How to lose 3 lbs
May 18, 2016 7:48 AM   Subscribe

How do you lose fat when you only have a tiny amount to lose?

I am a 40 year old female, 5’2”, 119 lbs. I have a healthy, curvy body; I’m generally happy and confident about how I look. I have always been slim.

However, I have a “mummy tummy” - a small amount of extra fat which I carry in my lower abdomen. And I want to get rid of it. It’s not the end of the world -- if I give it my best and work really hard and it doesn’t budge, then I’ll live with it. But I haven’t done that yet. I haven’t tried really hard at getting rid of it. I’ve half-heartedly done a few things here and there, but now I’m challenging myself to give it my very best.

The fat layer on my abdomen is probably about 3 pounds. I’ll be working out regularly (lots of weights mixed with HIIT) but I know the best way to lose that layer of fat is through diet. Problem: my diet is already quite good. I’ve been quite easily maintaining my weight of 117-120 lbs for the past 10 years because I eat sensibly. My mantra is “everything in moderation” and I try to only eat when I am hungry. So…I don’t know where I can cut out extra calories. I drink mainly water, I eat very little processed food, and I don’t eat a lot in terms of quantity either. My indulgences are cookies and chocolate, which I have in small quantities about 4-5 times a week. So I could cut those out entirely, but if that’s all I do, it’ll take me a year to lose 3 pounds!

With my caloric intake already pretty low, I’m wondering if I switch up the TYPE of food I eat, will that make a difference? If I removed carbs and ate more protein? Cut out dairy? (I don't drink milk, but do like yogurt and cheese). Again, I don’t go overboard on any of these things to begin with, my diet is pretty balanced.

Any other suggestions to lose this tiny, annoying amount of weight?
posted by yawper to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Your Mummy Tummy may not be fat, have you had a fat composition test? It could be just a shape change due to pregnancy, stretched out skin or lax muscles or organs that shifted around, who knows?

Spot reducing doesn't work, although you can do abdominal exercises to strengthen any muscles that may be out of tone.

Dieting doesn't work! Ask me how I know. 3 pounds is one of those numbers that is meaningless. People fluctuate by three pounds in a day! Also, most people don't have a concentration of all of their fat in one area.

You might look into a Tummy Tuck if it's really bugging you.

Obsessing over something that's perfectly natural and normal, especially when you're healthy and following a healthy lifestyle is NOT healthy.

Don't starve yourself or exercise yourself to misery. You are perfect just as you are!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:56 AM on May 18, 2016 [9 favorites]

You can't spot reduce. You can lose weight but the body is going to decide where it comes from, not you. Exercise will build muscle but not really reduce fat. (The scale will tell you nothing because muscle weighs more than fat anyway.)

Are you guessing on calories or are you actually tracking everything you eat? I use MyFitnessPal and input EVERYTHING, including the three french fries I stole off a friend's plate and it's shocking how quickly it adds up.
posted by AFABulous at 7:57 AM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

If I were you, I would start tracking my daily food intake with something like The Daily Plate. No need to actually make any changes in your diet for the first week or two - just enter everything you eat, and see how many calories you're taking in and how many of them are fat vs carbs vs protein. Then you'll know what your baseline diet is like.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:57 AM on May 18, 2016

Well, if you cut 5-10% off your current caloric intake, and a further 2% when you plateau, you will lose the weight soon enough.

If your diet is balanced I don't know why you would want to unbalance it.
posted by tel3path at 7:58 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately you can't target loss to a specific area; if you lost three pounds there's no guarantee that you would lose from your abdomen; it might come from your arms, or your chest, or your legs, and most likely a combination of all areas. And that particular area tends to be prominent in female bodies because we have a lot of biologically important organs that sit there.

Type of food rarely, if ever, makes an actual difference in weight unless changing it lowers your overall calorie intake.

My only suggestion would be to make a small, sustainable deficit (~100-200 calories/per day) below what you burn and wait it out. Using I found that a lightly active person with your stats would burn about 1745 calories per day on average. I'm using lightly active because it's difficult to pinpoint exactly how many calories exercise burns, so better to be conservative rather than overgenerous with that estimate.

So perhaps try to eat around 1545-1600 calories a day and see where that gets you. You may find that using a food scale and an app/website such as My Fitness Pal is helpful in doing that, and be mindful that estimating/eyeballing portion sizes is tough and makes it harder to sustain such a small deficit.
posted by miratime at 7:59 AM on May 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think that doing regular exercise as you’ve already planned is going to be your best shot at getting your belly to look the way you want. Try doing that for a few months without changing your eating habits to see if it makes a difference. It sounds like you eat well already and I wouldn’t mess with that, personally. It's likely to backfire in the long run.

Also, since you call it “mummy tummy,” is it just fat? Diastasis recti is a separation of your ab muscles and it’s pretty common after pregnancy. You can’t diet that away but exercise should help. If that's a factor, you may want to look into physical therapy for it.
posted by Kriesa at 7:59 AM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

So there are a few things to consider:

1) There is a possibility that the "mommy tummy" is just bloating, in which case, yes, changing what you eat might help. Some people find that their bloating is worse with dairy, or too much fiber, or not enough fiber, or too many carbs, etc. You might have to do some kind of elimination diet to really identify the culprit (although if there's something that's given you a lot of gas/indigestion in the past, that would be a good place to start).

2) If it's not just bloating, then yes, you have to reduce calories. You say you eat well, and not a lot of it, but without tracking your food there's no way to know. It's possible to eat 1000s of calories over your maintenance just by eating "healthy" foods (avocados, nuts, whole grains, sweet potatoes, lean meat, etc). I'd suggest tracking your food in an app like MyFitnessPal (they have a web version if you don't have a smart phone) for about a week and seeing what your average calorie intake is. Then, try decreasing it by a few hundred calories per couple weeks until you start to see a downward trend. You want to do this slowly - since you're already pretty slim, I wouldn't advise doing a drastic cut in calories, even if that means it takes you more like 3-6 months to lose the weight.

3) However, I do want to address your possibility that it may not budge. I think this is very probable, based on my own and many other women's experiences. It's common for women to hold weight on their stomach (our bodies are trying to protect our reproductive organs) and for some women, they can get extremely slender (like, sub 16% body fat) and still have a little pooch on their tummy. It may be the last place you lose weight, which would mean you'd have to lose a lot of weight overall just to get that to go away. It sounds like you're aware of that, but I know many women get hung up on that part of their body and might take extreme measures to get there.

Good luck! The xxfitness subreddit is a really good source of information about weight loss and exercise for women, if you have any other questions or want to read more about it.
posted by jouir at 7:59 AM on May 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

My suggestion would be to cut out even the tiny extra amount of sugar [like the cookies] that you can.
This can include some of the other carbs you are eating now.
Continue to minimize processed food--and minimize foods processed to be "low-fat" or "fat-free"....
This could be an interesting experiment!
posted by calgirl at 8:00 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I found that my stomach got flatter when I started doing bodyweight squats and barbell squats. I didn't lose weight, but my shape changed, presumably because of a redistribution of fat and muscle. My thighs and - not to be indelicate - glutes did get bigger, though.
posted by Frowner at 8:05 AM on May 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think this is what liposuction was specifically designed for when used in a cosmetic way.
posted by AugustWest at 8:11 AM on May 18, 2016 [8 favorites]

Cutting carbs to nearly zero (basically those found in green vegetables) causes nearly everyone to drop some bloat and water weight. And if you have any food intolerances, investigating those and cutting them out will reduce bloat as well.

If it's not bloat, though, you just have to cut calories to lose weight. It's easy overeat on "healthy" foods, especially when you're small. There is no guarantee on where it will come from, either. I'm just wrapping up a round of vanity weight loss and at a densely muscled, heavy-lifting, curvy 5'2" myself (starting at about 115), I was down to 97 lbs before my stomach Had no pinchable fat. I hated the way the rest of me looked at that point (spidery sternum, hatchet-like hip bones, veins everywhere) and decided to gain a bit of body fat back to smooth things back out. My stomach is a little soft again but I'll take that over looking the like the crypt keeper everywhere else.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:29 AM on May 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

Dropping carbs always helped get rid of the tummy bulge for me. Everybody and every body is different, so YMMV. But I've consistently reduced that area by cutting back carbs, and gained it by slipping up. My assumption has been that it's the result of visceral fat, and carbs just contribute to that in a way that other food types don't. Unfortunately, I have a horrible sweet tooth; always have and had wrecked this for me a bunch of times.

So no, you can't spot reduce- but I do find that reducing carbs reduces fat and visceral fat is what gives many people the fat tummy, so I'd start there.

FWIW, I just can't give up the sweets and especially not chocolate, so I've been making chocolate and peanut butter covered nut mixes. Essentially the same coating as "puppy chow", but sliced almonds, walnuts and pecans instead of chex mix and a light dusting of powdered sugar. It has to be refrigerated or the chocolate is too messy without a lot of powdered sugar. Anyway, it's not great, but it's my concession over something like cookies or ice cream.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:34 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Certainly you can do things to lose 3 pounds...but there is absolutely no guarantee that 3 pounds will come from your tummy! Have you been evaluated for diastasis recti? This is a really common cause of "mummy tummy" and is caused by a separation of muscles during pregnancy that does not heal properly. And, it can be helped with really specific exercises (and not the ones you might think - crunches actually make it worse) -- this wouldn't be "losing" a certain amount of pounds, but rather strengthening muscles and correcting the issue. There are some online programs, but you can also see a physical therapist -- but I would probably check with a doctor first to see if this actually is the issue and then you could decide on the right course of action.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:02 AM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Provided your issue is not due to diastasis recti, look into Pilates.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:04 AM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Apples. And Myfitnesspal app. Seriously. That did it for me.
posted by metajim at 10:37 AM on May 18, 2016

The upshot here is that you have two choices:

1. An extreme diet and exercise change (for example giving up all carbs permanently), which may or may not result in the change you want


2. Learning to love the body you have.

It's up to you to decide which of those things is easier or more worthwhile.

Also, it's my anecdotal experience that a lot of women get their cues for what their belly is "supposed to" look like from media imagery, which is heavily influenced by either photoshop in the case of still images or very careful framing of a shot*, in the case of moving images. You are extremely petite, especially for someone who is otherwise curvy. Is it possible that this "mummy tummy" is actually your organs, or the extra skin necessary for you to move normally?

*For example this past week I was watching an episode of Orphan Black and noticed a very rare shot of Tatiana Maslany's naked thighs. Maslany is gorgeous, and obviously quite petite. And she is not only followed around by a costume and makeup team all day (not to mention personal trainers and constant attention to exercise and diet), but there's also an entire team of cinematographers whose job it is to make her look great. But she has, you know, thighs. Like a human. Because she is a human, not a 2-D illustration.
posted by Sara C. at 12:30 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

For me, the best way to flatten out my pooch is cutting out gluten. (No gluten, no dairy, no booze is REALLY effective, but makes me miserable.) If you really do want to try hard at this, sadly, the five-times-a-week cookie habit has got to go. Do you drink? Booze will really put on weight there, too, at least in my personal experience.

FWIW, I cut out gluten and dairy and alcohol entirely for like two months and it made a HUGE different in my tummy. (I did it for health reasons, so my issue may have been bloating as well, FYI.) I then added all of it back in on occasion, and have been able to maintain pretty well. (I do still have some pinchable fat on my stomach, because, like peachfuzz, if I get toooooo skinny the rest of me looks weird.)
posted by Countess Sandwich at 12:39 PM on May 18, 2016

Thanks everyone for your suggestions so far!

I understand and appreciate the sentiment behind the “just love and accept your body” comments, but I assure you, I DO love my body! I’m very blessed with a strong, healthy, attractive body. This is not about my body image. It’s about challenging myself to do something I’ve wanted to do for almost 10 years. As I said in my original post, it won’t be the end of the world if it doesn’t work out. But I’d like to try!

I’m fairly certain I don’t have diastasis recti. It sounds like my best bet is to aim for a small calorie deficit and work on building muscle…
posted by yawper at 12:45 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think those last 4 pounds are really tough to get at, especially with such a small margin of error, at your height. It's going to mean being very precise about your deficit, for a long time, to achieve the necessary calorie exchange to move that fat. Or going with a larger and more uncomfortable deficit. Maintaining that loss over time will be tough... People with more to lose, and more calories to play with (e.g. taller women and men), can lose more quickly and easily, that's for sure.

Working on body composition via lifting is worth doing, definitely - but odds are you are not going to be able to shift that little bit without the kind of restriction I mention and maybe going to quite a low body fat, which may or may not be sustainable. Lots of people who do lift and have a low body fat percentage will still have a bit of tummy when they're not "cutting", some also pose to their best advantage.

Some of what you're seeing may be maturation-related changes to skin that everyone gets. Some of it might be fat distribution - hormonal changes can move fat away from thighs and to the belly with time. Everyone slowly gains with age - about a pound a year is typical.

(But if it's bugged you for ten years, I'm betting it's more related to your tiny margin of error for calories.)

Increasing regular activity, and making small tweaks to your diet may help. Walking for an hour might burn 100 calories (haven't checked it for your stats, that's a guess), but if you do that and make a small change here and there - e.g. cut 20 calories a day, or one less dessert a week - that can add up cumulatively to minimize gain over time. Also, just moving more throughout the day to increase non-exercise expenditure can help. (People in the long-term studies who avoid regain all report watching less TV, I think it's probably fair to interpret that as a kind of rough proxy for increased non-exercise activity, but would have to know more for sure to say.)

I think do what you can live with - add some easy walking and more general activity in your life for that extra burn, lift, make maybe some small substitutions - and also, work on acceptance.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:22 PM on May 18, 2016

I'm not suggesting you don't do this, but it is pretty well documented that diets are more likely to end up with a net weight gain rather than a net weight loss, unless it is a completely sustainable behavior change. In your position, I'd personally stick at 3 pounds up rather than risk losing 3 pounds entirely from my boobs or ending up 6 pounds up by this time next year.

After loving the Power of Habit, I'm just starting Foodist, and so far I'm loving the "don't use willpower, use habits" and "don't make any life changes you can't keep up forever" take on food.
posted by instamatic at 8:01 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you do core work? I wound up with a pretty flat abdomen from a fairly intense yoga practice especially the classes with instructors who emphasize core strength. You could do Pilates or other type of workouts, whatever you prefer. I didn't even lose weight or give up cookies and ice cream, why do that if you don't have to..
posted by citron at 11:23 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Good point, citron! I've found running, swimming, and yoga with lots of core work to flatten my lower belly (somewhat to my surprise), regardless of weight loss. But my body type tends to hang onto lower body weight more than belly, so I think it's definitely a YMMV thing.
posted by instamatic at 6:08 AM on May 19, 2016

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