How do I stop myself from gaining all the weight back?
November 18, 2006 8:25 AM   Subscribe

I've lost 50 pounds and need to keep it off. I'm also by nature a "grazer" (wanting to eat all the time), which is how I gained all the weight, but calorie restriction just isn't working any more. There's

I'm a 5'8" male, 30 yrs. old, 167 pounds. I started off in June weighing 217. This is like the 3rd or 4th time I've lost this much weight. EVERY SINGLE time, at the end of the weight loss phase (around this exact weight), my body becomes super-hungry and I find myself cramming EVERYTHING I can in. So, I try to restrict calories to stop regaining weight, and it just gets worse, until I end up grazing all day long on unhealthy foods until I'm stuffed and sleepy at the end of the day. I am really scared of gaining all the weight back again, I know it can't possibly be healthy to keep gaining all this weight back and losing it again, so I need to change something to make the weight loss stick this time, but I'm at a loss...all the search results I get aren't much help.

My body seems to be angry at me for restricting it (around 1000 cals/day) for all this time and seems to be determined to put the weight back. My optimal maintenance calorie intake is about 2200 calories a day, but it just seems like I can never hit around that number -- I always go way over and feel like I can't control it and my appetite is out of control.

What are some good maintenance ideas that work? I am really good at losing the weight, but keeping it off is a HUGE struggle. Are there any foods that I can eat pretty much freely that will really keep me from feeling hungry all the time? I'm also away from home quite a bit, so foods that are highly portable (i.e., don't require refrigeration and can be carried in my backpack) are the most helpful. It seems like a lot of things I eat just make me want to eat more. Also, exercise ideas that won't make me hungrier in the long run?? I'm so!
posted by jspierre to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I hate to advocate the latest fad, but have you looked into Shangri-La? It's worked pretty well for me.
posted by j-dawg at 8:29 AM on November 18, 2006

You're running a 1200 calorie deficit per day and then complaining that you're hungry? Well yeaaaah!

Not only is that not smart, but it's probably not very healthy either.

Burning more calories than you take in is ALWAYS the right approach for weight loss. So, you're doing it right except that you're being overzealous. Try a 250-500 calorie deficit per day if you're trying to lose weight. You'll lose it at a slower, healthier rate and won't be starving all the time. Also take care to eat foods with a lot of bulk, but not a lot of calories.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:40 AM on November 18, 2006

Maybe read this book called Mindless Eating? There must be a cognitive therapy based approach that will help you develop some new, healthy habits.
posted by footnote at 8:40 AM on November 18, 2006

You are restricting your diet too much and not only are you going to have cravings, you will put the weight on much faster because your body thinks it's famine time.

Do what I did. Find a gym or something and start incorporating aerobic exercise into your program. What most people may not know is that you burn more calories for quite some time after exercising-and that also you train your body to burn fat not just glucose. Get the book Fat or Fit if you can-it will explain in more detail.

I lost thirty-five pounds and have kept most of it off for over a year. My dietary habits are really not great right now but I have held steady with the exercise, and that has made all the diff. Once i start back watching my intake (but not to the degree you did) I know I will continue losing again.

Also, strength training will make a difference, too, as the more muscle you build the more calories you will burn. Right now you are defeating your purpose since the overrestricted calorie intake is making you LOSE muscle.

I also second the "find bulky food" suggestion. Baked sweet potatoes-almost overbaked which brings the sweetness out-is practically miracle food for dieters.
posted by konolia at 8:54 AM on November 18, 2006

How about something like Turkey Jerky? The high protein makes it take longer to digest; it's portable; it takes forever to chew so you can spend a long time eating it.

Or what about taking some baggies of baby carrots and celery? Raw veggies in general are filling thanks to all that water content, and although they might not have the staying power you want, you can pretty safely graze on them all day without worrying about weight gain.

In the non-food category, I find that chewing mint gum goes a long way towards fending off hunger pains. Plus it gives your mouth something to do, which I find crucial.

Finally, try a strategically-timed cup of coffee... if you can train yourself to view a cup of coffee as a "I'm done eating now" signal, that might help.
posted by tentacle at 9:07 AM on November 18, 2006

Check out or purchase The Thin Commandments by Stephen Gullo. It's not really a diet book, it's a lifestyle book.

If you don't want to buy a book do what my super healthy, slim, gorgeous parents do. They never gain more than 2-3 pounds with this method:

*Weigh yourself everyday --write it down in a notebook. If you see yourself creeping up, cut back the next day or two. Daily Weighing and Quick Action Keeps Pounds Off.

*Record your calories in a notebook for a few months to get a feel of how many you are taking in.

*Eat three healthy meals a day, and snack on fruit, yogurt, and low-fat pudding, or 100 calorie mini-bags of popcorn when you are hungry.

*They also like whole-wheat toast with spray butter and cinnamon and Splenda and low-fat hot chocolate as snacks. They claim the toast tastes like cake. Those folks are a hoot!

*They don't eat white flour or anything refined. No potatoes or rice. They eat beans, salads, and veggies as side dishes to lean proteins like lean pork chops, fish, shrimp, steak, chicken breasts, etc.

Exercise at least 5 times per week.

Don't starve yourself. According to this calculator you can consume 2034 calories per day to maintain your current weight if you engage in moderate activity.

This may interest you:

A Self-Regulation Program for Maintenance of Weight Loss
posted by LoriFLA at 9:30 AM on November 18, 2006

1. Exercise
2. Exercise
3. Exercise

Long term caloric restriction ain't gonna work as you have repeatedly proven. What your body is doing is quite natural.

You are really lucky in that you are at a good weight to start exercising. Ramp it up s.l.o.w.l.y. The sweet spot in terms of maintaining weight is exercise which is aerobic as opposed to anaerobic. That means moderate effort which raises your heart rate but does not leave you gasping.

Eg riding a bike so you start to work up a bit of a sweat but can still maintain a conversation (or sing a song).

For now don't worry about resistance training -- find some kind of aerobic activity that you enjoy and throw yourself into it -- do it three times a week for an hour or more.

For me it's cycling... for you it might be something else. Learn to row, or snowshoe, or run, or play Ultimate Frisbee, or whatever.

The aim is to exercise enought that you do not have to savagely restrict your caloric intake. I basically try to eat healthy and not stuff myself silly, but I do NOT starve myself and by doing the above, I can drink alcohol and eat cheese and not blow up like a balloon.

And by the way, congratulations... you've done the hardest part.
posted by unSane at 9:33 AM on November 18, 2006

Here's my diet/trick: juice/coffee for breakfast, juice/coffee for lunch, whatever for dinner. Saturday as a cheat day. Exercise/run/weights every day, skip weekends.
posted by four panels at 9:37 AM on November 18, 2006

I don't know that this is physical for you, this sudden need to eat continuously once you reach your goal -- it sounds to me like a psychological thing.

I am currently losing weight, and hope to have lost as much as you have in a few months. When I first started going to the gym, I was bewildered to find I was suddenly getting all this male attention. I couldn't have gotten so much hotter so fast, so I couldn't understand what was happening -- despite my being single and avowedly ready to mingle, it made me uncomfortable, it just wasn't 100% joy.

So then one day on the stairmaster I'm reading Oprah magazine. This self-help psychologist guy, Dr. Phil McGraw, explains that becoming "sexually relevant" (i.e. fit) brings "new social pressures" that a lot of formerly fat people just can't handle on some level, and to escape them they cover themselves back up with fat. Changing your appearance dramatically makes people react to you in a dramatically different way -- and it is hard to know how to behave, when you are no longer "you." Maybe you want a therapist to talk this out with, maybe you just want to try out a few different personas on strangers until your mind catches up with your body. But cheetos aren't going to help, and neither is any diet book in the world.

You have to make up your mind to use your walk, to work your thang, to bring your body to the people, and probably that will take time.
posted by Methylviolet at 9:55 AM on November 18, 2006 [3 favorites]

@four panels: maybe that works for you but it's a horrible, horrible regimen to recommend for anyone else. A big glycemic rush from the coffee and juice, then bonking because you exercise with no caloric intake, then stuffing yourself with 'whatever' in the evening. Please.

The OP's 'grazing' is a much healthier way to eat, so long as it's decent food that's being grazed.
posted by unSane at 9:56 AM on November 18, 2006

People have already stated this but... I've been there and exercise is really the key.

It's not like you are going to stop eating for the rest of your life, or become one of those CR crazies. Try to burn like 300-500 a day and then you don't need to worry about your snacks. Try to stick to healthy food instead of junk.. this is hard at first coming off a diet, but long term you will probably grow to like healthy foods. I'm guessing you lose weight by starving, which is probably why you go back to junk food--say hello to health foods and don't go back! Carbs are kind of "addictive" (this goes for anything sweet, and processed food is way way worse) so I'd reccomend lots of protein and fiber. Fruits, veggies, meats if you do that.
posted by shownomercy at 10:07 AM on November 18, 2006

Good news, you can consume 2649 calories daily to maintain your current weight with moderate activity. I plugged in your numbers in the women's calculator by mistake.
posted by LoriFLA at 10:26 AM on November 18, 2006

I've suddenly -- and much to my surprise -- stopped grazing in the mornings, after a small change to my eating habits.

The secret: I'm mixing a tablespoon of flax seed oil into about a half cup of fruity yogurt each morning, and eating that in addition to my regular small breakfast (generally one of: bowl of cereal; pastry; oatmeal; egg and toast).

I added the flax seed/yogurt combo to my diet for health reasons -- the oil's rich in omega 3's, which are supposed to be some kind of miracle something; the yogurt has acidophilous, which is good for the digestive tract.

The combination has me so full that I'm no longer roaming to the snack machine every 45 minutes. Instead, I'm full for a good five-plus hours. I still have the urge to taste flavors and chew, so I break out some yummy gum.

Once lunch comes, I put an emphasis on getting my recommended servings of fruits and veggies before I let myself eat anything else. They're not as satisfying as bread or fatty foods, but they still fill my belly and help slow the unhealthy grazing a bit. Don't slather them in butter or cheese and you're good to go.

The best way for me to be sure I'm getting enough fruits and veggies: buy way more than I think I can possibly eat at the grocery store, and vow not to let any of them go bad. Inspect the fridge every night to see what's closest to going bad, and figure out some way to eat it in tomorrow's lunch.

Some easy-to-prepare produce that can be pretty handy for daytime grazing: chopped broccoli in a ziplock bag; baby carrots; cerely if you can stomach it; apples; oranges; bananas; pears; canned pineapple; canned corn or green beans in a Tupperware-like container (easily heated in the office microwave). Requires a little more advance effort: cooked veggies, salads, stir fries, squash-based dishes. Bring at least four to six servings of produce to work and don't let yourself eat anything else until you've devoured it all.

Finally, I think it's important to bring at least one carbohydrate and one protein or fat containing item to work each day, so you have control over how you feed those cravings and you don't turn to the 550 calorie king size Snicker's bar for satisfaction. Bring a chunk of cheese and some crackers or a bit of jerky and a bag of unbuttered popcorn, maybe lean chicken and a half cup of instant rice, whatever floats your boat.

That produce/carb/protein combination gets me through the day, but by the time I get home from work I'm famished again. A piece of toast with peanut butter is a really good trick. The toast will give you a carbohydrate rush that will help you feel full right away, the peanut butter has protein that will help you feel full for longer. That should give you time to think rationally about how you want to eat for the rest of the evening.

This is when I ususally start thinking about my veggies for tomorrow, and I'll often prepare something as an evening veggie side dish that will provide leftovers for tomorrow's lunch.

Best of luck!
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:34 AM on November 18, 2006 [3 favorites]

One of the best things I ever did was to stop drinking soft drinks. I used to have a Coke every day at lunch. Now I drink tea and OJ in the morning, and water the rest of the day and with all other meals. I drink alcohol sometimes, and maybe once or twice a month I'll get a Coke at a restaurant.

The empty calories and extra weight added by regular consumption of soft drinks -- which are basically liquid candy -- are huge.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:49 AM on November 18, 2006

For now don't worry about resistance training -- find some kind of aerobic activity that you enjoy and throw yourself into it -- do it three times a week for an hour or more.

Please DO worry about resistance training. Cardio isn't going to give you back much of the muscle you lost (this time, and all the previous times you've gone on this terrible diet). Cardio also has a good chance of making you hungrier. Which frankly you should be.
You are going to gain back some of that weight. Make that a worthwhile process, replace the muscle you've starved off. Lift heavy, eat more, and eat more protein. I don't know what body type you have, but I doubt it is the string bean type or you wouldn't have gotten into this situation in the first place. So don't try to be a string bean by starving yourself or turning into a cardio bunny. You want to be able to eat to satisfaction without getting fat, and you are never going to do that without some muscle on your body.
posted by ch1x0r at 11:07 AM on November 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

I can see why it's so difficult for you to get out of this cycle. Restricting to 1000 calories/day for someone your size is essentially a diet of starvation, and that is not an effective way to lose weight permanently. It may feel like a good strategy for you-- it works quickly, and convincing your body that a famine is going on can force it to supress hunger and food craving for periods of time. But the starvation has to end at some point, and when it does, your body is going to start demanding food with desperate intensity. The resulting period of constant and uncontrollable eating is a normal physiological response to long-term deprivation, and is very difficult to stop.

A lot of the tips people have given are good strategies for weight loss/maintenance in general, but they may not really fix your problem, which is a long-term cycle of starving/overeating. What you really need to worry about right now is not doing this to yourself anymore. As you try to bring your caloric intake up to normal levels, you need to make sure you're giving your body everything it needs. This means NOT restricting yourself, NOT counting calories and punishing yourself. You need to actually give your body all the nutrients it needs, all the calories it needs, all the protein, fat, and carbohydrates it needs. Graze when you're hungry, and do it on foods that are genuinely good for you. Don't keep bad stuff in the house-- especially food high in sugars and refined carbs, because those tend to create blood sugar spikes and crashes that encourage further binging. Excercise a lot, both cardio and strength building. And don't think about any of this, the eating or the working out, as something you are doing to lose weight or keep weight off-- for once, think about it as taking care of your body.

You will probably gain back some of the weight you have lost. Do not freak out about this and start trying to restrict again, it's just going to get you back into the pattern. Let yourself gain some back, and focus on doing that in a healthy way. If you want to drop more pounds later, do it in a healthy and moderate way. I know that moderation and possible weight gain don't sound appealing, but what you've been trying so far obviously isn't going to do the job.

You might find some of the books of Geneen Roth helpful; she had a very similiar cycle of losing and gaining weight that she managed to break, and her writings have helped a lot of people I know. They are a bit woman-centered, though. You also might want to think about going to see a dietician, who can help figure out exactly how much you should be eating right now and come up with an eating plan to help you stick to a good diet.

I really hope you succeed at finding a good diet and a good weight. Best of luck.
posted by bookish at 11:58 AM on November 18, 2006

OK - I'll be the first to say it. Talk to a doctor or a dietician and try to find something that will work for you.

Here's what I did to go from 214 to 185 in the span of a year.
1. Purchased Calorie King, a calorie tracker that runs on my Treo (also runs on PCs and windows mobile devices). I use it to track calories and exercise. Set myself a budget of losing between 1 and 2 pounds a week, which for me was about 1850 calories.
2. Moderated my portion size of high calorie foods and increased my portion size of low-calorie foods.
3. Started drinking more seltzer.
4. Tried to take a 1 mile brisk walk every day through the fall and winter with a coworker.
5. In spring/summer, went jogging 3x per week

As far as snacks go, I try to plan on my snacking rather than just grazing. What worked really well for me is air-popped popcorn with butter-flavored spray and salt and/or a good sprinkling of hot sauce. 4C of air popped corn is like 120 calories and is very filling and very satisying. Compare 1 ounce of potato chips, which gives you about 140 calories and isn't nearly as filling. The fiber isn't bad for you either. Air poppers are fairly cheap and non-microwave popcorn is also cheap.

Except for the salt, pickles are another great snack. They're filling, tasty, and really dang low in calories.

I'm not as much of a grazer, so my day in food looks like this:
6:45AM Breakfast - bowl of cheerio-like substance with banana and fat-free milk 250 cal
10:00AM snack - about 120-150 cal budget
12:00PM lunch - usually a 400-500 cal lunch (2 hard boiled eggs, fat free yogurt, a piece of fruit, seltzer, sometimes some chips)
6:00 dinner - varied - 650-1000 cal. If I'm on the low side, I'll have a beer or dessert or a snack later

I don't get mad if I'm over budget because as many days I'm under.

What works best for me is to track it all.
posted by plinth at 12:10 PM on November 18, 2006

People are really being too complicated here.

Lunch is a sham - no one needs lunch. Eat a muffin if you must for breakfast, never eat lunch. Exercise every day.

The only way to lose weight and maintain it is two simple things:
1. exercise daily.
2. stop eating (so much)
posted by four panels at 12:31 PM on November 18, 2006

Exercise ideas that won't make you hungry? Bad news: every activity will make you hungry to the extent that it uses energy. However, swimming anecdotally makes people even hungrier. So don't swim if you already have problems with gobbling food post-exercise.

I agree with all the people who say 1000 calorie deficit is way too much to sustain, and likely the reason your body is in revolt.

You know what? If you managed to get this far, with that sort of restriction, I take my hat off to you - you've actually demonstrated tremendous willpower. So refocus that willpower on food choices.

Eat something with reasonable protein at breakfast - an egg, whatever. Prevents mid-morning dip and doughnut craving.

I find certain things "hold" me much better than others when I pack a lunchbox. Hard boiled eggs. Cold meat/chicken. Tinned fish. Nuts. The theme is high-protein and some fat. Remembering that you don't need to be 1000 cals down, you should have some room to bring these things into your diet.

If you have access to a microwave where you work/study, you can easily microwave sweet potatoes, which have a lot of fiber and a low GI, and also "hold you" for a long time. (I find cold baked sweet potatoes quite nice too, actually, so you could bring them from home).

As to portable things you can nosh on continuously: carrots. Celery. Apples. All fruit and veg will be better than processed snack food in terms of calorie density, and the fibre will tend to make you feel full.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:15 PM on November 18, 2006

Four panels, I can't help to envy your eating schedule, even if it does sound unhealthy.
posted by LoriFLA at 1:34 PM on November 18, 2006

Drink. A lot. I personally like green tea, but water will do. If you just keep a mug/bottle with you and sip continually, you may find you feel hungry less often. I'm a grazer too, and that works for me.

Also, make sure you eat meals high in lean protein: it makes you feel fuller longer.

Hope this helps - and congratulations on the weight loss!
posted by AV at 4:54 PM on November 18, 2006

I've lost about 60 lbs. in the past two years, and although I have yo-yo'd more than once before, I'm not really worried about getting obese again this time. Part of it is attitude, part of it is eating right, and part of it is exercise.

You know what's it's like to eat as a fat person, and you know what it's like to eat as a fat person trying desperately to lose weight. What you haven't learned, but need to, is what it's like to eat as a 'normal' person. I realize that the ambiguity can be difficult - it's easier to either just gorge yourself without restriction, or restrict to an extreme - so eliminate the ambiguity by establishing certain rules for yourself. For example, don't consume any refined sugars, flours, or high-fructose corn syrup.

At a basic level, here's what happened. You malnourished yourself and lost a bunch of muscle along with the fat. Concentrate on this fact: your body is not trying to get fat again; it's trying to get healthy again, by taking in a variety of nutrients and building muscle. You can help it do that, by satisfying your cravings with healthy foods, and doing a *reasonable, not crazy* amount of anaerobic exercise you need to restore some muscle.

No matter what you do, you have got to break out of this 'holy shit, what do I do now?' mentality; that will make you fat again. Do you think you can live the rest of your life in this state of mind, even if you're thin? You have to accept that your body does actually have a built-in regulatory mechanism. If you eat food that isn't crap and exercise, you aren't going to get fat again. Try it for a few weeks and see. And feel free to email me if you want to discuss more.
posted by bingo at 4:58 PM on November 18, 2006

Also look at recent threads like this one for more ideas. The easiest way to see recent threads is to click on your own tags (in the top right corner of your post); that will show you all the recent threads marked "weightloss" for example.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:43 PM on November 18, 2006

If you eat food that isn't crap and exercise, you aren't going to get fat again.

Graze when you're hungry, and do it on foods that are genuinely good for you ... Excercise a lot, both cardio and strength building.

And there you have it. Nothing more to be said!
posted by unSane at 3:42 PM on November 19, 2006

A lot of the advice being given here is good, but a lot of it is, really, really bad. In particular, the line of thinking which says to "exercise, and eat when you are hungry" almost certainly will not work for you. Fortunately, I can tell you why it won't work and what you can do to end your cycle.

This is how your body works (you may already know this part, so I apologize if this basic explanation is unnecessary for you): when you take in more calories than you burn over time, you gain weight. When you burn more calories than you take in, you lose weight. One pound of fat is equivalent to 2500 calories, so if you take in 2500 calories more than you burn over the course of a week, you will gain precisely one poind of weight.

Okay. Here is the bad part: People who have long-term weight problems, like you and I, have a fundamentally different relationship with food than "normal" skinny people. For most people, the suggestion to "eat only when you're hungry" works, because their bodies tell them (accurately) when they have reached the approximate point of calorie intake they need to maintain their weight. Yes, such people can occassionally be tempted by taste to overindulge, but most of the time overindulging makes them feel over-full and a little bit sick. So they stay mostly at their ideal weight, or they gain slowly over time - and because they gain slowly, they can (and, by extension, think that you can) offset the overindulgence with a little bit of exercise and moderation.

The problem is that people who are significantly overweight often face food in an entirely different way. Their (our) eat watch is broken: when we've reached the approximate level of calories we need to maintain a healthy weight, our bodies still feel hungry. And when we overeat, we don't feel ill, we feel good, because our internal biological equilibrium is miscalibrated. For significantly overweight people, moderation and light exercise will simply never work, because we face food in a fundamentally different matter.

To make matters worse, contrary to popular conception, light to moderate exercise does almost >nothing to increase the number of calories your body burns in a given day. Yes, it helps, but unless you're going to spend several hours a day in exercise, it won't be enough to significantly offset poor eating habits.

So that's the bad news: your problem is permanent, and fundamentally different from most "normal" people. Here's the worse news:

Your body has what's called a "set point" - this is the amount that it wants to weigh. It takes about six months of being at a heigher weight to reset your set point upwards, but it takes almost three years to reset it downwards. Thus, weight loss has to be a very long-term effort. As you've learned, if you don't keep the weight off for at least three years, you will almost certainly gain back all of the weight you lost - if not more!

The bottom line is, you're going to have to get used to being a "little bit hungry" essentially all of the time. If you want to maintain your weight, you have to develop habits that would, in a skinny person, result in an eating disorder - you have to learn to always be hungry.

Now that the bad news is out of the way, here's the good news: your (our) condition is completely within our control. And you can reduce that constant hunger a little bit by eating smart.

Although calories determine our weight gain (or loss), volume determines our hunger level. (See: Volumetrics). Thus, we can "trick" our bodies into feeling less hungry by eating foods which are low in calories but high in volume: vegetables, some grains (notably oatmeal), some fruit, will help. Essentially, anything that is high in fiber can make us feel full without causing us to gain weight. As a side benefit, a high-fiber diet will probably help to prevent colon cancer as well.

Another trick is to get in the habit of monitoring your weight daily, and keeping a trend-line (to filter out the normal day-to-day variations in water weight which make up most of our daily flucuations in weight). Here, I suggest you read (for free, online) The Hacker's Diet, in particular the chapter titled Perfect Weight Forever.

So that's it. Your weight is entirely within your conscious control. With a combination of good management habits, smart eating habits, and a little willpower, you can maintain your ideal weight for as long as you live (barring major illness or pharmaceutical side-effects relating to a major illness).

If you have any other questions, just let me know - my email is in my profile. Good luck!
posted by gd779 at 10:29 AM on November 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

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