Maybe my scale's broken?
February 19, 2016 8:47 PM   Subscribe

I have weight to lose, but my body won't respond to anything I try. What's going on?

I'm 29, just under 5'6", and have been stuck at 155 for about 8 months, which puts me a few pounds over the "normal" BMI limit. My clothes aren't fitting any differently, so I'm going to guess that by body composition isn't changing, and my measurements have stayed the same over that time period as well.

I used to be considerably thinner - about 125-130 - but I gained about 35lbs in 2.5 years, and clearly lost a fair bit of muscle mass. Some of that was definitely about emotional eating and needing to hide certain food choices from my then-partner, but even once I returned to a healthier diet, I lost about 5 lbs and that was it. Then-partner was as fed up as I was with my lack of weight loss progress as I was because it should be easy, and he left.

It doesn't matter what I do, I can't seem to lose weight. Knowing that weight loss is mostly about diet, I've tried to focus on dietary changes. I count calories, and have been eating one version or another of a moderate to low-carb diet. I've seen no difference between eating a 1200-calorie versus a 1600-calorie diet. A few months of strict keto led to maybe 1.5lbs, and I lost another 1.5 with 2 months of South Beach, but that was it. All that seems to happen is that my weight fluctuates up or down a few pounds, which seems consistent with changes in water retention. Hell, I can carb binge for a week and nothing happens anymore. Changing my exercise routine doesn't make any difference, either. When I was thinner, restarting a strength training routine would lead to pretty rapid changes in my body composition, but now, nothing. If anything, increasing cardio makes me bloated, but my GP says that it's unrealistic to expect to lose weight without 300 mins of low-intensity cardio each week.

I've gotten pretty comprehensive blood work done and I don't have anything going on that would contribute to a weight loss stall - no type 2 diabetes, no hypothyroidism, no PCOS. I went off hormonal birth control nearly 2 years ago, thinking that that would help me lose weight, but nothing. I had suspected that my BMR was freakishly low, but there's no medical reason that that's the case.

So what's going on? HAES aside, it's depressing - along with the weight gain, my body composition has changed in a way that has left me with an exaggerated pear shape that's particularly hard to dress. I'm not obese, but I don't particularly want to be sized or shaped like this. Sorry, but I feel gross. I'm scared that I'll never be a healthy weight again unless I adhere to a (socially) restrictive diet and exercise routine for the rest of my life. Is what's happened to my body normal for someone who's almost 30? Is there anything else I can try?
posted by blerghamot to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
When you have tried sticking to a low-calorie diet, were you completely meticulous and honest with yourself about 1. weighing everything you ate with a food scale (NOT eyeballing or going off the package label) and 2. logging that food in a tool like MyFitnessPal? I have found that it is very easy to overeat calories without being really freaking diligent about weighing and logging everything. Even on a keto diet I have to watch my calories super close, not just keep my carbs below 20g.

Also, when you exercise, do you eat back the calories you burned? I have found that this also ruins my progress and I need to just stay at my (admittedly very low) calorie limit no matter how much I exercise.

And yes, your metabolism does change as you get older, so it's possible that getting closer to your 30s has just made yours extra sensitive. Going just a tiny bit over your calorie limit can make your body stall. Wheee, getting older!
posted by joan_holloway at 9:10 PM on February 19, 2016 [12 favorites]

Maybe a nutritionist and a personal trainer could help?

Are you on any medications? Also, what are your wine/beer drinking habits like?
posted by discopolo at 9:15 PM on February 19, 2016

The standard tsh test for hypothyroid does NOT catch all cases. I know about that one from personal experience. If that's the only thyroid test you've had, consider getting a full thyroid test panel, especially if you have hypothyroid in your family, and/or you have symptoms of hypo (you definitely have at least one symptom, difficulty losing weight).

The "diet is more important than exercise" trope drives me bananas. That is not the way everyone's body works. I'd also love a cite that supports the 300 minutes of moderate cardio, because most of what I've read says that less time, doing high-intensity intervals, is more effective for weight loss, especially as you get older, because it boosts HGH.

Finally, the fact that you are so disgusted living in a very mildly overweight body (actually the BMI calculator on the NIH site says you are not even overweight, just on the cusp), and that you seem OK with the fact that your lover left you over a few pounds, points to the need for some therapy and/or introspection on your self-worth.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 9:22 PM on February 19, 2016 [24 favorites]

I think the best course of action for you right now is to take care of your emotional and mental wellbeing. Your physical health is fine--you are not fat, and the distribution of those lbs over a 5'6"ish frame is surely not unattractive. But the fact that someone left you because they were "fed up" with your weight situation? That's not healthy. You don't have to accept that as normal.

I would recommend seeing a therapist who specializes in body image/eating issues. I would also strongly recommend you overhaul your media consumption. Your writing reminds me a lot of myself when I was reading fitspo/thinspo blogs and taking beauty mags really seriously. That stuff is toxic and made me hate myself for a while. And I was thinner then than ever! But it didn't make me happy.

And to address your question directly, finally: yes, I think a lot of it is getting towards age 30 and having a metabolism change. Exercise is really good for that--for your mood and for the way you feel in your body.
posted by witchen at 9:31 PM on February 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

I've had everything except for free T4 tested, everything came back fine. I have other symptoms that are indicative of hypothyroid (cold all the time, dry hair and skin), but those could be related to something else, and they predate my weight gain.

Don't wanna thread-sit, but no two people are going to carry a BMI of 25 and change the same way. It's not easy to dress a 37-30-46 figure in a way that's age-appropriate and somewhat inexpensive. That, and having to replace a business formal work wardrobe every bloody season due to unremitting weight gain got old and was a drain on my finances. My ex left because he wasn't as sexually attracted to Size 12 Blerghamot as he was to Size 2 Blerghamot. It's unfortunate, but it's well within his right to be exclusively attracted to thin women. Rather than suggestions about therapy, I'd like ideas on how to maintain a fitter, leaner body as I age. Thanks!
posted by blerghamot at 9:42 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

You could try intermittent fasting. There are many varieties; I've used Fast-5 successfully. The free e-book has the whole program.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:51 PM on February 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

I'm in the same boat - in fact even our numbers are pretty similar! A low calorie diet has staunched the gain (I think, I was too nervous to weigh in this week) but I've done so much and made myself so uncomfortable and it's still not shifting weight.

What I've heard is best is to basically start at where you think your maintenance calories are, and then keep dropping week by week by 100 calories, until you start to see pounds coming off. If you're super diligent about it, you will find a threshhold beyond which your body can no longer maintain fat stores. It's not always where the calculators say it should be. This, of course, depends on also eating reasonably healthy (high nutrient, low junk, and getting enough dietary fat) at the same time. I'm kind of bracing to start doing this, myself, but I'm sure you know as well as I do that it's not easy.

Do you drink? Some people stall out due to drinking. I suspect that's been a factor for me, trying to find a place for alcohol in a weight loss diet when it might just be best to cut it entirely.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 9:51 PM on February 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am the same height as you, and I was your weight at that age as well. I'm now 36 and hovering around the 135 lb mark, so let me tell you some of the things that worked for me.

The first thing was getting my vitamin levels checked. I was *really* low on vitamin D. I had to take massive doses of it but I noticed right away my energy levels and metabolism increased. You didn't mention that in your test results, so I thought I'd throw it out there.

The second thing was after my energy levels increased, I started being a lot more physically active. Like, every day. I would do weight training at home, go to dance classes, and I went swimming a lot.

I also did intermittent fasting, which was SO effective I was a bit shocked. On the two fasting days per week I would make green smoothies of kale, apple, and grapefruit juice and have about 500 calories worth. The smoothies prevented blood sugar crashes, and I felt surprisingly fine. Just restricting my calories didn't do much for me either (so frustrating! gah!), but I dropped about 4 lbs a week when I was fasting two days a week and eating around 1300-1500 calories the other days.

Diet is super important, but regaining lost muscle mass, and building more, is also critical for metabolism. Try to find ways to make it fun, whatever that means for you. I'm certainly not a gym rat, but I do like to dance, so whatever physical activity is fun for you, try it! Maintaining muscle mass is the single most important thing for staying fit and healthy as you age.

I'm really sorry that your ex was not able to see past your weight. That's shitty, but please don't internalize that and think that you are somehow less attractive because you weigh a little more than you did before. It may be weird to see a different body than you're used to in the mirror, but please believe me that you anyone who can't see how awesome you are at any weight is not worth your time. Be kind to yourself, and be patient.

You can do this :)
posted by ananci at 11:03 PM on February 19, 2016 [12 favorites]

Is what's happened to my body normal for someone who's almost 30?

Yes. Your weight is actually in a normal range for your height and age.
posted by limeonaire at 11:19 PM on February 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Lift weights! Big heavy weights! I'd back off a very restrictive diet for a bit. Your body may think you're starving. I'd do 1800 calories for a few weeks with 3-4 weight lifting days and a couple cardio days a week. Eat lots of veggies and protein. IWomen don't gain muscle easily and it would take a ton of lifting and supplements to look bulky muscular. Weight lifting makes me feel great and lose weight. I look better and clothes fit better at heavier weights too. So lift weights.
posted by Kalmya at 1:24 AM on February 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

For many people what you're putting in your body matters more than how much. 1200 calories a day of low-fat popcorn, fat-free froyo, and a Lean Cuisine or two may trim down person A but not person B. What kind of calories are you eating?

You could try a time-limited elimination diet like Whole 30. No sugar or sweeteners in any form--real or artificial--alcohol, dairy, grains, or legumes for 30 days. Also many preservatives are verboten. There is almost no processed food that's compliant (even deli meat has sugar and most mayo and salad dressings have soybean oil--a legume) so it's a lot of cooking from scratch.

The idea is to be super strict for a finite amount of time (partially to get control of cravings) and then later add things back in, one by one, to see what contributes to gain/mass. I lost 6 pounds in a month--not as much as many who do it, and about the same as weight watchers--but I lost 2 inches from my waist. I found it easier to trim down by keeping dairy and sugar out, but a bit of wine seems ok so far. Still no grains though. If I eat bread I turn into bread.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 1:44 AM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

And I nth the weight lifting suggestions. Lifting heavy helps shape your body by building muscles and burning fat. I like Lou Shuler's book: New Rules of Lifting for Women.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 1:46 AM on February 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Im 5'5 and over 200lbs and have been steadily losing weight recently (so far nearly 30 lbs). So far I've done this by just cutting out processed sugar and then gluten (I learned that I'm intolerant). It's mainly the sugar, as I had already lost half of the weight before realising about the gluten. I still eat fresh fruit, but avoid dried fruits, any food with sugar in it (which nearly cuts out most processed foods) and avoid sugary things directly. I am amazed at how different my appetite is now - I used to be one of those people who got really hangry if I skipped a meal, but now I just don't really seem to get hungry, and I don't eat as much when I do eat. I'm assuming it's because my blood sugar is so much more stable. I'm thinking about trying intermittent fasting because I don't really think it would be that difficult now, which is a big help!
posted by ukdanae at 2:06 AM on February 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry you're going through this. Unfortunately, metabolisms are weird, and even if you do find a way to lose the weight, it WILL likely mean maintaining a restrictive diet forever to keep it off.

When I've lost weight, strength training, minimal cardio (basically not being sedentary; a good amount of walking), lots of protein, and no sugar is what worked for me. This makes me cranky and forces me to use all my willpower on things I don't enjoy though, so I've decided that I'm happier being chubby and unrestricted in my diet.

In my 20s I wasn't overweight but sometimes wanted to lose some, and was not able to in my (admittedly half-assed) attempts. My normal calorie intake was over 2500 per day and reducing it to around 1800 did nothing. (I also didn't gain weight even in periods when I was eating terribly.) I think sometimes our bodies somehow decide where they want to be, and nothing short of starvation or Roman feast levels of binging will change them.
posted by metasarah at 2:15 AM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

When I've lost weight (after weight-gain because of birth-control pills, and then two pregnancies), the main factor has always been walking. I'd walk to and from work - an hour each way. I also took dance classes or similar to get the cardio up a bit once a week, but walking was the main factor.

During all three periods of weight-loss, I also thought about what I ate. Mainly, I avoided all processed food, and I baked my own very fiber-rich bread with tons of seeds and nuts in them. I avoided meat except for special occasions. I avoided alcohol except for special occasions.

I never counted calories. I have lost weight by counting calories once, but it came right back the second I relaxed. I think fundamental changes in lifestyle are more efficient.
posted by mumimor at 2:45 AM on February 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

You sound like you're doing all the right things, this must be extremely frustrating. If your weight refuses to budge, despite your best efforts and minus any contributing medical factors...I think maybe you've stalled at this weight because this is what your body feels naturally balanced at. I've found, as I've aged, that my body has a set point that it is comfortable weighing, and once I am at the minimum of that, nothing (short of super-human endurance training) works to budge it any lower. Changing one's basic body shape (pear, apple, etc) is also a futile endeavour, in my opinion.

You sound healthy. You eat consciously and exercise, which is no small feat. Your description is of someone of 'normal' size for your age, height, etc. Do you feel mostly healthy? Does your body comfortably and reliably do the things, day after day, that you require of it? If so, I hope you are able to appreciate these facts for themselves and feel proud of your physical self, and come to a sense of peace and acceptance about it...regardless of what some number on your scale is saying.

Good luck! and also... your previous boyfriend was shallow and treated you foolishly if his love to you was tied to your physical size, whether you were 100lbs or 400lbs.
posted by fourpotatoes at 3:26 AM on February 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

I recognize the phenomenon and recommend the book Empowered by Lifting. This recommends several weeks of experimenting to find your *actual* maintenance calorie level. Having been following it since the beginning of 2016 I'm finding that I do get the exact results it's saying I'll get.

In a nutshell, to start, you would take your current weight and multiply it by 13 if you're a couch potato, 14 if you work out most days of the week or move around a bit, and 15 if your life is a Rocky training montage. That's your estimated starting maintenance calories per day.

You then weigh yourself every morning first thing, record it, and take the average after 7 days. Your only meaningful measurement is a 7-day moving average, not any one day's measure. Your weight should not go up or down by more than about 0.75 lb each week. If it goes up or down by 1.5 lb in a week, you add or subtract 50 calories. If it goes up or down by more than 1.5lb in a week, you add or subtract 100 calories You do this for 3-4 weeks, or until you get two consecutive weeks where your weight stays within 0.75lb change.

Then, you take off 5% or 10% of your daily calorie allowance, making sure not to lose more than 1% of your weight per week. Do this till you stop losing, then take off another 2%. This goes on for about 10-15 weeks and then you go on to a recovery phase which I haven't gotten to yet.

Obviously this requires you to be very exact about calories and nutrients because you're only undereating by a little bit. I wonder how exact you've been with sticking to 1200 calories per day, but you're not actually supposed to succeed at undereating so extremely. If you have been successfully keeping to a starvation diet but are still gaining weight I don't know what to tell you, so, guess you'd need medical advice there.

Anyway, I would never have thought that eating this many calories would work, because it contradicts nearly everything we're told. But there you go, I have actual empirical evidence that my own maintenance level is far far higher than I was led to believe. Not only that, but it solves the problem of why I was getting increasingly lethargic, weak, and acting and feeling like I was starving when every other day I would crack and eat a whopping 1500 calories which was supposed to be ABOVE my maintenance level. Feh

Empowered by Lifting
posted by tel3path at 3:37 AM on February 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

One tricky aspect of calorie counting is that there are all kinds of calculators with bad data. I used Livestrong's daily plate to lose 50lbs but it wasn't automagical. I had to be very strict about what values I accepted from the dropdown lists. There were wildly over-inflated exercise kcal estimates and wickedly under-estimated food options. I had to make a point of always picking the options that favored weight loss. With that strategy I ended up with a solidly correlated kcals not eaten to weight loss relationship. So the majority of their drop down options were inaccurate in the direction of weight gain! I also set my baseline activity level to sedentary despite being active so that I could count all my exercise including walking.

Ignore advice like weightwatchers "eat all the veggies and fruit you want". This may be OK advice on the aggregate but if you actually like fruit and veggies you are already an outlier in the weight watchers population. There was a great BBC documentary on weight loss where they had a segment of a women who 'counter-intuitively' kept gaining weight despite a diet of mostly fruit and veg. Until they looked at how much she was eating. She had an entire mixing bowl of fruit for breakfast! If you are going to count calories you need to count everything - input (and try to overestimate) and output (and try to underestimate). Don't cheat on tracking. This is the single largest cause of failure in calorie counting. People either consciously or unconsciously under count their kcals consumed. Also get a kitchen scale so you don't fool yourself about serving sizes.

The various diets to me are more about help with control cravings and helping with willpower. Find what works to manage your hunger and maintain your energy levels. I didn't do anything other than calorie count and exercise for my initial weight loss but for maintenance I find it really important to avoid foods that are 'more-ish' for me. Pizza for example just falls into my mouth slice after slice so I avoid buying whole frozen pizza now and just get individual size pizza - that way there is no more available. Ditto for potato chips. Sugar seems to just makes me want more sugar. When I want to stuff my face I use air popped popcorn with a teaspoon or two of olive oil.

You list a lot of things you have tried but say you have been plateaued for 8 months and mention week long carb binges. How long are seriously sticking with any one thing? It took me 2 years of strict calorie counting to lose 50lbs and I dieted and exercised pretty hard. Two pounds a week is close to the upper limit of what is considered a healthy pace of weight loss (livestrong's daily plate caps the target rate at 2.5lbs a week).

Are you using an accurate digital scale to weight yourself so you get good feedback? Are you putting the scale in the same place every time you weight yourself? My scale can vary by about a pound depending on which floor tile in the bathroom I put it on. Also be aware that salt can seriously mess with your weight because an increase in salt consumption really changes your water retention and can skew you weight up temporarily masking weight loss (biggest loser competitors would try and trick each other into eating food with salt before they were weighed). Nothing was more motivating for me than graphing progress over time.
posted by srboisvert at 3:42 AM on February 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing all the advice to lift, and lift heavy. And whatever exercise you do, make sure it's challenging for you - not challenging enough so you risk hurting yourself, but you have to work a little. You should be slowly but steadily increasing the difficulty level.

And nthing therapy. Yes, therapy is a way to keep your weight in the range you want; don't ignore it because it's not a direct weight-loss strategy. Your question has some disordered-eating flags that will keep tripping you up, or get worse, if you don't address them. If your emotional relationship with food and your body isn't healthy, you will always have trouble staying in shape. And you will always find ways to tear yourself down when you don't meet whatever harsh standards you've set. The best you can hope for is that you're thin, but miserable. And you will keep attracting dudes like your ex who care if you're thin but don't care if you're miserable. Listen to the therapy suggestions. Don't dismiss them as irrelevant advice from unhappy nonskinnies who are trying to be okay with their nonskinniness or whatever your current internal monologue might be. A healthy mind makes for a healthy body. You can take care of your physical self much more effectively when your brain isn't getting in your way.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:55 AM on February 20, 2016 [12 favorites]

I've found that in my 30s I've had to work harder to lose weight and keep it off, and unfortunately this means a fairly restrictive diet most of the time. I am 5'5" and weigh about 130 pounds. I only lose if I eat 1000-1200 calories a day. As others noted above, I always weigh my food and if in any doubt, overestimate calories and don't believe some of the "too good to be true" values on the various apps and online sites. I will maintain on 1400-1500 calories a day. I need to walk on average 10,000 steps/day. I have come to these conclusions after about 3 years of careful calorie and step-counting.

It sucks. But as a dieter of 20 years I've found that calorie-restriction is pretty much the only way to lose weight and keep it off. And now that I'm older I have to restrict more and more. 10 years ago I could lose on 1400 calories a day.

Nothing was more motivating for me than graphing progress over time.

Same here.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 4:56 AM on February 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've also had awesome succes with the Whole 30; it is challenging and restrictive, but it is also short term and effective. I lost eight pounds doing a Whole 30 in January without exercising at all, and I've maintained that loss despite indulging for Valentine's Day and my birthday this week.

How is your sleep? Are you very stressed out? Getting good sleep and managing stress levels can help your body lose weight. Set what I think of as "gentle" goals (meaning kinder than restricting calories or doing punishing exercise) like "sleep for 7.5 hours" or "take 3 relaxing Epsom salt baths before bed this week" or whatever helps you unwind and sleep better. I actually think this is a big part of why gentle exercise like walking helps people meet their goals; it is meditative movement that helps mediate stress.

I agree about supplementing with vitamin D. I'd consider adding in fish oil and magnesium (take the latter at bedtime), too.

You might want to look into Jason Seib's work. He has a lot to say about the particular reasons women struggle to lose weight. His suggestions often include looking at sleep and stress before getting into things like lifting heavy and so on. He has a podcast called JASSA, a book, a website, and so on.
posted by katie at 5:47 AM on February 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

You might find some good guidance from the people at Precision Nutrition. Krista from Stumptuous (weight lifting for women) is one of their trainers and I've been following them on Facebook for a while and they seem really positive and proactive. Worth checking out their blog and their tools.
posted by sadmadglad at 5:49 AM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am almost 60, and in the middle of a slow and healthy weight loss. Here are the things that worked for me.

1. Stop drinking alcohol. I didn't drink a lot but I drank regularly. A glass of wine every night really affects my metabolism.

2. Get a step counter. I bought a cheap, older model jawbone on Amazon for $40 and slowly increased my daily steps. It really helped me become more mindful of just getting up and moving around.

3. Take up walking as a hobby. For me, at my age, it seems to be more about long and sustained activity than gym sessions. I do go get my cardio fix, but I use it more to keep my heart healthy than to lose weight.

4. Use a calorie counting app just so you know where you are every day. Loseit! plus Jawbone, with Map My Walk, all synced together really helps keep me up and moving. Those three apps have been the key for me.

5. Cut out sugar and flour completely. "My name is raisingsand and I am addicted to sugar. And flour." Throw away anything else that is chemicals manipulated to look like food. I eat mostly Whole 30 type stuff. I carry my own salad dressing when I eat in restaurants, and buy whatever I can find that most closely resembles real food, which is usually salad.

Good luck!
posted by raisingsand at 6:12 AM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm roughly your height and weight but my measurements are a lot smaller. It's because I carry a decent amount of muscle for a woman and I suspect (based on your measurements and your inability to lose weight on 1200 calories/day) that you have very little muscle. That's bad. It's bad for your appearance, it's bad for your ability to lose weight, and most importantly it's bad for your longterm health. It predisposes you to the kinds of falls and injuries that can be really devastating to women in middle age and beyond.

The good news is that you're realizing this at 29 instead of 49, when your body is actually still pretty well primed to gain muscle. Since you can't seem to lose weight right now no matter what you do, I recommend you give yourself a six month vacation from even trying to lose weight. For whatever reason it just isn't happening -- take six months to focus on other stuff and stop beating yourself up over the number on the scale. During those six months, do a focused strength training program (one written by a professional, without modifications by you or anyone else) and track nothing about your eating except your protein intake. Hope for nothing but performance gains. Strong Curves is a great routine to start with.

In six months you can get pretty darn strong and gain a surprising amount of lean mass. I don't think you'll lose weight doing this, but I think you'll be laying a foundation that will make it much easier to lose weight later this year if that's what you want to do.
posted by telegraph at 6:19 AM on February 20, 2016 [20 favorites]

I'm not obese, but I don't particularly want to be sized or shaped like this. Sorry, but I feel gross. I'm scared that I'll never be a healthy weight again unless I adhere to a (socially) restrictive diet and exercise routine for the rest of my life.

In these couple of sentences you've conflated multiple issues.
- how you want to look
- how you feel if you don't look the way you wan to look
- what a healthy weight for you is
- what a healthy diet/exercise routine for you is

I think it might be helpful to you to separate these out, which is why people are recommending a nutritionist/physical/mental health component to addressing it.

We're all entitled to want to look how how we want to look. And let's face it, there are huge rewards for a woman for fitting the beauty ideal (including easy cheap shopping for clothes that look 'right' according to what we see in the media) and significant punishments for not fitting it (including, over a life time, lower wages, and of course micro-aggressions, etc).

Not fitting the beauty ideal comes with costs - financial, emotional, etc - but that does not *have* to mean *feeling* gross. That's an unnecessary and painful emotional internalization of some pretty arbitrary social facts, and doesn't serve you in any way. Nobody should feel gross because of their body. I don't care if it's spewing noxious pus smells - which at worst is a gross thing about a body that is experiencing illness and pain. The person experiencing that deserves care and appreciation and NOT to feel like a 'gross person' because their body is suffering. And I definitely wish that not a single women/person felt self-disgust for having a body that is simply different/distant from a conventional beauty ideal. It is NOT gross. *You* are not gross. *Feeling* gross is sad and frustrating and (I think ) self-destructive, but it is not being gross.

In terms of a healthy weight - on an aggregate level apparently women who are in the overweight BMI category have the healthiest/best long term health outcomes. On an individual level, this is something you need to be in touch with your body, and health professionals, to figure out. I'm neither (in your body nor a health professional), but I feel pretty confident in saying the following:

-Mental and emotional health is part of health - feeling gross is not is not healthy. Feeling stressed is not healthy.
-Physical activity has at least equal and probably more benefits for physical and mental health than calorie restriction.
-A fulfilling social life has physical/mental/emotional health benefits.
-Whatever a 'healthy weight' means for your body, it has to include consideration of your mental and emotional health, not only because these are as vital for your quality of life as physical health, but because they are basically inseparable from questions of physical health.

I wish for you that you could separate out, "I want to be skinner and fit the clothes I used to fit," from "I am gross and holistically unhealthy if I am not skinnier and fitting the clothes I used to fit." I actually think that it will make it easier to meet your weight goals and preserve your quality of life while you're doing it.

Also please don't tell yourself lies about what's desirable. Yes, your ex didn't want to be with a size 12 you, and you have his self-reported narrative about why. Sure, there are people out there whose range of sexual attraction is pretty narrow and doesn't accommodate much change or variety in the body of their beloved. I generally think that a person like that is a risky bargain for anyone, but especially a woman, to take on, given the incredible range of (healthy, normal) changes a woman's body goes through in her life. There are people, and women, who seem to naturally and easily stick to one size their entire life (whether big or small), but now you know you're not one of them.

People whose visceral physical attractions are very narrow should find those other people and live happily ever after. But the fact is that many people have a much broader range, and those ranges are all over the map, and if that were not the case we never would have got to 7 billion plus people on this planet.

In case any of this reads differently, I want to say, I support your goals for your body. If you want to be skinny, I want you to have that! But I wish for you that this goal wouldn't detract from your current quality of life and should play a positive role in your life. Having goals and striving towards them should be a happy, healthy, fulfilling human activity. To the extent that this goal and your pursuit of it is instead painful, emotionally or socially debilitating, or self-denigrating (feeling gross), I hope that it will be possible for you to modify your approach to this goal.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:50 AM on February 20, 2016 [12 favorites]

I'm 29 as well, and have noticed a (seeming) decrease in metabolism despite having bloodwork and other testing come back negative for any illnesses or other complicating factors. This is after years of being a very physically active person who also happens to struggle, back and forth, with healthy eating vs emotional eating.

My metabolism responded much more quickly to changes in diet/calorie-intake when I was in my early and mid 20's. Not so much now. This could be due to one factor or even a combination of factors- age (we're not old, you know, but metabolism does change with age, for reasons I'll get into in a moment), work-related stress, the influence of certain medications I take, etc.

My philosophy is that I can't expect different results from trying to do the same things to lose or maintain weight. The only thing that has helped me is 1) changing up my workout routine to be more strength-focused (much more strength-focused than my routine ever was in the past - I used to be more of a cardio junkie who'd spend hours cycling or running) and 2) increasing lean protein consumption. Metabolism - specifically one's Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) aka Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) - tends to slow as we age because of a loss of lean muscle mass. This can be counteracted by focusing on strength training; however, in order to effectively strength train, you need to also be consuming an appropriate amount of lean protein each day. This article from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discusses it in detail.

The good news is that if you don't like spending long hours in the gym, you don't necessarily have to spend long hours in the gym to achieve the results you want. That's why High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), also sometimes referred to in certain iterations as Tabata exercise, is a great solution. You'll want something that calculates your heart rate, but if you do HIIT (properly - this article and the photo shown are a bit controversial, but the author has responded to that and I still find it a quick, useful read on the subject) for just 15-20 minutes about four times a week, you are much more likely to see results than from any of the 'calorie-reduction only' you've tried. I would recommend maintaining your approximate current calorie intake, however, while implementing HIIT. Adding HIIT is not a reason to start eating whatever you want; it's about using your calorie intake effectively, and increasing the period during which you burn fat even after your workout ends.

I don't intend to preach exercise; what I'm telling you is that as you age, regular exercise and physical activity become more necessary than ever before. And if you don't like exercise, finding a way to make it fun (and fast/effective) is ideal - hence why I love to recommend HIIT. There are lots of great examples of very effective HIIT workouts online, and it can be done many different ways, which keeps it from becoming boring.
posted by nightrecordings at 9:59 AM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had a hard time finding a plan that worked for me until I happened upon the Slow Carb Diet (Four Hour Body). I lost about 70 lbs on that and have since been messing with Intermittent Fasting and low-cal to lose the last few pounds.
posted by getawaysticks at 10:08 AM on February 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Remove wheat from you diet and keep the calories the same. See what happens.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 10:58 AM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you are at a normal weight and have been checked out by a doctor and have no health problems. There is a LOT of research out there that diet and exercise just do not have that much of an impact on weight loss, especially if you're not extremely obese to start with. If anything, the only unhealthy thing about your description seems to be the extreme focus on diet, exercise, and appearance. I would concur with folks that say working with a therapist on what sounds like an extremely shitty breakup and body image issues more broadly would be the next thing to try.

Statements like this are what concern me:

I'm scared that I'll never be a healthy weight again unless I adhere to a (socially) restrictive diet and exercise routine for the rest of my life.

a) You are a healthy weight! Sure, our society places all this value on being a size 2, but actually being substantially underweight is less healthy than being in the "normal range" BMI or a few pounds over. There is nothing overweight or unhealthy about being a size 12.
b) Maybe try shifting your media consumption habits to consume some media that celebrates bodies of all shapes and sizes to reset your brain a little?
c) If your choice is between going on diet/exercise plan that you yourself call "socially restrictive", and which you also say has not even worked when you've done it, versus just accepting that your perfectly healthy body is beautiful and does wonderful things and this is what it is now...doesn't the second one sound a LOT MORE AWESOME?
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:29 PM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

There are a lot of good suggestions here. I'll add that you should also start incorporating a variety of fermented/probiotic natural foods into your diet. Your gut flora may be out of wack, and that can definitely contribute to how your body is responding to diet and exercise. Good luck!
posted by cyndigo at 5:51 PM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm in a similar boat, with the added complication of having had a kid at 27 (so, between my mid-20s and turning 30, changes could either have been due to childbearing or age, not sure which). Before my kid was born, if my weight was edging up a little bit I used 5:2 intermittent fasting. It worked extremely well and it was easy and painless for me. After my kid was born I had no trouble losing all the pregnancy weight immediately without even trying, but a year later when I stopped pumping at work (but didn't stop nursing) 10 pounds came right back. I was still at a healthy BMI, but my clothes weren't quite fitting right, I wasn't as comfortable sleeping on my stomach, and I just didn't like how I felt when I was moving/exercising. I feel I have a nice healthy relationship with food, and although my body image isn't terrific, I don't think it's anywhere pathological. I just know I'd like to weigh a bit less.

For almost a year, those pounds refused to budge. I already had a healthy diet - no soda, no candy, no coffee drinks, no alcohol at all, very little processed food, only occasional desserts/treats, plenty of fruits and veggies, etc. And I was already active - averaging 12,000 steps per day, running, etc. It was hard to know what I even had to change. I tried cutting out all added sugar of any kind for 3 months, no effect. I did strength training every single day for 2 months, no effect. Tried interval training - did great things for my running, but not my weight. I went back to intermittent fasting, my old "magic bullet", and found it extraordinarily difficult - I had awful blood sugar crashes and it felt like torture, unlike before. Plus it didn't work AT ALL even though previously it was extremely effective. So frustrating!

Anyway, I've only recently gotten some traction by carefully measuring everything I eat. No guessing at calories. My daily limit is 1600, and because I know people tend to underestimate how much they eat (even with measuring, presumably), I eat 1000 calories once a week to compensate. I'm running or swimming ~5 times per week. This has resulted in slloooowwwwwwwly losing about three quarters of a pound per week. Lost about 3-4 so far. It's turtle-speed weight loss. I guess it'd probably be faster if I ate fewer calories, but with full time work and taking care of my kid and trying to keep up with my hobbies and activities, there's just no way I can have enough energy for my life if I don't eat enough.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Cygnet at 4:11 AM on February 21, 2016

I'd just like to pop in and say that I don't feel or look anything like my best when I'm on the cusp of overweight, either. I don't think it's fair to you to assume that you want to be thinner just because of media consumption and your ex.

When I was at my heaviest in my mid-twenties, the big change I made was just reducing my stress about food. Processed food isn't good for you long-term, but it does have the big advantages of being easy to get and easy to calorie count in the short. I'd mostly eat processed stuff that was pretty protein-dense during the day (chicken sandwiches, protein bars, etc), and at home we typically cook a lot of vegetables and healthy fats, so I didn't change much there.

Lifting heavy certainly didn't hurt, and has the advantage of being simple. Bodyweight stuff can get really complex but super fun. Your GP is recommending enough steady state cardio to make a difference, but unless you really enjoy it in and of itself, HIIT is gonna be a better bang for your buck.

Taking long walks because you enjoy it can supplement your regimented exercise really nicely. I listen to audiobooks and podcasts while I do it. It also helps keep everything feeling nice and loose and not sore.
posted by hollyholly at 6:57 AM on February 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Thanks for the responses, everyone. It's interesting that there've been a lot of mentions of lifting heavy and HIIT - these are the things I used to do and enjoy when I was trying to improve my fitness level rather than lose weight, but I haven't done much of that once my doctor told me that doing low-intensity cardio until the end of time is the only reasonable way to lose weight.

So that you're not seeing ED flags where there aren't any: when I mentioned socially restrictive diets, I meant running into issues in an LTR around intermittent fasting or keto. In my last LTR the other person had some weirdness around me making different dietary choices (even things like me being a grazer rather than someone who prefers three meals/day) and it's something I'm concerned about encountering again.

The gross bit isn't about the weight gain alone, it's also about the attendant loss of muscle mass and having some annoying GERD and GI issues pop up along with gaining weight. My body doesn't exactly feel healthy anymore, and if I can change that and get a perkier behind at the same time, why not?
posted by blerghamot at 5:45 PM on February 21, 2016

I gained about 35lbs in 2.5 years, and clearly lost a fair bit of muscle mass. Some of that was definitely about emotional eating and needing to hide certain food choices from my then-partner, but even once I returned to a healthier diet, I lost about 5 lbs and that was it. Then-partner was as fed up as I was with my lack of weight loss progress as I was because it should be easy, and he left.

So that you're not seeing ED flags where there aren't any: when I mentioned socially restrictive diets, I meant running into issues in an LTR around intermittent fasting or keto. In my last LTR the other person had some weirdness around me making different dietary choices (even things like me being a grazer rather than someone who prefers three meals/day) and it's something I'm concerned about encountering again.

So your partner refused to let you eat in a way that worked for your body because of "weirdness" and then when you gained weight bc you were not able to nourish yourself in the way that worked for you, your partner broke up with you?

OK well you see, that's not a problem with how you prefer to eat. That's a problem with that other person being an asshole. And like, maybe even a head-tripping abusive asshole.* As I'm pretty sure Jesus probably said, "the assholes will be with us always" so the key is learning how to tune them out and not make their weird stupid asshole problems your problem.

Eat how you like to eat. Graze. Do the exercise you like to do, that makes you feel good and strong. As for how to deal with food- and body-policing assholes if you encounter them again: "Well, I'm sorry you feel that way, but this is how I like to eat and it's my body. So you can get on board with this or you can go on and have a nice life!"

*And maybe not. Plenty of people can be perfectly vile assholes completely by accident!
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:00 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Kind of a late comment, but I wanted to add to my previous comment: one non-exercise solution you should consider is taking probiotics. Cyndigo mentioned probiotics in an above comment, stating that your gut flora may be 'out of whack', and I agree. There is a good bit of evidence that the quality of bacteria in our digestive system can have a major impact on our weight loss/weight maintenance abilities. Here's one article discussing recent studies; but Googling "probiotics and weight loss" will show you a lot of perspectives. I don't think I realized how poorly my digestive system was working until I started taking probiotics; I felt like I didn't need to eat as much to be satisfied, was not hungry as often, and was absorbing more nutritional benefits from my food. Whether or not it impacted my weight loss strategy is up for debate, but it sure felt like it was easier to lose weight than before.
posted by nightrecordings at 8:58 AM on March 6, 2016

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