Looking for diet/weight loss mental hacks
March 11, 2016 9:04 PM   Subscribe

I've been trying to do a low-carb medium protein diet for about 6 months, on and off. But it's been really difficult because I can't do it as consistently as I want to. It's making me discouraged and upset.

I'm a 21 year old female. I used to be skinny in high school, weighing about 145. Now I'm about 185. I gained the weight with a combo of college freshman 15 and weight gain from meds. I'm really unsatisfied with the way I look and trying to lose weight to fix it.

I haven't been trying to do hard core low carb because I know it's not sustainable. I want to stick to something sustainable that gets me results.

I've been doing pretty well with eating healthy breakfast and dinner. I'm trying to get on track with good snacks and lunches. I'm considering starting to do bodyweight exercises.

I think the thing I'm having the most trouble with mentally is seeing very very slow progress. I think I'm learning the right habits as far as eating goes.

What are some strategies I could use to do make this less stressful? I'm looking for long term positive feedback loop sort of things, sort of like getting hungry -> cooking a good meal -> feeling happy about my good choice vs seeing the pounds come off quick.
posted by starlybri to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Low carb ... high fat.

Sustainable, delicious. I lost 60 pounds last year. It's not for everyone. But it worked, and continues to work, quite well for me.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:38 PM on March 11, 2016 [10 favorites]

Eat the same lunch every day. I used to get mine at the work cafeteria, ridiculously cheap because it was just greens and a protein, with sunflower seeds sprinkled on top. Olive oil, vinegar and mustard were free! The greens were one or two items of every colour: beets, peppers in every colour, tomato, carrot, all on a bed of baby spinach. Often I'd have that with one boiled egg and a sachet of mayo. That fat was what kept me full.

My boring lunch meant I never overate yet it was maximally nutritious, so I felt good about it.
posted by Dragonness at 9:52 PM on March 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Seconding Cool Papa Bell. High fat is the key. Check out his link to DietDoctor, drink lots of water and add extra salt to your diet. This kind of diet is sustainable for many people for a long time but you don't have that much weight to lose so it doesn't have to be a diet for life. But it can reprogram your eating and, once you are at the weight you want, add in some more healthy carbs from vegetables and whole-grains. The key is whole foods, not substitutes, good quality fats, and listening to your body (it may start to sing!).
posted by Thella at 10:55 PM on March 11, 2016

Low carb isn't for everyone. When I needed to lose a lot of weight, I did really well on the Mediterranean diet, mostly because it was very natural to me and therefore easy to sustain. Almost ten years later and I kept the weight off and still naturally eat that way. (Plus, I realised how big of a role red meat was playing in my insomnia-- bonus points for sleeping the night through.)

I think the thing is that there's no one real diet for everyone. I met a dietician once and we were talking about my experience and she said she's seen the same thing in her practice-- the best diet for losing weight for any given person will be the one that the person can easily sustain and turn into a lifestyle. All the rest-- low carb, veggie, meditarranean, etc., doesn't really matter.
posted by frumiousb at 11:43 PM on March 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

(I lost 45 pounds at a rate of .5 pounds a week. For exercise, I made sure I walked at least 30 minutes at a stretch every day. It wasn't fast, but it was noticeable.)
posted by frumiousb at 11:44 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing: Losing weight is a slow process no matter what. The most you really want to shoot for is 2 pounds a week. They say that 3500 calories equals about one pound of bodyweight, so to lose 40 pounds you're looking at a 1000 calorie deficit every single day, with no slip-ups, for five months. That sucks, and it is not a realistic goal. It is immensely unfair that a body can easily take in a 3500 calorie surplus just by making delicious choices, but it is virtually impossible to tilt the scale that far in the other direction. Unfortunately, that's just the way it is.

For me, the mental hack that finally allowed me to achieve and maintain a healthy weight was learning to shift my goal from "losing the weight" to "developing habits that will make me an active and healthy person for the long term." Forget about the scale, at least for a month or two. Make it your goal to exercise for 30 minutes to an hour, five days a week. Get your heart rate up. Work up a sweat. Kickstart your metabolism. Measure your progress by your fitness rather than your weight. How many pushups can you do? How far can you run? Focus on making progress there, and combine that with the healthy food choice habits you are already mastering, and by the end of summer you will be so much happier and healthier than you could ever be in the same amount of time by just changing your diet. The hardest part is getting started, but before long the positive feedback is almost irresistible. Regular exercise reduces stress and makes you feel great. It makes you look great too! And the best part is that if you get to where you're burning about 1000 calories a day through exercise, you can eat damn near anything you want.

You are young. You can do this, and your youth gives you a huge advantage. Make the most of it. If you get on track now, your body will likely suffer no long term damages from carrying around the extra weight. Believe me, you don't want to wait until you get into your 30s or 40s to figure it out.
posted by mammoth at 12:20 AM on March 12, 2016 [13 favorites]

The problem with the "diet" mindset is that it does not translate to natural eating that works for the long term. I highly recommend reading the book In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. (The gist of the advice there is eat food, mostly plants, not too much, but he goes into defining what food actually is. Most grocery store aisles do not have food in them.) That advice combined with my own "diet" that I cobbled together from marrying Mediterranean to South Beach felt the best to me. This meant that I used real fats when cooking my meals, never ate a pre-packaged "diet" product, and made real efforts to dress up my meals. My normal lunch on Weight Watchers would have consisted of 2 tbsp. of Skippy peanut butter slapped onto diet bread and an apple. On South Beach + Mediterranean, I was eating a half sandwich comprised of nutty whole grain breads with turkey, crunchy greens, tomato, real mayonnaise and mustard, about 15 almonds, and a cup of the homemade veggie soup that I made every weekend. I paid close attention to what I'd read about fat = satiety and completely stopped eating fat free and low fat products. I didn't remove fruit or carbs entirely, but I always ate them paired with proteins and/or fats. So I might eat an apple, but always with some peanut butter. I also stopped eating yogurt, which always just made me hungry later. With cardio 3x a week and weight bearing exercise 3x a week, I lost 60 lbs. in eight months or so.

As others have said, dieting, especially if you have low muscle mass and aren't doing much exercise, is a slow process. Being entirely results oriented doesn't adequately prepare you for the maintenance phase, which by definition has no more results because the goal at that point is to maintain a healthy weight. Try turning the shopping for, preparation, and consumption of healthy food into a pleasurable activity. Don't read/watch tv/surf the internet and eat. Just eat. Eat stuff that is flavorful and tastes good. Try new things. Sweat a little. I found it just as satisfying to notice fitness progress as I did to buy smaller clothes, which also helps during the maintenance phase.
posted by xyzzy at 2:03 AM on March 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

The good thing about an app like Loseit is that it helps you set realistic goals and while your weight can fluctuate greatly, you'll see a graph of your overall progression that serves as reassurance. When you log everything you eat, you come to appreciate that butter, peanut butter and bread can blow a big part of your daily budget. At the most, I'd limit your target loss to a half pound per week. Remember, getting down towards you goal weight is progress and you have to feel good just being nearer that weight because it's not like bells and whistles will go off when you achieve it and crashing down towards it likely means a lot of sagging skin, dissapointment and a rebound. I've found that logging calories has allowed me to re-set my idea of exactly how much food I actually need per day and given me an appreciation of what priority to give certain foods. That can change up over the week but logging keeps it on track. I'm eating for the weight I want to sustain over the long haul.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:34 AM on March 12, 2016

How about instead of focusing on the scale, develop the equivalent of a sticker chart for when you make good decisions? List specific habits you want to reinforce and record and reward them in a way that works for you. (I give myself spending money; you might give yourself an episode of a favorite TV show, time playing a game, literal stickers, whatever.)
posted by metasarah at 6:52 AM on March 12, 2016

Just want to second www.dietdoctor.com from Cool Papa Bell.

I'm a 44 yo male and lost 30 lbs in 4-5 months. I was really diligent about the program for the first 3-4 months, then slacked off slightly once I was really dropping weight. The nice thing is while I'm still sorta trying to follow the plan, I'm not militant about it and I haven't gained any weight back. I do avoid high glycemic foods like the plague (except the occasional desert) and don't drink beer anymore.

I went from 238 to 208 and range from 207-210 now (I'm 6'4"). I am working out more (Strong Lifts 5x5 which I also recommend), but didn't start lifting till after I'd lost the weight.

For 3-4 meals a week I was essentially eating meat and cheese for dinner. So while my cholesterol is thru the roof (probably) I was never hungry which was the key for me.

And if motivation for the gym is an issue, find a partner to meet there. Just getting in the front door was 99% of the battle for me.
posted by Farce_First at 7:13 AM on March 12, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice everyone! I'm actually doing low carb high fat.
posted by starlybri at 7:24 AM on March 12, 2016

I've found that green tea keeps me from getting too hungry when I'm trying to cut weight. Also a lot of people confuse hunger with thirst. If you get cravings, try drinking a big glass of water and see if that helps.
posted by deathpanels at 7:38 AM on March 12, 2016

Maybe low carb just isn't right for you. Try something else instead. If losing weight is your goal , it doesn't really matter what you eat so long as you are running a calorie deficit. You will get results if you can stick to it. So find something that involves eating foods you like. Experiment with different diets.
posted by intensitymultiply at 9:08 AM on March 12, 2016

Log all the food you plan to eat the next day before you go to sleep, and leave a ~200 calorie cushion. That's for any kind of snack or dessert or seconds you decide you want to have on the spur of the moment. The rest of what you eat tomorrow is set in stone.

People are really great at making healthy decisions for the long term -- "I never want to smoke again," "I'm going to eat healthy all year and hit my goal weight," "I'm going to run a 5K in June" -- but fairly terrible at making healthy decisions in the short term -- "THIS is my last cigarette, not that other one," "I deserve a fun meal today because I had a bad day at work!", "It's raining, I can't workout today." Deciding what you'll eat tomorrow strikes a good balance between practicality (it's hard to guarantee that you'll be able to eat a menu that you plan a week in advance) and rationality (it's a lot easier to commit to eating baked chicken breast for dinner tomorrow than when you're passing KFC on the way home).
posted by telegraph at 9:26 AM on March 12, 2016

I think the thing I'm having the most trouble with mentally is seeing very very slow progress. I think I'm learning the right habits as far as eating goes.

Find a way to measure and track your progress. Something that means something to you, personally. Whether it is "Hey, I can climb 2 floors of stairs without being out of breathe!" Or "Hey, I am using a different notch on my belt!" Or "Hey, I can touch my toes again!" It needs to be something that tickles you. It can help to have objective measures, like tracking how much weight you have lost, but the thing that always brings it home for me is "I can do those things I used to do again! I missed being able to do that!" Something that hits a nerve for you.

You may also want to reward yourself, say with some new clothes after you lose a size. That might be something that helps mentally make it more obvious that My Life Is Different -- heck, I even look different!

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 10:45 AM on March 12, 2016

One of the keys to losing weight effectively is to build more muscle mass. Strength training with weights is a good way to do this. Also squats, lunges, and planks. As your muscle mass increases, so will your metabolism, so you will see weight coming off (slightly) more quickly.

My other trick is intermittent fasting. First you have to figure out what your daily calorie burn rate is. There are plenty of calculators online to do this. Err on the low side, especially if you don't have a lot of muscle to start. This is the caloric amount you eat 5 days a week. You can do low carb-high fat, but it's not super necessary. Just be very honest about your caloric intake and don't go over it and you'll be fine. The other two days, which don't have to be (and shouldn't be) consecutive, you only consume about 500 calories. On those days I just have green smoothies -- not juice, you need the fiber to help you feel full. I use kale, apples, grapefruit, and ginger. 500 calories of that is a LOT of smoothie. I don't feel hungry when I do this. If you do, it's ok though :)

This makes sure you have a consistent weekly caloric deficit, and the fact that you are eating enough to keep your metabolism up the rest of the time means you won't get that gradual slow-down of weight loss as with a low calorie diet that will end up making your metabolism slower. When you want to transition to a maintenance diet, fast one day a week for a while before going back to eating your caloric needs every day. You'll probably find it changes your relationship to food a lot.

Good luck!
posted by ananci at 11:01 AM on March 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

You sound a lot like me. Here are some of the strategies I have used to make things less stressful for myself:
  • Give yourself multiple ways to succeed and try to feel good about a success in any one of those categories. Don't REQUIRE a success in all of them. Be generous and self-compassionate. Give yourself lots of opportunities to succeed rather than one rigid opportunity. For me, I measure success through a mixture of the number on the scale, perceptible changes in my appearance, and on-going gains in my strength training. So, if the scale doesn't move one week, maybe I notice that the gap between my thighs is bigger the next, and I can feel good about that. Maybe nothing seems to change except the number of chin-ups I can do, but I can still feel good about that. Some people do well with weekly photographs in front of the mirror, or with measurements for their arms, hip, waist, thigh, etc... That freaks me out, so tune your success metrics to your own comfort level.
  • Don't Break The Chain has been a good motivation technique for me because it encourages consistent behavior. Momentum is huge. I am way less likely to make a bad decision if I have been making a series of good decisions. However, if you're like me, you might run into situations where you break a chain and say, "Fuck it! Made one mistake, might as well make seventeen more!" Don't make seventeen more mistakes. Stick with just one or two, and frame your broken chain as an opportunity to now beat that chain. Again, be generous and self-compassionate. Changing habits is hard. Losing weight is hard. You are doing your best, and you have a positive, healthy goal in mind. Tell yourself that as many times as it takes for you to believe yourself when you say it.
  • Are you able to do any of your own cooking? If yes, do you like to cook? Trying new recipes (especially healthy ones) can be super satisfying. I sometimes cook for friends who want to live vicariously through my diet, and I feel vindicated in my choices when they say they should eat like me all the time. I also like to feed people good food, period.
  • Sometimes, I will plug my stats into calculators which plot out my projected weight over time. This can be great (wow so fit by august wow!) or awful (holy shit why am I not where the calculator thinks I should be). YMMV. It is useful to keep your expectations in check.
  • Weight loss is harder for women, period. It helps me when I have someone trusted and chilled out to diet with. When I don't have that, I will sometimes lurk on /r/xxketo/ or other lady-centric low carb weight loss forums. It helps me to see other people complaining about similar problems; it helps me to see tangible evidence of other people stalled out in their weight loss, or really wanting a goddamn cookie, or having a crappy period, or whatever. Solidarity.

Good luck! You can do it!
posted by zeee at 10:25 PM on March 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

OK, I lost 60 pounds in about 20 months at a fairly consistent rate of 3 pounds a month, and have kept almost all of it off for a couple years now. I have told this story several times and each time I try to make it shorter. The four things that worked for me:
- My Fitness Pal smart phone app (very, very popular because it is so successful)
- Experimenting and finding lower calorie things that satisfied me and that I liked a lot...e.g., currently I enjoy greek yogurt with raisins thrown in...I keep everything I need overstocked in the house for all my various meals/snacks. Others may disagree, but low calorie is more important than foods touted as "healthy", and satisfying low calorie, no caffeine, no sugar high/crash foods are fantastic.
- I was, when necessary, rude telling people that what I ate was my business...sorry you bought me a hoagie, you should have called first...that didn't happen often, but over 20 months it did happen.
- I spent money on an elliptical machine and set-up a laptop (later a TV with internet) to watch action movies for 30 minute sessions almost every day

In the last few weeks I bought a Fit Bit which syncs with My Fitness Pal and I find it helps motivate me to stay active. Who cares if I forgot to get something in the basement when I went down last, I go down again. At work I try to take the stairs instead of the elevator, etc.

Also I am currently reading this book called "Switch" by Chip and Dan Heath that talks about the 3 things you need to make any change: clear and direct actions to take right away (no overthinking allowed!), something that feels right to your emotions, and the removal of obstacles so your path is clear. In retrospect it seems like I did that before I read the book...for my weight, that is...now I need to fix the rest of my life (:->)

Try to stick with it for the long run and eventually you will have the "problem" of needing to buy a new wardrobe. Best wishes!
posted by forthright at 11:51 PM on March 12, 2016

I've been doing intermittent fasting in the 5:2 pattern since the end of January and without exercising much at all and still eating quite a bit on non-fasting days, have lost 7 lbs. There is a facebook group for 5:2 fasting that has the details. Dr. Michael Mosley has several books on the program and there's a documentary you can watch here about his experience first trying out this type of eating style.
Eating this way has really helped me become more aware of my own feelings of hunger vs just eating out of boredom or anxiety or because the clock says it's my habitual eating time. Good luck!
posted by cellura p at 5:00 AM on March 13, 2016

I just realized I got over eager to share my info on fasting, but you asked "What are some strategies I could use to do make this less stressful?" I'd recommend watching a few documentaries on health and diet. Usually watching something like this or this or this gets me back on track and I feel really great about eating well.
posted by cellura p at 5:17 AM on March 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've just finished reading The Diet Fix by Yoni Freedhoff and it is focused on how to live the healthiest life you can sustain, instead of what goes in your mouth. A lot of his advice comes from what worked for people who are on a registry if you lost weight and kept it off for many years, as well as his own patients.

He recommends never going hungry (because then whatever you choose, either your brain or your tongue will be unhappy and that starts the shame and guilt feelings) and making sure you're eating enough protein to feel full. He has a bunch of other tips for making your food plan enjoyable rather than a daily grind of suffering and deprivation. He reckons his advice can be paired with any diet you find useful, or without any diet at all, because it's about discovering which healthy choices you actually enjoy and want to do always.

I only started his plan yesterday, so it's too soon to tell if it works for me. But I was very impressed with his compassion and kindness, and his insistence on reasonable weight loss that doesn't come at the expense of everything that makes life worth living. There's no point being at your "ideal" weight if you're miserable, so he suggests finding your personal best instead. I think it would suit your goal of finding a sustainable way to lose weight.
posted by harriet vane at 1:06 AM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

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