Weight loss

Before this year, I’d never made a conscious effort to lose weight. Sure, I’d be a few pounds heavy after taking a winter off from riding, but those pounds would melt away after a week or two of steady training. But I took four years off before I did my training in 2010, and I didn’t lose much weight that year. I also took 2011 off from riding. Meanwhile, I continued to eat poorly. In particular, lots of fast food and four to six cans of Coca Cola every day.

I knew that I was packing on the pounds; the scale doesn’t lie. But I didn’t fully appreciate the result until I was standing in line at a convenience store one morning. I don’t know why, but when I see something in a store security monitor I look around to see if I can spot it directly. I think it has to do with wanting to see the same thing from multiple perspectives at the same time. On this particular morning I saw a fat guy standing near where I was standing. It took me a couple seconds looking around and another glance at the monitor to realize that the fat guy was me.

At the end of February, Debra started a workout program at the gym and also started cooking smaller, more healthy meals. I had begun working from home about a week before that, and had been trying to eat at home for lunch rather than going out for fast food every day. The day Debra started her workouts, the bathroom scale said 205.1 when I stood on it. Time to do something about that.

It took me another month to get off my butt and start doing something. My first ride this year was April 18. About two weeks later I announced two goals: to complete the Waco Wild West Century in less than six hours, and to have my weight down to 170 lbs by September 22 (the date of the ride). I’ve been slowly changing my diet, and at the beginning of June (after a month of getting accustomed to the bike again) I hired a coach to help me prepare for the century ride.

This morning the scale read 184.1. So far I’m down 21 lbs in just under 20 weeks. That matches what I think is ideal weight loss of a pound per week. I’m a month into the coaching program, and I’m already a much stronger rider. I’m surprised at how effective a targeted training program can be.

There’s no doubt that all the exercise helps with the weight loss. I’m doing four bicycle workouts per week, and spending one or two hours in the gym each week working on core and upper body strength. The bicycle workouts averaged 850 calories each in June. This month’s workouts will average quite a bit more, because the rides will be longer. In addition, there’s a benefit to getting stronger: I burn more calories with the same amount of effort. That is, if I average 15 MPH when riding at 65% of my max heart rate, I’ll burn more calories than if I average 12 MPH at the same heart rate. The stronger I get, the easier it is to burn calories. I’ve already seen a 20% improvement in my speed at low intensities.

There is a downside to burning all those calories, though. My body can handle a 500 calorie daily deficit, no problem. But if I go out and burn 1,200 calories on a single ride, I’m hungry. If I’m not careful, I’ll really pig out and actually gain weight that day. It’s a constant battle, especially when I do long rides. Even at just 500 calories per day, it seems like I’m always hungry.

Some people have asked me my “secret.” There really isn’t any mystery. In addition to the exercise, I’ve done the following:

I’m now drinking diet soda at home. Considering that I used to drink four to six cans of soda every day, replacing that with diet drinks removes 500 to 900 calories per day from my diet. I also don’t much like the taste of the diet soda, and can see myself eliminating it from my diet altogether. Well, except when I go out to eat. I don’t miss the sugar. I just have to get myself off the caffeine.

I’m teaching myself to stop eating when my hunger is satisfied rather than continuing to eat until I’m full. It’s tough. Every time I get up without finishing everything on my plate, I can hear my mom and the upperclassmen at military school telling me to clean my plate. I’ve found that if I put less on my plate to begin with, I don’t get those feelings of guilt. I can always go back for more, but it’s surprising how infrequently I need to do that.

I’ve never been much of one for sweets, except for the soda. So that’s not a problem. Since I’ve become more selective about what I eat, I’ve found that I appreciate sweets more than I used to. When I do indulge, I really enjoy it and it takes only a small portion to satisfy my craving.

From my perspective, achieving and maintaining an ideal weight is a lifestyle change. It took me years to add those 35 pounds I’m working off, so I can’t expect them to come off overnight. And I’ve read enough about dieting to understand that crash diets are incredibly effective for losing weight, but not very effective in the long term. A disturbingly large number of people who lose weight on those diets end up gaining it all back within a few years. The reason is that they haven’t made the fundamental lifestyle and attitude changes that allow them to maintain their new weight once they’ve achieved their weight loss goal.

I’m hoping that, with the changes I’m making and a modest goal of a pound per week, I can avoid the ping pong effect.