Turning back the dad-bod clock
January 23, 2019 10:24 AM   Subscribe

I just turned 44 and find myself with a burgeoning tum that I’d like to get under control. This will be my first time trying to achieve a weight loss goal. I’ve always assumed that (within certain health and dietary constraints), the basic principle of “eat less, exercise more” would be all I really needed to know. But there are so many ways of eating now (keto, no this, all that) that I wonder whether there’s a different way I need to approach this.

I could certainly exercise more, and with higher intensity, though I generally walk between 2-8 miles daily, so I’m not totally sedentary. My problem (IMO) is that I over eat at meals—not a super snacker—and I will graze off my daughter’s plate once she’s squared away.

I haven’t really taken any proactive steps yet, so I’m not in a position to say whether getting a bit more exercise or eating less will get me anywhere.

But as I think about starting (tomorrow! I swear!) I don’t know whether the best approach is simply to eat less of what I currently eat, or just change what I eat to be keto or paleo or whatever. I eat a well balanced diet (including meat, dairy, and a ton of vegetables—but a rather lot of carbs (Italian home cooking!)).

Losing 10 pounds would make a visible dent, I think. 20 pounds would be a very big change. I’m 6’1”, about 210 pounds, and my weight has been largely stable for at least ten years.

Seems like it would make sense to make the simple changes first and then revisit diet, but I’m sure some of you have a lot of insights. Thanks!
posted by Admiral Haddock to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I was in a similar spot several years back and took up cycling before switching to running. Regular running (including occasional 5Ks and 2 half-marathons) has me more conscious about intake and trying to balance it more closely to match my activity level, especially during the training ramp-up months. If you think you'd enjoy running but have never done it before (or haven't for a long time), my two pieces of advice are to visit a running store for your shoes and consider a program like Couch-to-5K.

Foodwise, we (my wife also runs) try to stay as balanced as possible, but I'd be lying if I said we never satisfied our occasional junk-food itches. The rule I've been generally trying to follow is "never hungry, never full."

Just turned 48, 6'1", ~178 lbs.
posted by jquinby at 10:34 AM on January 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

In general, it's easier to decide to eat more of something than less of something. So I'd start by eating even more vegetables and a bit more protein at the beginning of meals and not (consciously) making any other changes.

A nice overview: Surprisingly simple tips from 20 experts about how to lose weight and keep it off
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:34 AM on January 23, 2019 [18 favorites]

your diet is the simple change to make first. cut back on the grazing, the piles of carbs, the dairy. use a calorie counting app if gamifying is a thing that motivates you. if you can maintain an improved diet for a sustained length of time while continuing to walk 2-8 miles a day, you'll probably lose weight. if not, then it's time to see a doctor or nutritionist or personal trainer or whatever to figure out what's up.
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:46 AM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

My husband is similar height and weight and he’s had good success with a simple calorie counter app as well as cutting out beer and chips snacking. It’s actually kind of shocking how fast a tall dude can lose weight.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:53 AM on January 23, 2019

Sounds like you've already got it—small, permanent changes are the way to go, especially since you're already pretty active, don't have a huge amount of weight to lose, and have a pretty balanced diet. I'm with Mr.Know-it-some—incorporating a smaller change like filling up on vegetables first or keeping an eye on your portion sizes is a lot easier and more sustainable in the long run.

I tried keto for awhile, and while it can be pretty effective (provided your kidneys are in full working order), it can be tough to sustain in the long run, especially if carbs are near and dear to your heart. I know a lot of people swear by it, and it did seem effective, but going keto is like a whole lifestyle. It'd be kind of a drastic first step, I think.
posted by helloimjennsco at 10:55 AM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think everyone has their own approach to these things. Some people need the discipline of a restrictive diet, and some people will fail at that. I would fall in the latter group. (I'm convinced that a good weight-loss diet would be one where you can eat anything you want, as long as you make it from scratch.)

I've been an on-again-off-again runner and cyclist my whole life. I've found that when I've allowed my weight to creep up, it's really hard to run enough to burn a meaningful number of calories, but I can ride my bike all day--that's one of the benefits of cycling, you can burn an astonishing number of calories without beating yourself up, so you can do it again the next day. But I've also found that when I'm already fit, running creates a sort of ceiling on my weight because at an instinctive level, I don't want to schlepp the extra weight around.

The last time I realized my weight had crept up, I got back on my bike. I didn't really change my diet except to knock off the quesadillas and make sure I was eating in moderation (I already wasn't drinking soda or eating a lot of highly processed food). It took me about 3 months to lose 10 lb, and I've lost more since, although more slowly.
posted by adamrice at 11:08 AM on January 23, 2019

It’s fairly easy for men to lose weight. You should count calories and weigh yourself regularly to see if your calorie counting is right (eg if you’re counting a deficit but not losing weight, you need more of a deficit). Don’t worry about the exact numbers. There are a lot of articles out there trying to terrify you if you eat less than x number of calories. But your counting is so likely to be off (via undercounting) that you should not worry about starvation mode, you should assume if you’re not losing you’re eating too much and adjust accordingly.

The question is how to maintain a deficit, which is hard for some people. That’s where keto etc comes in—some people do better sticking to deficit eating if they stick with certain diets.

However, as a guy, you can effectively reduce your appetite by adding exercise. (This doesn’t work well for women). My understanding is that adding high intensity cardio will lower appetite but since it doesn’t work for me I’m not up on the specifics. This has the added benefit of being sustainable and a good idea for your health. A special diet, not so much, especially with other people in your household who won’t be eating the same way. If exercise isn’t working, work at a higher intensity or do more cardio. Lifting weights also helps with metabolism.

If the problem with keeping a deficit going is habit, not appetite, you can do things like use smaller plates or only go back for seconds once or put food in the fridge sooner.

If all of this doesn’t work then I’d bother with keto etc. But not before.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:14 AM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

For health and weight, reduce sugar. Giving up sugary drinks is a great first step. Even a small glass of water before a meal will help you feel full faster. Fried foods are high calorie and poor nutrition, so reducing fried foods is a good strategy. I'm trying to eat more of a Mediterranean diet, less sugar, exercise a bit more, and lost weight last year without a specific diet plan.
posted by theora55 at 11:17 AM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Given your description it sounds like eating less of what you currently eat would work; you'd just need to sustain that pattern for a long enough duration to make a dent in your fat reserves. My situation is not exactly like yours, but I am a male who lived most of his life without giving much thought to how I ate - the biggest surprises for me, when I tried losing fat for the first time, was how mentally difficult it was to eat less than I wanted for several consecutive meals, and how long it took to lose a visible amount of fat. It's easy to eat 1000+ extra calories for a few days in a row, but almost impossible to eat 1000 fewer calories for the same time period, so it may take longer than you think to see the results of lower calorie intake.
You can totally do this! But allowing yourself to experience hunger consistently, without automatically re-fueling, might be a new experience and take some getting used to.
posted by smokysunday at 11:22 AM on January 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

Also, weigh yourself when you get up in the morning and keep a log. If it’s easier to remember every day, do that, but you should look at weekly trends and don’t worry if day-by-day you’re up or down a bit. Digital scales with online syncing and long-term tracking are magic and so helpful, so consider investing in one. (Tracking weight is also easier for men b/c you don’t have hormonal changes etc. so it’s fairly straightforward.)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:23 AM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Stay full with water: it can help stave off snackiness between mealtimes, and a glass before meals helps you feel full faster (even though it wears off later).

Plus, often the craving that makes you eat something unconsciously may actually be thirst.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:24 AM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

credentials: I'm 6'1" and I was 230 when I was 36. I lost weight via diet to about 200 by the time I was 37. Then I started running. Since then, I've pretty much stayed in the 180-190 range, and am currently 42.

I agree wtih Mr.Know-it-some. When I see my weight trend starting to go up, I work more on eating more calorie sparse foods. Hard veggies (raw carrots, broccoli, cauliflower) which take a while to eat. As well I'll keep a mind to ways that add calories. A sandwich is OK. A sandwich with sliced peppers for crispness is good. A sandwich with Renee's garlic sauces is so tasty, but less good than the plain sandwich. BBQ sauce/ketchup is in the same book as syrup.

Historically I've found it easier to lose weight when I'm daily eating some "nobeagle kibble." The recipie is: 1 can drained+rinsed each of black beans, lentils, kidney beans, chick peas. 1 lb frozen mixed vegetables (warmed in the microwave about 4 minutes on 50% power - enough that they mix easily, instead of freezing into clumps), one large jar (pasta can-sized) of salsa. Mix. If this takes you longer than 6 days to finish you're not eating enough of it. Despite the kibble monicker, I don't eat only it, so it rarely lasts me less than 4 days. Switch salsa with pasta sauce if desired, and I tend to rotate kidney beans with romano and white navy beans while keeping the black, chick and lentils constant.

Cut out all sugar'ed drinks. No soda/pop. No sugar in coffee. In theory there is where people say cut out beer/wine/cocktails in favor of hard liquor.

My big thing is a I tend to binge at night before bed (it's a running joke that "no one's surprised" when I'm groaning that I'm too full before bedtime). When looking to lose weight I need to remember 1) no "seconds" at dinner, and having my kibble convenient helps when I'm feeling snacky at night. I won't eat to the point of too full on kibble. While I'm not going to experiment with full on intermittent fasting, I've noticed that my weight loss works well if I get a few nights/week where I get 14-16 hours between my last ingestion at night and my first in the morning. However given my night time snacking, that's probably more related to lack of calories, as opposed to timing between calories.

If you're going to track your weight, look for something that gives you a trend. From day to day my weight can easily fluctuate by 5 lbs. I weigh myself every night before bed and only pay attention to the trend lines. I use "Libra" for android - it handles import/export of history, so one's not tied to it. I did the one time ad-removal purchase after a few months, but it's free with ads to try out and reasonably configurable. I do a 7 day trend. When I lose weight, I aim to not have it be more than a 1.5 lbs/week rate.

Be aware that being more active promotes hunger. Essentially your body is happy to "eat back" the calories, and then some. It's a popular saying that you lose the weight in the kitchen and you go to the gym to look better. As a distance runner, I've gained 12 lbs in a month while running 10+ hour weeks through summer heat a few times that I've decided to not care about calorie density/weight. While people say you can burn anything if the oven's hot enough, they're usually in their 20's, while we're not.
posted by nobeagle at 11:29 AM on January 23, 2019 [7 favorites]

One thing you might try is intermittent fasting. A noon-8pm "eating window" each day is typically recommended. You'll tend to eat less by skipping one full meal, and establishing hard time limits might help with grazing.

I've also tried to make a firm rule that I WON'T eat from my toddler's plate, no matter what time of day. Either I put the leftovers in a small Tupperware for later or they go straight in the trash.

Finally, you might be surprised how much mileage you get from basic tracking. While it's a rare American woman who isn't overly, painfully aware of calories/carbs in everyday food, I think for men this stuff can be under the radar until they start actually tracking in a program. My husband has been using MyFitnessPal and it has really been eye-opening for him. While he's a very healthy eater for the most part, he's been surprised by how a few "treat" foods in one day (queso and chips PLUS chili for lunch PLUS a corn muffin) blow up his calorie counts. Again, that type of eating wasn't frequent for him before, but having to type it all into the program definitely makes him choose differently. You can set up a very reasonable, achievable calorie deficit and it's easy to go from there.
posted by Bebo at 11:31 AM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Do you do any sort of muscle toning at all? If you'd like to make some small but permanent changes, start doing pushups and pullups and squats or other simple body weight exercises each morning (well, most mornings--aim for all and get 3-4 and you're doing good). The idea isn't that this will exactly increase your muscle density so much that you'll burn tons of extra calories, but rather that it could be a good, healthy habit to cultivate that might set the right tone for the day and make you more mindful of food consumption, and, with some consistency, you'll see some muscle ton develop and feel stronger, and that can be very satisfying.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:41 AM on January 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you haven't actually put on weight, you've just noticed your body shape changing. So you're probably losing muscle mass, which is definitely expected for someone your age without much activity. Eating less will help it not become fat, but you should add some kind of strength training to maintain muscle - if you don't know where to start, look up "progressive resistance training".
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:52 AM on January 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

I'm coming in to +1 adamrice and rockem sockem. (44M) Cycling does wonders for my metabolism. I almost always limit it to commute rides, 3 round trips a week is generally more than sufficient, but mine is lengthy with Seattle hills. <9>
Even if you don't count calories, try to do a food journal for a week - even if you don't wander down the rabbit hole into calories/fat/carb counting, you will get an immediate hit of what "looks" off. For me, it's almost always winter beer or pastries. Hydrating helps, focusing on having ready-to-eat vegetables on-hand helps too.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 12:11 PM on January 23, 2019

I will echo the "build muscle mass" advice above just because it is often overlooked (and seeing changes in your body can be so motivating! I love my arms. *lol*), but also what hasn't been said before (tho it is a big, fat graphic in the Vox article linked by Mr.Know-it-some):


In terms of exercise, find what works for you. It really doesn't matter what you do IF YOU ENJOY IT and do it for its own sake, not just with the goal of burning 500 calories!

- Cycling is great, you get to see so much of your area and it's easy on the joints
- Running is great, the steady rhythm can help you think / reduce anxiety, etc.
- Group exercise is great, you get to meet people and try out new things
- Pumping iron is great because you get to see your body work hard & evolve
- Climbing / playing soccer / martial arts / swimming / golf is great, because.......

Have fun and losing weight will be a nice side effect.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:38 PM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

You already know that there's no such thing as "spot reduction."

Increasing cardiovascular exercise generally improves appetite in most people, so refraining from eating becomes more difficult (unless you're willing to trade hunger pangs for weight loss).

One alternative is to stack on the muscle - even if you're not using them, they'll burn a lot more calories than the equivalent weight in ballooned-up adipose.

High Intensity Interval Training can be an efficient and effective way to gain muscle mass in many people.

Pull-up/ Chin-up bars that you hook over a doorway (and can easily take down when not in use) are awesome. If you elevate your legs, you can also work on your abdominal muscles - there's no such thing as spot reduction, but the more abs you have, the less adipose you have to get rid of for them to show up.

Most bars will also double as push-up stands.

If you start HIITs, it's not unreasonable to do 1 set of reps to (near) exhaustion. Rest a minute, do another rep to exhaustion. Rest a minute, complete the final set to exhaustion. Skip a day, repeat (or do 3 sets of another exercise). After a few weeks, you can set concrete goals (say, you can do 12, 7, 4 - aim to up it to 12, 8, 6 - when you can do this comfortably, then up it to 14, 10, 8, or whatever).
posted by porpoise at 1:17 PM on January 23, 2019

What worked for me to drop 20 lbs last year was tracking my weight and calories on MyFitnessPal.

I used a weight loss calculator that used my height and weight to project how many calories I would need to eat to lose a pound a week and used that as my target, even though it seemed like a modest goal.

I also paid a lot of attention to what foods were filling me up and what were not. For example, I was still hungry after eating nuts, so I stopped snacking on them.

I liked having a big plate of food, so I ate a lot of vegetables (i.e., half of a bag of frozen TJ's veggies at a meal).
posted by bruinfan at 2:49 PM on January 23, 2019

Yeah, MyFitnessPal is super legit. My wife used it to lose 30 pounds last year.

When I hit about 43 I realized I was really overweight. Like, 270. I remembered that I loved cycling, though, and so I started doing that again. It's easy where I live; there are lots of groups. Eventually, I became a crazy cyclist person with a fancy carbon bike and a power meter and an indoor trainer for when it rains and a coach I pay to encourage me to suffer and all that crap. On the way, I lost 45 pounds -- but only 45. At 225, I could still give 20 easily.

Except, well, even with my 100-mile-a-week riding habit, it wasn't happening.

Inspired by my wife, I joined MyFitnessPal on 1/6 (after our last holiday party). It really helps. Previously I'd made vague gestures at making better food choices, but there was no real accountability, and for me no real awareness of how my foods were divided in terms of macronutrients & whatnot.

MFP is great because most of the food you eat is already in the database. If the food has a bar code, you scan it with your phone; otherwise you just search the DB. It takes almost zero time, but as a result you're suddenly WAY more aware of what and how you're eating - and, crucially, whether those choices are good ones, because it also gives you a semi-personalized calorie and macronutrient budget you work against every day.

(A big change this has pushed on me, based on the guidelines from MFP, is a starkly higher protein intake vs. fats and carbs. I was probably under-fed in that category, so now my afternoon snacks tend to be protein-based things, which help with recovery & training for me. But that's part of my crazy person edge case.)

Let it peak at some exercise data (e.g., Apple Health, or Strava, or whatever), and it'll fold in your calories burned to give you a revised budget. This is AWESOME.

Anyway, the long story short is that I'm down 5 pounds since 1/6 as a result. And it's been kind of easy. I have a real expectation that getting to 210 or even 200 is absolutely possible, even probable, if I stick with this. And I can't imagine not sticking with it at this point.

Now, again, I'm insanely active; I have some major sweat event 5 or 6 days a week, and that includes long (50+ mile) rides one or both days of every weekend. That helps a lot. But Mrs Uberchet lost her 30 last year with only relatively modest levels of exercise -- 2 or 3 times a week, say -- so that part isn't required for this approach to help you.. And she did it with us enjoying a fairly steady wine and beer habit, which we've put on pause to kickstart the new year.

Good luck!
posted by uberchet at 3:14 PM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh, and yeah, if you find something intense and fun to do as exercise, like cycling, it'll be even easier.
posted by uberchet at 3:15 PM on January 23, 2019

I can't help you with the lifestyle changes to effect change, but I can tell you one thing:

Your digestive waste is 1-2kg, so don't worry about weight fluctuations in that range. Just plot the data and watch the trends instead of the jitter.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:24 PM on January 23, 2019

I've got a couple of years on you and I can confirm that counting calories with an app is super-critical. It keeps you honest and after a few weeks almost feels fun, like a game.

Someone up thread mentioned intermittent fasting. This has totally worked for me. There's a system called "5-2" fasting which is extremely easy to follow. 5 days a week you eat normally and 2 days a week you eat less than 500 calories a day.

What's useful with intermittent fasting is that you become extremely mindful of what you're putting into your body and it "sticks" with you even on the days when you're eating normally. I highly recommend giving it a try.
posted by jeremias at 7:03 PM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

My problem (IMO) is that I over eat at meals—not a super snacker—and I will graze off my daughter’s plate once she’s squared away.

Things I found helpful:

- Start meals with something low in calorie density, like soup, salad, or even a glass of water, and linger over it for 20 minutes. One of the satiety signals is leptin, which takes about that long to work. (If you only get 20 minutes for lunch, but you're allowed to drink water on the clock, have some water before you clock out.)

- Eat fibrous foods that take some chewing, or talk to people while you eat. Again, giving yourself time to notice that you're full. Also, the fiber makes you stay feeling full longer, and is good for you in lots of other ways.

- YMMV, but I made food more available, not less, because it was easier to skip seconds when I knew I could get more food if I got hungry later. This dynamic is pretty explicit when I'm travelling and eating on someone else's schedule: I'll actually sit there thinking, "I'm full, but it'll be six hours until dinner and I might be working pretty hard for four of them, so I'd better force down another roll and some butter just in case."

- I found it hard not to clean people's plates too. I started adjusting my cost calculations for the wasted food. E.g., this meal cost $X, but we're only eating 90% of it, so effectively I'm paying $X/calorie instead of $Y/calories, and then I insist to myself that I'm okay paying the difference for the sake of my health. (And if you price out, e.g., Weight Watchers food, the difference due to waste starts looking pretty negligible.)
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 8:14 PM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also, while testosterone does appear to be linked to weight loss in older men with lower baseline levels, weight loss is extremely difficult for many people, men included. I hope you will not interpret "It’s fairly easy for men to lose weight" to mean, "Real men don't struggle with weight loss."
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 8:22 PM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Measure your big belly with a tailor's tape measure along with your weight. Keep doing less food and more exercise. Cycling has made an old friend unrecognizable due to shrinkage. One .meal per day (with practically only zero-ish calorie good things for snacks). You only over-eat once per day instead of thrice. Realisticly, you're getting old and have a reserve, keep your nutrition up, but you can stay hungry for a while.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:31 PM on January 23, 2019

Don’t look at a screen while you eat, pay attention to the food — eat mindfully. Mindless/inattentive eating leads to over-eating.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:18 AM on January 24, 2019

I'm doing intermittent fasting. Check out Jason Fung's videos on Youtube for some excellent science-based information about all the good things it can do.
Short translation: by eating a standard modern eating pattern (frequent grazing all day long and into the night), you may be keeping your insulin levels relatively high, which leads to insulin resistance, one sign of which is gaining weight.
Simply cutting down your eating window is relatively easy to do once you've acclimated. Insulin levels have a chance to drop to baseline, which reduces insulin resistance and improves other metabolic factors.
I eat in a 1-4 hour eating window most days. I've lost 25 lbs in 5 months doing this and feel pretty well. I've always been active physically but the pounds kept showing up on the bottom line. It helps to reduce excess added sugars in your food, which most commercial products ladle onto their recipes.
posted by diode at 11:51 AM on January 24, 2019

Also, while testosterone does appear to be linked to weight loss in older men with lower baseline levels, weight loss is extremely difficult for many people, men included. I hope you will not interpret "It’s fairly easy for men to lose weight" to mean, "Real men don't struggle with weight loss."

Yeah, my bad. I meant relatively easy compared to weight loss for women. That doesn’t mean simple or easy. However, I don’t want women to read stories about what worked for men and think it’s the same thing for them, it’s not. For one, the role of exercise in relation to hunger is different, and there’s substantial evidence that exercise tends to torpedo calorie restriction for women by increasing hunger. Women build muscle less easily. Etc.

Sorry for the misstatement.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:17 PM on January 24, 2019

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