How to lose weight without losing your mind?
May 27, 2008 4:02 PM   Subscribe

After a lifetime of no weight problems, I am about 30 pounds overweight (this has happened over the past 5 years) but have not changed my eating or exercise habits since my pre-weight-gain days. My doctor says that I have no health problems (my thyroid, cholesterol, and blood sugar have all been checked.) I probably consume around 2000-2400 calories a day and I exercise fairly regularly (3x/week). I haven't had any undue stress or strife in my life, and lead a happy, normal life. I'm a female, late 30s, and am finding it next to impossible to lose the weight. If I try to cut calories even for a day, I find that I am totally starving, and I feel weak, cranky, and dopey (I have a very hard time concentrating at work when I try to eat less). Any suggestions for losing the weight at a reasonable rate (I don't want to be "on a diet" for months on end) without feeling so rotten?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds to me like you've just hit that annoying age where your metabolism slows down and you just can't eat as much as you used to without gaining. Be sure you're cutting out the right calories. and keeping the good ones. Getting enough protein and fiber are key to making me feel okay when I'm trying to reduce. And you don't mention how much you were cutting out that resulted in really cranky and weak. Do a gradual reduction in calories and see if you can cut out even 200 per day and see if that helps but doesn't drive you crazy.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:26 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

your metabolism has changed such that apple a day beyond your calorific needs in just one year you will have gained 10lbs.
If your needs have changed from 2,500 cls per day to 2,000 or less it sucks. But it will explain the gain.

You need to either eat less or excercise more.
posted by Wilder at 4:26 PM on May 27, 2008

try cutting back on dinner. also, cut back on alcohol and eliminate all other beverages with calories (stick to water, diet soda, and coffee and tea with artificial sweetener).
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:33 PM on May 27, 2008

Also, while your blood sugar might be fine, you might try something like South Beach or the Insulin Resistance diet. I'm 37, and the Insulin Resistance diet is pretty good, and easy to stick to if you're ok with good carbs in very small amounts (30 grams of carbs only every 2 hours and only if balanced with 14 grams of lean protein). I've lost about 18 lbs so far, in 4 months, and I'm rarely hungry.
posted by Issithe at 4:33 PM on May 27, 2008

I am about your age. I put on about that much in that amount of time, due to metabolism slowdown and a few more sedentary habits. I lost about that much weight over maybe a year and a half [didn't want to change my life too terribly much and wasn't in a hurry] and the big thing for me was just eating smarter and with weight loss in mind. So I did a few things.

- checked protein as well as calories in what I ate and made sure I was getting enough of the former without too much of the latter. If you're feeling starving it's more than likely you have a protein defict and not an actual "food" deficit
- got on the scale every morning. It's not magic, if you're not losing weight, you're taking in too many calories. I use a little app on my Google home page called the Google 15 or something weird that just averages my weight over 15 days so a day up or a day down doesn't matter.
- cut out extra calories anywhere I could find them. tea over juice, no more desserts, minimal salad dressing, lowfat milk and yogurt, looked for protein in places and would add nuts to my salads, lentils to my soups
- stopped eating out except on rare occasions, it's hell for portion/calorie control

Wilder's got it, really you have to look at it like "100 calories less per day" not "OMG I am on a diet" and just move forward planning wiht that in mind.
posted by jessamyn at 4:39 PM on May 27, 2008 [5 favorites]

Do you consume much/any caffeine? It's a simple, convenient, socially acceptable, and probably healthy way to maintain your energy level and suppress your appetite a bit.
posted by rxrfrx at 4:39 PM on May 27, 2008

Is your diet relatively healthy? The reason I ask is that I've found that when I eat foods with a lot of refined carbohydrates as my primary intake, what I perceive as being hunger is sometimes a type of withdrawal that my body goes through when I eat less of them. It makes me cranky and such, but only for a few days.

I definitely sympathize as well to the weight gain, as I've gone through similar things over the last ten years or so. What's interesting that when I did the math, it didn't end up being quite quite as shocking as I first thought. The math is easy, in that if we eat more calories than we burn, we generally put it on as fat. Being that there are 3500 calories in a pound, over five years, that equates to 105,000 excess calories to put on 30 pounds. It ends up being 400 more calories put on per week than was burned, which is about equivalent to a big mac. That's not much, really.

The math isn't perfect on something like this, as there are other variables to take into account. But perhaps the "2000-2400 calories a day" has enough variability on the high end of things to put the weight on over a longer period of time, little by little. As we get older, it seems to go on more easily as well. Either dropping the food a bit, or working out a bit more, can make up for some of the deficit.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:40 PM on May 27, 2008

Just to clarify, my previous comment wasn't meant to come across as preaching or anything. I think I inferred from your question a level of uncertainty how weight gain might happen in light of your good health, calorie intake and exercise, and I've been crunching the numbers myself for awhile, and thought you might find it helpful.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:43 PM on May 27, 2008

Ditto on what Jessamyn said. The points I would emphasize are to really focus on getting enough protein and avoiding processed, high carb foods. Also consider "babying" yourself and eat small, protein rich mini meals every 3-4 hours. I've found this approach works exceeding well for me. I feel better. Not hungry and my weight is more under control that it has been in years. Now I know why my skinny friends seem to be eating all of the time -- it works!
posted by peace_love_hope at 5:43 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing the ideas that protein and patience are key, and also concurring that a perfectly normal and common shift in metabolism could be the root of the gain.

When I first tried to reduce dietary fat, I cut way down on protein, and I felt TERRIBLE. That lasted about three days before I went back to my typical protein intake and immediately felt better.

What's worked for me has been a very long term approach of reducing portions, especially when I eat out. I now usually save half my order of Chinese food or half my sandwich and eat it the next day. That helps a lot. Lately, I've focused on eating MORE of good things - more fruit and more leafy greens. I've also upped my exercise (nothing insane; I now walk 10-15 miles a week, up and down a lot of hills). As a result, I seem to lose a pound or two a month. I'm still eating nearly the same things I was when I had the extra weight; I just cut portions and focus on fruits and veg (while making sure I get enough protein).

I found it really helpful to count calories for a week, just so I had a good idea of what a particular food added to my daily intake. It's actually comforting to know that a Trader Joe's cookie only has a few dozen calories, and you can eat a BOATLOAD of watermelon for very few calories. Mayo, on the other hand, is something I hardly ever eat now, just because it's about a bazillion calories a teaspoon.

Also - don't go on a diet. Think of this as a permanent shift in your eating habits - and look for ways you can change your habits without feeling deprived forever. That's one reason smaller portions works so well for me - I get to eat all the stuff I like, but twice as often! (Just less at a sitting.) Same with focusing on what I want to eat MORE of - it's hard to feel deprived when the focus is "hm - I gotta eat an apple sometime today. Do I eat it for a snack, or for lunch? Or both?" All of this is why the No S Diet has worked so well for a lot of people - you focus on smaller portions, and you get to "cheat" twice a week at least.

Sustainable change over a long time. That seems to work for a lot of folks.

I hope that helps! Good luck!
posted by kristi at 5:54 PM on May 27, 2008

Females have a harder time with weight management, a sad statistical reality of your two X-chromosomes. It comes with the evolutionary territory.

Regardless of that, my wife reliably BALOONS on carbs, and slims on protein and fat.

Perhaps you should experiment with diet composition more than quantity? See what happens. Keep accurate records. Treat your body like a serious lab experiment. It really is unique and should yield its secrets if you are observant.

Personally, if I want to lose weight, besides exercising, I can reliably take off weight by eating a breakfast consisting of either oatmeal (several servings, huge amounts of fiber, and some mysterious metabolic magic) or boiled eggs (two of which kill my appetite reliably until well after noon. Usually takes effect within a week.

Also, FWIW, we are awash in a lot of endocrine disrupting chemistry these days. More estrogen/estrogen-like chemicals makes you rounder and more plush. Are you unknowingly consuming anything that might have such an effect? Worth an audit, methinks. Is there anything consistent about the environment that you have occupied since noticing this gain? Obviously, if you are on hormonal birth control or other prescription drugs... many have weight gain/loss effects.
posted by FauxScot at 5:55 PM on May 27, 2008

IANA 30 year old woman, but I work with one and am married to another. My coworker went on Weight Watchers and swears by it. Dropped 20 pounds in a few months. The first few weeks were just as you describe, I got an earful every day about how hungry she was and how few points she could not believe she had left...etc. About 2 months in, the complaining stopped, and she was even able to lapse for a few days with no ill effects.

My wife used FitDay and put herself on 1500-1600 calories a day with exercise. In a similar amount of time, she has dropped 12 pounds. Same deal, lots of complaining at first, then her body got used to it.

I also decided I could stand to lose a few and basically did what jessamyn said above - don't drink soda, don't eat too many carbs, go for protein, eat veggies, eat fruit, DON'T EAT CARBS. The carb withdrawal is real, and is probably accounting for at least some of your dopeyness.

You are going to have to "be on a diet" for months on end, but it comes down to this - that's your new reality. You don't need all the calories that you are consuming. Log what you eat. Stop when you've eaten 1800 or 1500 or whatever. You'll have to deal with the dopeyness for 2 or 3 weeks.
posted by rhys at 7:02 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've had some success with logging my daily calorie consumption. I've used The Daily Plate, but there are a variety of similar Web apps out there.

CalorieKing, Nutrition Data, and are good sources of info about how many calories are what in you eat. (I find The Daily Plate's user-generated database to be somewhat variable/unreliable.)

I drew inspiration from The Hacker's Diet when I started to decide -- it's an ongoing process -- to try to lose some weight.
posted by poulet at 8:59 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

My usual advice in this sort of scenario echos what some others have said with respect to protein intake. There is a growing body of medical literature that supports my clinical experience, which is that increasing the fraction of protein relative to fat and carbohydrate in your diet will lead to earlier satiety. It may also help augment energy expenditures, and in combination with resistance exercises, will promote maintenance of muscle mass relative to fat in a net catabolic state.
posted by drpynchon at 9:03 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with the previous posters that it's probably age/diet/exercise related, but you may want to pull up your blood test results and check your TSH level. If it's above 3 or so, it's possible that you could have subclinical hypothyroid - basically, you're hypothyroid enough to make you symptomatic but not so much that it stands out as abnormal to your doctor. It's unlikely that this is the cause of your problems, but your symptoms fit the profile so it's worth checking out.
posted by btkuhn at 9:32 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lately, I've focused on eating MORE of good things - more fruit and more leafy greens.

I've been doing this too and I've lost a ton of weight. Wasn't actually trying to but hey-ho, can't hurt. Turns out I'm only hungry if there are carbs involved, if they're off the menu I have to practically force-feed myself.
posted by fshgrl at 9:35 PM on May 27, 2008

First off, I learned in my dieting that dieting-to-lose can be pretty easy if you just avoid empty carbs . . . this leaves more caloric headroom for tummy satisfying proteins and fats, and as everyone above is saying is the secret to avoid getting hungry again sooner.

Also, exercising 3x week isn't enough. To establish a healthy weightloss trend you need to be exercising by the hours, not minutes.

30lbs @ 2lbs/week will take ~4 months, or ~8 months at a 1lb/week pace. 1lb/week is about 500 calories a day of excess calorie burning vs. food intake.

Walking 1 mile burns about 100 calories, to put things in perspective.

IME, it's best not to 'diet' to lose weight, but diet to limit the caloric intake to break-even and let the exercise & higher resting metabolism thereby give you the loss. This avoids (to some extent) having your metabolism go into panic "famine" mode, where starts shutting down and doesn't go with the loss program.
posted by tachikaze at 11:36 PM on May 27, 2008

People in my family have found that we don't lose weight on low calorie or low fat diets. I tried eating 2000 calories a day and exercising, and I didn't lose weight. So I tried eating 1500 calories a day and exercising, and I still didn't lose weight. People who are critical of low carbohydrate diets usually say this doesn't make any sense, and I don't know what to tell them. Genetics is weird.

My family loses weight on low carbohydrate diets very easily. When I was on a low carb diet, I could eat over 3000 calories in a day if I was that hungry and I lost more weight than when I tried to cut calories. If nothing else is working for you, try doing a low carbohydrate diet. You will probably loose a big chunk of weight at the beginning, but that's mostly water. After those couple of weeks, I lost two to three pounds a week on average.

Definitely get a book about it and read it carefully, and don't do a low carbohydrate diet without one. There is a lot more to it than you might think, and it's not all captured by blurbs in magazines and on websites and whatnot. Most people don't actually know what a low carb diet entails, and will say ridiculous things like you only eat meat and dairy and you have no vegetables, or no fruits, ignorant stuff like that. I had a friend who tried to do low carb and thought it was just meat and cheese... no surprise, she felt awful after a month.

I personally can't do diets like South Beach because even whole grains halt my weight loss; I have a grain allergy. I have to do Atkins. If you can lose weight on South Beach, though, that's good because you have more food options.

If you try that and still can't lose weight, then you should get your metabolism checked out. It's apparently a metabolism issue already, like plenty of women face when they get older, but it may actually be something that you can't compensate for with just diet and exercise. You might also get checked for food allergies; you can develop these later in life when you've never had one before.

Also, there is more to hormonal weight gain than just your thyroid. You might have to see an endocrinologist, if it comes to it.
posted by Nattie at 3:16 AM on May 28, 2008

I'm another one signing in for the the "surprise, your metabolism changed" choir.

But I'd ask you to consider that maybe the raw weight may be...okay. I've recently made a conscious effort to try an exercise regimen, and have been pretty religiously going to the gym 3 times a week. I'm also eating healthy generally.

And I LOOK good. I'm getting good muscle definition, I'm looking slimmer, my hips have shrunk two's definitely doing something.

But -- even after 3 months of this, my weight has not changed a single bit. I was 162 pounds 3 months ago before I started, and I'm 162 pounds now. I weigh myself each and every time I start my workout, and my weight is, each and every time, 162 pounds.

So on the one hand, I haven't lost any weight. But on the other hand, SOMETHING is improving.

I've just decided that the number on the scale isn't as much of an issue as the overall shape I'm in, and have decided to concentrate more on that instead.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:43 AM on May 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm losing weight on The Shangri-La Diet. I'm not a true believer. It just happens to be working for me. Maybe it's the placebo effect at work. But as it's a no-risk, relatively easy diet, you might want to give it a try.

Here's a synopsis: Seth Roberts, the diet's inventor, links appetite to flavor. If you eat a large source of flavorLESS calories, you get full without craving more. There are several ways to eat flavorless calories. I used flax-seed oil pills.

I eat breakfast, wait an hour, eat the pills*, and then wait at least another hour before eating anything else. The hour-without-eating on either side of the pills is really important. You have to make sure your body does not associate the pills with flavor.

After three weeks of doing this, my appetite was drastically reduced -- so much so that my wife worries I'm not eating enough. (I'm eating as much as I feel like eating.) I'm currently eating two smallish meals a day. When I get to my target weight, I'll continue the diet. But I'll cut back on my flax-seed dosage a little. According to the flavor theory, that should bring my appetite back a little.

By the way, I recommend Seth Robert's book -- even if you're skeptical abut the diet. It's a fun, interesting read.

Now I sound like I work for him. I don't. Like I say, even though the diet is working for me, I'm skeptical (in the true, open-minded meaning of the word). The diet needs to be rigorously tested.

* An hour after breakfast, I eat 15 1000mg flax-seed oil pills. Then I wait at least an hour before eating anything else. I repeat this process later in the day, with an hour window before and after the pills. You don't have to take 15 pills. You'll find many other solutions on this forum. But the pill form is the easiest for me. By the way, I don't exercise. I will get back to the stationary bike when I finish the book I'm writing. I've lost five pounds over the last three weeks.
posted by grumblebee at 7:20 AM on May 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

You could also try to supplement with something that helps satiate you. You can try some of the common fiber drinks sold in the stores, or some vitamin stores carry Gaur Gum. A flax oil supplement will also curb your hunger.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:43 PM on May 28, 2008

The fitness philosophy I subscribe to is exactly like this. Please read that.. it's a true eye-opener, especially for people who are actively dieting and exercising and still not getting the results they want.

Your body right now, metaphorically, is like a fuel-efficient 4-banger. It eats, it exercises, and it thrives doing it.

Letting your body thrive is the last thing you want, if you want your body to be healthy, lean, and full of energy. Biologically, we are predisposed to
1) adapt to our lifestyle in order to survive
2) store as much fat as possible in order to survive

The human body, in most cases, is not yet on board with the whole "staying lean for aesthetic purposes" deal. You have to wrestle your body to get what you want. What you're basically doing is training your body to work in hour-long bursts of high-exertion intensity. You want your body to be a gas guzzler... you're going from Honda Accord on the freeway to turbo Porsche redlining on the track. The way to do that is to increase the amount of calories you burn during your workouts AND at rest, via a combination of interval cardio training and weightlifting. That way, instead of needing to follow some impossible 1400cal a day diet, you can get the 2200cal you want and still have a caloric deficit.

I hope that made sense. Please message me if you have any questions at all.
posted by crunch buttsteak at 9:55 AM on May 29, 2008

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