How can I lose weight without getting obsessive about it?
August 15, 2014 12:56 PM   Subscribe

I've always been a huge overplanner but rarely follow through on any of my plans. When I do try, I get so obsessive about it it inevitably falls apart. I've been "trying" to lose the 40 lbs I gained in college (I'm 24 now) for the past 3 years without success. How can I actually lose weight without being so anal about it?

Whenever I've made attempts to lose weight, I set out to create the "perfect plan." But all the research I do just makes me confused and inhibits my action. Should I eat low carb or avoid sugar? Paleo? My preferred method is just to avoid processed food and eat carbs in moderation, but I am a sugar addict. And what type of exercise is the most effective? It used to be cardio, but now it seems to be strength training. And how often should I be exercising? The most effective thing I've done is used MyFitnessPal to track my food, but I find myself constantly thinking about what I'm going to eat next and how I'm going to log it into MFP, which I suppose is the point but it just occupies all my brainspace.

Some tidbits about what I've tried:
I've gotten some kettlebells which I enjoy using but don't use them as much as I should - I'm also an Irish dancer so I should be practicing that at home but I make excuses not to because the logistics trip me up (if I practice I'll have to shower, but what if we go out later? then my hair will be wet and we can't go out, etc.)

I am currently unemployed so I spend most of my day sitting at the computer. I have no money so I can't join a gym or anything. There are some physical activities I'd like to try (rock climbing, crossfit) since I feel like I do better in classes than self-directed, but I can't afford them right now. I've been trying to make healthier food at home but one of my hobbies is baking and sugary treats really trip me up; additionally, I live in a city where one of the main draws is all the cool restaurants so my boyfriend and I like to eat out a lot.

Basically this: I've made so many plans to lose weight over the past 3 years and haven't followed through with any of them. I love to plan but I'm tired of making plans because at this point I feel like they will all fail. I get overwhelmed by all the tips and tricks like visualizing and forming habits and tracking, etc. How can I get out of my head and just do it? I don't want to go through the rest of my 20s feeling shitty about myself because I'm chunky.

Wanted to add - I know there are some similar questions like this but I have a hard time relating ones who need to lose much more weight (100+ lbs) - some days I convince myself that I look fine as I am! But I know that I am actually overweight and I need to lose 20 lbs to even get back into the 'normal' bmi range.
posted by majesty_snowbird to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Weight Watchers on-line program (on your phone, too) is easy and provides guidelines, with flexibility. Stop baking. Walk or ride a bike.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:02 PM on August 15, 2014

Everyone I know who's in that position has loved Weight Watchers, which is a relatively low-carb plan that largely relies on portion control and activity, which is probably the primary concern for a 24-year-old with 40 pounds to lose anyway.

I recommend cooking for yourself instead of eating their prepackaged food (most of the time anyway), just to get the habit of cooking and eating reasonable meals. You will have some points that are hoardable for 1-2 big meals a week, which are all the big meals anyone needs.

And yeah, you have to stop baking. It's just not a productive hobby in most people's lives.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:05 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, if you can't figure out anything else, do prison workouts. But there's quite a few fitness videos on YouTube or at your local library, and if you have cable check your On Demand channels for them as well.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:07 PM on August 15, 2014

Don't use your plans then! Using someone else's might be easier and more sticky. I am using Kayla Itsines's Bikini Body Guide for similar reasons and it's really effective for me.
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:21 PM on August 15, 2014

How can I get out of my head and just do it?

You just get up and say what you're going to do today, and you do it. Unfortunately there are no tricks or shortcuts. If there were, this wouldn't be such a struggle for so many people.

If you cut back on eating out, you could probably pay for a cheap gym membership.

Nike Training Club is a free app with good workouts. Pop Sugar also has free workouts via an app and YouTube.

At least in my medium-sized city, there are lots of cheap or free workout options via Groupon, meetup, etc. A nearby park has free workouts every week. Lots of yoga places have "pay what you want" nights. You could reach out to an active friend and ask to run or jog with them. Check your city's recreation commission--I know mine has cheap gym access at local rec centers. Does your boyfriend work? He may have access to discounted exercise programs through his job.
posted by girlmightlive at 1:32 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you ever heard of either Nerd Fitness or Fitocracy? Both are geared toward people who like to plan, and in neither case is your story unusual. Both also have very active communities of people, many of whom are both informed and willing to help. I'd recommend Fitocracy between the two, but I'm a bit biased because their community worked best for me, and while I read the Nerd Fitness blogs regularly, my community is pretty much exclusively on Fito.

I'll let you do your own exploring, but I wanted to alert you to those two sites in the hopes that one or both would help you achieve your goals. If you decide to join Fito, feel free to message me with your username so I can prop your workouts and cheer you on. :)
posted by Urban Winter at 1:37 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I found that creating the perfect diet for me was about routine. When I am dieting I eat the same stuff literally every day. I cheat once a week and get to eat whatever I want for dinner and then all evening afterwards on Saturday. The rest of the week, I eat the same thing day in, day out. It is boring and when I get sick of whatever it is I just switch to another meal with the same number of calories and eat that until I am sick of it. For example, I might eat a Chobani Greek yogurt with the little cereal bits in it every day for breakfast, carrot sticks and a few almonds for a mid-morning snack, oatmeal with blueberries in it for lunch, a skim latte in the afternoon, and then a grilled chicken breast with a big salad for dinner. Every single day without fail, except Saturday, which I save for all my cravings (hamburgers, milkshakes, French fries, whatever). Find the things that work for you and eat them every day until you can't stand them anymore.
posted by sockermom at 1:38 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I like baking too, but I put it aside for other meal-prep activities while fresh produce is in season, because omg fruit and tomatoes. Regardless of what you pick, I think you're going to need to commit to redirecting your energy around that hobby - either switch from baking to cooking awesome meals with lots of veg & protein and far fewer carbs, start baking for a food bank, or spend now until early November in pure research mode, working out exactly which special holiday treats you're going to bake and take to places but (mostly) not keep in your house for snacky time.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:38 PM on August 15, 2014

There's a LOT of conflicting information about nutrition and fitness out there; it's definitely daunting to try to wade through it and settle on a plan. When I first got into it, I fell into the same trap. After reading hundreds of articles and opinions (and immersing myself in the collective wisdom of forums), a general consensus seemed to emerge. A diet emphasizing higher amounts of protein (lean meats; higher protein dairy choices like cottage cheese and Greek yogurt); enough good fats (as in nuts, avocados, and olive oil); and lots of fibre (as in veggies and 'brown' carbs / legumes) keeps you fuller for longer on fewer calories. Whatever rules or principles people use (whether they go with "If It Fits Your Macros", or "low carb", or "30:40:30" or whatever, that is more or less what it comes down to, practically speaking. (It's also the sort of diet that helped people minimize weight gain in this long-term prospective study.)

FWIW that looks kind of like this:
- Protein: about 20-30 grams, or about 6-8 oz of fish, chicken or lean red meats per meal, or 2 eggs, or a good amount of high-protein dairy or legumes for vegetarians (sorry, I know less about how to plan veggie meals)
- Fats: say 1/2 tspn olive oil per meal, or 15 nuts a day
- Fibre/carbs: about 20-22 grams per day, or about 1/2 cup of brown rice or 1 piece of brownish bread or 1/2 cup of legumes per meal, and 2 servings of fibrous veg, like broccoli or whatever per meal. Berries have lots of fibre too.)

I think,
- pick some rules of thumb to organize your diet (though as I say, they mostly all say the same thing)
- accept that it will take time to learn how to apply those rules given your preferences and lifestyle (it just does involve lots of trial and error with recipes etc.)
- do your best, accepting that you won't be perfect but striving for consistency, because that's what matters. If you get off track, just get back on at the next meal or the next day.

Here is what people who've kept weight off do (very similar to what was found in that first study I linked to).
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:57 PM on August 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Are you by any chance near a metro area that has a November Project?. Because if you are, free workouts every week! They're geared toward runners, but there's a lot of body weight in there as well, plus a supportive community to help you along and demonstrate the exercises.

If you are near one of these locations and want to know more about what a workout might look like, memail me. If you're not...well, memail me anyway, because a lot of the exercises are customizable for solo workouts.

Even if your metro area doesn't have this exactly, there may be other free or sliding scale exercise groups or classes if you poke around.
posted by ActionPopulated at 2:01 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

+1 Fitocracy! And join the Metafilter group!
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 2:05 PM on August 15, 2014

tl;dr: I lost 30 pounds in a year. Make one change at a time. Be pathologically positive about your efforts. Do mostly things you can keep doing forever; be drastically strict about only a couple of things. Forgive your mistakes.

For decades, I've had a serious problem with obsessing while trying to lose weight. I went through a long period of "accepting" being fat because that weight-loss anxiety was so awful. The weight wasn't going to stay off anyway, so I figured I was better off just staying fat. When it comes to sweets and white carbs, there's no reasonable limit to what I can consume; feeling full makes no difference because I still want more. I love to bake, I eat in restaurants pretty often.

A few years ago I found out I had to limit sweets and other carbs because my blood sugar levels were high. After some bad starts, I made some changes that led to success, and gradually developed an approach that worked for me. It helped to make one change at a time, get used to it, and then add another when I was ready. And it helped to use positive reinforcement in a way that actually worked, instead of using the number on the scale as my "rewards."

I stopped baking. Completely. Many months later, I found that sweets had loss their evil power, so now I bake for company or if I'm bringing dessert to someone's house. If you have no control over a type of food or drink and can't practice moderation, eliminate that food entirely.

Think of as many ways as you can to become and stay healthy. Mine were just eating related at first and then widened to include other things relating to physical and mental health. I made a point to think about the various things I was doing right.

Eat vegetables and fruit.
Increase protein.
Stop eating before I feel full.
Eat a small amount several times a day.
Each little meal needs protein and fruit/vegetable/fiber.
Limit sweets. (For me, it was best to eliminate them entirely for a few months)
Have whole grains and beans instead of bread, rice, potatoes.
Allow fats in moderation.
Eat slowly.
Keep the right foods on hand.
Order a sandwich and eat only half the bread.
Eat before going to a restaurant so I won't be starving.
Move my body more than before.
Drink water.
Acknowledge how sad I feel about not making brownies.
The scale isn't helping; I need to weigh myself less often.
Don't get too hungry, and if that fails, eat protein and wait for it to kick in.
Eat appropriate carbs before working out
Drink less alcohol because it makes me eat unhealthy stuff.
If I have food that's off limits, start over at the next meal. No self-berating.
etc, etc.

Every time I did anything food or exercise related, I made a point of acknowledging it as it happened or as soon as I remembered to. Bought groceries, prepared snacks ahead of time, turned down a cookie, ate a yogurt before going out to dinner, parked the car a little farther away and walked extra yards to my destination.

These things are BAD for you: "I'm bad because I have kettle bells and don't use them." "I'm bad because I make excuses not to dance." Don't say these things. If you forget, counteract it with a few positive things.
posted by wryly at 2:11 PM on August 15, 2014 [20 favorites]

IMO, the perfect plan is the one you a) stick with, and b) causes you to lose weight. The best thing you can do is try a plan for a few weeks, weight yourself regularly, and see what happens. Maybe try a few simple changes like no more baking unless you can give most of what you make away, or standardize one or two meals a day, or only eat out twice a week or whatever. Or try just writing everything you eat down without calorie counting, if mindless eating is a thing for you. If you've calorie counted before, you probably have some sense of what kind of food makes you feel most satisfied, what you can give up without feeling deprived and what's worth "saving" calories for, and what a portion looks like. With that knowledge base, you can probably come up with a plan that is reasonable for you without having to go for a structured plan like paleo and whatever. The important thing is to actually stick with it, and stick with it long enough to see if it's working.
posted by MadamM at 2:11 PM on August 15, 2014

Don't track things. That is the easiest way to become unhealthily obsessed. You want to do something sustainable and doable. Tracking obsessively is the opposite of that.

Instead, develop a set of guidelines that will help you make better choices. And plan ahead so you'll always be able to choose something decent, rather than being starving and going for the most convenient thing.

Here are my guidelines:
Try to eat as few carbs as you can, most of the time. (Carbs make you want to eat more carbs. Especially try to avoid things with flour and sugar in them. When you eat bread, eat the nuttiest, seediest, whole-grainiest bread you can stand.)

Eat enough protein and fat. (Unlike carbs, which do not satiate and just make you want to eat more, protein and fat will satiate you so you can stop eating when you're full.)

Eat vegetables at every meal, or at as many meals as you can.

Make most of your food intake protein and vegetables, and always include some fat in every meal.
And that's it. I try to adhere to them. Most of the time I do. Sometimes I don't. That's OK. I get a new chance every day to eat well.

I make sure I at least have a general idea of what I'm going to eat that day, so I don't have to decide what I want when I'm hungry. Most mornings I eat eggs for breakfast. Sometimes I eat dinner leftovers. For lunch I usually have a salad with plenty of protein and fat in it (chicken, hardboiled egg, nuts, cheese, full-fat salad dressing, etc.) Dinner is usually just meat and vegetables, like roasted chicken and asparagus sauteed with butter and garlic. If I have dessert, I try to make it whole fruit.

If I want to snack, I will try to make it a high-protein snack. Beef jerky, protein bars, nuts, greek yogurt, etc. And I try to brush my teeth right after dinner so I am less inclined to snack after dinner (because then I'd have to go through my whole dental routine again.)

But you know, sometimes I just want to eat ice cream. I also love chocolate, and if I cut that out of my life, I'd be pretty miserable. You have to treat yourself sometimes, or it won't be sustainable. Usually I try to limit my treats to weekends, but if I'm having a strong craving, I just give in to it. (I do try and stay away from baked goods though, because those seem to lead to full-on binges for me.)

As for exercise, find a physical activity that you love. If you don't love any of them, pick something that's easy to do. And do it for half an hour a day, 3-5 days a week. If you want to do more than that, great. But remember, it has to be sustainable. If you get obsessive, you're going to burn out. And you don't want to burn out.

I've lost 25 pounds this year just changing some of my habits. And miraculously, eating this way, I'm no longer a sugar addict. I no longer have overwhelming cravings. I've tried dieting a million times in the past, and failed every time, because I was a perfectionist and would give up after I inevitably failed, because I was too strict about my diet and because I didn't know that eating carbs basically sets you up for failure. By just giving myself general guidelines though, and allowing for some recreational calories sometimes, I feel like I could eat this way for the rest of my life. It doesn't have to be all or nothing.

I will say though, it's helpful to start out strict on the no sugar/flour, and try to ban them from your diet for at least a week at the beginning, so you can quickly move beyond the sugar cravings. You can add a little back into your diet after the first week or so, if you can handle it. If you feel strong sugar cravings coming back, go strict again for a bit..

Good luck.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:12 PM on August 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

**nb: earlier i meant 20-22 grams of FIBRE
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:13 PM on August 15, 2014

Best answer: You're not allowed to plan. You, specifically. Here's why: for a certain personality (myself included), planning partially satisfies the desire for action. Read that again.

When we make elaborate plans about healthy lifestyle changes, the mere act of coming up with a plan feels like a success. It dulls our drive to actually do the thing we intend to.

You already know MORE than you need to about fitness and nutrition to lose a few pounds. You're not allowed to read about exercise or nutrition anymore. You're not allowed to plan. You just have to make one good decision at a time. Every time you do some activity that feels like progress but is really just planning, you're shooting yourself in the foot.
posted by telegraph at 2:18 PM on August 15, 2014 [23 favorites]

I've always found that counting calories gets me to overly obsess about food. When I am counting calories, I cannot get my next meal/snack out of my mind!

Instead have only healthy foods in your home. Plan out your meals/snacks and only buy groceries that will help towards your weight-loss goals. That way if you get hungry and want a snack between meals, its not a big deal because your go-to snack with be an apple instead of a muffin (because a muffin simply isn't available). You will no longer need to be thinking about food all the time. Just whip up whatever you have in your fridge because you know it already fits your diet plan.

Good luck!
posted by Blissful at 2:20 PM on August 15, 2014

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
posted by Slap Factory at 2:23 PM on August 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh man I think losing weight/developing exercise habits/general lifestyle change stuff is SO HARD and really requires understanding yourself for success, so good for you for identifying what hasn't worked in the past!

I think that for someone like you (and me! I am exactly like you, too) what's easiest and stickiest is to not do your own planning - follow someone else's plan. I would actually advocate for something very limited and regimented and decision-free, at least at first. You say you would prefer to succeed with moderation and good judgement, and you totally can long-term, but that's for later, after you've already seen some wins and feel like you got this. If you could easily be successful at the judgement and decision-making required to eat in moderation right this second, you wouldn't be asking this question.

It doesn't actually matter very much what strict plan you follow at first, as long as you're getting adequate nutrition (no crash diets or master cleanses, please). You should decide if counting calories is something you can do accurately and reliably and choose a plan based on that. Some ideas -

- Whole 30/hardcore paleo. Whole 30 in particular is very strict and you may find its approach to excluding foods helpful in reframing choices from "I can't eat that" to "I don't eat that right now". You will probably need to start counting calories to lose beyond the initial bloat.

- Atkins induction/keto. I evangelize keto because it's just so easy if you can get through the first couple days - the appetite and craving suppression is powerful for most people. You can probably lose a fair amount of your total goal this way, because as long as you stick to the plan you just won't be hungry enough to eat like you did before. You may need to dial in and start counting once you're within 10-15 lbs of goal, though. Keto tends to be easy to stick to in U.S. restaurants, too, which is helpful. I breathe I'm hungry has some good meal plans to make it easier to get started if you're interested.

- Weight Watchers or other point/ratio/whatever plans. Community support and flexibility are the bonuses here.

- Whatever meal plan sounds good to you, where they've developed the recipes and counted for you. The BuzzFeed clean eating plan had some pretty good food in it.

- Brute force routine. Make a list of meals, home-made or otherwise, that you know the calorie counts of. Five 300-calorie breakfasts, five 500-calorie lunches, five 600 calorie dinners, five 100-calorie snacks. Eat them over and over, swapping one out when you get bored.

Some notes that apply to all of these things:

- A plan is always only a plan. In execution, the best plan in the world won't work if you also eat a cookie at 2pm and drink a couple glasses of wine with dinner every night.

- But it's not the end of the world if you go off-plan, on purpose or no. You just have to get back on the plan, and immediately, not tomorrow because today is shot or on Monday because this weekend is ruined. That's how it works.

- Getting different results requires making changes, not all of them easy or simple. The baking is a habit that will sabotage you every time - find some other way to deal with stress. Ditto eating out all the time. Sometimes lifestyle changes suck, but it's a matter of priorities - would you rather eat out, or would you rather lose weight? Is there some other thing you and your boyfriend can do to have fun and connect? Bonus, if you eat out less, you will save a ton of money and maybe could then explore rock climbing or whatever you want to do!

- You don't have to exercise to lose weight, especially initially (prevailing opinion is that exercise actually does very little to impact weight loss for most people), but I think it's a marvelous habit for other health-related reasons and you should start as soon as you can. I think you should do whatever you like or want to do and not worry too much about what the "right" thing to do is. Do Couch to 5k and actually sign up for a 5k if you're goal-oriented, get that zombie app or join Fitocracy or a local running club if you need to gamify or get community motivation, go to CrossFit or boot camp classes at the Y, use fitness classes on Netflix, whatever works for you.

Tell yourself you will stick to whatever eating plan for two weeks to get started. Then do it for another two weeks, just because you know you can. If you do, you should see encouraging results within that month. Decide from there how you want to adjust for the rest of the journey and how you want to deal long-term. I wish you luck, you got this!
posted by peachfuzz at 2:23 PM on August 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've lost 10 pounds pretty painlessly in the past month and a half using Rise. It's an app (app is free, but you pay abour $12-$15 for the dietician) where you take pictures of your food and a registered dietician gives you feedback. This has counteracted all my insane overcontrolling tendencies, and--in combination with cutting back a bit on simple carbs--has really helped me. I can't praise it highly enough.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 2:25 PM on August 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you are 40-pounds overweight and have a hobby of making sugary treats you probably have a problem with food. I might be stating the obvious here but not too many people understand that they are making food a hobby and overeating as a way to cope. When I was in my twenties I was also 20 pounds overweight and in a lot of denial. I also went out to eat with my boyfriend a lot too and was using food as entertainment.

I was also obsessive about diets and would plan and plan and dream and dream. If I can tell you anything beautiful-twenty something is to cut that shit out right now and stop dieting and planning and scheming. Do not plan one more diet ever in your life. There a thousands (millions) of women who have spent their entire adolescent and adult lives dieting and planning and striving to be thin.

In my thirties I got even heavier because I kept obsessing and planning and was a perfectionist and self-sabatouger. I would yo-yo. I would beat myself up. I was still in a lot of denial about my food consumption. I wondered why I could never stick to anything. I was messed up. I spent most of my life dreaming of the day when I would be skinny. I've been skinny and I've been fat but only recently did I finally understand it's not about the food, it's about your head.

Forget Paleo, carb-free, calorie counting. Forget Weight Watchers. If you start Weight Watchers now without getting your head straight and why you're overeating in the first place, you'll join and quit Weight Watchers a dozen times.

Figure out why you're eating when you're not hungry. Figure out why you're baking sugary treats when you have a weight problem. Figure out why you're going out to restaurants instead of doing other fun stuff with your boyfriend. It's not about the food. You're probably abusing food because you're not dealing with your emotions in a healthy way. Figure out why you're just trying to make healthier meals and not making healthy eating a priority. I know you're unemployed but therapy would be a better investment than diet books or kettle bells.

Diets don't work. They only make you doubt yourself more when they fail. Instead of going out to eat during the week choose an activity that will boost your confidence.

Exercise. Exercise to be healthy and feel sexy and get your endorphins going. You are young and your skin is gorgeous and your metabolism hasn't slowed down. You'll probably find that you can achieve a healthy weight if you exercise and stop using food as entertainment and a coping measure. If you feel you have a sugar addiction you may want to listen to some Overeaters Anonymous podcasts on iTunes.

Curb the sugar and try eating three meals a day without snacking. If you can't handle sugar, get it out of your house and don't bake with it. Find another hobby that doesn't involve food. An alcoholic shouldn't work in a bar and if you abuse sugar you shouldn't be making cupcakes for fun.

Check out

Feel free to message me if you want more recommendations.
posted by Fairchild at 2:28 PM on August 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

I have an inclination towards eating disorders so it's a different place from where you're coming from, but as someone who is inclined to obsess in very literal and destructive ways, I don't count calories. I do try to eat more high-quality foods, less low-quality foods, save treats for actual special occasions, and I feel healthier when I can do that, which helps. As far as exercise, it sounds like you're just not that into whatever you're doing, including the dance, so maybe just try different stuff until you find something you can actually be excited about? I'm never going to be any kind of competitive runner, but I enjoy it because I can see my own progress in ways that have nothing to do with appearance or a scale.

Doing more than that would be strictly more effective for weight-loss purposes but makes me crazy. I will say that if you know you behave in an addictive way towards something, you need to make a concerted effort to either develop healthier habits with it or cut it out, and that's true with literally anything, just shrugging and saying "oh well I'm a sugar addict" or "oh well I like baking" is not helpful. But either of those things are options. Generally, it's a quality-over-quantity thing, for me. I make my own sushi--there are definitely ways to consume food where you feel simultaneously decadent and healthy. There's no reason to feel deprived. You seem to be trying to do this negotiation with yourself about how horrible you're allowed to make yourself feel in the service of being thinner. Don't do that.

Also, seriously, just blow dry your hair.
posted by Sequence at 2:29 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

This took me years to learn: the specific types of foods we eat count for a lot more than how much we exercise. (Or to put it another way, one can eat through ANY amount of exercise.)

Go read Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes, reviewed here - because apparently reading this book has helped a lot of folks to suddenly change their eating habits.

Should I eat low carb or avoid sugar?

Actually, you should try to limit BOTH starchy carbs and sugars - no need to frame this question as an either/or.
posted by hush at 2:31 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you have a YMCA where you are? I'm not sure it's all of them, but many of them have a financial assistance application that will get your cost down to very low or free, especially if you're unemployed.
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:32 PM on August 15, 2014

Oh, and sushi aside, other things if you're inclined to be the baking type there are other cool food things you can learn how to do: Bento kind of decorative lunches. Spiralized veggies and the fourteen billion things one can do with them. Learn how to plate food like fancy restaurants do. Soups tend to be quite healthy and can be very involved if you start from making your own stock. Grow your own herbs. Learn how to eat with chopsticks. Make your own salsa or chutney or other condiments. Lots of places to go with things that allow a similar combination of food and creative outlet that don't load you up primarily on white flour and sugar. Not that you can never bake again, but that balance thing.
posted by Sequence at 2:38 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

What about running? Have you tried the couch to 5K?
posted by jellyjam at 2:41 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am currently unemployed so I spend most of my day sitting at the computer.

This is something you can very quickly turn into an asset instead of a liability. It means your time is flexible and you can work activity into your day in multiple ways, and as it is convenient for you. You can add one hour a day of walking to whatever it is that you're already doing. You can add two twenty-minute walks. You're not boxed into a situation where if you don't hit the gym before work (or whatever) you won't be able to exercise that day. You can also get whatever amount of sleep is perfect for you, which really, really helps with regulating weight. Plus, you can eat whenever you are really hungry and not feel like you have to pack it in so you won't be starving halfway to your next meal opportunity.

I get what you mean about tracking food turning into an obsession. Weight Watchers did that to me. I ended up developing a small list of meals with a known points content so I could have days of no fretting and would only have to make up a new recipe or meal plan if I wanted to. It got boring but had the positive effect that I could easily identify those things which seriously throw my diet off. For me, it was sugar and alcohol which would cause a rebound effect and make me ravenous later.

I have always gone out to dinner while dieting. But if you are trying to shift some serious poundage, try to identify cuisines which you can handle on your diet and, if you are like me, put serious brakes on drinking when out to dine. It's hard when you're dining with men because they weigh twice what you do, and they metabolize stuff differently. So for a while, just don't go to restaurants where they will be giving you the side-eye if you don't eat a whole pig or something.
posted by BibiRose at 2:53 PM on August 15, 2014

There are a ton of good ideas in here, so I just want to propose a small change that, for me, was monumental.

Stop eating sugar and sugar substitutes. ALL sugar substitutes, including saccharine, aspartame, stevia, agave, honey, maple syrup. You can use a small amount of fruit juice for sweetener, but don't go crazy and don't eat a ton of fruit because that won't help you kill the sugar demon. (Also, limit processed grains which, when metabolized, kind of trick your body into acting like it ate sugar) (Also, alcohol is sugar)

It's tricky. You have to read labels. You have to do a lot of cooking for yourself. You have to be fierce in your determination. But it is one thing, one change, that can turn the weight issue around, depending on your sugar habit.

Commit to 30 days of this. Put a reminder on your calendar each day that tells you what day it is, so you can keep track, if you want to. It's an addiction and addictions take time to break. At the end of 30 days, you will either (a) kind of want to try sugar again, or (b) REALLY want to try sugar again. If (a), go for it. It will make you sick and you'll realize how much happier you are without sugar in your diet. If (b), do another 30 days.

Think of it as a meditation practice period. 30 days isn't long to break a habit that could mess up your metabolism for life.

You know what was killer for me? Diet soda. It was SO hard to get used to drinking water and unsweetened iced tea. After about a week, sparkling water with a thin slice of lemon turned into the most delicious drink I'd ever had, and it's readily available at bars (I do a lot of socializing in public). Oh boy, though. It's like when I quit smoking. I am so glad to be free of that demon. Also I lost 11 pounds in one month.
posted by janey47 at 3:11 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you can make a virtue of your limitation. The problem with big plans and obsessions is that it's so damn slow to lose weight that it's easy to get frustrated. A more casual, patient effort is the better way to go. I lost 35 lbs like this:

Move as much as you can in every way you can as often as you can.

Count calories and track and balance fat/carb/protein at every meal. There are multiple sites/apps for this. It's essential, and it doesn't take much time once you get used to it (and have input your typical dishes/ingredients)

Proteins must be "clean": lean poultry and fish, egg whites, tofu, legumes. No burgers, etc.

Carbs must be unprocessed and complex. No white flour, no sugar, no convenience items. Fruit's ok in limited quantity. Good; sweet potatoes, kasha, heavy completely whole grain bread. Learn about (and avoid) high-glycemic foods; low-glycemic is a good diet even if you aren't diabetic. Brown rice is highly glycemic.....there are lots of obese veg'ns out there thanks to brown rice.

Fat must be extra virgin olive oil or canola.

No dessert, no alcohol, no cheese, no fried, no takeout.

Do NOT under eat and don't skip protein at any meal ever, otherwise you will burn muscle and look haggard and feel frail.

Within these limitations, do whatever you can do and spend whatever you can afford to spend to make it delicious. Nice wild alaskan salmon. Good fresh vegetables. Good spices. Care taken in cooking and sourcing.

If you do this right, you will struggle to eat 2000 calories/day (aim for less if you're short). You'll be eating MORE than usual, so you won't be hungry. Divide it up among several small meals. No big meals ever. And stop eating by 7pm (or whatever's viable). No snacking and no night eating whatsoever.

Just do all that stuff, as casually and non-obsessively as you'd like, and wait. Losing weight correctly/healthily is glacial. Since you're not all obsessive, then it's no problem. One day you'll simply notice your pants don't fit.

Weight training makes bigger muscles, which increases (a lot) your resting metabolism. If you possibly can, do some sort of regular weight training, it doesn't need to be anguished bust-a-gut stuff, just work through (and if you do, increase your protein percentage in daily diet).
posted by Quisp Lover at 3:53 PM on August 15, 2014

Couch to 5k, don't drink calories.
posted by notned at 5:00 PM on August 15, 2014

I think the biggest mistake people make with trying to lose weight is to think that losing weight and fitness are strongly related. They really are not. Fitness and maintaining weight are positively related. Fitness and losing weight are negatively related.

Why? Because exercise increases appetite.

In the absence of some form of calorie control fitness programs will typically result in a failure to lose weight unless you are some freak lottery winner.

Arguments for things like more lean body mass (muscle) resulting in changes in metabolism or eating hard to digest foods or eating proscriptive diets restricting various food groups are weird because these are really extremely marginal returns. Losing weight isn't about making changes that are barely statistically significant. Unless you are only overweight by a fraction of percent. But people who want to lose weight don't want to lose just one percent. They want to lose at least 10%.

Losing weight is about making very noticeable changes in your lifestyle. This requires your attention and focus so you are actually doing it right. You just need to stick to it.

I lost fifty pounds by counting calories consumed and burned (I used Livestrong's daily plate and I always chose the most weight loss conservative values - highest cal entries for food and lowest cals burned for exercise - when I lost 30lbs I plotted the calories versus weight loss and the correlation was above .9 - as a former psych grad student I was gobsmacked) . I walked for exercise. I ate the same food I did before dieting but just less of it. I found the best way of managing the obsession of it was to plan what I would eat for the entire day and commit to it by entering it in daily plate. If I deviated I had to exercise to make up for it. It was HARD for the first three months. It was easier for the next year.

I now track my weight and when I go up (damn you America and your deliciousness!) I count calories again.
posted by srboisvert at 6:47 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Alternate day fasting might be good for you. No planning or tracking, you just have to know whether it's an eating day or not.

(And it's not absolute fasting on the "fasting" days - 400-500 calories are recommended for women.)
posted by lakeroon at 7:38 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I found myself getting similarly obsessed with food/tracking when I wanted to lose 5-10 lbs. I made grandiose plans (keto! paleo!) but became overwhelmed with the lifestyle change.

What's been working for me is intermittent fasting. I do lean gains which is 16/8 - fast for 16 hours, eat for 8 hours. I work 3p-11p so I fast from midnight to 4p, then eat 4- to midnight. It is SO NICE not having to even think about food until 4pm! I highly recommend it - although if you are on a more regular schedule you might try to eat from 11a-7p, then fast 7p-11a.
posted by pintapicasso at 9:04 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

First off- good for you on the baking. I have a rule that if I want sweets, I have to make them myself, from scratch, and then share with others. It has kept me very trim. Find others to share your treats with! Start walking around your neighborhood and meet your neighbors. Not only will you find people to feed but you will be getting exercise. If you are drinking diet soda or eating any diet food or using fake sugar, stop now. There is a reason why you see fat people drinking diet soda- it's because it doesn't do a thing help you actually diet. Diet foods work against you.
Drink lots of water and cut out all sodas. Eat any baked foods that you like but keep away from processed foods. Do whatever it takes to move around enough during the day to sleep good at night. If you aren't sleeping well, you aren't going to be able to eat well. Don't eat late at night, either. If you aren't waking up hungry, then you ate too much the night before.
Make it your goal to wake up hungry. You will lose 5 pounds so quickly, just by doing that.
posted by myselfasme at 9:09 PM on August 15, 2014

I've lost 10 pounds pretty painlessly in the past month and a half using Rise. It's an app (app is free, but you pay abour $12-$15 for the dietician) where you take pictures of your food and a registered dietician gives you feedback. This has counteracted all my insane overcontrolling tendencies, and--in combination with cutting back a bit on simple carbs--has really helped me. I can't praise it highly enough.

This sounds really interesting! It looks like they try to match your eating style to the nutritionist. How well does that work? I have in the past used a sort of social version of this (photo of food, people on the app rate it by health), and the most frustrating part was the food philosophy mismatch, where people would upvote their diet coke, and downvote my delicious pastured eggs and spinach omelet, blueberries and whole milk yogurt, or dark chocolate and dried fruit. Bah, humbug. Tell me more? I am super intrigued, and almost hovering my finger over the download button.
posted by instamatic at 10:01 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much everyone - there's a ton of great advice in here!
posted by majesty_snowbird at 3:49 PM on August 18, 2014

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