Cycling for Weight Loss Update – I’m lighter and stronger and you can be too!
It’s been over 7 years since I told the story of how I lost 40 pounds in 12 weeks by dieting and cycling (Click for previous post) and the question I’ve been asked the most is “did you put the wright back on?” This is a fair question as it’s difficult to lose weight and it’s even tougher to keep it off. I’m proud to say, that 7 years later, at the age of 56, I’m in even better shape than I was when I first lost the weight. I could kick the younger self’s butt! These are the photos from the original post from 7 years ago when I was in my 40’s with some new ones from 2018:
To be honest my weight did go up and down in those first years and I decided that I wanted to break the cycle and keep it off. To do this, and take my fitness to the next level, I had to get serious about reading the research, understanding the different diets and looking at how to lose weight while building muscle at the same time. As you age, your muscle mass declines but you can offset that muscle loss through exercise and that’s exactly what I did. Have you noticed that as people age they gain weight and struggle to drop it? You really see it when you see photos of actors, actresses and musicians from their early days and what they look like today.
Muscle burns calories so if you lose muscle mass and continue to eat the diet that allowed you to maintain your weight in the past, you’ll gain weight.
In addition to increasing my miles on the bike, I’ll ride between 4 and 5 thousand miles in 2019, I added in some simple core strength workouts. I had three objectives in doing this:
- Maintain upper body muscle that cycling doesn’t help with.
- Strengthen my core which does help with cycling performance and comfort on the bike.
- Reduce injury risk.
Decoding the Diets
What really drove me nuts was understanding the buzz of all the new diet plans that were out there, specifically Paleo, Keto, Vegan and Intermittent Fasting. It’s like having an argument about politics or religion. Everyone is sure that what they are doing is the best and the people making money on the diets are in the same battle. All of the diets work because they drive you to consume less calories and better food which is offset by your body burning calories to sustain itself and move. The big questions I had to answer were:
- How can I create a way of eating that I can sustain for the rest of my life?
- How do I eat in a way that allows me to be stronger and lighter at the same time?
- What is best for my long term health?
- How do I control my desire to eat when I’m stressed? (emotional eating)
I know from many weight loss and gain cycles that I have the ability to lose weight quickly and the ability to put it back on even faster! Fad diets and tricks weren’t going to cut it. If I wanted to be strong and vibrant in my 60’s, 70’s and 80’s I needed a long term plan. I needed to consider tradeoffs between weight loss and cardio health, for example. After an extensive amount of reading and many months of trial and error, I created my own hybrid program that used aspects of all of the diets listed above as well as a few approaches to removing triggers that had me eating emotionally.
Losing Weight While Maintaining Muscle Mass
Here are the 5 key areas I focused on to drop the pounds without dropping muscle:
- I eat between the hours of 11:30am and 6pm. This is intermittent fasting which allows your body to burn fat in the other hours. I always ate breakfast because I was told that it was the most important meal of the day but I wasn’t typically hungry. As it turns out, research is showing that having breakfast isn’t required and there are benefits. I do eat breakfast if I’m going for a bike ride of greater than 40 miles. Bonking, hitting the wall or whatever term you use for running out of energy isn’t a pleasant experience. I eat two meals a day with some small snacks in between.
- Eat the right amount of protein. The medical community agrees that 0.36 grams of protein for each pond of body mass is required to sustain muscle mass. A simple way to do this is to divide your weight by 3 and eat that many grams of protein each day. It doesn’t need to be spread out throughout the day, you just need the total Push this amount up by 10 or 15% if you’re active as you’ll have more muscle mass to support. You don’t want those biking legs to get weaker. If you don’t consume the protein your body will consume your muscle. Let’s take a person who weighs 180 pounds to make the math easy. They need 60 to 70 grams of protein per day. 6 ounces of Salmon has 35 grams of protein, sirloin steak has 52 grams, chicken breast 36 grams while one cup of black beans has 42 grams of protein and 1 cup of tofu has 20 grams. While you can get enough protein as a vegan, it doesn’t work for me as I minimize my carbs (item 3). Salmon, Chicken and Steak have 0 carbs. Tofu is pretty low at 8 grams but I’m not a fan of tofu. 1 Cup of black beans has 40 grams of carbs! With foods that contain fiber we can discuss net carbs but I find it’s easier to just use the total carb count.
- Minimize carbs and eat your veggies. I’m not shooting for zero carbs but I do try and get most of my carbs from vegetables. Keto and Paleo diets work because they both minimize carbs and put your body into a state of Ketosis where its burning body fat for energy. The main difference between the diets is that Keto is much higher in fat while Paleo avoids dairy lowering the fat intake. I still eat dairy so I’m not pure Paleo and I eat less fat than Keto so I guess I’m Paleto. My choice to eat less fat is based on long term cardio vascular health. Eating a high fat diet does result in more weight loss. Your body will adapt and fuel itself on fat, including endurance needs but decades of research has made a very clear connection between saturated fat and clogging of the arteries so I decided that to be healthy for the long term I shouldn’t eat a diet that focuses on eating more fat. Let the hate messages fly from the hard core Keto fans, I made my choice. My meals typically consist of 6 ounces of meat and a big pile of veggies with butter. Steak and broccoli, chicken and Brussel sprouts or Salmon and cauliflower. There are some awesome cauliflower products out there that keep me from getting bored: cauliflower rice, cauliflower mashed potatoes and even cauliflower pizza crusts that allow me to have a low carb treat that tastes like the high carb version. I feel like I’m eating at a fancy restaurant with these meals. To be clear, I’m lazy when it comes to cooking so any food I make needs to be simple and easy. I put the veggies in a steamer, grab a frozen meat portion from the freezer that came individually wrapped or I cut up and vacuum sealed and froze it earlier. The package goes into a bowl of hot water to thaw and I toss it in a frying pan with avocado oil or butter and some salt and pepper. My other option is to stir fry the veggies with the meat and have it over cauliflower rice. From time to time I’ll have a salad but I’m not a salad person. I find that I’m throwing it out before I’ve eaten it.
- Stop the emotional eating habit. How did I get this under control? This was the absolute hardest thing for me to do. When I was stressed, or when I just need a distraction from working, I would go looking for a snack. My meals were healthy but I would end up eating lots of calories a little at a time. I broke this habit in a three step process. I hope you can learn from my mistakes and maybe skip a step along the way. The idea is to find what works for you that you can live with for the long term: Step 1: Get rid of junk food snacks and have healthy low carb ones available. I had celery, carrots, olives and pickles to snack on. This was a good place to start since I was at least eating things that weren’t bad for me but I learned that I still had the bad snacking habit and I began craving foods that were crunchy, more flavorful and more satisfying. Eating celery and carrots gets old really quick, especially if they don’t include a side of chicken wings. Step 2: Find more satisfying snacks that would still meet my low carb plan. So I moved to cheese snacks, beef jerky, summer sausage, almonds, pumpkin seeds, pistachio nuts and baked cheese crisps (the crunch of a potato chip with the taste of cheese). These snacks made me a lot happier but I still ate too much of them. Actually I ate more because they tasted good. They didn’t cause me to gain weight but I couldn’t get the scale moving down either. The cheese, in particular, contains a chemical that makes you crave more cheese so I found myself heading for these snacks more often. Step 3: Modify the trigger to eat. In reading about changing habits I learned that we become pretty hard wired over time to respond to triggers in our environment. I installed a camera with a motion sensor that tells me when the mail man has arrived by pinging my cell phone. My dog Max goes crazy when he hears the mail man and quickly connected the sound on my phone with the arrival of his nemesis. I’d get a text and he’d go running for the door barking, a social media notification and off he went like a mad man. Yes, I had my own accidental Pavlovian dog experiment. The ping was the trigger and the reaction was run to the door and bark. I work remotely from home with most of my day involving spreadsheet analysis. All of my snacks are either in the refrigerator or in the pantry. I didn’t want anything on the counters where I could see it thinking out of sight out of mind. For a week, I observed what was happening when I had a desire for a snack and found that the pantry and refrigerator doors were my trigger. I would go for a cup of coffee, walk past the pantry or refrigerator and grab a snack. Just like my dog Max, the door triggered an automatic response. I needed to change this hard wired trigger. If you’re reading and thinking that solving this is just walking away each time since we now know the cause, I say it isn’t that easy. If all we needed was knowledge of what to do we’d all be billionaires with six pack abs. Knowing what to do and doing it are very different animals. If I walked past the pantry, and felt a need for a snack, I would go to the basement and do a few pullups. Pullups are a great exercise and I want to get better at doing them so this was my plan, replace the bad habit with a good one. It was tough at first but I found that after a week the pantry and refrigerator triggered the pullup response that took me away from food, provided the work distraction I needed, and it only took a few minutes to do. I had to wait for my coffee to brew anyway so not a big deal. Change the trigger, change the habit.
- Get more sleep. We hear this all the time and as we age it becomes more important. Sleep is the time when your body rebuilds and detoxifies itself repairing muscles and getting rid of dead cells. There is a strong connection between sleep and aging better. This is a battle that hasn’t been easy for me. My goal is 7.5 hours per night. I wear a Fitbit watch at night and it provides an estimate of how well I slept. The key for me is to not go to bed thinking about something I need to do or that I’m concerned about which is easier said than done. I have a few other tricks like no screens an hour before bed. No TV, phone, computer or tablet. I try to do a little reading with most of the room dark.
Previous weight loss post: (Click for previous post)
I’ll post more on exercises, recipes I enjoy, my gravel, road and mountain bike adventures as well as videos from the many events I signed up for this year that might encourage you to join in. I’d love to meet some of you in person, hear your stories and of course, enjoy the ride!