Depression's made me fat. Help me become a muscle man!
September 8, 2014 6:25 AM   Subscribe

Thanks to severe depression I've gained about fifty pounds in under a year and wish to shed this excess weight off. Though I know how to shed weight, I want to do things differently this time by gaining muscle and avoiding meat.

Thanks to severe depression I've gained about fifty pounds in under a year (in case you're curious as to why depression would cause this: I'm the type that pigs out a lot when depressed). At this point I'm ready to shed this weight off as this excess weight has taken its toll on my self-esteem and physical health. I plan on shedding seventy pounds in total which will put my weight down to 160 lbs—the weight I was at a couple years ago before this severe depression came about.

I actually have a pretty good idea how to lose weight as I've done it in the past but this time I want to do things differently: I want to lift weights rather than stick to cardio only and want to try to avoid eating meat. I don't know how to go about this as I've never lifted weights before. I've heard that it's good to do cardio either before or after lifting weights. If this is true, when should you do the cardio: after or before lifting the weights? Another problem is that I'm not quite sure how to feel full while steering clear of meat. I attempted to go meat-free some years ago but couldn't do it as I was feeling hungry all the time without it. What filling, meat-free foods do you recommend?

Lastly, what other muscle-building exercises other than weight lifting do you recommend I try? And how long should it take to see serious results if I dedicate, say, an hour a day doing cardio + weight lifting while keeping my daily calorie intake at the recommended level for a person my size and height?

*Note - in case this is important, I'm a fairly tall male in his late twenties. Also: I don't really wish to become a 'muscle man'; I mostly just want to increase my strength, keep the fat away and tone up a bit . . . I don't require gaining huge muscles from this.
posted by GlassHeart to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Filling foods that aren't meat: other animal products like eggs, cheese, and yogurt. Soy is another one. You are probably missing the protein you get with meat.
posted by chaiminda at 6:30 AM on September 8, 2014

Full generally equals protein or fat. You can feel full on carbohydrates or vegetable fiber, but that doesn't last as long as protein or fat. So eggs, legumes, cheeses, that sort of thing will make you feel full. Portion control in those things will help.

Non-weight-lifting muscle-building exercises are all the bodyweight exercises, like push-ups, pull-ups, dips, etc.

I always do cardio and weight training on different days, only because finishing one makes me too tired to effectively tackle the other.
posted by xingcat at 6:37 AM on September 8, 2014

In order to lose weight and build muscles mass you'll need a LOT of protein. Otherwise you'll just lose a lot of weight and lok either skinny or "skinny fat".

Not sure how you feel about seafood and eggs, but vegetarian options that are high in protein include quinoa and beans. LFat will help you feel full longer that carbs will — fat doesn't actually make you fat, so don't fall for that old way of thinking.

If you are interested in exercise that advocates a vegetarian diet I'd recommend power yoga. I lost about 10 lbs and gained a lot of strength doing power yoga (and nothing else) every day for three months. It's both cardio and body weight exercise and it will also help a lot with your depression.
posted by Brittanie at 6:58 AM on September 8, 2014

Beware of tracking your progress on the scale if you're strength training. If over the course of a week you lose a pound of fat and gain a pound and a half of muscle that's awesome, but the scale will tell you you're failing. Instead, track progress by how much weight you're lifting in benchmark exercises (the full squat, deadlift, bench, pull-ups) and by appearance. If necessary, quantify your appearance with a tape measure.

A high-protein diet is best. Best non-meat sources are fish, milk, yogurt, and eggs. Avoiding meat will make losing weight, getting stronger, and gaining muscle all harder.

Two to four strength exercises followed by cardio is a good system. Cardio before strength makes you weak and unable to work strength optimally, whereas cardio after strength doesn't degrade your cardio progress as severely. The best non-weight-lifting exercises for building muscle are dips, pull-ups, chin-ups, and push-ups. Make sure you rest at least once or twice a week: going for a walk on a rest day is OK, but lifting every single day is best left to professionals.

Results vary dramatically, but most people see a small difference in a month. For other people's stories, the term to search for is "progress pics".

I recommend doing research on form for the basic exercises (squat, deadlift, bench, pull-ups) and revisiting that research frequently. Starting Strength and StrongLifts are good resources for this purpose, though be careful not to take everything in them as gospel. Don't assume you have the mobility to perform these exercises right out the gate; you might have to do remedial flexibility work.
posted by daveliepmann at 7:00 AM on September 8, 2014

*Note - in case this is important, I'm a fairly tall male in his late twenties. Also: I don't really wish to become a 'muscle man'; I mostly just want to increase my strength, keep the fat away and tone up a bit . . . I don't require gaining huge muscles from this.

You'll be relieved to know that 'gaining huge muscles' is difficult and takes a good amount of effort over a long time. People don't just 'accidentally' get huge.

Try All-Pro for a beginner routine. It'll teach you what you need to know about lifting.
posted by unixrat at 7:05 AM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Previously. If a gym is an option for you, try Starting Strength. It's simple and effective, and because it's very regimented it may be easier to stick with than if you try to choose make up your own always changing routine. You should see significant strength gains within weeks, or at the very least a few months.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:23 AM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might want to consider supplementing your protein with vegan protein powder, like PlantFusion.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:28 AM on September 8, 2014

I don't eat meat, & my go-to lunch (which is VERY filling) is a pita bread filled with hummus, a sliced hardboiled egg, and half an avocado. I often pair this with a half-cup of Fage Greek yoghurt (I do low-fat for the taste, but full-fat would be more filling) or a Luna protein bar.

Though they're expensive, I also LOVE the Tofurky line of sausages - up to 30g protein in a single sausage. When I'm feeling lazy, I'll make a grilled cheese with a Tofurky sausage inside, & that will keep me full for a good 5-6 hours. Nuts and seeds are also a good go-to snack if you're feeling super hungry. And I really like beans - black bean soup with goat cheese mixed in is absolutely delicious, and surprisingly protein-y.

I also have a general rule for food - if I'm eating something carby, I always pair it with fat and/or protein. So, if I have steel-cut oats for breakfast, I add a hard-boiled egg. If I have granola, I mix it into Greek yoghurt. I find that this gives me a pretty steady sense of fullness for several hours afterwards.
posted by littlegreen at 7:32 AM on September 8, 2014

Also: As a man, please be careful with too much processed soy. The dangers of xenoestrogens from soy are up in the air, but don't gamble with your hormones.
posted by unixrat at 7:35 AM on September 8, 2014

When you are as overfat as you are, the scale isn't going to lie to you. If you lose a pound of fat and simultaneously gain a pound and a half of muscle in a week, you are literally the god of body building because that just doesn't happen even on gear. When you get down to the point that you can see some real changes in muscle definition, then worry about whether the scale is doing you a disservice.

For weights I would recommend Stronglifts or Starting Strength. Personally I lean towards Stronglifts because Rippetoe is a twit. Whichever one you pick, stick with it for four months and make no changes. I would honestly say the most important skill you need to get strong is the ability to deal with boredom, because it's boring as hell doing any training regimen for long enough to actually benefit from it.

Cardio, ehh, it's overrated if it's not your goal, and if you're not getting one hell of a cardio workout from squats and deads you need to up the weight and decrease rest periods. Anecdata: My resting heart rate is ~54 bpm and my BP is 115/65. My only "cardio" consists of 2-2.25 x bw deadlifts and walking everywhere I possibly can. If you really wanna cardio then you should do it on non lifting days and do as little as you can feel happy with doing. Honestly, just go for a nice long walk or something, it's gonna be better overall. For fat loss, time under the bar is worth double or more time on the track. Banking analogy: fat loss is like a savings account. Cardio alone is like making a deposit. Weight training makes deposits and also bumps you up to a higher interest rate.

For eating, if you're cool with eggs, then eat a few of them every day. If you're cool with fish, eat a can of tuna every day. If you're cool with milk, drink a bunch of skim milk every day. If you're cool with milk and going a little overboard, drink a whey protein shake every day. If none of those appeal then I guess it's soy for you, and you have my pity. If fullness and satiety is a problem for you then your meal composition is too carb-heavy and you should look at fats and proteins as being critical to every meal. Nuts and oils, baby, nuts and oils. Don't listen to anyone who tells you that beans are a protein; they have protein, but they are a carb. Sadly it's tricky to maintain ~40% protein on a strict veg diet without resorting to foods that are gonna give you gyno. Maybe hemp proteins? I don't know much about them though, I just know that I wouldn't supplement with soy for any reason myself.
posted by Sternmeyer at 7:47 AM on September 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Find a good personal trainer. You want one who is trained in nutrition and body. It is worth the money to have someone outside of yourself telling you what to do. If you cannot afford a personal trainer, find a work out buddy who will motivate you to go to the gym every day. Work out your legs every other day and your upper body on the alternative days. You will see men at the gym who have great, big, popeye muscles and tweety bird legs. It's because they don't work out their legs.

I would not give up meat first. You will need lots of protein as you begin your working out. Wait until you are feeling better before you wean yourself off of meat. I like isopure protein for shakes because it a good quality protein. Be careful! Some of that stuff is garbage! And avoid any sort of GNC type supplements. You don't know what is in that stuff and the guy selling it to you doesn't care if it will actually help you or hurt you.

Snacking- if you wake up hungry and can eat a good breakfast, then you are on the right track. If you wake up and you are not hungry, you have eaten too much, too late in the evening. Adjust that. Only eat when hungry. When you weigh more, that can take longer than you would think. Don't let yourself get too hungry, though, because then you eat too much. Keep healthy options around for your emotional eating like watermelon and frozen grapes. Watermelon fills you up- you can't overeat it all that well and frozen grapes take a bit of time to eat, forcing you to slow down.

Get your testosterone level checked. Low testosterone can cause depression, weight gain, make it harder to get muscles, low sex drive, cold hands, etc.
posted by myselfasme at 8:52 AM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's easy to overdoy it on the soy if you're a vegetarian looking to up protein intake, and I'd agree that 3 quarts a day of soy milk is not a smart idea indeed, but in general, be careful with reading about nutrition on the internet. There is so much misinformation out there, and lobby groups are very powerful. There is a lot of anti-soy information that is heavily sponsored by the meat and dairy industry. See here (opinion article) and here (lots of research) for some counter-information against all the anti-soy information you may encounter if you look anything up about vegetarian nutrition for athletes on the internet. Also, on the topic of hormones, it is interesting to note that vegans generally have higher testosterone than meat eaters.

You don't need a lot of protein to build muscle. You build muscle in the gym, lose weight in the kitchen. From "Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?" by Alex Hutchinson: "Contrary to conventional wisdom, the amount of protein in a typical North American diet is more than enough to build muscle with any strength training program." and "Studies have found no difference in physiology or results in athletes with vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets, provided that the diets are balanced and include all necessary nutrients." (This is a good book in general if you're interested in this stuff).

It's not just protein and fat that are filling, fiber is too. If you're looking to completely overhaul your diet, check out "The End of Dieting" by Joel Fuhrman. It's mostly vegan (the author allows some meat, but it's not necessary), with an emphasis on beans and vegetables.

If you do want to use protein powders, there are many vegan options now besides soy. I like pea protein. But there are vegan athletes who don't use protein powders too. It also depends on how well you eat in general.

There are quite a few high profile vegan athletes who also authored books. You may find them inspiring. Check out Brendan Brazier and Rich Roll.
posted by blub at 9:02 AM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

A lot depends on how active you're going to be in general. I work out at a gym four times a week, mostly with weights. The rest of the time I'm mostly a slug. In order to lose weight, I have to eat only the amount of carbohydrates I can burn off...and it's not a lot. I have to have carbs before working out. and I bring extra in case I start to run out of gas before I'm done. But the rest of the day, the only carbs I have are fruits and vegetables that contain fiber, plus beans and whole grains. I do eat meat, but as others have said, you can get a lot of protein from other things.

If you try to go fat-free or nearly so, you're going to feel very hungry. I like cottage cheese and yogurt -- I have the low-fat or even the full-fat. The one without reduced fat is much more filling. Eggs are great, even considering their fat content. Beans are also good. Cheese is high in fat, but once you get used to eating less, you won't need a lot of cheese.

I suggest that you first learn to eat the no-meat way, not concerning yourself with calories or the scale. Then you can cut out sweets and processed carbs, white potatoes, bread, white rice, etc. The next step could be reducing portion size. You might find you do well if you eat more frequently in smaller amounts.

You're going to get to a point, maybe after 25 pounds, when you won't lose weight for a long time. That's normal. Stick with your plan and after a while you'll start losing weight again.

Both my husband and I have found that exercise doesn't help us lose weight. But it does make us feel better and stronger, and it prevents muscle loss when we're shedding pounds.
posted by wryly at 12:54 PM on September 8, 2014

I am an ex-vegan and would usually never recommend against somebody going meat-free. However, in the case of somebody who has stated that their goals are to build muscle while losing fat, I think you will have a very difficult time on a vegetarian diet. Not saying that it's impossible, as there are many very successful bodybuilders and weightlifters who eschew meat, but for you, I think it would be too much all at once.

I would recommend you try something like the following:

1. Commence a recognised barbell training routine, such as Starting Strength, while keeping your diet pretty much as it is. This has to be your first step, as this is your gateway drug, and resistance training is a proven depression-buster.

2. Gradually move away from "dirtier" foods (like takeaway and candy and sodas) and onto "cleaner" foods that you prepare yourself.

3. Gradually phase out sugar and other carbohydrates, and move onto a ketogenic diet (low carb, high fat).

4. Slowly tweak your keto diet to keep your calories up, while phasing out first red meat, then white meat, then seafood, then dairy (if you decide to). In order to keep building muscle, this will probably necessitate you taking vegetarian protein supplements (such as pea and soy protein shakes, etc.)

Doing this all at once, in a state of depression, is, to my mind, a recipe for distaster. Baby steps (bro).
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:46 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

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