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Motivation via Progress, Until it Stops?


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Hi there. Lurker turned poster looking for some insight here. Instead of making an intro post I figured I'd be better off mixing it into this.

 

I was a life-long fat loner nerd kind of kid who always had more online friends than real ones even in middle school. I was already well over 200lb before hitting high school.

The only thing that changed into going to college was my height, with weight scaling up with it. I maxed out at 285 last year in July.

 

I've since graduated college and become a graduate with no job experience living at home, the greatest of confidence boosts. However, July marked my starting getting fit. No soda, no alcohol, more veggies, more fruit. I've never been a hardcore calorie counter but I keep vague track of what I eat in my head. I don't get driven by emotions to eat, so it's just whenever I'm hungry.

 

I was solidly losing 2-3lbs per week, looking better, feeling better, my trips to the gym got more frequent and more intense, I could lift a bit more ever so slowly.

Skip to early last month and my stats sat at 6"2, 232lbs, which I was fine with. I had been going hard as often as I could and motivating myself by watching it all melt away over time. However, since then my progress has stopped, seemingly out of the blue. I'm not eating more, in fact I'm probably eating less than I was a few months ago. I'm drinking more water, going to the gym 1-2 hours 5-6 days a week, yet still the flab isn't changing. As of last night I'm sitting at 230, but I know it goes up and down a few pounds based on how much water I've had and what time of day I work out.

 

For all the reading I've done, I can't figure out what would cause this. As far as calculations, my maintenance calorie level should be around 2300/day, and running numbers from what I've eaten for the last several days I can't imagine that I've passed even 2000 any of those days, but I've also been working out on top of that so surely it should net in loss.

 

A typical workout, because I know it'll come into play in one form or another:

35min elliptical

back/arms or chest/abs weights (3x10 reps generally, 4x20 for situps)

35min bike

more weights

35min elliptical if I'm not completely beat

I push the intensity up on the cardio until I'm in the 150-160bpm range and keep it there as best I can. I'm normally dripping sweat like a madman the whole time.

 

This feels like a lot of text, but I'd like to see if any fellow fitness enthusiasts might be able to help me determine what's going on here. 

Thanks for reading!

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Weight problems are math problems, and yours has a lot of variables.

There are a couple things that could be going on.

One is normal water retention while you lose fat. It's been well-documented anecdotally that people often do not lose weight in a linear fashion, but rather tend to see progress in fits and starts. The bigger your caloric deficit, the more this tends to come into play. However, even while your weight is hanging in place you will always lose inches from your measurements: they are not affected by water retention the same way as your scale weight. So my first question for you is are you tracking your measurements.

Second possibility, it has to be addressed... you could be eating more than you think. It seems unlikely given what you've said already, but it's entirely possible. Right now your calories are a big unknown. Unfortunately, if your weight loss is stalling, the most effective thing you can do is track them so you know for sure.

So those are my two suggestions: start tracking calories and measurements, and see what those two things are telling you.

Cowardly Assassin
Training Log | Challenges: Current8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st

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I'll also throw this out there--Is there any chance that your non-exercise activity has decreased over the past couple of months? I'm making the assumption that you are in the northern hemisphere but it is really easy to slow down during the winter without really thinking about it. I found myself doing just that, actually, and have had to add in a couple of treadmill sessions each week just because I'm not doing stuff like yardwork, which burns calories outside of my normal exercising.

2016 goals: Hit goal weight. Build muscle.

2015 goals: Get stronger, stop loathing squats and get better at them - DONE!!!

2014 goal: Lose 52.5 lbs. - DONE!!! 12/13/14

 

MFP

 

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First, congratulations on losing 50+ pounds. That's awesome!

 

Weight loss can certainly be looked at like a simple math problem like PaulG suggests, but there's a lot more to it that that. Every study that has looked at the issue has found that over time, weight loss slows even though caloric intake stays the same. Every study. There are several mechanisms in place in your body to ensure that your metabolism slows down in response to a perceived change in available energy. If it didn't, we would just keep wasting away til we die. If you're lucky this process takes months, if not... weeks. So your body is doing what it should. You just need to convince it that there's adequate available energy to start humming at full speed again.

 

So assuming you're doing the same stuff you've been doing for the last 7 or 8 months and not missing a significant increase in caloric intake, it's probably time to bump up your caloric load for a while. A lot of people take advantage of this period to bump up their performance at the gym and/or to direct their nutrition at gaining some more functional mass. Some successfully do a couple weeks, some take a couple months. A lot of people have some real success with regular periodic caloric bumps throughout their entire weight loss process - like a Carb Nite or 4 Hour Body type protocol. This works really well for a lot of people to avoid the big plateau.

 

The good news is that your body is healthy and doing what it should. Longer gaining periods can often take some meticulous intake regulation to avoid too much backsliding. But using the time for muscle and strength gain can totally be a rewarding optimization of the period of caloric boost.

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First, congratulations on losing 50+ pounds. That's awesome!

Weight loss can certainly be looked at like a simple math problem like PaulG suggests, but there's a lot more to it that that. Every study that has looked at the issue has found that over time, weight loss slows even though caloric intake stays the same. Every study. There are several mechanisms in place in your body to ensure that your metabolism slows down in response to a perceived change in available energy.

Yeah, that's... part of the math.

http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/fat-loss/the-energy-balance-equation.html/

People use fewer calories as they get lighter. (If you went from 285 to 235, the difference is probably significant.) Daily activity levels can also change subconsciously. (These two things are what those studies you mentioned find.) Beyond that, the only metabolic slowdown that occurs happens after other effects of starvation have already set in. Those starvation effects tend to lead less to "WTF, why am I stalling" posts and more to "why did I get depressed, my sex drive evaporate, and my hair stop growing" kinds of posts.

Mojinko, you can use a soft tape measure to track your measurements. You can use an app like MyFitnessPal to easily track calories. I'd suggest trying both for a week or two before you jump off the fat loss train entirely.

Cowardly Assassin
Training Log | Challenges: Current8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st

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Paul as usual is giving sound advice. I'd just like to add that I, too, started out just logging what I eat without counting anything, but the further I progressed from ~29% bodyfat towards the lower teens, the more meticulous about things I had to become, to the point where I'm now tracking calories very exactly as well as protein while also keeping an eye on fat and carbs being sufficient. Knowing certainly is better than guessing or estimating, so just giving it the old try for a week or two might already give you a much better perspective of how much exactly you're eating.

 

On a different note, I don't think the 4x20 situps do anything for you and you'd probably be better suited replacing them with anything else. From what you've described it reads like you're doing mostly machines right now. If that is indeed the case, maybe consider giving free weights and a plan like StrongLifts 5x5 a try. Starting strength is touted often as well, as are others. I also suggest that you take a look at this article too.

 

From the distance, my easiest guess is that you're eating roughly the same as or a little less than you did during most of your weight loss, but due to losing a good amount of weight (congrats!), moving less because of winter and getting used to and more efficient at the cardio, you're not seeing the progress that you used to. As Paul said, it's a numbers game and to continue winning, you need to adjust some values.

How about a glass of purgatory with a splash of heaven?

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I do realize that's part of the math. That's why I mention it. Because energy out is a massively dynamic variable that rarely gets mentioned outside of activity. No matter how much a person counts, no matter how much they weigh their food, no matter how perfect they get all of the other mechanics of dieting down, biology will slow down over the time of a diet in almost everyone. They don't have to lie, or be careless, or lazy. They have to be a living person with a working body. There's nothing wrong with paying closer attention to what you're eating. But when you do, your body will eventually slow down. There's nothing wrong with moving more. But when you consistently consume less energy than you need your metabolism will continue to slow down. Without using a few simple strategies it's likely to continue to be a problem for a lot of people. Especially those who need to diet for for more than 6 months.

 

Metabolic slowdown one of the few things that's nearly universally consistent in dieting and vary rarely gets mentioned. And it's one of the biggest causes of frustration for a lot of people. That's why it's worth mentioning. Yet so few people do.

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My experience with weight loss although minimal is that counting caloris does not work for some people. Personally the only diet that has worked for me so far is the dukan diet. Its a great example of eat as much as you like but of only certain things. For me this is way easier than figuring out the calories ove been consuming. I would also saybthat for some people they will have a lot more success if they are following a specidic diet rather than just watching what they eat. Anyways minus 50 pounds is awesome, keep going!

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You're going to get a lot of different answers on this one, some commenting on here will never agree. 

 

However what kind of advice are you looking for? Generally you'll be told to go a x diet (some like keto can be maintained for years and years and others only a few short weeks) Others will tell you to watch your intake and record everything that goes into your mouth. 

 

My opinion would be more in line with Paul and Disil at this point. Measure a little more carefully on your intake and keep doing what you're doing activity wise. What everyone is giving here is opinion based on what worked for them. Try a couple different things out to see what works for you. 

 

As a note for daily activity- I've been working a desk job for 5 years now. The first 3 years were in an office in a downtown area and I lived (I thought) on top of the metro. Then I bought a house and moved to an office down the street from my new place. 5 minute car ride instead of a metro ride. Sweet. I kept my diet and activity the same (or so I thought). My weight started creeping up. I blamed getting older (like my body dinged 26 and went, right, your fast metabolism has clocked out, good luck!) Especially since I was eating the same stuff. Last year I really upped my fitness level and took the weight off by monitoring what I ate and really falling in love with spin and lifting. Out of curiosity I went back to my old apartment and walked my metro commute. Even though I was sitting for 45 mins on the train....Bam, 2 miles to and 2 miles from work. I was walking almost 5 miles a day just too and from work and not realizing it because they were short walks from the apt to the metro station, down the escalator, finding a seat....but it added up. 

 

My new office? I walked from my front door to my car, car to office and back. Total distance for the entire day? .75 miles if I don't do anything before or after work (I didn't before my fitness bug). Little changes here and there add up over time (both in food and activity). 

 

P.S. I also second eliminating sit ups- much better core stuff out there I'm a fan of planks and leg lifts personally. However core improves with general strength too. 

Spaz Ranger

BATTLE LOG

You can have results or excuses. Not both

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You're going to get a lot of different answers on this one, some commenting on here will never agree. 

 

However what kind of advice are you looking for? 

I accept that there's a lot of ways to get things done, and a lot of things work differently for different people.

 

My main issue as far as a diet goes is most of the people I see going on about how well their diet works for them is that they eat the same thing or small set of things every day. Short of bananas, I rarely eat the same thing more than once every 2 weeks or so, which makes the tracking calories slightly harder. I can estimate 500 there and 200 here and add it up to be in the ballpark, but I think I'd go nuts if I had to restrict the total into a 1800cal window like some people do to their own success. 

The things that work best for me tend to be eating what I want within reason, but keeping to a semi-strict gym routine as far as what I do each day. If I need to learn to do free weight exercises instead of the 5-6 machines I tend to use for the weight portion, then I suppose I need to bite that bullet. Most of what I do currently I can pay very little attention to what I'm doing and pay attention to my music as a distraction, and I like it that way. All the need for proper form in free weights is something that I'm not familiar with, so it's a bit intimidating. 

 

I have the following goals I want to work towards:

Get below 200 lbs, with an eventual goal of 180.

Be able to do a pull-up, since I've never in my life been strong enough to do one.

 

I know I need more upper body strength to do a pull-up, but I'm not certain which exercises specifically would be best to work towards that goal. At some point I just assumed that if I were constantly working my back/biceps/triceps/chest, I'd be closer than I was to that goal.

 

In other news, I dropped down to 225 after the month of losing nothing, and I have zero clue why it happened. I weighed at 230 one day, skipped the gym the next day, and came back at 225 and have been there for several days.

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I fluctuate between 2-5 percent of my bodyweight a week just in water weight depending on my water intake, what I eat and activity, so it's not so weird to see weight drop like that depending on what you eat. 

 

And for weight loss increasing activity without focusing on diet is an uphill battle in my opinion, the most important aspect of loss is diet (80 percent diet 20 percent activity). It sounds like you practice intuitive eating with some aspects of guestimated calorie counting- usually we humans are a tricksy bunch and tend to under-estimate how much we eat and over-estimate how much activity we do a problem a lot of people have and get frustrated with.

 

Switching to free weights will help build strength and muscle at first if you build muscle will increase your calorie burn. The heavier you are the more calories it takes to run your body- the more muscle that body has it burns even more calories. For example a 130 pound person will not burn as much as 250 pound person. However a 250 pound person at 35 percent body fat will not burn as much as someone at 12 percent body fat. However there is a catch. Other than newbie gains in the first few months it's pretty difficult to build muscle and lose weight. (Steve explains it all here). So if strength is something you're interested in start focusing on your body fat measures.  

 

You mention that the thing that works best for you is to eat what you want within reason but use gym to help keep weight off- but then you asked why it wasn't working anymore (the reason you started the thread) I think you can eat whatever you want in moderation however you have to work doubly hard to focus on your body cues at this point without counting calories- and pay attention to the kind of foods you eat when doing this. Leafy greens and a good chunk of veggies will leave you feeling full while a medium portion of chinese food one day may leave you starving after an hour even though it could have as much as 10 times the caloric value of the veggie salad- so cues may be a little wonky depending on what you eat. If you're really set on not counting calories I'd say make sure you really focus and eat until you're satisfied or maybe just a teeny bit hungry. What leaves you satisfied now will seem like a LOT of food after you drop the 50ish pounds you're looking to get to, your end goal is to get to that intake for that weight so reducing a bit at a time is the logical way to do it. I'm the kind of person that can't fathom how to do it without actual metrics though so I can't really give more advice other than eat clean and pay attention to your cues! Good luck!

Spaz Ranger

BATTLE LOG

You can have results or excuses. Not both

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Oh also, other than snacks (I'm hooked on Quest bars, 100 cal 20g protein muscle milk, fruit and nuts) I rarely eat the same things on a daily basis- I guess similar as in protein (chicken or fish) some kind of veggie and depending on the day a carb component but that can be from roasted flounder with a spinach avocado salad and butternut squash to a chicken stir fry with green beans, carrots and mushrooms the next day. 

 

What does your diet look like on a weekly basis that makes your meals so crazy? 

Spaz Ranger

BATTLE LOG

You can have results or excuses. Not both

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My breakfasts tend to be fruits, never cereals or toast/bagel kind of stuff. Lunches are often stir fry kind of meals with lots of veggies and whatever type of protein I like, without pastas or rices to fill it. Dinner is pretty much anything, as I eat with my family, but usually home cooked and most of the time starting with a salad. It's just when you make something with 20 different ingredients and it's rarely measured in the first place, and then served, it's quite difficult to measure how much of what I'm actually eating. As awful as it is eating out, at least then they've done the work at some point measuring the content since it doesn't change from one meal to another. Fruit, veg, and proteins make up the majority of what I eat, but I know the sauces and dressings can sneak up the calorie count. 

 

What I had last night, just as an example (I woke up quite late and stayed up all night)

3pm: 1 banana (110cal)

7pm: large bowl of salad, 3 breaded fish fillets, a portion of fries (150+375+150, assuming roughly 10cal per fry)

12am: leftover salad, 2 more fish fillet (75+250)

8am: another banana (110)

Total: 1220

So there's usually another meal or snack or something in there, but that doesn't work out to be a terribly large amount of food for someone my size I think?
Yesterday happened to be a lazy cooking night where things came out of a bag/box to be baked with a fresh chopped salad, so it was easier to keep count of than normal.

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Two good points Slate brought up:

1. The relation of hunger to caloric intake. Hunger is much more complex than how full your stomach is, it's influenced by hormones and (perhaps to the greatest degree) your brain. One big factor in hunger is your bodyfat % and how long you've been losing weight. For example, I've been cutting for around 8 weeks and I'm nearing my goal of 11% bodyfat, and at this point I could put away 4000 calories in a day and still have room for dessert. If I ate until I was no longer hungry I would never reach my goals, and this is pretty much universal for anyone who has ever made it into abs territory. Thus, the leaner you get, the more likely you are to require tracking to continue making progress.

2. Never eating the same thing each day. I used to say this about myself, until I tracked. So has almost everyone I know who struggled with their weight, until they started tracking. Most people eat the same thing 2 out of 3 meals each day and never realize it because they only ever think about what they're eating when it's time for dinner (the one that usually changes). When I said those kinds of things, then examined my assumptions, I found I usually are out for lunch and breakfast. Eating out usually translated to eating at the same two or three fast food joints each weekday, and a little more variety on the weekends.

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Cowardly Assassin
Training Log | Challenges: Current8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st

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Do you eat dressings with your salads? I was undercounting my calorie count by over 400 for a while because I would put a couple of splashes of dressing (110 per 2 tbs- using 4 tbs for lunch and dinner....whoops!). I measured out portions for all of 2 weeks and that's all it took. I got used to the new sizes for portions after I measured and it helped me reset my 'gauge' for what a correct portion was. 

Spaz Ranger

BATTLE LOG

You can have results or excuses. Not both

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Hey bud, wanted to weigh in (no pun intended...ok, maybe a LITTLE pun intended...)

 

Long and short, I think your two main problem areas are 1) type of workout and 2) composition of diet.  As to the former, IMO, it needs to change immediately by virtue of the fact that you're not experiencing any progress.  Our bodies become used to certain movements and progress slows over time; you need to mix it up to keep your body guessing.  Also, I would suggest looking into a routine that emphasizes movements that utilize more than one muscle/bodypart at the same time so you can...well...SAVE TIME.  I lost 25 lbs in 3 mo. last year by exercising no more than 30 min a day...I mention that to emphasize that you don't necessarily need to spend 2 hrs in a gym 5-6 days a week to get the results you desire.  And if you ARE doing that and not seeing progress, it's high time to mix things up.

 

The second thing is to dial in your diet, making sure you focus on your macronutrient ratios as well as balancing meals.  In wanting to lose weight and build lean muscle, I followed a 40protein:30carb:30fat ratio and it worked fantastically.  Also, I eat 5-6 meals a day and they contained around the same amount of calories more or less.  Finally, you want to make sure you're eating enough.  Food is fuel, and if you are starving yourself (1200 cals/day), for all intents and purposes, your metabolism is going to slow to the point where losing additional weight will be very hard.  Make a meal plan, balance out your meals, and stick to it.  You'll be surprised at how far a little organization goes.

 

You can DEFINITELY reach your goals, brother and you can do it efficiently...however, the organization has to be there and you have to make sure you alter practices that aren't working.  

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I do use dressing, about 2 tbsp per 4 cups of salad, which for the dressing I like is 80cal.

 

Do you measure it out or eyeball it? My point was eyeballing measuring got me in trouble because what I thought 2 tbsp looked like out of the bottle was vastly different than what 2 tbsp actually were. But that goes back to the whole measuring your intake/calories discussion.

Spaz Ranger

BATTLE LOG

You can have results or excuses. Not both

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Losing weight is one of those things that you can make as simple or as difficult as you want. There's a lot of minutia involved that- while relevant - is largely unnecessary. One of my favourite articles ever provides a great practical overview about what is required to reach any body composition goal (the infographics at the bottom are worth printing out and keeping on hand).

My take, personally, is that unless you're looking to become a cover model or enter physique competitions, you don't need to count calories. Mindfully eating sensible foods is more than enough to obtain a reasonable physique.

"No-one tells a T-Rex when to go to sleep".

- Jim Wendler

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Do you measure it out or eyeball it? My point was eyeballing measuring got me in trouble because what I thought 2 tbsp looked like out of the bottle was vastly different than what 2 tbsp actually were. But that goes back to the whole measuring your intake/calories discussion.

i used to measure it, but I've spent so much of my life baking that I've gotten comfortable with eyeballing it. Too much dressing is pretty overpowering, so I prefer to keep it lower.

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Losing weight is one of those things that you can make as simple or as difficult as you want. There's a lot of minutia involved that- while relevant - is largely unnecessary. One of my favourite articles ever provides a great practical overview about what is required to reach any body composition goal (the infographics at the bottom are worth printing out and keeping on hand).

My take, personally, is that unless you're looking to become a cover model or enter physique competitions, you don't need to count calories. Mindfully eating sensible foods is more than enough to obtain a reasonable physique.

 

My browser was stupid and I thought the first tables were the end of the article. 

 

Really irritated me and I posted a stupid response. Browser loaded the rest of it, it loaded through and now I'm happy. Carry on! 

Spaz Ranger

BATTLE LOG

You can have results or excuses. Not both

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