Help me lose five pounds when my lifestyle is already fairly healthy!
December 16, 2014 9:12 PM   Subscribe

I want to lose five pounds. I don't have a specific deadline for this weight loss, but perhaps losing the weight over, say, two months would make me happy. The issue is that tips like "kick the soda habit!" and "cut out bread!" might not work for me, because I already have pretty healthy lifestyle habits!

I want to lose the five or six pounds I have gained over the past three or four months. I don't really know why I suddenly put on this weight, and while it isn't a ginormous amount of weight, I do know that I am not at my "normal" body weight. Plus, I am short enough such that five pounds makes a difference in the way some of my clothes fit, and I feel kind of lumpy these days carrying that extra weight around.

I am a healthy young adult female. My current weight is still well within a normal BMI, but heavier than I have ever been in my adult life. I also have a family history of diabetes, and last time my A1c was checked, I was on the higher end of normal, so losing even just five pounds could make a difference in keeping myself healthy in the longer term.

I already exercise six times a week (mixture of cardio and strength training) and eat pretty healthfully (nothing processed, generally lower carbohydrate, adequate amounts of protein and fat, no soda or juice). I think my sleep is adequate. I take stairs when I can. I drink lots of water. I tend to snack more than eat full meals, but I would be happy to change this habit if evidence suggests that eating normal-sized meals instead of grazing is a better way to go about things in terms of maintaining body weight.

I am not a fan of counting calories because knowing myself, I can get a bit obsessive over the mindset. In a similar vein, I could perhaps get stricter about not eating carbohydrates or dairy or whatever it is that you suggest that I change or eliminate, but I know that trying to follow too many new rules at once won't be good for my sanity.

Any tips? Again, I'm not in any specific hurry to lose this weight, but I would like for it to stay off when I do lose it! Thanks!
posted by fernweh to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'd exercise less. I don't understand what eating "pretty healthfully" means, since non-processed low-carbohydrate foods still have calories. I do know I eat more when I continually exercise, because my instinct is to replace the calories expended during exercise. As a result, I find that I can never exercise intently and lose weight at the same time. I can do one or the other, but not both.

The alternate way to lose weight is to eat less. I really am not being sarcastic here. My method for losing weight is simply eating less food until I get lighter. Even though being hungry feels horrible, it's pretty hard to hurt yourself by undereating so long as you keep your weight loss to a reasonable level (and 5 pounds over a couple months is well within reasonable). I find this method a lot easier to do than calorie-counting.
posted by saeculorum at 9:25 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

What is "pretty healthfully"? It doesn't really matter that much whether the food you eat is "processed" or the like. Calories are calories.

Also, eat meals! You are probably overeating by grazing all day, which can also lead to snacking when you're not actually hungry but just out of habit.
posted by Sara C. at 9:26 PM on December 16, 2014

I think everyone is different, and so far I've not needed to lose more than 5-10 pounds, but I tell you what: Cutting out carbs, for me, makes those first 5 pounds go away fast.

What has worked for me is loosely following a phase-1 Atkins kind of thing -- 25g carbs or less in a day, with very limited fruit -- and drinking lots of fluids. (Atkins net carb counts here.)

Everyone's metabolism is different, and this might not work for you, but it worked very well for me.

(The first few times, that is. My problem is that I don't actually like meat very much, so sustaining a high-protein thing is hard for me.)
posted by mudpuppie at 9:37 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Acne was something I never had to deal with in my youth yet now that I'm in my 30's it's gotten bad enough that people comment on it. Change in hormones is one way your body can dramatically change without you having changed anything about your lifestyle. You can get your hormones checked to see if something is up.

"I tend to snack more than eat full meals,"

This certainly doesn't help. You need to eat meals and bar snacking. Eating 5 small meals a day is better than munching throughout the day. You think you're not eating much, but when you munch like that you're almost certainly eating more than you realize.
posted by rancher at 9:38 PM on December 16, 2014

Cut back significantly on carbs. More than you already do.
posted by quince at 9:42 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

For me, getting strict about low-carb for a few weeks usually drops 5 pounds pretty fast. I don't know what you snack on, but take a look at that. Switch to plain nuts instead of trail mix, and things like that. I usually find that I can get progressively lax about those little things and pick up those 5 pounds, and cutting them out for a while makes a diference.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 9:44 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I do best with adding more vegetables - at least five cups a day. (Count lettuce based on its volume as a compact head, not all fluffed up in salad). Mostly it gives me something to eat with very few calories and helps displace some of the everything else without leaving me hungry.
posted by metahawk at 9:52 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Choose how many meals you are going to have for the day. It can be 3, it can be 5, no problem, but once you've chosen that number, you figure out portion sizes to cut the overall calories per meal.

Then you have no more than that - no snacks, no seconds.
posted by Elysum at 9:52 PM on December 16, 2014

Exercise doesn't make much of a difference and may actually be counterproductive for women, when it comes to losing weight. I'm a short woman, and I only consistently lose weight when I drop my calories under 800/day, which leaves me much too tired to exercise (and I barely make it through the day at my somewhat physical job as a carpenter). Eat less, you'll lose the weight.

Once I reached my goal weight, however, I've been easily able to keep it up between daily running with my dog and spending a good deal of my free time climbing at high altitude (read: cold), eating – sometimes forcefully – several thousands of calories a day just to keep me going.
posted by halogen at 10:29 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Cut out processed stuff. Only fresh or frozen fruits and veggies. keep vegan until 6. Choose your meats and animal products carefully and enjoy them once daily, after 6.

Stick to three meals a day without snacks. Don't go crazy with the exercise. Carbs are sweet potatoes or whole grains only, and only as a side.

Per advice from Michael Pollan, I try to eat how I imagine my great grandmother in 1930 ate. No processed shit, no giant portions, and no snacking.
posted by pintapicasso at 10:43 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just read about your grazing habit. I really recommend sticking to three meals daily OR looking into intermittent fasting.
posted by pintapicasso at 10:44 PM on December 16, 2014

I'd say, since you're still young and may have diabetes in your future, spend a few months working out one of the unhealthy bacon-and-spinach-dip low carb diets.

Take this as an opportunity to prove to yourself that you can lose weight that way, then you've got it in your back pocket for the future knowing there are weight loss dieting options that don't have to be 100% iron will based. Already having worked out an anything-goes version will put you in a better position for tailoring it into a healthier specialized version, in case you eventually develop the cholesterol or blood pressure problems that often accompany diabetes.

But for now, think of it like a commando mission: rapid insertion, rapid extraction a few months from now from super low carb land. Then get back on your current healthy diet and follow some of the great suggestions here to maintain the lost weight.
posted by XMLicious at 10:48 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wonder if you could manage calorie counting in a non-harmful way by keeping a strict food diary while eating normally (as normally as you can when weighing all your food) for a week, then plug it into a calorie counting program to take an objective look about what you are eating, how it adds up and where you might be able to change your food choices or cut down on amount with the least impact on your already healthy lifestyle?

Then you don't have to calorie count on an ongoing basis and it cuts down on obsessing while still giving you the education.
posted by kadia_a at 11:28 PM on December 16, 2014

Yeah, to build on what kadia_a said, you've told us you eat pretty healthy already. Good for you! Now you've gained some weight, and you're trying to get it under control before it's more: good for you! Either your metabolism is just slowing down a bit as you age, you're eating less healthily than you think, or there's something hormonal going on. If you can track your food for a week, you'll have a lot better info on which it is. If you can't track for a week, even a day is helpful. You might discover, for example, that your entire day is healthy, but cutting that one extra coffee with cream at 3pm is all you need to drop five pounds. Or that you always need nuts for a morning snack when you eat cereal for breakfast, or you need a bigger dinner on days you exercise, or whatever. I recently tracked my food, and discovered that the milk I was putting in my coffee or tea (in lieu of snacks) added up to 300 calories/day, and a surprising amount of carbs. Not as healthy as I'd thought. Maybe you'd see something similar?
posted by instamatic at 3:12 AM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

What kind of strength training are you doing? If it's not actual weightlifting (like, in the weight room, lifting heavy weights without a machine) I suggest trying that. It may not help you lose the 5 pounds but it will definitely change the shape of your body, make your clothes fit better and help you lose the lumpy feeling. Good programs for getting started are New Rules of Lifting for Women and Stronglifts 5x5 (but this one is a little intimidating, I think, so you may want to google "stronglifts 5x5 for women" if you're interested). It's fun, you don't have to restrict what you eat, and you'll start to see results within a few weeks.
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:34 AM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

For me, grazing, however healthfully, is a sure fire way to gain 5 pounds. I forget how to be hungry. When I need to take it off, I drop snacks and stick to 3 square a day (with a little slack on weekends).
posted by Kriesa at 6:11 AM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you drink, cut out alcohol. And take a very hard look at how much sugar you are eating (cereal, dried fruit, yogurts, etc) - that makes a big difference for me.
posted by susanvance at 6:44 AM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not in any specific hurry to lose this weight, but I would like for it to stay off when I do lose it

One thing to keep in mind about losing weight on a permanent basis is that (assuming you're not operating at a calorific deficit right now) the first 3-5 pounds are going to be glycogen + water weight -- and this will come back once you start eating at a maintenance level again. So, if you want to lose 5lbs permanently, you may want to shoot for losing 10lbs right now, with the assumption that you'll regain half of it.
posted by littlegreen at 9:03 AM on December 17, 2014

You need to eat fewer calories. It doesn't matter if it's "processed" or "clean" or whatever. You need to take in fewer calories than you expend. Use a calorie tracker app or something like that. Eat more protein than sugar/carbs/fat to keep you feeling more satisfied. You'll end up amazed at how much sugar and calories are in some "healthy" things.

I disagree with the advice about not snacking - you do need to snack a little, but make sure they're healthy snacks that have protein.
posted by radioamy at 9:30 AM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

How is your pooping? ARe you eating enoguh fiber to keep your system regularly flushed?
posted by WeekendJen at 12:04 PM on December 17, 2014

I hear you about not wanting to obsess over counting calories. Instead of restricting certain foods, try upping the nutritional value of your meals. Adding more veggies is a great way to do this. Especially consider trying new and unfamiliar produce. If you have a farmer's market nearby, make a weekly trip and try something new every time. Cooking or assembling your own meals makes a big difference too.

I'm not sure the meals vs. snacking thing is as important as just being conscious of what you're eating. This book is a great resource for determining what habits/environmental cues might be causing you to eat more than you think you do.

If you aren't already, incorporate some high intensity intervals into your workouts. It's a great way to rev up the metabolism without triggering compensatory overeating.
posted by 912 Greens at 1:51 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would a fitness band be something to consider? Instead of keeping track of calories it would keep track of how active you are.

A very sobering number: negative 500 calories per day will result in a 1 lb weight loss over week.

How you get that can be more exercise or less food. If you're looking for smaller weight loss your number needn't be so large. If start with -200 per day and see how that feels.
posted by MadMadam at 3:38 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Consider the keto diet (/r/keto for more links). Its primary advantage is that you don't have to exercise an iron will to maintain a calorie deficit. It can be a significant lifestyle change, though, because staying under 50 grams of carbohydrate per day means that most modern meals are excluded. You mentioned "generally lower carbohydrate", but 50g is very low compared to what most people eat.

Other challenges include: The "keto flu" which can strike for a few days just after starting, getting enough electrolytes, and getting enough fat. Some people can get away with just eating when they feel hungry - the diet often controls appetite very well. But some people still need to track their food to ensure a calorie deficit.
posted by yath at 3:47 PM on December 17, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, guys! I think what Kriesa said about "forgetting how to be hungry" is exactly what has been happening. I realize that sometimes I eat even when I'm not super hungry, because I feel like I am "supposed" to be eating. Or I sometimes I feel this urge to snack until my stomach is physically more than full (even if it's on something like, celery, which I am sure is not very calorically dense).

So... any further recommendations on how to learn how to be hungry again (it's really hard to break a habit!) would be appreciated.

I don't drink alcohol, and by "pretty healthy" I mean lots of vegetables, occasional fruit, eggs, fish, nuts. :-) I think I get enough fiber, but I have always had trouble being very regular, which is kind of annoying... but I am not sure how that affects weight...
posted by fernweh at 5:38 PM on December 17, 2014

I would try two different things. First, you might pick one thing that you eat regularly (maybe you eat a hard-boiled egg as a snack every day) and swap that out for a different snack with similar calorie sources but isn't as calorie dense. You can slowly do that for more things until you get the result you want.

Second, you might start by making a rule like, "No snacks after 5:00pm" and have dinner instead. Or, you could make sure and have a decent breakfast in the morning and then the rule might be "no snacking until 11:00am" (or some other time that fits your eating schedule). If that goes okay then you could start scaling back the times and/or do both things at once.

I think the goal is to transition towards something like the five-meal-per-day ideal. But that's what is ideal for the average person and you're not average so it's totally fine to gradually find some middle ground between what you're doing now and the "ideal".

Two other random thoughts:
1. Make sure you stay hydrated. If all you cared about was weight, you could just drink less water for a couple of days and you'd lose 5 pound of water weight pretty easily.

2. You might think about keeping tabs on a couple of other measurements (waist upper arms, maybe your legs) since you're doing some strength training. I (a mid-30's male) started lifting seriously 18 months ago and only in the last few months have I lost any weight. But I did lose about 1.5 inches off my waist over the first 14 or so months so must have been trading fat for muscle. Your waist probably has gotten a little bigger but it would be good know how much bigger and if you're getting bigger anywhere else. There is also a chance that your dietary changes won't affect your weight but will affect your waist which is the real goal (or at least I think it should be).
posted by VTX at 7:14 PM on December 17, 2014

Response by poster: Just to follow up:

I ended up losing all of the weight (or almost all of the weight) by putting an end to all snacking. It was hard at first, so in order to convince myself that I could, in fact, live without eating every hour on the hour, I did a single 24-hour fast. That reacquainted my body with the feeling of hunger, and allowed me to quit snacking pretty much completely. I didn't need to specifically count calories or anything afterwards, and I didn't change my exercise routine.

Thanks, you guys!
posted by fernweh at 4:46 PM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

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