You’re trying hard, putting in the miles on the bike but the weight loss is somehow eluding you. Something’s missing, something’s up. The time in the saddle isn’t translating into lbs dropping off. What on earth is going on?
Any time in my counselling practice a client tells me they’re battle with themselves, for me it’s a sure sign that we gotta go after their maintaining behaviors. What’s keeping this thing going despite all their apparent efforts to make beneficial changes?
Here’s how this cycling for weight loss article is laid out…
- Part 1: the missing facts of cycling for weight loss
- Part 2: our sometimes dysfunctional relationships with food
- Part 3: Rome wasn’t built in a day – and nor was my ass! 😀
- Part 4: Are you manifesting weight loss or just weight maintenance?
Part 1: the missing facts of cycling for weight loss
Okay, the first thing I like to do is to get to the point where we’re dealing in just the facts! Too much of how we act is based on untested assumption and unqualified inference. Cycling for weight loss it seems is one of those things. Now I’ve never seen a client who cycled to lose weight. Man that’d be a cinch of an icebreaker for a cycling mad therapist like me haha. But I’ve surely seen my share of clients that exercised for weight loss and yet seen no great results from it. Now for some folk it’s a minor issue. It’s not their presenting problem at all. Yet our relationship with food is symptomatic in so many diagnosed conditions – it’s indicated in DSM 5 Diagnostic Manual as one of the nine criteria for the diagnosis of major depressive disorder for example.
Back on point though, what are the facts and more pertinently what facts are we missing or aren’t really facts at all?
What facts about weight loss and calorie burn might we be missing?
Here’s one fact. Purely based on energy equivalences, 1 lbs of fat contains 3500 kcal (I’ll just use cal from here even though it’s kilo calories or kcal we’re dealing in lol #nerd). That means in order to shed one pound of fat, we need to be 3500 cal in deficit – in other words we need to burn 3500 more calories than we consume. Fair enough, you’ll likely be familiar with that fact.
But I think sometimes – or rather I know I’ve made this mistake in my thinking before so possibly you might have too? It concerns how many calories we are actually in deficit after a bike ride. Do you know?
Today as I’m writing this, I took my first long ride of the season – it’s a bitterly cold March morning. In fairness, I think I probably jumped too far from my previous week’s mileage up to today’s 100 Km (sounds way better than 60 miles haha) flat ride up the Antrim Coast as you’ll see in the video. Nevertheless, being a flat ride, I clocked less than 3000 cal! Whaaa? Yeah, that’s about all it was worth. I’d have to take the high road home to get that up nearer the 4000 – 5000 cal mark. But no matter, I’m still happy with that! It’s a lot of effort for not a huge reward, but hey, at least there’s another pound of weight lost off of my gut, and every little helps, right? Well… Not really.
Huh? 😮 Nope, remember to lose 1lbs of weight we need to be in deficit to the tune of 3500 cal. I’d only be in a deficit of those 4000 cal if I hadn’t taken on board any fuel. Like none! But the fact is, as you’ll know yourself, we simply have to take in energy in order to do the ride, true? In order to make that ride, I was suitably hopped up on high glucose energy drinks as I’m sure you are on your own rides.
Here’s the kicker – if I did that ride properly fueled, I actually wouldn’t sustain any calorific deficit at all! Zero! I’d have lost nothing! I think this is a fact we often forget when cycling for weight loss.
So how can that zero (or minimal) calorie deficit be increased on a ride?
I know, it’s almost a shame to waste all that hard effort for not much weight loss. But I’ve written about it previously in my article suggesting a cycling plan for burning fat and losing weight. In it, I suggested riding un-fueled.
For me personally, I find that easier to do this on morning rides before work. I can come home and have a normal breakfast without making up the calorie deficit achieved on the bike ride. I find it specially easy to do on morning rides when I’ve had a lot to eat the previous evening! #confessiontime haha. Naturally to avoid the dreaded energy bonk on the ride it means adaptations. And what are they? As I suggested in that article, one adaptation to the circumstances is riding in your endurance zone at a low cadence. This in my experience avoids the bonk as well as maximizing fat burn. The hard part is returning to base and not slamming food down your throat to reward yourself for the effort.
What other facts could’ve slipped past us while we’re busy cycling to lose weight? The 80 / 20 “rule”
I very much doubt that it’s slipped past you, Dear Reader, but you’ll be aware I’m sure of the 80% / 20% “rule” of weight loss. No, it’s not a rule. In fact I can’t find any peer-reviewed research on it at all. Let me clarify, there’s the popular advice for maintaining a healthy eating program which goes: eat healthily (hey no cheating you at the back!) for 80% of the time and indulge yourself (sensibly so as not to kill off your losses) for the other 20%. Makes weight loss sound more believable and achievable doesn’t it. I’d go for that. But it’s within another 80/20. See I’m referring to the idea that weight loss occurs in the proportions 80% from smartening up our food intake and the remaining 20% from smartening up our exercise. I say smartening up, because in food terms, it’s not just about reducing. It’s about eating smarter. Same with the cycling.
Okay so there’s no actual research, but the rationale checks out. Why? Because it’s actually a much more efficient way – possibly three to four times more efficient – to lose weight by creating a deficit through our food intake than creating that energy deficit through our bike riding or other exercise. Add this to the fact that when we ride fueled, we’re potentially not creating much of a calorific deficit cycling at all, then you can see how concentrating more on creating an eating calorie deficit might be a less difficult way to lose the weight. In fact, this is probably how I’d use the 80/20 “rule” – to focus 80% of my effort on smartening up my eating, and leave the other 20% for attempting to lose weight through my cycling.
Of course, that doesn’t imply that we can’t lose weight from cycling. It simply means we need to adjust the way we attempt to do it. I’ll be looking at this more in Part 2.
Cycling for weight loss facts…
An average Joe, maybe 185 lbs is gonna burn between 700 to 1000 cal per hour riding at 19mph. Okay, you say, to lose a pound of weight, I need to just ride three and a half hours at that speed, (maybe over a couple rides) right? No! Remember, it’s not just calories burned! It’s calorie deficit we need to achieve. And if you’re riding fueled, sure, you’re gonna burn those calories, but you’re replacing them with gels, energy drinks or bars or even that slice of cake at the coffee stop! Make sense? This is why cycling for weight loss is so damn difficult despite our best efforts and all the miles.
So this is potentially the first factor that’s maintaining our weight even in the face of our efforts on the bike to lose it.
Part 2, our sometimes dysfunctional relationship with food
That sounds very ominous doesn’t it? Haha, it ain’t meant to, but it’s something to be mindful of when trying to lose the weight. So this concerns our tendency to have slightly dysfunctional relationships with food!
By that I mean eating inappropriately – neither for hunger, nor socializing, nor eating well for weight loss. Let’s explore that. Psychologically speaking, food serves a whole bunch of purposes other than satiating a hunger and being a social occasion. What exactly are those purposes that food serves then?
Well, Think of all the times you eat when you’re not honestly hungry, or when you eat stuff that you know isn’t good. What might some of those be? I know for me at least – and I’ve taken some time in analyzing this as my own relationship with food is at best uh… strained haha 😮 but these are a few of my “reasons” for eating outside of what’s necessary for me or good for me…
- Food as habit – eating when I’m not hungry simply because I always have a snack at this time of day / after doing this particular thing… If you always have a coffee-break at work at 11am along with some confection or other, then you’ll likely indulge that habit irrespective of whether you’re actually hungry or not. It’d almost be rude not to eh? If you have a marinaded cabbage leaf stuffed with avocado, fair enough, but you’re not having that are you? Haha, I’m having a conversation with myself here 😀 #bearwithme
- Food as comfort – I know I’d do this when maybe I’m not feeling good about myself for whatever reason. Maybe you’ve experienced similar? Eating food we like encourages brain-enhancing hormone production. It’s hardly surprising we turn to food when we’re feeling under the weather emotionally!
- Food as consolation when something goes wrong. Yep, food is a great “fixer” for the times when stuff just doesn’t go well for us. It’s food as a commiseration. But then, I gotta put that word “fixer” in quotes because you surely know, that fix isn’t really a fix. It’s a temporary distraction from the issue that’s causing the problem, right? #youknowit. Worse, it sets up a cycle of feeling guilty for eating when we ought not to have, which results in us feeling bad, and then, guess what, reaching for more consoling food!
- Food as reward when something goes well. Conversely, we might find we turn to food as a treat or a reward for when we do something well, when we achieve something, yikes, possibly even when we achieve a weight loss goal! We do still need the odd treat though – see below.
- Food as a cure for boredom? Not sure if this is just me haha. But I’d eat when I’m bored. Now how does food cure the boredom? Actually it doesn’t. I believe what I’m doing is simply giving myself a break from a repetitive, iterative, or just plain unengaging task – like admin paperwork, man I’m no fan of it! Where’s the cake! 😀
The good news is that we can leverage these traits in our cycling. Well, we can if we got the will to do it! So I’m not going to tell you what you ought and ought not to be eating. We’re all adults, we’ve all read the headlines and the articles. We all know I’m sure what we ought to be eating. We just gotta get on with it! But what about our cycling? Is it even part of this weight loss?
Cycling as the dysfunctional eating substitute?
Okay, so with that list of ways we eat in a dysfunctional way, what we need to curtail those is some kind of valid substitute for food. The key word here is valid. It can’t be the ol’ chestnut we used to get in dieting articles – Oh you just like take your burger with bacon, cheese, garlic mayo and all the trimmings, and you simply substitute it for half a walnut and a lettuce leaf! Pffft… This is another sure way to set up a vicious-cycle return to feeling -like-a-weight-loss-failure and then returning to dysfunctional eating. No, the substitute for the food must be valid for you. And only you know what will replace it in a valid way. But for one, many or maybe all of the above dysfunctional eating patterns, I’m going to suggest cycling. Now I can’t say if you love your bike riding as much as food. Only you can say that. But I’m going to suggest it anyways since that’s what we have here in common – cycling! If it’s not cycling for you, then please do your best to think of valid substitutes and then figure a way to fit them in as food replacements 🙂
When eating as habit, how about making cycling that habit? But remember if you’re cycling specifically for weight loss you gotta consider riding unfueled – or at least significantly under-fueled as well as making the adaptations to your ride style outlined above and in the Cycling Fat Burning Workout article.
When eating as comfort, how about making cycling that comfort? Comfort food is associated with feelgood times. Maybe that’s our happy days as a kid – it’s likely food that’s in many ways psychologically symbolic of past happy times for us. The hack here is to reassociate cycling as one of those happy times. Do you remember your first bike? Do you remember how you felt? The joy, the freedom that cycling brings? That’s what you need back in your cycling to make it come close to being a substitute for a comfort food. You need a comfort bike ride! 🙂 #thinklikeakid I always urge you to ride safe and have fun. This is one of the reasons why 🙂 #cyclehappy
When eating as consolation, how about making cycling that consolation? How can cycling be consolation? Well, Dear Reader, I’ve written many times before on site about cycling motivation. I’m a big fan of setting goals in line with our level of motivation. Low motivation means tiny goals that lead to a sense of success and achievement that we can take pride in – in the context of managing rides when we’re unmotivated – those are successes and we ought to see them as such 🙂 So here, when we’re using food to ameliorate a situation where we’re feeling lowly, why not set a small goal for the bike, get out, ride, have fun and congratulate yourself. You did well – you got out instead of eating! Well done! 🙂
When eating as a reward, why not treat yourself to some new item for your bike or some new piece of kit instead? It’s not really cycling-for-weight-loss related as such, but it’s still using cycling instead of food! #winwin
When eating out of boredom, why not pick a new route and go ride it? Hey it might sound facile, but think of how much better you’ll feel having gone riding than having eaten your way out of boredom! And that brings me nicely to Part 3…
Part 3: Rome wasn’t built in a day – and nor was my ass (or belly!)
What on earth do I mean here? I mean the problematic relationship between some of us and food. Those some are those of us with tendencies to instant gratification. And if that’s you, you’ll know it. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the Stanford Marshmallow test (now in a little doubt see here) but it’s essentially a test done usually with kids to see which kids will take a confection now or wait 15 minutes to get double. I’m very much an instant gratification not a delayed gratification dude #stopgigglingattheback 😮
What I’ve noticed both personally and with clients in therapy is that those of us with that instant gratification tendency (or maybe it’s a gene!) are doubly bound by food. How so? Well firstly we are more inclined to reach for food right now for that instant hit, and disregard the future negative consequences of that action – weight gain. But secondly when it comes to weight loss, we have almost an expectation that somehow the weight will drop off far, FAR quicker than we put it on.
As ever… Client wisdom!
Hence the line, and it was a client that said it though I’m sure it’s an oldie – Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor was my arse (as we say here) 😀 In my case it’s belly! I mean I wrote a kind of tongue-in-cheek tale in my fat burning cycling plan article about how disciplined we’ve been up until now in GAINING weight (look for the walrus haha). Imagine our task over the last period of time had been to gain weight! Imagine how disciplined and persevering we’ve been. Have you ever eaten when you’re not hungry for example? Have you ever completed your weight GAIN task of eating even when you knew it wasn’t to your benefit? Have you stuck at the task and finished a meal even when you were uncomfortably full? See? That’s determination. Did you every day monitor your weight to see how much you’d gained during that time (before you’d decided to lose)? Or did you just get on with the job of eating? Was there ever a day you missed your overeating task? See how determined you’ve been? Okay, okay, so I’m being facetious, but you get the point. The point is that it took us a while to gain the weight.
In order to have our weight loss plan work for us not against us, we have to align our expectations with the reality. How much weight can you realistically lose per month say? We’re all different, I’m asking rhetorically. But remember here the key word is realistic. As I stated above, with regard to motivation, particularly low motivation, set yourself small goals. If you think you can lose three pounds per week or maybe 12 lbs per month, at a stretch, I’d suggest you don’t stretch it! Halve that target. Make it 1.5 lbs per week or 6 lbs per month. Now did you react well to that suggestion? You gotta be prepared for the long haul. I mean it took disciple to get our weight to here, right? Be realistic. It’s gonna take similar discipline to shift it.
As ever, it’s a question of just doing it. Or not. Up to you as everything always is. All I can say is: Rome wasn’t built in a day. But it did get built. I guarantee you’ll lose the weight you want. And you’ll do it by being disciplined. Sounds no fun, but we got our bikes to help us out! #forreal
Part 4: Are you manifesting weight loss or just weight maintenance?
The simple question here is how do you view yourself as someone trying for weight loss through cycling and other means? Do you see yourself as overweight? Struggling? Trying and failing? Hardly managing? Tired and fed up with the lack of results? Well here’s the thing, if you think that way, that becomes what you are; what you’re embodying.
If you’re into manifesting you’ll know that’s what you’re putting out there into the universe – difficulty losing weight, being overweight and failure! If you’re a person of faith, it’s the equivalent of praying for weight loss but not believing you’ll ever be granted that prayerful request. This isn’t faith. And if you’re none of the above, you’re still setting your mind in a certain pattern of thinking.
Without going too deep into the Five Aspect Model of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which is my daily bread and butter, essentially how we think about a situation (which is predicated on our formative experiences) affects our feelings both about the situation and our selves. That impacts on how we feel physically but also causes us to act or behave in certain ways in order to cope or manage that situation and those feelings.
Is this about positive thinking for weight loss?
Honestly, positive thinking is a way of being that I’d never suggest in counselling. Why? It’s more akin to delusion. I am however a huge advocate of logic and rational, realistic and balanced thinking. And so it goes with weight loss. So how might we more beneficially think about our weight loss? Well, firstly we gotta envision ourselves as happily working towards being our ideal weight. It can take a while to think in those terms, but it’s worth it. Regularly – like EVERY DAY! take a little time in quiet thought (or call it meditation) to picture yourself at your ideal weight. Step into being that person. How do you feel? Hold that thought. Imagine what you do differently, particularly with reference to eating well, eating healthily and happily. Then, open your eyes and simply BE that person day to day.
When things go wrong or get difficult, we gotta gain the grace to accept it as part of the weight loss journey. Have you ever taken any kind of journey? Did every single last thing go to plan on that journey? Unlikely! But you still got where you were going! Same with the weight loss. You’ll get there, Dear Reader!
Ultimately this part concerns how we think about our weight loss journey. Take it with grace. Do your best. Picture yourself as what you want to be. Believe it’ll happen through your patient and disciplined efforts over the longer term. Think of it logically – stick with it and it can’t NOT happen, right? It’s up to you, Dear Reader. This is what I have to tell clients…
This time next year is gonna come around no matter what. It’s your decision where you find yourself when it does 🙂 I know you can do it. Tell yourself every single day, not that it’s gonna happen, but that it IS happening! Believe it and act on that belief as we’ve described above!
And here’s the little accompanying vid, shaky camerawork and all haha…
For what it’s worth, you got my support, Dear Reader. You’ll get there! Do take care out there, go easy on yourself too! So much of this is about developing self compassion. Ride safe meantime, have fun and catch you soon! And kindest, warmest regards to you, Dear Reader, David.