This is a question about losing weight
November 18, 2023 6:36 PM   Subscribe

Putting everything under the cut because I know this isn't a comfy topic for many folks.

I have accumulated about 5kg of excess body fat in the last 6 months due to life being a bit hectic and what I ate reflecting this. This is fine and perfectly human and I'm not attaching any value to that, but I'm at the point where I can't fit half of my clothes and I generally feel a bit uncomfortable, so I'm looking to lose it. 

However, like a lot of people, I found myself in a similar position after Covid lockdowns, and while I did successfully manage to return to my typical weight and level of squidgyness, it was fucking miserable. I have a food science degree, I understand nutrition and kilojoules, and I know why restriction is bad from both a biochemical and psychological perspective. I started from a good place mentally and did all the 'right' things. And yet, to even lose ~300 g a week (a perfectly healthy rate at which to reduce weight, I know) I ended up having to restrict my intake so heavily that it felt unhealthy. I am active (active commuting, gym, lots of walking on the weekends, work on my feet a lot of the time), so in theory my total daily energy expenditure should be fairly average for someone of my age and station (mid-30s female, no health issues or long-term medications). I chose not to count kilojoules because I don't believe that's a sustainable behaviour for me, so instead I used a whole foods and calorie/kilojoule density approach. The bottom line is that I basically ended up subsisting entirely on vegetables with some lean protein, sometimes with a small amount of rice or rice noodles for carbohydrates outside of potatoes or other starchy veggies. Not a single sweet thing aside from the occasional banana or low-kilojoule yoghurt passed my lips for 8 months (truly). If I had to estimate, I was probably only consuming about 4000-5000 kilojoules most days, even on days I went to the gym. It's a good thing that I really like broccoli because holy shit I ate a lot of it.

I don't have thyroid issues or PCOS. I did contemplate reaching out to a dietician for help or validation or ~something, but reading bios of local dieticians made me wonder how they could help, because it felt like there was a very strong focus on stuff like intuitive eating and health at every size. These are important and good things, but not what I was looking for. I am 100% happy to follow an eating plan - my brain is tired and I've been really going through it lately, so someone giving me a shopping list and a bunch of recipes is very compatible with my lifestyle right now. 

Though I can objectively understand why I have gained (basically a lot of sweet, kilojoule-dense foods which I have since chilled out on) my typical diet is quite balanced. I am maintaining my current weight just fine, with only a low level of vigilance. It's just the losing bit which is hard.

I know I must be missing something. I know there is a common idea of 'sometimes you have to eat more to lose weight' - tried it after a fairly in-depth conversation with my personal trainer, but it didn't have the desired effect. As mentioned, life has been really shit the last couple of years so I am open to this being a weird stress/cortisol issue.

I know there will be people who think I should just accept being a bit pudgier and get on with it, and I see the value in that. But I can't afford to always buy more clothes, and I don't believe it is a long-term benefit to my health and wellbeing for my body fat to be increasing like this. My mum died last year and unfortunately some of her health issues, though not caused by being overweight, were made more complicated because of it and made it harder for her to recover and be more mobile. So, even though I know advice like this comes from a good place, I am not interested in hearing it.

I suppose my actual questions are:
- Is this just losing weight in your 30s?
- Unfortunately my last couple of GPs haven't been particularly helpful with anything I have spoken to them about so I have given up on seeing one unless I need a prescription - is this something a GP could help with?
- Is it worth pursuing a dietician? If so, is there anything in particular I should be searching for when finding one?
- Am I cursed to count kilojoules? My partner has historical issues with ED and we eat together so even though I could be willing, I try to avoid anything that screams 'restriction' around them so I would rather not.
- Do some people just have comically low basal metabolic rates for no obvious reason?
- I dunno, general advice based on the diatribe above?

Thanks all.
posted by BeeJiddy to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Probably unrelated, consider this an anecdotal garbage data.

I am in my 50s, male, NEVER been active, and as of July, when I replaced my scale, I was at 287.9, which is close to morbidly obese for me, as I also do have some diabetes.

Just now, I measured my weight again. I'm at 241.7. I've lost 46.2 lb. In 4 months.

What exactly did I do? What did I change?

Two major changes that I've noticed.

1) I got a new CPAP, finally replacing the CPAP I got almost 10 years ago. I don't know if this is a factor, but it is a significant change in my health.

2) I took some antibiotic that I was allergic to (for other health concerns), which wiped out my gut bacteria, gave me hives, and other problems. Got that resolved after a week, but ever since I have occasional stomach problems, which probably added to the weight loss. Do not recommend. :)
posted by kschang at 6:57 PM on November 18

I had a similar weight gain that was similarly hard to get off and keep off. What has worked (and is working) has been intermittent fasting. I did about 3 months of 24 hour fasts 2x/week, with a large veggie and protein meal at the end (so, basically, I would eat dinner one day and then not eat until dinner the next day, and I would have a giant chicken salad then). After that I have been doing it once a week. YMMV, but for me after the first couple of weeks, I found it really easy, and I appreciate not having to think about what I am eating or not eating.
posted by virve at 7:05 PM on November 18 [6 favorites]

Condolences on the loss of your mom. I think you might be on to something with the cortisol business. We can rely on German to have a good compound word to describe different phenomena. I've got first hand experience with "kummerspeck," which translates as grief bacon. I think what you're doing sounds quite sensible, and imagine when life settles down a bit so will your weight. In the mean time, thrift shops!
posted by kate4914 at 7:05 PM on November 18 [6 favorites]

I don't have any really good advice but I just wanted to empathize, as a late 30s woman currently trying to get down to a healthy weight. I will say that I think when you are very close to being at a "healthy" weight range it becomes much harder to lose weight, in my experience. I've been everywhere from morbidly obese to at a verified healthy weight (though never there for long, my set weight seems to be to be somewhat overweight at least with my current habits/proclivities) and my gosh the last 10-15 lbs is very hard to get off! It's hard to keep up motivation when it feels like you're eating next to nothing... I also love the self acceptance philosophies and think it is great that they are a part of the dialogue and it's important not to make this about self worth. But really, don't feel bad for just wanting to lose the last 5 kg. The tradeoff might just be being miserable for a while? That's what I've concluded though it could just be me. Good luck!
posted by knownfossils at 7:59 PM on November 18 [2 favorites]

As someone in my early 30s, I genuinely do think it's the cortisol/stress. Our baseline for anxiety and stress can be elevated so significantly that as I'm further along in my mental health journey, I'm shocked at how much more relaxed I can be. Together with that, my eating habits have naturally shifted towards far healthier and way less in quantity, despite me not actively restricting. I willingly chose to not buy a 12 piece sashimi, and instead settled for 6 pieces, because I myself no longer felt the huge need to even need it, because I'm getting fulfilled in other ways. but when I was dying during grad school? Salmon sashimi was literally the only protein I could eat for a couple of weeks, and I wanted sooooo much of it, to the detriment of my bank account and also my actual dietary needs. But mentally? I do not regret eating it at all!

I really do think our bodyminds want to eat more as a way to literally stay alive during traumatic stress, and so for me, doing everything I can to take care of my mental health has been really the major key to losing weight. Taking care of your gut health is also really important as well.
posted by yueliang at 8:50 PM on November 18 [5 favorites]

How are you sleeping? It’s funny, our bodies lose weight when we sleep better, a lot of the time. Age contributes to this as well, because a lot of people start having trouble sleeping in their thirties, and that combined with general life stress and generational position where our parents are aging and some people are raising small children and we are often in professional positions of responsibility means increased stress which means worse sleep which means weight retention etc etc etc.

Losing weight and keeping it off is so hard for almost everyone. I’m not sure that it’s a reasonable goal, like, in general. Can you shift your focus to building muscle strength? This could help offset some of your long term health and comfort concerns. Basically, try to address the various issues around your weight, without focusing on the scale or trying to fit into an old pair of jeans. Work on your mental resilience, your sleep quality, the strength of your body, your family relationships, your stress from work, and see if your weight and your relationship with food needs to be changed at all.

For clothes, absolutely thrift shops and consignment stores. Wrap dresses and high waisted wide leg trousers can be cinched with a belt and look incredibly flattering on many body shapes. Overalls are trendy and comfy and adjustable. A lot of women’s bodies fluctuate in size during their thirties and forties, and it’s quite typical to have a wardrobe that accommodates this. Don’t allow stress about poorly fitting clothes impact your health or self esteem.
posted by Mizu at 9:19 PM on November 18 [5 favorites]

I've been reading Glucose Revolution (which seems biochemically-based so far?) and paying more attention to things like eating the veggies first and carbs last, and other recommendations she makes.

No real data yet on whether it's working as far as weight loss goes, but it does seem to help me avoid blood sugar crashes, which is definitely positive!
posted by cnidaria at 9:33 PM on November 18 [1 favorite]

I've been on and off Weight Watchers for years, and hanging around in those communities I heard of something called "the Wendie plan" that many people claimed to have success with for busting through a weight loss plateau. The plan wasn't endorsed by Weight Watchers but word still got around and lots of people said it worked for them. You take the food "points" you are allotted for the week and arrange them into higher-points and lower-points days, which supposedly shakes up your metabolism and gets the scale moving again. I think it also may help some people from a motivational perspective, as the more challenging lower-points days are offset by being able to look forward to the higher-points days where you can eat more and maybe fit in a treat or two.

To use a similar plan with calories/kilojoules I think what you would do is decide what is a reasonable daily target amount, then multiply by 7 to find the weekly total. Then you divide your calorie intake unevenly throughout the days of the week... some days a bit higher, some a bit lower. I don't think you have to get too fancy with it, maybe just have two higher-calorie days and two lower-calorie days, which would leave three days where you would eat the regular daily target number of calories.

This article describes the Wendie plan and also talks about calorie-cycling which is similar.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:37 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]

I am here to rep Team Cortisol, but I will make one low-hanging-fruit suggestion: supplement fiber and see if anything changes in a couple months. I mean keep doing it for gut health and likely reduction of benign or not situations up in the plumbing, but you may also find that with increased attention toward whole grains and unprocessed carbs you get overall improvements.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:39 AM on November 19 [3 favorites]

The one thing that did the trick for me was to eat normally except stop eating any carbs with dinner in the evening. Just have protein and a ton of veggies. For the veggie component, bean salads are perfect as you can change them around and add nice dressings etc, but they always fill you up.
posted by Grunyon at 6:40 AM on November 19

One thought based on your description is to up the protein as it sounds like you are eating mostly vegetables.

I just read "Ultra-Processed People". Incredible book full of research. There was a lot of information on the health effects of ultra-processed foods including on weight (as an easily and quickly measurable factor in research). One well-designed study in particular identified eating ultra-processed vs minimally processed alone as accounting for people to eat far fewer calories. This is farther than an apple is not the same effect as a pureed apple is not the same as apple juice without the fiber though this is also true. Ultra-processed food is different than processed food. In my own not-perfect summary of what this means, processed food such as flour and sugar could possibly be made in a home kitchen while ultra-processed foods such as hydrogenated oils, even seed oils, dough conditioners, xanthan gum, high-fructose corn syrup, sweeteners, "natural flavors" could not. This is just a very rough summary of some of the information in this amazing book.
posted by RoadScholar at 7:24 AM on November 19 [3 favorites]

I’m in my fifties, and I try to keep my weight very stable for all the obvious vanity and health reasons, and I will just validate your experience that the level of restriction necessary to lose weight at all, if you’re already in or close to a healthy weight range, is startling. I don’t have a solution, but it’s not just you.
posted by LizardBreath at 8:27 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]

Like virve, Intermittent Fasting has worked surprisingly well for me. As I posted on another recent thread, I choose to do a 19:5 fast most days, which means 19 hours of clean fasting (water or black tea/coffee only) and eat whatever I want during a 5 hour window, usually a snack and a healthy, filling meal from 3-8 pm. I am now down almost 20 pounds in the last 11 weeks, the first time I've ever had any kind of weight loss success. I find it very easy to follow and the clean fasting minimizes the blood sugar swings, preventing the hunger pangs I usually get when dieting. I recommend checking out Fast. Feast. Repeat. by Gin Stephens for a good primer on IF.
posted by platinum at 8:46 AM on November 19

I would consider adding some weight training into your routine. Muscle is more efficient at burning caloric energy and generally ups your resting me. You don't need to join a CrossFit gym or get all hardcore. Maybe start with twice a week with one lower body and one upper body focused routine. Additional muscle will help you maintain weight as you get older.

I'm a big fan of Fitness Blender for good, nongimmicky, at home routines and have a set of Powerblocks.
posted by brookeb at 9:33 AM on November 19 [4 favorites]

I understand your resistance to counting calories, but it is really super easy to underestimate your intake. Can you maybe weigh out portions of foods you eat often and calculate calories in a portion just to check to make sure you're estimating correctly? Also yes, being in a deficit doesn't feel healthy if you're used to satiety, but the human body is quite resilient. So while it's challenging to deliberately deprive your body of sufficient calories, it is not unhealthy per se, and is really the only way to lose excess fat. It's not just calories in vs calories out, but that's a big part of it and can't be ignored.
posted by ananci at 10:31 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]

To answer just one of your questions, yes, people have very different basal metabolic rates. It can be somewhat within one’s control (e.g. building muscles increases it a bit), but is generally understood to be a “you get what you get” kind of thing.

That said, one of the things that definitely lowers your basal metabolic rate is calorie-restriction, especially severe calorie restriction. I am not proficient in kilojoules, but if the google conversion is correct and you are averaging about 1000 calories per day, that is starvation territory as far as your metabolism is concerned. Having restricted to that level in the past and now restricting to that level again, it would not be surprising if your metabolic rate is lower than it was five years ago.

You say, “I must be missing something.” But you are not. For the vast, vast majority of people, losing weight in the long-term ranges from extremely difficult to actually impossible, and it becomes more difficult both with age and with repeated weight cycling. I know this isn’t the kind of answer you are looking for, but it is the only one that addresses your underlying frustration and confusion.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 10:56 AM on November 19 [5 favorites]

- Is this just losing weight in your 30s?
I dieted at age 61, successfully lost 20 pounds in a decent amount of time (9 kg) and have kept it off so far (7 years). 5'6" (167 cm) and 120 lbs (54 kg).

- Unfortunately my last couple of GPs haven't been particularly helpful with anything I have spoken to them about so I have given up on seeing one unless I need a prescription - is this something a GP could help with?
GPs have shockingly little training related to diet and nutrition.

- Is it worth pursuing a dietician? If so, is there anything in particular I should be searching for when finding one?
Yes, it is worth it. (But I have no advice to provide regarding searching for one other than to make sure they are a registered dietition.)

- Am I cursed to count kilojoules?
I counted calories and still do, but a dietician could help you with alternatives to that. I also don't eat processed food or fast food, but I have no idea whether this helps me maintain my weight; a registered dietician might be able to tell you whether this would make a difference.

I'm a little confused about your statement, "My partner has historical issues with ED and we eat together so even though I could be willing, I try to avoid anything that screams 'restriction' around them so I would rather not", because later you state that all you were eating was vegetables, lean protein, rice, bananas, and yogurt. That sounds pretty restrictive to me compared to what your partner might be eating, unless that is how your partner typically eats, too.

Do some people just have comically low basal metabolic rates for no obvious reason?
Maybe. But I can tell you that 4000-5000 kilojoules does not provide enough kilojoules and, therefore, could actually slow your metabolism. Cortisol could also be a contributing factor.

posted by SageTrail at 1:29 PM on November 19 [1 favorite]

You probably know this already, but if you get into weight training, find a tape measure and throw out your scales. When you gain muscle you'll be leaner but weigh more. Don't let that discourage you!
posted by kate4914 at 1:52 PM on November 19 [2 favorites]

Seconding the advice on avoiding ultra-processed foods. More evidence coming out all the time that UPFs are likely more to blame for the obesity epidemic than high fat or high sugar.

Also always be aware that many more things affect our weight than just energy in and energy out. Medications can make us gain or lose weight, but also other chemicals we come into contact with every day through our skin, the air we breath, or in water. The latter usually wouldn't account for a sudden change, but always worth keeping in mind that, for instance, living somewhere with high air pollution or drinking water contaminated by lead pipes will likely make you more prone to obesity.
posted by EllaEm at 2:38 PM on November 19 [1 favorite]

As you can see by the variety of responses, this is a hard question. How much control can anyone have over their body size and shape without resorting to extreme restrictions and surgery? It seems to vary a lot.

I remember weight really sticking to me in my 30s-40s, but now in my 50s I'm having an easier time. I have no idea why; hormones probably play some role.

You are afraid of having the same health problems as your mom, but chances are her problems weren't because she was a little overweight. So maybe don't let yourself think that. (We also don't really understand how much weight causes issues vs how much it is a symptom of issues in a lot of cases.)

If you goal is to live long and healthily, keep exercising and take care of your sleep and mental health-- the number on the scale matters a lot less than doing those things. Get stronger if you need to feel more proactive/ need measurable results. Work on your endurance, lung capacity, bone strength. Let your waistline figure itself out
posted by emjaybee at 7:52 AM on November 21 [1 favorite]

I'm a 38 year old woman.

Over the last 2 years I lost some weight by counting calories (sounds like you don't want to do this).
I lost a lot more weight, and was able to increase my calorie intake, by reducing my dairy and meat intake substantially and focusing on plant-based protein like tofu, chickpeas, beans etc (and tracking this protein so I got at least 1.5g per kg of body weight).

Fwiw I also lift more at the gym than ever before, despite losing 10kgs.
posted by thereader at 10:05 PM on November 23

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