs will get a little smaller- its much later that I feel leaner on my lower half.
posted by misspony at 12:58 AM on July 16, 2014

Salt, most likely. The amount of water you are retaining from day-to-day and week-to-week fluctuates because unless you are eating *exactly* the same thing every day the amount of salt you're consuming fluctuates.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:29 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Note that, while spot reduction is not a thing, you can change your body's shape by building muscle.

For example, if you'd rather become less hourglass shaped, one counterintuitive solution is to do a ton of abdominal and back exercises. The fat you burn will come from wherever your body deems fit, but the muscle mass you add will all be around the middle.
posted by 256 at 6:32 AM on July 16, 2014

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