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Losing Weight to Exercise

Life in the Bike Lane

Tom Frady

This column is only tangentially related to cycling, but I will use the word “bike” as often as I can. Spoiler alert: As usual, I don’t really know what I am talking about.

Last year about this time, as I was training for my annual ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I decided to lose some weight. While it took the better part of five months, I lost 20 pounds. I did it like I do most things – intentionally not following a plan, except “eat less”. Simple maybe, but not easy. Because my bike rides are long and somewhat intense, I couldn’t just starve myself. I still had to make smart decisions about what I ate (and didn’t).

I sure wasn’t going to give up my mid-ride donut!

That experience taught me what I already knew: For me, exercise has little to do with weight loss. You have to take in fewer calories. I lost that 20 pounds without changing my exercise habits.

Remember that show “The Biggest Loser”? Those who lost the most weight were not the ones who exercised the hardest, it was those who ate the least.

After exhaustive research (I read an article on the internet. OK. I read part of an article on the internet.), I was gratified to find what I thought I knew from experience was actually true. And let me say here, I’m no expert on anyone’s weight loss but my own. Your experience may vary.

All of the energy we gain comes from the food we eat. We burn 10-30% of that exercising each day, including shopping, house cleaning and walking back and forth to the refrigerator. I found all sorts of complicated calculators for calories-burned-while-cycling on the internet (did you know there is all sorts of good information on the internet?). But it comes down to this: if you get on your bike and ride for an hour, then come home and have a donut, you just wiped out your calorie loss.

Of course, exercise is very important for your overall health, but an extensive review of the research (I didn’t do it. Some internet people did.) shows exercise led to only modest weight loss. However, exercise did lead to a bunch of good things, like lower blood pressure, less Type 2 diabetes, fewer strokes and heart attacks, it might make you smarter, etc. But exercise alone is almost useless for weight loss.

There is evidence, however, that regular exercise can help you maintain a lower weight once you have attained it.

Plus, a recent Yale study says exercise makes you happier than money.

I lost weight to help me be a better bike rider, and I think it has worked. For me, weighing myself every day (and charting it) helps motivate me, which is counter to what most experts recommend. Success breeds success and I’m now another 5 pounds down. The question will be: can I keep it off? We don’t eat out much, but the granddaughters’ joint birthday party last week was a challenge. What I gained in one hour took 3 days to lose, but the fajitas were worth it.


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