Monday, August 1, 2011

What am I supposed to eat?

I'll be flat out honest with you: I've been struggling with my weight since I was 12 years old. I was a skinny kid up until 6th grade. My dad was worried I wasn't going to grow muscle. And then I just exploded. I easily put on 20lbs of blubber for no discernible reason within a few short months. None of my old clothes fit around me.

I'm 35 today. My weight has been a roller coaster. I constantly think about the weight coming back. I get on the scale every morning.

During my teens and 20s, I found cycling to be a fun way to keep the weight off and "not worry" about what I ate. But I've always had a layer of fat on me. Still do, in fact.

All that changed when Sony dropped the Playstation. That thing was addictive. Night and day, the playstation was on. I was either fighting or racing. And my clothes got tighter.

Unlike my super-awkward 6th grade self, my somewhat awkward grown-up self can identify what went wrong this time: my steady diet of Mt. Dew, onion rings and Runzas. (There was a Runza across the street from my old apartment.) Every so often I would pay my body a little respect with a salad. Or potato chips. Heck, I might go to Subway for lunch. Seemed to work for that Jared guy.

Oh yeah, and LaBamba Burritos. "Burritos as Big as Your Head!". Oh SNAP those were good.

Needless to say, I abused my body's ability to properly burn fuel. I topped out at 262.8lbs. That's what I weighed at my first Weight Watcher's meeting back in 2002. 4 years later I was down to just a hair under 182lbs. It's been five and a half years since my last WW meeting, and I've been fluctuating between 181 and 205lbs since. (I have had a couple mornings below 180, but those were due to dehydration.)

I stopped going to the meetings because I wasn't making weight progress and I was chronically hungry. I was tired. I was crabby. I started smoking cigarettes again. I would wake up in the middle of the night and think about eating food. I craved apple fritters.

The only way to shut off the late night cravings was to eat something, and the only thing in the cupboards that seemed like it might be tasty was peanut butter. I would eat it straight out of the jar. I would fall asleep fast after that. And then the next day I would have to make an adjustment because, "OMG I ATE 8 POINTS WORTH OF PEANUT BUTTER LAST NIGHT!!!"

Some days I just didn't care. I'd go to Runza and kick it old school with a gigantic Mt. Dew, Large Onion Rings and double cheeseburger, because fuck it: I'm not getting anywhere anyways.

Needless to say, the cycle got vicious.

Note: I'm not disparaging Weight Watchers. Frankly, the plan saved my life. It got me away from the ledge. But something wasn't clicking for me as I was reducing the number of "points" I consumed.

Points are a proprietary system developed by Weight Watchers. It's ever-changing, but the gist of it is that all foods have a point value, the low-fat and/or high-fiber foods have a lower point value, so you're encouraged to eat more of them in a given day. It's a simplified method of "conventional dieting". It works for a lot of people.

One can also earn points through exercise based on time, body weight and exercise intensity. A half hour to an hour on the bike would yield me 2-6 points, depending on the intensity and duration. Heck, Mowing the lawn was 3 points. A bottle of beer was 3 points. Coincidence? I say not!

So, to maximize my food volume while keeping a small points footprint, a typical meal could include burritos made with fat free refried beans on a fat free whole wheat tortilla made with 93% lean ground turkey and reduced fat cheddar cheese. Another evening would include boneless/skinless chicken with a side of brown rice, steamed veggies and some reduced fat cheddar cheese melted over the top of the rice for some flavor.

(Sure, I would spend fewer "Points" by eating fat free cheddar, but that lasted a day: fat free cheddar doesn't melt. It scorches. On the other hand, I willingly indulged in fat-free mozzarella, because it melted. Looking back, I must have rocks for brains: fat free mozzarella should not melt, but it contains a collection of chemicals to ensure it does. And I ate it.)

There were some nights when I muttered "J.F.C., not this shit again" to myself when I sat down to eat.

Activity became a means to an end. A ride from the South Walmart (still under construction during those days) to Palmyra and back was about an hour and 15 minutes and meant ice cream or pizza while staying "on plan".

Not that it mattered. I wasn't getting anywhere during those last two months. I still had a layer of fat on me. I was 14lbs away from goal. And I was hungry all the time.


Last year I picked up Joe Friel's Cyclist's Training Bible. Chapter 16 is entitled "Fuel". There's a subheader called "Carbohydrates". Page 251 includes these two paragraphs:

When you eat a high-carbohydrate meal or snack, the pancreas releases insulin to regulate the level of blood sugar. That insulin stays in the blood for up to two hours, during which time it has other effects, such as preventing the body from utilizing stored fat, converting carbohydrates and protein to body fat, and moving fat in the blood to storage sites. This may explain why, despite serious training and eating a "healthy" diet, some athletes are unable to lose body fat.


Notice in Table 16.2 that many of the foods that have a moderate to high glycemic index are the ones we have typically thought of as "healthy" and therefore eaten liberally. These include starchy foods such as cereal, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, crackers, bagels, pancakes, and bananas. No wonder so many endurance athletes are always hungry and have a hard time losing excess body fat.

If there's too many words quoted, then perhaps this humorous video clip from Tom Naughton's 2009 Documentary "Fat Head" can hold your attention, it says roughly the same thing:

This resonates with my "dieting" experience like a gong: my weight problem isn't how much, it's what and why.

While I still have trouble avoiding carbohydrate temptation (downfalls include pancakes or Mt. Dew Throwback, this list is woefully incomplete I might add), I try to avoid consuming them on "light activity" days.  And some days it is really trying...

And just between you, me, and the rest of the blogosphere: when I eat a low carb meal before a ride (bacon cheese burger or a three-egg omelette with a side of bacon, or just bacon), I feel like I've been using some performance enhancing drug. It takes longer to "bonk", despite riding at higher intensities than I could after fueling with pancakes or pop-tarts.

Perhaps it's just a placebo effect, but I can't help but think the reduction in insulin lets the fat out of the bags and the glycogen out of the liver, availing it for Super High Intensity Training.

If you've never had a weight issue, chances are you probably think I'm off my rocker. That's okay.  I think what I'm experiencing is what reasonably fit folks refer to as "normal".

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