At the end of July, I signed up to do the National MS Society City to Shore Ride after only riding a road bicycle for a few weeks.  I had roughly 9 weeks to ride and train for a 45 mile portion of the the charity event ride held at the end of September.  Completing the event was only one of my goals though: I also wanted to shed 20 pounds in those nine weeks, or just over 2 pounds per week, which is what most will tell you is a safe rate.  Doing so would help meet another goal I had set for myself more than a year and a half ago, but put no time or effort into accomplishing.

Not only have did I hit the personal goal of losing 20 pounds, I had a blast on the MS ride, and put over 470 miles on my road bicycle in September.  I’ve continued the weight loss after the event: I’m currently down 26 pounds from where I started back at the end of July.

My clothing is starting to feel loose, there is a change in how my face looks, and overall, people who I don’t see on a daily basis are making comments about noticing a difference in how I look.  The question that nearly everyone asks is “What diet are you on?” To this I kind of chuckle and reply with “The watch-what-I-eat-and-ride-my-ass-off diet.”

The reality is I hit a small wall after the first 10 pounds were gone. I’m sure more walls will come as I continue to lose weight and experience changes how my body looks, feels and responds to exercise.  In the last 12 weeks or so, I’ve only changed in 10 ways from how I lived the first half of 2008 to lose the weight, and I wanted to share my not so magical tips.  They almost all boil down to: Work out more, eat less / better.

Portion control.  This was one of the biggest things for me to really get a handle on.  I can eat, a lot.  Not to say that I’m all for ordering two meals at dinner, but I can sit down and get my eat on with the best of them.  My body doesn’t need that.  The biggest place I cut down was lunch.  I used to eat entirely too much for lunch.  Since starting to commute by bike, I have to carry my food daily and eat at work. Not a big deal, but I don’t want to carry several pounds of food daily.  I have two small plastic containers that fit neatly in my backpack; what I can fit in there is more than enough to keep me satisfied and give me energy for the rest of the day.  Reducing the total amount of intake per day was one of the hardest things for me to overcome.

Water, exclusively drink water.  Not only did eliminating nearly all beverages from my diet other than water save me money, it keeps me better hydrated and puts less calories in my system.  Over the July 4th holiday at a picnic, I had two cans of Mountain Dew soda.  Reading the label, each had 170 calories per can!  I’m not a calorie counter, it doesn’t work for me, but the thought of taking in nearly 400 calories in beverages alone was a bit of a concern.  For the most part, I only drink water with any given meal, and throughout the day.

Cardio. As stated, I rode 470 miles in September. There is no getting around doing some cardio work. For me, it’s cycling, although I’m currently walking / jogging to get myself ready to (hopefully) compete in a 5k run in the early portion of 2009. I like cycling. After about 100 miles on my bike, I got through the initial saddle soreness and my body screaming at me for not exercising on a regular basis for years, and it started to become fun. If you don’t do any cardio at all, starting and getting through the first couple weeks is the worst, I won’t lie. After that, though, it should start to feel somewhat OK, and then maybe even good. Regardless of what cardio you do plan to do, it needs to be done, and at least 3 times per week for a half an hour or more.

Cut out the crap.  Most high fat feel-good foods are no longer in my diet.  I don’t eat pizza, candy bars, cream cheese covered bagels, macaroni and cheese or anything else like it.  The lower the fat, the better for me.  Your mileage may vary. For me, low fat foods are essential.

Eat more often.  Due to riding my bike to and from work, and then again after work with friends (prior to the sun setting earlier) meant that I needed energy, which comes from food.  I eat several times through the day, mostly fruit, including raisins and bananas in the morning and afternoons.

Eat less.  Portion control and eating more often may sound like eating less doesn’t fit in, but it does. I don’t need an appetizer or salad before every dinner meal and sure don’t need a candy bar after lunch.  Cutting out the food that isn’t needed and eating smaller portions more times throughout the day was a big help for me.  I’m never hungry anymore, and a small box of raisins really makes a difference.

Eat better foods  Since I cut the crap out of my diet, I’ve replaced it with other foods that are good for me, and weight loss happened.  Most of this is done with fruits and vegetables, but there are a few others that I’m really fond of.  I love peanut butter, but it’s high in fat; some say good fat, but it’s fat no matter how you look at it.  What I’ve done is switched to natural peanut butter, which does taste different, and better if you ask me, and have used it as a recovery food after a hard ride or workout.  It’s high in protein and carbohydrates, so it makes for a great end of workout food so I don’t pass out.  Peanut butter has become an integral part of what I call the recovery burrito:

  • Whole wheat tortilla
  • Smear peanut butter on it
  • Peal a banana and put it at one side
  • Drizzle locally grown raw honey over top
  • Roll up and enjoy

It has everything good that your body needs after a hard workout so you feel better, and it tastes amazing while filling my need to enjoy peanut butter.

Eat food for a purpose.  With the time I’ve invested into changing my eating habits and the amount that I cycle, my body is finally giving me feedback on what it does or doesn’t need.  I eat foods that will help me through different days.  For example, I generally don’t eat breakfast on work days; instead, I eat some fruit around 10 a.m.  On the weekends, an hour before a long ride I’ll eat a bowl of oatmeal to get carbs in my system.  I’ll also try to get a banana in so that the potassium will help my muscles, and some sugars of some kind, usually from an apple or pear.  Another example would be dinner on a work night: Lentil soup is easy to make, has virtually no fat and is made of really simple ingredients, mostly vegetables.  It’s filling, tastes really good and leaves me satisfied without a lot of sugars to keep me awake.

Cut out the emotions and peer pressure.  Every Wednesday at work my boss brings in bagels with cream cheese and muffins for the whole staff.  I skip them.  Since I don’t normally eat breakfast, nor a large portion of food before lunch, why should I on a Wednesday just because everyone else is.  Likewise, vendors often bring in donuts for the staff, and the holidays are even worse around there.  In the same line of thinking, don’t eat to celebrate, or because you’re lonely, sad or upset.  If you need to celebrate getting a new job, getting a raise, your friend getting a new job or even if they just got out of jail, put it off until Sunday, the off day.

A day off.  I’m fairly restrictive with the amount and volume of food I eat six days a week.  Sunday is my off day: I allow myself to eat whatever I want, within reason, and enjoy it.  Doing so means my body doesn’t start to crave things that I’m not allowed to eat but also so that I can enjoy food.  I often have ice cream or pie for dessert after a Sunday dinner, something I normally wouldn’t do any other day of the week.

No pills, powders or magic foods are in my diet.  I’m pretty happy with what I eat on a daily basis; I won’t eat food that tastes like crap nor will I starve myself.  I’m sure that in the upcoming weeks I’ll hit another wall and stall with weight loss, but without these 10 tools I would never have made this amount of progress.  It’s a simple, do more, eat less way of life, not a diet.  When I finally hit my target weight, which I’m still not even 100% sure of, I can’t just stop doing these things and hit the all-you-can-eat buffet daily, it will remain a total change in how I live.  Diets simply don’t work, changes do.

Disclaimer: I am not a health, diet or nutritional expert, only sharing what has worked for me.  Before making any changes to your diet or exercise, please consult a physician.