Hurry up and weight?
July 2, 2008 12:31 AM   Subscribe

Have been working out hardcore and just can't. lose. weight. Frustrated and at the end of my rope. Help me Mefi, as only you can!

I've been working my ass off for the last few months...not one pound has dropped. I realize that I've probably added muscle, but I'm so overweight that I would've assumed I'd see a few pounds melt off in addition to the muscle gain. (Am 5'4", 24, female, about 180)

My regimen tends to consist of strength training (free weights, lots of squats and lunges and large muscle exercises) 3-4 times a week for about an hour. I also tend to do cardio 1-2 times a week.

I know I'm slacking on the cardio (I really hate it) and I need to make some serious changes to my diet, namely the boozing. I either need to cut down a lot or completely. The diet is ok but I mostly just eat when I'm hungry (not too much and not too mindless...I think it adds up to the traditional 3 meals + 1 snack.)

I had a check up and requested a thyroid screening as hypothyroidism runs in the family and could be the cause of my woes. My TSH is apparently on the lower end (my online results list it as 0.31 L 0.40-4.50 UIU/ML ....which...quoi?) but isn't that indicative of HYPER thyroid? In which case, wtf?

I worked out so much one month that I completely missed my period (no I'm not preggers), and have cut back to the point that my body, hopefully, is not in starvation/panic! mode.

So I've covered diet, hormones, stress. I have a trainer who is puzzled, and I'm losing hope FAST. I don't know what to do next. Help me Mefites!
posted by Sock Muppet Acct! to Health & Fitness (57 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I need to make some serious changes to my diet

You answered your own question. You won't lose weight working out alone, you need to go on a diet. You needn't even work out (although you'll feel better if you do) if you get the diet sorted, the weight will go, and although you say the diet is "ok," it isn't okay if the weight isn't shifting. And you're drinking.
posted by fire&wings at 12:43 AM on July 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

Working out is a crappy way to lose weight. Good way to get healthy and gain muscle but a shitty way to lose weight because you really burn very few more calories (an hour run is worth something like a cup of apple sauce) and you gain muscle which is denser than fat.

Eat fewer calories.

Eat fewer calories.

Eat fewer calories

Yes, cutting down on the boozing will help (they don't call it a "Beer Belly" for the alliteration). but only cut out as much has you are comfortable, or you'll stop doing both the exercise and the diet.

Don't weigh yourself, go by inches/cm measurements.

Find a diet plan that works, that you can stick to. And not "stick to" for the next month or two, but for the rest of your life or you will gain it back.

No it's not easy, but it is so worthwhile.
posted by Ookseer at 12:58 AM on July 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

I was doing the cardio thing (20 min. stairmaster quickstep, oh yeah . . . what, pure, bliss,) for quite awhile and not dropping weight at all. But at the time, my mindset was that if I did the cardio, I could go on eating as I always had (basically, same as you -- 3 meals plus a snack plus, another glass of cabernet please... oh, just pass the bottle). I dared think it odd that I wasn't losing anything.

Then I tried dieting, by which I mean, in my case, good breakfast, no lunch, light snack around dinnertime, and less wine (two glasses per night limit). I went from 104kg to 89kg (230 lbs to 196 lbs) in about 5 months. I make 1-2 exceptions to this each week.

I'm not recommending my dietary plan, necessarily, but it's absolutely gotta be a combination of cardio plus reduced intake (I appreciate that this is generally tougher for women than men, but I believe the rule still applies).
posted by Bixby23 at 1:08 AM on July 2, 2008

Cutting booze out of the equation can be remarkably effective. I took a month off from drinking alcohol and soda; no other dietary or activity changes, and lost ten pounds (which is quite a bit considering I started at 165). Strangely, the weight has stayed off even though I've resumed my bad habits.
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:16 AM on July 2, 2008

Changing your diet to restrict the calories will help, as others have said, and it very well may be the key for you. Cutting out white carbs (white bread, white rice, donuts, refined sugar products) can result in some significant weight loss, too, and can increase the amount of energy you have to work with.

However, one thing that can make your exercise more efficient at burning fat is to do the high intensity stuff for extended periods of time. It sounds like you're doing some really good weight training stuff. If you string that stuff into circuits that develop your strength endurance, you'll burn a lot of fat. For example:

- Five dumbbell snatches with each hand
- Five dumbbell swings with each hand
- Ten burpees
- Rest one minute (or less if you can handle it)

Repeat the steps above five times, taking no rest between steps. The heavier the dumbbells the better, although you may want to start light just to get used to it. Pushing your anaerobic endurance like that will make your body burn fat for some time after your workout is done.

Circuit training workouts like that (there's also some simple bodyweight ones) and judo (which really, really puts your anaerobic endurance to the test) have caused me to lose weight in the past couple of years, and I wasn't heavy to begin with. (I'd actually like the weight back, but the endurance and strength I traded for it was well worth it.)
posted by ignignokt at 1:24 AM on July 2, 2008

Too many unknowns here.

You think you've added muscle. Who knows? Maybe you have. But without a body fat measurement, you can't tell.

You think you're eating ok, but you can't describe your diet in any detail at all.

Also, alcohol has a lot of calories in its own right; it stimulates you to eat more; and you don't feel motivated when you're slightly under the weather. How much are you drinking?

I would try getting regular bodyfat measurements with calipers or using a tape-measure in addition to the scales. That answers the first question.

I would keep a food diary for a while. There are some good online ones like Fit Day that do the nutrient/energy breakdown for you. Maybe you're eating more than you think you are.

And I'd dry out for a bit. Just as an experiment.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:29 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, yeah, also, don't skip the cardio. I recommend trading in one strength session per week for some running. I know people say that running three miles is only X amount of calories, but everyone I've seen that has started running regularly, even without any diet changes, thins out some. Maybe it alters body chemistry somehow. (Yup, that was pretty unscientific and very anecdotal.)
posted by ignignokt at 1:34 AM on July 2, 2008

Nthing the cutting calories. I was in a similar position to yours, though not quite as heavy (but on my way there). I did a ruthless evisceration of my diet, cutting out carbs and non-natural sugars, stuck to fruit & veg, yoghurt, eggs, tofu, homemade soups, tea, etc., and lowering my caloric intake. I couldn't run because of plantar fasciitis and shin splints, but did a couple hours of walking/hiking a day and some simple cardio at home, and dropped 4 kilos* in a month.

For help with watching your intake, I'd recommend FitDay. It can be a bit tedious to record everything (and it lets you record everything, from activities to foods eaten to weight and target weight, daily journals, etc.), but it's helpful in the beginning to show you how many calories are in what you consume, and what they're comprised of. (Me: "Tahini has more calories than peanut butter? Who knew! Time to lay off the baba ghanooj ..." or "Wow. There are a lot of carbs in an apple. Interesting." I still eat them constantly.)

*Yeah, I know, a drastic beginning that isn't the most recommended approach, but I needed to see some results quickly in order to stay motivated.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 1:36 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I find that when I'm strength training I don't seem to lose weight but if I take a break for a few days it seems to drop off - obviously thats not whats really happening but for some reasons the results don't show up on the scale until have had a few rest days. I do notice the results with the measuring tape though - are your clothes getting looser?
posted by missmagenta at 1:44 AM on July 2, 2008

I would definitely say its the diet, an easy thing to follow is simply calorie counting.

With the aid of FitDay calorie counting is incredibly simple.

You could of course just stick to the diet which is the flavor of the month. I personally follow the Zone Diet which is great for fat loss but can be far more difficult than simple calorie counting to follow.
posted by moochoo at 1:58 AM on July 2, 2008

I'll Nth the calorie-counting. You're probably consuming more calories due to your working out and not even realizing it. You could be eating more food or eating a higher concentration of energy-dense foods.

I love CalorieKing for counting calories. I wrote about how I lost 29 pounds in this Ask post.
posted by AaRdVarK at 2:08 AM on July 2, 2008

Congratulations on th weight training! I hope you're seeing some real strength and general fitness gains, and that you keep on training.

In addition to the advice on getting more active and tweaking your diet, I'd also want to check that you're getting enough sleep. Not only does your body require rest to add muscle mass, but lack of sleep stimulates the appetite and makes it harder to lose weight.

If you hate your current choice of cardio, you're less likely to do it. I've found that working on a machine in a gym, even with music, is hard to keep up. Few of us have the motivation to "do cardio", but many of us spend lots of times on activities that are just plain fun. Is there any outdoor exercise that you'd find fun and useful? Can you simply walk a lot, while listening to music, in the morning or evening when things are cooler? Do you have a bike, or can you get one? Use it to run errands close to home, then see how fast and far you'd like to go. If you're social and/or competitive, some kind of class may work for you. Aerobics, spinning, martial arts: what's available near you?
posted by maudlin at 3:06 AM on July 2, 2008

I started practicing Ashtanga yoga ten months ago today. I practice 5-6 times a week; it's religion. I'm a convert. A believer. Or something.

I'm not certain what my body composition was then, had some horses-ass test at a Golds gym and they found me at about 25% fat but I use that only as ballpark; we can fairly say I wasn't lean. Last month I tested using a bodpod, which is supposed to be pretty accurate, and I'm under 8% body fat.

Me like.

I had my yearly cardiology exam Tuesday (long story) and my cardiologist really likes, also, he was jumping up and down, gesticulating wildly, his hair twirling. (Okay, not all that, but he was gassed.) My blood pressure has dropped considerably, resting heart rate slowed, as might be expected.

I don't have any idea if this would work for you -- it's brutally sweat-soaked, slow-paced, deep-breath cardio that finds you where you live, "nowhere to run, baby / nowhere to hide." Ashtanga is sortof blue-collar work ethic yoga. Etc. And yoga ain't cheap, or I surely haven't found it to be so, but I don't give a damn, I've made it work, given up some restaurant meals and Starbucks coffee and junk food forays at 4am and it about balances.

It's changed my diet for me -- any time I eat garbage I suffer like hell on the mat the next day. Instant karma. A horror show. I eat a lot, I'm always hungry, deep hungry, but it's vegetarian smoothies and avocado sandwiches on Ezekiel bread and egg salads without many of the yolks, tofu, blah blah blah. Olive oil and walnut oil and flax seed oil, etc and etc. I don't drink so that isn't a problem, doesn't factor in. Coffee and/or green tea, depending, and lots of water.

Last. I was a junk food junkie, literally -- I would go out into the night and buy ice cream and chocolate covered long johns and dark chocolate snickers bars and god only knows what else; it was out of control, I was out of control. That stopped totally, from the day I stepped on the mat and started sweating -- whatever it was that I was feeding at 3am with chocolate and sugar gets fed on the mat.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:30 AM on July 2, 2008 [6 favorites]

Exercise is excellent, and you should carry on with it. But to repeat the general theme, diet is way to shed weight.

If all else fails and you just can't get into the discipline and calorie-counting of the latest fad diet, you could try something like the Cambridge Diet (the US version seems to be the Success Diet - ignore the awful website design if you can). These diets have been around since the 70s or therabouts, and have a good track record. They are ultra-low calorie diets which put your body into a state called ketosis, where the body burns fat quickly. The diet is tailored to provide a safe balance of vitiamins, minerals and other nutrients, whilst severely restricting calories. Once your body is in this state of ketosis, food cravings diminish and you actually feel pretty good while you shed weight.

To give you some idea, my partner and I have each lost around 80lb on this diet; a typical loss is around 5lb per week. This isn't a temporary loss either; I can attest to the fact that the weight stays off provided you don't go crazy with the pies. The diet is (at least here) normally done after consulting one's doctor, because there are medical conditions that preclude going on this sort of diet.

I hope that didn't come across as tgoo much of a sales pitch; I was just happy to find something that worked. YMMV (as they say around here).
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:44 AM on July 2, 2008

eat much less
posted by matteo at 4:07 AM on July 2, 2008

I'm going to say what I always say in such threads, which is "get thee to a dietitian who can measure your actual metabolism and give you a diet to suit."

I was extremely active and found upon metabolic analysis that I had actually been eating too little to sustain weight loss. This may or may not be the case for you. The point is that only an actual assessment of how many calories you are burning on a daily basis can really yield useful information on how much you should be taking in.
posted by mynameisluka at 4:29 AM on July 2, 2008

Nth'ing the "eat fewer calories" chorus. With one bit of advice...try eating smaller meals several times a day. Graze on small, nutritious items throughout the day, and limit the size of your main meals.

Your workout regimen seems to be upside-down, if your goal is weight loss. You need to increase the cardio component substantially. I know you hate it, but cardio is going to far more effective in dropping weight. Weight-training simply isn't a path for weight-loss. If you flip the frequency of the two, the pounds will come off and start to reveal the awesome bod that the weight-training is building.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:36 AM on July 2, 2008

I know I'm slacking on the cardio (I really hate it) and I need to make some serious changes to my diet, namely the boozing

Either one of those alone could result in stagnated weight loss. Both together? Forget about it. If you're going to have any chance at convincing your body to burn its fat stores, you need to eat less and work out for longer periods of time. Weight training isn't going to cut it (if you'll excuse the pun).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:40 AM on July 2, 2008

And please ignore ignorant, irresponsible statements like this:
eat much less

Without knowing how much you're currently eating, no-one here can tell you that you need to eat less, for all anyone here knows, you could be eating too little. We just don't know. Cutting down the 'boozing' will undoubtedly help with your weightloss efforts though. The best thing to do would be to track your calories for a week and find out whether you're eating too much, you might also want to consider making an appointment with a dietitian or weight loss consultant.

Just to counter le morte de bea arthur's experience with the Cambridge diet, both my parents did it back in the 80s and while they did lose weight, they piled it back on as soon as they went back to eating real food, most people do because they go back to eating the way they were before. You'd do better to find an eating plan you can stick to forever, the weight loss will be slower but if you can stick to it the weight loss will be permanent.
posted by missmagenta at 4:45 AM on July 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

You would be shocked at how much weight you can lose by cutting down on liquid calories from things like booze and soda. I don't know how much boozing you are doing, but I lost 15 pounds by cutting out the 4 sodas a day I was drinking and substituting them with a low calorie alternative like water. (In my case, it was Coke Zero, which is the first diet soda I have ever been able to stomach.)

There are about 150 calories in one 12 oz. can of Coke; if you're drinking four a day like I was, that's 600 calories you can potentially cut out of your diet by simply switching to a low calorie alternative, and even if you cheat on occasion, you can lose a pound every week or two with just that simple change.
posted by MegoSteve at 5:01 AM on July 2, 2008

The diet is ok but I mostly just eat when I'm hungry (not too much and not too mindless...I think it adds up to the traditional 3 meals + 1 snack.)


So I've covered diet, hormones, stress

No, you haven't covered your diet, you waved your hand and ignored it. You're not measuring anything, you "mostly" eat when you're hungry, you "think" it adds up to 3 meals + 1 snack, but that probably doesn't include all the alcohol you drink...

Or, in other words, you eat and drink whenever you feel like it and you don't keep track of any of it.

That's not a diet.

See a dietetician. When you get a diet plan, follow it. Don't handwave it away.
posted by splice at 5:27 AM on July 2, 2008

It sounds like you just need to get a decent handle on how much you're eating. Consider trying a program like Sparkpeople or Weight Watchers. Both have you keep a log of everything you eat and drink, which, when coupled with your personal information (current weight, goal weight, amount of activity, etc.) and their nutritional guidelines, makes it very easy to see where you're going wrong.
posted by boomchicka at 5:52 AM on July 2, 2008

Lose the booze. I'm about your size and I lost twelve pounds when I gave up drinking for about six weeks at the beginning of the year, while making no other changes to my diet.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:56 AM on July 2, 2008

"I would keep a food diary for a while. "

This is very good advice. I *thought* I ate pretty well until I wrote every bit of it down. Surprising stuff.
posted by GPF at 6:00 AM on July 2, 2008

I have to disagree with the "eat much less" people. If I were to offer any kind of uninformed advice, it would have to be, "eat more" with the following caveat:

Start tracking what you eat. Use a site like FitDay or Gyminee. It can be both exciting and depressing at first. I've lost 75lbs just by becoming aware of my caloric intake (being aware helped me to make positive modifications to my diet within the bounds of my caloric requirements.) I reached a plateau after starting a 3 day strength circuit/3 day cardio. I was also sore and had no energy. I bumped from 1800 calories/day to 2000 and the weight started coming off again. Since my workouts have increased, I'm now actually up to 2200-2400/day and losing at a slow comfortable rate AND have tons of energy.

Granted, I'm a 6' male, but the priciple is still the same. Become aware. A nutritionist would really be able to give you the best guidance.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:17 AM on July 2, 2008

Count calories. Working out without dieting or watching what you eat will just cause you to eat more. It's still good for you, but like everyone else said, you're going to have diet. Personally, I just count calories, and I don't worry at all about what in particular I eat, and I've lost plenty of weight.
posted by delmoi at 6:20 AM on July 2, 2008

You need to figure out what and how much you are eating. Chances are that you are eating a lot more than you think you are, but until you take a realistic look at that who knows? And the "boozing" may be a substantial part of your caloric intake:

Although light beer does have fewer calories that the regular variety, the average light beer still contains upwards of 100 or more calories per 12 oz can, and regular beer ranges from approximately 140-200 calories.

Despite the small quantity of liquid, a single shot of liquor (1.5 oz) can contain anywhere from 115-200 calories. In comparison, a 4.0 oz glass of wine contains anywhere from 62-160, with 160 being on the high end of the spectrum. Mixed drinks are where the calories really add up, ranging from approximately 280 calories for a gin and tonic to over 800 calories for some of the frozen, creamy drinks.

So two or three drinks five nights a week (fairly normal for a lot of people I know) can add up to some serious calories, depending on what you are choosing to drink.

Basically, that's the intake side: you need to make sure that it really does add up to an amount that will provide healthy weightloss over time. And as you cut calories, you need to be more and more careful that you are eating nutritionally-dense food -- you need your protein and your vitamins and so on; you aren't going to get this from eating some crap microwaved pizza.

On the output side, you don't want to hear it but it'll probably take "cardio" in large amounts. That's a word I hate, because even the sound of it reminds one of those dull machines at the gym. But really it can just mean moving your body -- going for walks, jogging (be careful about your knees if you are heavy and have been sedentary), kayaking, bicycling, hiking, and so on -- things that in context are actually a lot of fun and open the door to doing other things that are fun. Keep doing some weights; it's good to have that kind of narrowly-developed strength and many people find it fun.

But "strong" and "fit" are not the same, and a lot of obese people start out really strong already (because every time they stand up or move or do anything, they are moving all that extra weight -- over time, one's muscles can get quite strong doing this). You need to aim at "fit," which you can measure either in terms of fat percentages and resting heartbeats and so on, or by assessing very simple measures of performance: Can you walk up the large hill without stopping? How many pushups can you do this week compared to last week? Can you keep the canoe moving into a headwind?

You can do those things in a gym (eg rowing machine) or in the world (eg rowing a boat). There are pluses and minuses to both -- the gym is heated and light even on the worst winter day, while going out and doing things usually means you do them for a lot longer than the 20 minutes or so people are willing to spend on a machine and you may use a lot more muscles doing things like balancing a boat at the same time you are trying to row it, compared to a machine that isolates a particular muscle group. But that's details -- what matters is whether you are doing it and for how long and how seriously -- are you seeing real progress in your performance, or not?
posted by Forktine at 6:21 AM on July 2, 2008

Weight loss really happens with serious attention to the food that goes in. Booze isn't quite as bad as soda, generally speaking, but it can be worse -- for example, I'm a serious beer nerd, and good craft beers tend to be far more caloric (by way of more alcohol) than standard Bud, etc. In that case, I follow the rule of "drink less, drink better."

It's also very important to find an eating plan that allows for weight loss AND has you eating things you actually like to eat. My limited experience with stricter plans is that I can stick with something for ~3 months, max, before getting sick of the rules and falling back into more normal habits.

It's been easier for me to just knock out second helpings, up the veggie quantities, and downgrade the meat quantities, and have dessert and suchlike about half as much as I used to.

In the end, though, there has to be some sort of caloric deficit in order to lose weight. Knocking out soda for diet soda (or better, seltzer!) could wind up being an easy trigger to weight loss, as others have mentioned. Energy drinks are non-ideal as well (great if you're a hardcore athlete, not so much as an average person trying to sweat off a few).

I'm on a gradual decline myself, after a sudden 10-lb. drop (via strep throat -- couldn't eat without pain for 10 days) in the early spring.
posted by ahhgrr at 6:23 AM on July 2, 2008

Walk for an hour every day, and watch what you put in your mouth.

The former is so that you can train your body to burn fat. Seriously.

Oh, and if you can keep up with the weight training, that is excellent as well. But you are going to have to do some base building cardio.

(I lost weight and I know what worked for me, anyway. Cardio was a major major part.)
posted by konolia at 6:24 AM on July 2, 2008

I don't think cardio works very well. You want the book Protein Power.
posted by zeek321 at 6:28 AM on July 2, 2008

This advice:

Working out is a crappy way to lose weight. Good way to get healthy and gain muscle but a shitty way to lose weight because you really burn very few more calories (an hour run is worth something like a cup of apple sauce) and you gain muscle which is denser than fat.

Is wrong on many levels. Working out in combination with proper diet is the absolute best way to lose weight. The fat to muscle transition will almost always end up with an overall loss in body weight. And running for an hour burns 500 to 1000 calories (which should be almost a full meal worth of calories).

Nth'ing a visit with a nutritionist. I used to lose weight by going to the gym and going low carb. This stopped working when I switched to training for a triathlon this stopped working - I needed more carbs for endurance work. I had to switch to using a nutritionist who measured my resting metabolic rate, worked in my exercise (which is a lot) and got me counting calories. I now run at about a 1000-1500 per day calorie deficit and lose weight and work out with no problems.
posted by bitdamaged at 6:37 AM on July 2, 2008

Nthing the advice to start paying more attention to what you're eating. You don't have to go on a super-restrictive diet, but holding yourself accountable for what you eat will go a long way. Cutting down on processed foods and booze will also make you feel a lot better when you work out.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:56 AM on July 2, 2008

If calorie restriction doesn't work for you (it didn't for me, and my stats were similar,) I'd recommend the Zone diet. Seems that the proportion of carbs to protein is a really big deal for my metabolism. It's worked really well for me so far.

(And don't stop the working out - that helps too :P)
posted by restless_nomad at 7:32 AM on July 2, 2008

You might consider the Atkins diet. It basically tricks your metabolism into burning up it's fat reserves by basically eliminating carbohydrates from your diet. I lost 30 lbs in 2 months on it, with no regular exercise. I can only imagine how much would have dropped if I had a serious exercise routine.

If the Atkins diet is too severe, you might consider the South Beach diet, which has the same basic plan, but allow more low glycemic index carbohydrates.

Some dislike the Atkins and South Beach diets since they are basically hacking your body processes rather that a well rounded, long term sustainable diet. But if your goal is significant reduction in body weight, they provide a safe method that can provide short term results.

Before going on the Atkins, I spoke with my doctor and discussed it. He was supportive and helpful, while cautioning me against the possible risks and how to avoid them (mainly getting enough fiber and water). You should talk to your doctor too.

And of course, you need to cut out the alcohol completely. Sorry.

Good luck!
posted by Argyle at 7:43 AM on July 2, 2008

Wow, I used the word basic & basically alot. So much for my first writing of the day...
posted by Argyle at 7:49 AM on July 2, 2008

Walking is pretty awesome. About two months ago I went essentially vegan, got a pedometer and started trying to get in the recommended 10,000 steps/day. I'm drinking a fair bit less booze, too. Otherwise, I haven't gotten into the weeds with counting calories, juggling nutrient types &c. (though I recently got a nike+ipod accelerometer thingy, which is cool for automatically gathering and logging miles/pace/calories burned stats), but I appear to have lost about 20 lbs in the process.

I'm sure that there are more effective ways to shed weight, as outlined by many above, but I'm here to say that you don't necessarily have to worry over the details. It might be less than ideally efficient, but if you can give an hour or so to walking around your neighborhood, that may be all you need to really think about, other than actually looking at your diet to be sure you're right about it, since it seems awfully vague. This doesn't have to be cardio in the sense of getting your heart rate into the target zone, either... just walk. A purposeful walk is preferred to a shuffling, slothsome amble, but do what feels right and you'll pick up the pace over time without even intending to. Oh, but do buy a decent pair of walking shoes and several pairs of nice moisture-wicking socks. The happier your feet are, the happier you'll be and the less likely you are to quit.
posted by mumkin at 8:17 AM on July 2, 2008

I lost 80 pounds and have keep it off for more than a decade. Then for about 10 months, my weight started to creep up and up and up. I was shocked because while my weight was increasing, my exercise level was really high. I did 2 full marathons and 8 half marathons, plus all the training to make that possible. How was I gaining weight?

Whenever my weight starts to shift, I go back to my food journal. And there it all was...not binge eating, but lots of days with a few bad choices that put my caloric intake over my output. In the decade where I maintained my weight, I prided myself on making the best food choice available. While I was gaining, I was using all that exercise to make excuses for bad choices. Over time, it adds up to poundage.

Let's do a quick example - at breakfast I know to order the fruit salad instead of hash browns. When I was gaining weight, I'd order the hash browns which have 350 extra calories.
350 extra calories per day = 1 pound gained every 10 days
350 extra calories per day = 36.5 pounds gained per year

You don't need to be binge eating to gain. It's little choices that will get you.

There have been several books suggested (and I've used all of them). I'd suggest Volumetrics. It really shows you how to select foods that allow a big portion for a low caloric total. (Yep, that means fruits and veggies.) Overall, it's not a lot different from Weight Watchers, South Beach, Protein Power or the zone. It does give you a different perspective on selecting food.

In my experience, everyone needs to find their optimum protein/carb/fat ratio. I do best when my diet is 40/35/25. The USDA suggests 20/54/26. I up my carbs slightly before a full marathon, but I never get near the USDA ratio. YMMV, so pay attention to the ratio of your eating and find one that works for your body.

All that to say - keep up the exercise plan, get a food journal and pay attention to your diet.
posted by 26.2 at 8:18 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are you tracking your size? I have "test pants" and a "test shirt" so that I can monitor how my body is changing - I have been doing strength 4xweek (weights + ab crunches) and cardio 4 to 6X perweek (60 minutes of water aerobics and/or 30 minutes of bike or elliptical) and I am seeing weightloss and have gone down 1-2 sizes. BUT the days the scale changes are almost never the days where I find I can fit into something that was too small *and* my workout buddy has lost almost no weight but she is more than 2 sizes smaller than she was when we started. Ookseeker was right: Don't weigh yourself, go by inches/cm measurements.

Dietwise I have cut portions, reduced alcohol intake, cut down on sweets, started eating way less processed food, and started drinking so much water they're going to have to set up my desk in the ladies' room.

I think cutting out junk food, reducing booze, and experimenting with different types of exercise is key. I used to hate cardio too, but now I play disco on my ipod and get inspired by contemplating a) how I don't want to be an unhealthy fat old person someday or b) fantasizing about how someday I can wear sexier clothes. Shallow me, b) works best.

Good luck (and sorry for rambling!)
posted by pointystick at 8:54 AM on July 2, 2008

I am pointystick's workout buddy, and she's right - I am significantly smaller although the raw scale number hasn't shifted. What helped was figuring out the body composition features on my scale; I've dropped my body fat % by about 5% over the past two months, so I'm adding muscle. [Obligatory note that bodyfat scales aren't as accurate as dunk tests or calipers, but they are an easy and consistent way for me to track personal data. Also mine tells me I'm always dehydrated, which is funny 'cause I drink 4 liters of water daily in addition to any other liquids I consume.] The stubborn raw weight number has really frustrated me; I'm trying to focus on other indicators, especially because I am large-framed and have stellar bone density for a 40-year-old woman.

I do cardio 6 or 7x a week, the Bikram yoga sequence (at home, not heated studio) a couple of times, and lift 3x; last month I lifted about 250,000 pounds total on a 13-station Cybex circuit, so I'm not a hardcore free-weight person, but I'm lifting to failure on most of them. I want to incorporate more bodyweight exercises as well, but need to build strength; push-ups are a lot harder if you're significantly overweight!

I have been doing Weight Watchers Flex plan, but am switching to Core (South Beach-ish) because I think my macronutrients are not meeting my exercise needs. I also need to go back to FitDay and start measuring protein intake. Food journaling is key. If you Twitter or text, consider using Tweet What You Eat to record what you eat, as you're eating it, rather than relying on memory to make up the journal at the end of the day.
posted by catlet at 9:14 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had the same problem.

Everyone is different, but what worked for me are lipotropic fat burners.

Go to Whole Foods and ask for fat burning supplements. They know their shit and they only sell natural fat burners.
posted by Zambrano at 9:37 AM on July 2, 2008

Working out is a crappy way to lose weight.

This information is wrong...while I agree with your statement that the diet in question is the first major step....working out with weights makes you lose calories and furthermore the more muscle you the faster your body's metabolism burns fat along with other calories.

In response to the question:

1) Manage your diet (80% of your fitness goals can be achieved this way). Find out how many calories your body needs to mantain your goal and start cutting at least 200 per day and see what that does.

See if you can eliminate Carbs and follow a 50% protein 30% carbs 20% fat diet. This diet can help you in the long run and doesnt eliminate any food elements.

2) 2 days of cardio may be good if you have a good diet....if you dont mind loosing muscle (and for me that is a really big IF) you can run in the morning before eating breakfast. This will give you the best highest ratio of work per result. For losing weight (after establishing a good diet) cardio is a must.

3)Start little by little, part of fitness is experimenting. See if you can do weight 3 times a week and do cardio 3 times instead.
posted by The1andonly at 9:56 AM on July 2, 2008

Super-Nthing: Keep a food diary for a while. Don't cheat. You'll be amazed at the booze calories. I was.

Buy a heart rate monitor (~$29.95) and wear it during cardio workouts. "Doing cardio" means different things to different people. Working at 70% of your VO2max is very specific. You may not be doing cardio hard enough to be of specific value. You may not be doing cardio long enough to be of specific value.

There are lots of very silly people in the gym doing ineffective and dangerous things. The same is true in threads about exercise and weightloss. Be cautious of following any one person's advice. Good answers are out there, and they're frustrating simple (but not necessarily easy) to follow.

Consider a "couch to 5k" plan, or a sprint triathlon plan. There's lots available online and they'll all point you towards the known science. There's lots of people just like you (us) with the same questions you have. It really helps to have a plan to follow and people to commiserate with online. (I like
posted by lothar at 9:57 AM on July 2, 2008

You can't control what you can't track. The first thing to do is start tracking your calorie intake. I am a recent convert to TheDailyPlate, for that. But there are other options (FitDay, SparkPeople, pen and paper, etc.).

From that point on, it's a matter of burning more calories than you take in. You can do that by working out more, eating fewer calories/day, or (preferably) both.

The problem with beer/booze is that it's fairly high in calories, but it doesn't really fill you up. So you can easily add 1000 calories onto your day with a good evening of drinking. And I've never had a truly good evening of drinking that didn't wind up with a trip to IHOP or Waffle House.

Obligatory link to The Hacker's Diet.
posted by wheat at 10:11 AM on July 2, 2008

Ah, hitting the gym. I remember when I was overweight and I went every single damn day and while I got fitter, I still had that same layer of lovely fat covering any new muscle I had built. The more I worked out, the worse I felt. I was hungry and I got sick more often. My trainer was no help. Furthermore, I just hated it.

So I canceled my gym membership.

Best thing I ever did. You don't need to torment yourself to lose weight. I ended up losing weight by walking everywhere. Carrying my groceries home saved me gas, made me fit, and didn't strain my body the way gym cardio did. I don't get colds all the time like I did when I was a gym rat.

But really, in the end it was my diet that made the biggest difference. I stopped eating anything processed and only ate foods our ancestors ate. That meant little or no bread, lots of vegetables, a bit of meat, and some fruit. Read Micheal Pollan's book In Defense of Food.

Most of my exercise simply comes from walking and farming/gardening in the warmer months. I do some dance and pilates or yoga once or twice a week to build muscle and get my heartrate up. I don't do the yoga for athletes-type classes because I think it's unnecessary to stress your body that much. I like the more relaxing meditative classes.

I'd look into interval training too. When I needed to get in tip-top shape a few months ago because I was going to be working 7 hrs a day on a farm, that's what I did and it worked out well.

My principle is that I need to be active, but that I also need to be holistic and integrate activity into my life instead of letting it ruin my life.

Last time I went to the doctor my stats were better than most people who slave away at running.

So ditch the fitness facism and read these things:

The Scientist and the Stairmaster
Why most of us believe that exercise makes us thinner—and why we're wrong.

The Case Against Cardio.
posted by melissam at 10:26 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, this thread kind of exploded overnight, huh? Thanks all for your responses...although, yea I'm not taking the "exercise is a crappy way to lose weight" advice seriously. Lose weight or not, I wanna be *healthier* too, and exercise is a hell of a good way to achieve that.

Also, I don't want people to think I'm so dismissive about my diet. I'm 24, not making much money, and my heart sinks everytime I go to Whole Foods because...well, I don't make much money. Plus I am incredibly busy, and my kitchen is incredibly small, that making my own food is a chore in its own right. Plus, I never noticed till now, but cooking for oneself is really annoying! You have to buy all these ingredients and then you make a whole bunch of something because hello you just spent all this money and this stuff will ROT if you don't cook it ALL and you eat that and just that for the whole week and it gets so BORING and...erm, yea. Anyways.

So thanks all for the responses, and keep em coming (especially the anecdotes...those buoy my spirit.)
But you're right, the diet probably needs a serious overhaul. I was hoping initial weight loss would help me stick to a healthier diet. But its going to have to be sheer force of will at this point. Also, its week 2 of no alcohol. Oy.
posted by Sock Muppet Acct! at 10:34 AM on July 2, 2008

Regarding the hassle of cooking and shopping for one: the freezer has been one of the best things to happen to me. Meats, cooked brown rice, and most fresh vegetables freeze remarkably well, which alleviates a lot of the use-it-or-lose-it inconvenience you can get with a stocked fridge.

After some experimentation, too, you'll figure out a few different uses for various staples, so that eventually you'll look at a chicken breast and a red pepper and think of four or five different ways to turn them into dinner.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:03 AM on July 2, 2008

As a fellow 20-something not making much money, I know it's really really hard to get the food part down. It took me three years. Living in grad student housing, I had no kitchen. Just a sink and a microwave. Furthermore, I had no car and the nearest grocery store was two miles away.

But eventually I did adjust. I did have to spend more of my meager income, but it was worth it.

1. Mostly eggs were my protein source, since they are the cheapest good thing you can buy. I couldn't afford local grassfed beef, but I could afford farmer's eggs and they last a long time. You can cook them so many ways too. I mostly poached them in boiling water.
2. Asian markets. These were pretty much invented for Asian grad students, but are awesome for everyone because even the poorest Chinese grad student demands fresh food. Produce is often sold in small amounts which is perfect for grad students. Plus they have all kinds of other healthy things like buckwheat noodles, which take pretty much less than a minute to cook and seaweed, which is mostly sold dried, so it never spoils. Buckwheat noodles + seaweed + sauce + poached egg was the most "cooked" meal I ate. It was my "staple meal" that kept me going. The other staple of my diet was salads.

Recently I came across this post discussing staple meals. It's a good resource. Find something that is simple, reasonably cheap, and easy to assemble and your diet gets much much easier.

I guess I don't want my post to seem like it was slamming exercise. It's just my philosophy that a lot of it is torture when it doesn't have to be. Same thing with cooking.
posted by melissam at 11:08 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Okay, people saying cardio doesn't work and strength training does? I'm surprised that it's not all guys saying that. ALL personal trainers will tell you to strength train, like in MelissaM's links, because they would be out of business if we all did cardio on our own and nothing else.

Me, I kept a food journal. Once I got down to 1400 calories a day, and did an hour of cardio 6 days a week, I started losing a pound a week. And that's little me, barely over 5 feet tall and in the 120's, so I didn't have a lot to lose to begin with.

When I did strength training, I NEVER LOST WEIGHT. EVER. I got a bit more toned is all.

Recently, a BUNCH of articles have come out (like this one) showing that gaining muscle through weight training does not significantly raise your metabolism. Here, let me cut and paste this for you to the point that matters:

"Doesn't strength training build muscle and therefore increase your resting metabolic rate?
That's actually a myth. You'd have to be totally ripped — like, bodybuilder ripped — to get a noticeable bump in your metabolism. Most people burn about one calorie per kilogram of body weight per minute, whereas a bodybuilder burns about 1.2."

Okay, knowing that, and looking at runners, I surmised that they were right. Runners are not usually overweight; however, without fail, two of my cousins who were body builders have gotten fat as they got older and quit being so obsessive about their diets.

So, if you REALLY want to kickstart it? Try doing the elliptical for 60 minutes. You should burn several hundred calories. If you can do that hour of cardio on the elliptical every day, vs. these squats and whatnot, YOU WILL BURN ENOUGH CALORIES TO LOSE WEIGHT. I did. Your body will adjust to this pretty quickly, too, and your cardiovascular health will improve. I have only gotten sick once in the past two years, so yeah, it's made me a lot healthier than I was; when I wasn't working out with cardio regularly, I'd get sick 6-7 times a winter.

If an hour on the elliptical sounds like hell, try sprinting for 1 minute on the treadmill, then walking for 2. HIIT training for 30 minutes will give you the same results. If I feel like crap I'll just walk on the treadmill while I watch TV for an hour and a half to two hours. I get the same results as one hour on the elliptical.

I tried for 9 months to lose the 15 lbs. I'd gained... no dice. I limited my diet and switched to JUST cardio, and boom, I am losing a pound a week since May 1. And I'm a woman, and I'm 10 years older than you.

I fell and hurt my knee two weeks ago, and didn't work out at all for 10 days. I ate the same, and didn't gain any more weight, but I also stopped losing. So, the cardio plus the diet is important.

I even was able recently to cut back to working out 3-4 times a week and am still losing, just not as fast... Hope this helps!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:10 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've got the same kind of situation that you described as far as being single, cooking for one, and having practically no kitchen (studio apt. with a "galley" style kitchen nook in NYC here).
I lost 20 pounds this year...
Get a good knife and a decent little chopping board. A steamer is also a great buy.
Buy fresh vegetables and load up on salad, veggies, and fruit. I'm a pretty big guy, but once you get used to it, a big salad goes a long way towards a filling dinner...if you make fresh greens and veggies the major part of your dinner you won't find them spoiling before you can use them.
Watch out for dressings that have corn syrup as a main ingredient.
Watch out for ANYTHING that has corn syrup as a main ingredient, and as everyone says, you REALLY have to avoid processed foods.
ALL non-water drinks are a killer towards your goal. Consider diet sodas, sweetened iced teas, vitamin water, etc. as your ENEMY and say goodbye to them. Make good friends with water.
Don't starve yourself, but focus on making smart food choices always because you know you will feel better after you eat and will still be satisfied.
Move, walk, jog, bike, be active, mix it up, try not to make "cardio" as much of a chore.
If you work on better food choices, drop the crappy beverages, and get more active, you don't have to deprive yourself of the occasional glass on wine.
Also, don't focus so much on the scale or even the inches in the short term...focus on making good lifestyle choices for yourself, the weight will come off.
I dropped 20 while quitting smoking, you can make it happen, too.
Good lucK!
posted by BillBishop at 11:31 AM on July 2, 2008

Unicorn on the cob, my links don't say anything about strength training working better. The first one says exercise is overrate in general and the second says to avoid "The costs of chronic (repetitious) mid- and high-level aerobic work" in favor of low level aerobic work and interval training.

I've never had a trainer advocate that. It's true many advocate strength training, but sports trainers like the ones I had when I was a rower rarely do. They are all about cardio, primarily the kind of treadmills you have to pay for. I discovered interval training on my own.

So many of my family members and myself have suffered from the "you have to work yourself into the ground to be fit" idea. When my sister and I did were rowers, we did massive amounts of cardio (3 hours, most days of the week) and never lost any weight (thanks to regatta tables filled with donuts), but we had plenty of injuries.

60 minutes of moderate cardio six days a week? Possibly boring and unnecessary, but not likely to be overtraining. If you aren't getting your period though, you are overtraining.

I would note that if you do use and elliptical or treadmill, many come programmed with interval programs.
posted by melissam at 12:21 PM on July 2, 2008

I'm 24, not making much money, and my heart sinks everytime I go to Whole Foods because...well, I don't make much money. Plus I am incredibly busy, and my kitchen is incredibly small, that making my own food is a chore in its own right.

So many excuses. You don't need to shop at Whole Foods or have a giant kitchen or a ton of time. Buying and eating an apple takes up no more time, space, or money than buying and eating a candy bar. You can steam a small bowl of vegetables in your microwave in like 2 minutes. And you can make a healthy wrap sandwich in about as much time - pile a little turkey breast, some lettuce and carrots on top of a whole-grain tortilla. Roll up, eat. Done. Yogurt with berries is a good-for-you and nearly instant breakfast or snack - open a tub of Greek yogurt, toss in a handful of blueberries. Yum. Done.

In my prior comment, I recommended Sparkpeople and Weight Watchers, and based on your follow-up comment, I doubly recommend them. Both sites have tips on fast, healthy eating on the go, and forums where users can share tips of what's worked for them. It sounds like you could really use that support and advice.
posted by boomchicka at 1:41 PM on July 2, 2008

Like lots of folks here said Jack LaLanne would tell you you have to count calories.
posted by snowjoe at 2:00 PM on July 2, 2008

To buoy your spirits... I'm a little taller and a little lighter than you but sound very similar (except for the booze, which I only drink a few times a month). I haven't lost any weight despite spinning 3 times a week and weight lifting. I also hate "cardio" and spinning is the only thing I can get into. It makes me sad that something that intense is only keeping me from getting fatter, not causing me to lose weight. I wish I could just lift weights and/or spin to lose weight but I've found that that doesn't work for me, I have to alter my eating. Are you really working out hard when you're doing cardio? I don't have the motivation on my own, which is why I like spinning.

I nth the recommendation to record your calories. I know it's a pain in the butt but if you can commit yourself to a week or two you will soon realize just how much you are eating. I can't believe how many calories are in eggs or a slice of white bread. I use Spark People, but there's lots of good suggestions above.

I've never been good at cooking for myself either. Do you have friends who live close by who you could share food with? I know that sounds strange, but what if you both cook two meals a week and share the leftovers?

You're going to have to stop drinking your calories. Try drinking one less drink next time you drink and go from there. I gave up regular soda 7 years ago and switched to diet. I finally kicked the diet coke habit (clean for 2 months!) and I think the diet coke was making me crave more snacks. So think about that if you're drinking diet drinks.

Diets like South Beach are good quick starts but I can tell you that the first week or two you may be too tired and irritable to workout. I guess we both just have to suck it up and eat like grown ups are supposed to!
posted by Bunglegirl at 2:20 PM on July 2, 2008

For comparison, you have to consider that you're burning maybe 300-500 calories in one of your strength workouts. You drink half a bottle of red wine, that's gone.

Boozing is particularly problematic because you tend to not measure and not really count what you're consuming.

You have to, at least as a start, track everything you eat for a while and work out the calories. Thinking that it (probably) "adds up to the traditional 3 meals + 1 snack" won't cut it. Do some careful measuring to start getting a feel for what portions really look like (let me tell you about my hungry brain's amusing take on what 2 tablespoons of peanut butter looks like - hint, it's about 4 tablespoons). Measure out some booze portions, wow, 4 oz. of wine sure doesn't look like much, huh?

When you really look at calories you also often find out some specific bad actors in your diet that you weren't properly accounting for the impact of. Lowball your activity and exercise numbers, don't be skimpy in estimating your caloric intakes, and see what the math really says. It doesn't make sense to look for exotic explanations until you've looked at the most ordinary one, which is that you're eating enough to sustain your current weight at your current level of activity.
posted by nanojath at 3:10 PM on July 2, 2008

MelissaM, I apologize if I misinterpreted you. I saw the link to the Case Against Cardio, read it, and saw how much the author was against things like running, and smelled a sale in the works (on his part, not yours). I am sure we both agree that calorie management trumps everything else, including cardio!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:42 PM on July 2, 2008

Personally, I'm sensitive to sugar. This means, in effect, that if I eat sugar (or carbohydrate of any stripe) I get hungry. The higher the GI, the hungrier I get. For me, low-carb diets are the way to go, otherwise I feel tired and hungry all the time.

Exercise-wise, I do gymnastics. It's cardio and strength training, at intervals, all in one. I'm the worst in the class being the newest, but they're always willing to take time out to give me a hand and explain things. I also do yoga, as a treat since I feel so good afterwards. I do targeted weight training and stretching as well, to improve my performance in gymnastics and yoga. I've found similar stories from friends in a range of sports - hockey, rockclimbing, ice skating, rollerblading, running, dancing, etc. The key seems to be finding something you really enjoy.

Weight loss is tricky. It's a balancing act between diet and exercise, and overdoing either can land you in hot water pretty fast. When I hit the right balance, I feel energetic, calm, and just plain good (if occasionally hurty during muscle recovery). And I shed about a kg a week.

On the cooking-at-home front: I find that thai curries and the like are relatively easy to prepare, healthful, and freeze well. Currently in my freezer there's a red curry, a green curry, a penang curry, and a morrocan stew - I have different foods every day, since I always cook to make leftovers to have for lunch or whatever. Breakfast is eggs on spinach or whole grain toast. Occasionally I'll splash out and make an omlette with semi-dried tomatoes and cheese, and maybe a capsicum or mushrooms.
posted by ysabet at 4:28 PM on July 2, 2008

Watch out for dressings that have corn syrup as a main ingredient.
Watch out for ANYTHING that has corn syrup as a main ingredient, and as everyone says, you REALLY have to avoid processed foods

I would include commercial salad dressings in the list of things to generally avoid. So many bottled dressings can take a healthy, low carb, low cal, low cholesterol bowl of vegetables and turn it into a the equivalent of a Big Mac. Shake up your own vinegar, herb and oil dressing fresh each night, and appreciate knowing exactly what's in your salad.
posted by mumkin at 1:40 PM on July 5, 2008

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