Getting rid of a middle aged beer belly
April 6, 2016 2:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm a fit 51 year old bloke but I can't ever seem to shift my beer belly. How do I do this?

I’m a 51 year old male and do a reasonable amount of keep fit yet I never seem to be able to totally get rid of my beer belly.
In the last 10 years I’ve run 3 marathons and various long distance bike rides and cycle tours but I’ve never really shifted it.
At the moment I run twice a week (5k and often intervals on a treadmill)
I cycle approx 12 miles daily (6 miles to work and back and the route home is virtually all uphill)
I play football (soccer) around once or month.
I do weight training twice a week.
I try to do one long cycle at a weekend. At the moment that’s approx 25 miles.
I go for long walks every weekend.

Here’s what’s probably not helping:

At the moment I probably drink the equivalent of 2 pints of beer a night
I eat white bread, around 4 slices a day
I eat around 2 bars of chocolate a day
I maybe have approx 1 pastry a day
I eat some fruit and veg but not enough
I eat lots of carbs, potatoes, pasta cheese

I’ve got a football tournament in 6 weeks closely followed by a cycling holiday at end of May. I’m pretty fit at the moment but I want to get fitter and lose the gut if I can.
I don’t really want to give up all the above but I know I probably have to cut a lot out. I am going to reduce alcohol consumption to once a week ( I have no problem with this and recently did a dry January)
I also take into account my age and perhaps I will never completely get rid of it.

Any advice/ tips greatfully received.
posted by blokefromipanema to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You get a fair amount of exercise, but your food intake is going to outstrip it. As the saying goes, you can't outrun your fork. I recommend calculating your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure - an estimate of how many calories you use each day), then downloading a calorie-counting app like MyFitnessPal and eating/drinking 500 less than your TDEE.
posted by brozek at 2:58 AM on April 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Unless you’re doing extremely high levels of exercise (by modern standards) then it’s still going to be trivial for you to out eat your calorie needs. By extremely high, I mean “is an Olympic-level athlete in a discipline noted for high intensity”.

If you want to lose the belly, you’re going to have to start counting calories.
posted by pharm at 3:05 AM on April 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

similar age - what i do to control my weight is fairly crude. i just weigh myself each morning and don't eat the crap if my weight is above some number. also, although you seem to be doing a pile of exercise, you don't mention crunches. i know you can't burn fat in specific places, but they do strengthen your stomach muscles.
posted by andrewcooke at 3:07 AM on April 6, 2016

I try to be a little hungry all day.
I (try to) never eat so much I feel 'stuffed.'
I try to wake up hungry to very hungry.
We're about the same age and over the last four months I've consistently lost weight. It can be done, for me it was to stop thinking I have to eat like a 20year old. But it's a mental thing.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:16 AM on April 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

So, your food list includes a ton of sugars and simple carbs - chocolate, pastry, white bread, pasta - which I think you've singled out cause you know they're bad. Do you know why they're bad?

I'll assume perhaps not (skip this paragraph if you do!) - these foods get broken down REAL quick by your body, so you get a big sharp burst of energy from them, which relatively quickly dissipates, leaving you wanting more. It's better for your body (for lots of reasons, MeMail me if you want more detail) to have more of a sustained release, and you get that from foods with a more complex makeup, like vegetables, complex carbs (wholegrains), proteins (beans, lentils, cheese), and fats. Think of it like - if you want a good fire for the evening, do you throw on a bale of hay, or a few good heavy logs?

At the end of the day, losing weight will be about how many calories you're getting vs how many you burn, but it's easy to overlook that eating fewer calories gets a LOT easier when you're not putting your body through an energy rollercoaster all day and making it crave more.

Basically, you're expecting a lot of your body with all the different activities you do. Treat it appropriately - put better fuel in it, you'll get better performance from it.
posted by greenish at 3:21 AM on April 6, 2016 [13 favorites]

At a rough guesstimate, just the top three items in your list, the beer, bread and chocolate, are adding 1000 calories to your diet every day. And those are kinda crappy calories too, high sugar, low nutrients (even assuming it's wholegrain bread), the sort of things likely to make you feel hungrier rather than satiated.
If all you did was halved the intake of those three things, or ate them every other day instead of every day, you'd be creating a reasonable dietary deficit for sustained weight loss. (Obviously that requires you not to 'make up' the calorie loss by eating bigger portions of the other carbs, or having a second pastry).
posted by AFII at 4:47 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's good news here! I know a few of men your age that are VERY active (the races, hiking 4000 footers, etc) that eat "better" than you, that still have the gut. It sounds like you have a good metabolism for your age.
You have lots of things you can cut out. Replace the candy bars with some fruit, skip the pastry, and try to have ONE pint. I bet you'll see a difference.
posted by ReluctantViking at 5:07 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not a shill for them, I promise, but I've lost a lot of weight since last year on Slimming World. My partner is 59 and tall and slim - he's quite active - but had a bit of a belly. He lost about a stone and his belly is gone just because he was eating roughly what I was eating. Pasta, rice and potatoes are unlimited, as are meat, fruit and vegetables, but bread, pastry, alcohol, oils and sweets are limited (although not to draconian levels - you can still eat chocolate every day, just small amounts). It's very popular with men and you can do it online.
posted by billiebee at 5:23 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have asked my doctor about this because I already do all the "right" things everyone is listing above, but I am very, very slender (you can see my bones in places!) with a huge belly. I also have a good friend in the exact same situation--exercises and eats by the book, no cheating, but has a huge belly on a very slender frame.

In his case, it's simply hereditary; nothing he can do about it. In my case, it's bloat from the meds I have for a medical condition, and I will never be able to get rid of it, probably.
posted by TinWhistle at 5:51 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

So you have now learned that what you are doing - lots of steady state cardio and lots of carbs - results in your current body.

The carbs are an easy target. Just quit eating all of that crap and you will probably make progess.

But I'd also like to propose that all of that steady state cardio had produced this body. I'm a weightlifter and nothing terrifies weightlifters more that steady state cardio. It kills your progess in getting stronger and trains your body to need more and more cardio.

Change your exercise to 3-4 full body lifting days, and do only intervals or sprints 2-3 times a week. In two months your body will adapt to the lifting program and will look very different. And much better. And you'll be exercising so much less time!
posted by littlewater at 6:05 AM on April 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Bodybuilders have a saying, "Abs are built in the kitchen." If you want to lose fat, generally, you need to change your intake. Stop with the beer and the white bread and the chocolate and have a lot of veggies and lean proteins and such and see what that does.
posted by xingcat at 6:22 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's not called a beer belly because of the shape.
posted by chiquitita at 6:24 AM on April 6, 2016 [9 favorites]

Seconding the beer. That's the culprit. The rest of the carbs don't help, of course, but whenever someone complains specifically about their belly I ask how much they drink.
posted by Dragonness at 6:37 AM on April 6, 2016

Here’s what’s probably not helping
And there follows ...a list. That list is your beer belly.

Sooo...some change, right? Well, in order to not condemn yourself eternally to some wackadoo or otherwise dire diet system, perhaps try something that only lasts so long, like Whole30, which, as the name says, lasts just 30 days (whole 30 just made me punch a new hole into my belt, after 5, nay 10 years of trying to lose weight, so something in that approach clearly works...)
posted by Namlit at 6:41 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Here is my feedback:

At the moment I probably drink the equivalent of 2 pints of beer a night Go for more like 2 per week.
I eat white bread, around 4 slices a day Find meals that don't require bread. Make bread a luxury that you have only a couple of times per week.
I eat around 2 bars of chocolate a day Make chocolate a treat; not a staple.
I maybe have approx 1 pastry a day Seems like it should be in the treat category; not a staple.
I eat some fruit and veg but not enough Increase these, especially vegetables. Stay away from too much high sugar fruits like grapes and pineapple. For all intents and purposes they are just like eating candy but with fiber content.
I eat lots of carbs, potatoes, pasta cheese Shift the balance away from carbs and towards more protein and regular amounts of vegetables.

Beer has lots of carbs and alcohol, of course. Both are immediately broken down into sugars and it is not that different metabolically than dumping heaps of raw sugar straight into your mouth.
posted by incolorinred at 6:47 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Swap out the carb snacks like pastries for fat and protein that will keep you feeling full, like:
fruit dipped in peanut butter
veggies dipped in hummus+ extra olive oil
full fat yogurt or cottage cheese
posted by veery at 6:56 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sounds fairly straight forward to me - drop the carbs, increase the weight and intensity on your weight training. Running doesn't do much for your physique. Look up what people eat when they are trying to gain muscle; eat that.

I disagree on counting calories - I don't think you need to start counting or always feel hungry to drop the belly. Just change the composition of your diet. Eating more protein / fat versus carbs until you're sated will leave you full and have an effect.
posted by hyperion at 7:01 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

You eat a ton of non-nutritionally beneficial calories a day.

Rather than focus on a strategy of "none" of these foods - try cutting back to two slices of bread (skip toast in the morning), one chocolate bar, a pastry a couple of times a week, and one beer after work each day. Keep all the things you love - just consume less of them.

The good news if you're maintaining your weight currently with this diet is even this shift (something in the area of 600 calories a day) could have you losing 1-2 pounds a week, which if you keep up the strength work will largely come from fattier areas of your body - like your belly.
posted by scrittore at 7:07 AM on April 6, 2016

I assume you're doing the cardio because you like it; I don't see any reason to drop it. Maybe get a trainer to double check your weight training form to make sure you're safe lifting heavy. The diet is what's up here. You're consuming (conservatively) like 1,000 junk calories a day. Nobody needs two beers AND two chocolate bars AND a pastry on a Tuesday. You know this.
posted by hollyholly at 7:42 AM on April 6, 2016

You have such a quick fix for this issue! Commit to two weeks of no booze, no sugar, no wheat, and the belly will disappear. I think with the amount of exercise you are doing, this is more of a bloating issue than a calorie issue. Treat yourself to steaks covered in butter but lay off the other stuff- you aren't digesting it well.
posted by myselfasme at 8:46 AM on April 6, 2016

You need to shift your diet away from processed foods to ones with lots of fiber. That's it. Replace the stuff on your "bad" list with fruits and vegetables, with a little bit of whole grains. The rule of thumb is if it has less than 3 g of fiber per serving, don't eat or drink it. It's been a wildly effective and easy diet for me and is endorsed by Dr. Robert Lustig, an endocrinologist at UCSF. Here is a comprehensive guide of what to eat ad lib, in moderation, and rarely. Right now, your diet is skewed all toward the "should be eaten rarely" end of the spectrum.
posted by Atrahasis at 8:48 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I agree with nearly everything everyone else says in terms of what to eat. Bear with me while I outline an additional way to attack this problem:

The one thing that's done me masses of good in terms of actually eating the things that long-term-thinking me wants to eat is using how I feel an hour after eating it as the emotion I associate with eating the food. Just so that whenever I'm feeling good or bad, I think "What did I eat an hour ago?" and link the food to how it made you feel an hour after, not how it made you feel when you ate it.

I'm talking about a low-key mindfulness of how your body feels and thinking about the food you ate, not talking about consciously thinking "I feel bloaty so I shouldn't eat white bread". Sorry, that sounds pretty woo-ey. I'm proposing that you get in the habit of proactively thinking "I ate such and such a while ago. How much energy do I have?", "How settled is my stomach?", etc.

Slowly, that ends up helping the foods I feel hungry for become the foods that are good for me. It's gradual, and not exactly something that you can test for, but my feeling is that it's a good practice to undertake.
posted by ambrosen at 8:56 AM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

fruit dipped in peanut butter
veggies dipped in hummus+ extra olive oil

Just chiming in to say that these are like my go to "hmm, i'm kinda hungry but it's between meals, i'm gonna eat some stupid shit..." beaters/avoiders. They WILL fill you up. And you'll be shocked, as long as you're not eating them ravenously, how little it actually takes.

They will keep you full too, not just satiate you for like 20 minutes.

If you want even leaner and cheaper hummus and you own a food processor or similar, just buy mega sized cans of chickpeas, a tub of tahini, some spices, and a big jug of quality olive oil(trader joes and costco are staples for me). Now you can eat it every day and not blow a shitload of money.
posted by emptythought at 8:58 AM on April 6, 2016

Stop drinking beer. Too obvious?
posted by deathpanels at 9:57 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

You've already answered your own question. You're fifty-one; you can't eat all that crap anymore. Cut all of it out. Thats really all there is to it.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:46 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're in a position to make some relatively simple changes to your diet and see big results, given how active you are and how many calories you currently consume. If I were in your shoes, I'd swap the white bread for 100% whole wheat (which is not lower calorie, but will make you feel fuller), eat chocolate only on the weekend, and make sure that half of your plate (by volume) at meals is full of fruits and veggies. And limit your beer intake to half.

I calculated it, and cutting out your chocolate bar on weekdays and cutting beer down to 1 pint per day should save you just shy of 3000 calories, or almost 1 pound of fat lost, per week.
posted by Cygnet at 1:16 PM on April 6, 2016

I actually misread and thought you only ate 1 chocolate bar a day. If it's 2, even just reducing your chocolate and beer consumption by half without any other changes will have you losing steadily.
posted by Cygnet at 1:19 PM on April 6, 2016

Is your belly hard or soft?

If it's soft (subcutaneous fat right under your skin), any of the above advice will work. If it's hard (visceral fat which is deeper in your abdomen), you are going to have to do some serious carb and calorie cutting as well as majorly upping your workouts for a while before you will see a shift. Deeper fat is just harder to budge. You can still do it, it will just take longer.
posted by ananci at 2:02 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

The body requires dietary fat in order to burn visceral fat.

Put on your tinfoil hat, because I'm going to recommend the keto diet, Hi Fat, Lo Carb, Medium Protein.

Also check the Fat Flush Diet :
based upon essential fats (such as flax seed oil and flax seeds), balanced proteins (including eggs, meat, fish, and moderate soy) plus low-glycemic healthy carbs from fat flushing fruits and vegetables... No white flour, white sugar, margarine, vegetable shortening, artificial sweeteners
The fat flush plan also has liver supporting supplements like milk thistle and dandelion root-- the liver breaks down fats for elimination from the body.
posted by ohshenandoah at 8:26 PM on April 6, 2016

Thanks for all the great answers. I have marked a couple as 'best', but to be honest it's difficult as there are so many good ones.
That's the diet sorted. I'm now going to post a thread about a good fitness regime I can follow.
posted by blokefromipanema at 9:50 AM on April 12, 2016

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