Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Losing Lance Week 1 Update

The first week started with a stumble. I only lost 1 pound. More importantly, the week led to some learning about creating a caloric deficit, and Resting Metabolic Rates and some modification of my food plan. This post is a bit on the geeky side, but if you've ever struggled with losing weight, it might help you explain how it is that you cut calories and you exercise and the pounds don't go away quickly enough.

I've always operated under the simple assumption that to lose weight there was a simple formula: calories out must be greater than calories in. My daily calorie intake target for week one was around 2400 calories. With the exception of Friday and Saturday, I pretty much stayed with it. Here's my chart for the week.

Losing Lance wk 1 Chart.jpg

The interesting line here is the green line. It shows how many "net calories" I took in per day. 2400 was the goal. The days that were low net calorie days were days in which I did some sort of workout, like a bike ride where I burned in excess of 1,000 calories. So that If I ate 2400 calories, but I burned 1500 calories on a ride, my net calories for the day were 900. The chart clearly shows that on the days after a low net calorie number, you see a drop in weight. June 22 reflects the exercise of June 21. As my net calories see-sawed, so did my weight for the week. The anomaly is on Friday 25, where my food log doesn't really reflect what happened. It was a party celebrating my goddaughter's graduation, where too much of the wrong food was had.

Now what?

So, while I'm down 1 pound from the high of 330, the week was essentially a wash. However, I decided to do some research. It turns out that the formula of burn more calories than you take in to lose weight, is very incomplete. The chart above shows that. The beter question is: How many more calories do I need to burn than I take in to lose the weight I want to lose? That question led me to more questions.

  • How many calories can I take in and not gain any weight?
  • How many calories does one need to burn to lose 1 pound of body fat?
  • How many calories must I burn in order to lose my goal of between 2 and 3 pounds per week?
This is where the geeky part starts.

Resting Metabolic Rate

It turns out that the answer to the first question "How many calories can I take in without gaining weight" is really complicated. The answer depends on your height, weight, age and the daily activity that you do. My activity varies widely on a day to day basis. So I found a a way to "ballpark" it. I used something called a Resting Metabolic Rate Calculator (RMR).

The Resting Metabolic Rate measures the amount of calories you burn by simply sitting on your butt all day long doing nothing. Turns out that my RMR is 2,383 calories. Adjusted for a fairly sedentary day to day existence (teaching, driving, sitting in meetings) my RMR increases to 2,860 calories. This is this amount of calories, according to this ballpark estimate, that I could consume per day and pretty much not gain any more weight.

Clearly to lose weight, I need to either take in fewer than 2860 or burn additional calories than the 2860 that it takes to make it through the day. I need to create some sort of calorie deficit. The obvious next question is: how large of a calorie deficit do I need to create to lose Lance?

My calorie deficit goal

To answer that question I needed to know how many calories it takes to burn off 1 pound of body fat? A quick google search gave me the answer: 3500 calories. This was a surprise, for some unknown reason, the number that was in my head was 1,000 calories. I was way off. What this means is that in order to lose 1 pound per week I would need to either lower my caloric intake by 3500 calories per week or take in no more than my RMR calories per day and burn 3500 additional calories through exercise. The healthiest way is some combination of taking in fewer calories and burning more calories.

Given my goal of 2 to 3 calories per week. I need to create a deficit of between 7,000 to 10,500 calories per week. This translates into a daily calorie deficit of between 1,000 and 1500 calories.

The Plan for the next few weeks

I'm going to try a new calorie intake goal of about 2,250 calories. If you go too low, your body adjusts by lowering it's metabolism and then not letting go of fat stores. This new goal creates a deficit of around 600 calories per day. That's the dietary modification portion. The additional 400 to 900 calories need to come from additional exercise.

The challenge for weeks 2 and 3 is that I'm flying to New Orleans for the NEA-Representative Assembly. This translates into a lot of sitting and a lot of good food. And while I don't intend to deprive myself of the bounties of the Big Easy, the hotel does have a gym and I have at least one gym buddy there. I will continue to track all of this stuff, but I probably won't have an update until I return. That's it for now, in the meantime...

Ride on!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Dropping Lance in Stages

As Operation Losing Lance approaches the end of it’s first week, I want to share my approach to dropping a 7 time Tour de France winner from my body. If I sit here and ponder the loss of 156 lbs., The goal seems too big, I mean it’s enormous! I kinda want to go buy a huge bag of potato chips and cry. That would only make things worse, so I’ve broken down the goal into manageable chunks.

It’s a Grand Tour!

Pro bike races fall generally into three categories. One day classics, as the name implies, these races happen in a single day, Paris-Roubaix for example. These races are tough and usually present some unique challenge, whether it’s cobble stones, epic climbs or a very long distance. Another is a stage race. These are usually 5 - 7 day stage races. Think of the Tour of California. Some days are relatively easy, some days are very hilly and there is usually a day for the all out time trial effort. The third type is the Grand Tour. Think Tour de France. A 3 week long stage race where what matters most is endurance, your ability to recover, and a lot of strategy taking into consideration your strengths, weaknesses and the team that surrounds you. Operation Losing Lance is definitely a Grand Tour. It’s going to be long and endurance will be key. I know I’ll make mistakes. The key is to minimize them and recover.

So what’s the strategy going in? In order to make the ultimate goal of dropping 156 lbs. manageable, I’ve broken down the “race” into manageable 10% weight loss stages. In other words, starting at 330 lbs. the first stage will be completed when I drop 10% or 33 lbs. At this point I will weight 297 lbs. Stage 2 will be achieved when I lose 10% of that or 30 lbs (OK, 29.7 but I’m rounding up). You get the picture.

If you’ve ever tried to lose weight you know that the first few pounds are somewhat easy to lose, you make a few changes, burn a few extra calories, and bam! The pounds come off. As you move along further, it gets harder. Chunking the overall goal into 10% stages presents a nice solution. I get to reach interim goals and celebrate progress each time having to lose fewer pounds. And I get to make changes to eating and exercise strategies for each stage. I’ve laid out my stages in the chart below:


10% weight loss

Weight goal for stage

Stage 1



Stage 2



Stage 3



Stage 4



Stage 5



Stage 6



l'm thinking that each stage will be marked in some way. Just like at the end of each stage there is a podium ceremony. Details to come, but I'm pretty sure Stage 6 will be celebrated with a nice new expensive carbon fiber bike of some sort like a Specialized Roubaix, but I haven't given it much thought.

How long is this going to take?

Most doctors and diet programs say that losing 1 to 2 pounds per week is the safest way to lose weight. My goal is an average of 2 to 3 pounds per week. So, if I’m dropping Lance (156.5 lbs) at 3 lbs. per week, it would take me roughly 52 weeks. At 2 lbs per week it’s a little over a year and a half. In a perfect world, that's my range. However, I know there will be plateaus and perhaps weeks when weight gain will happen. So I’m giving myself a range of 12 to 20 months.

I know this seems like a very long time to be “on a diet.” But as I said in my first post, diets don’t work. I’m not on a diet. I’m not doing anything drastic (in my own estimation) like a liquid diet, or a protein only diet or some sort of surgery. Those methods offer some great advantages, but also big disadvantages. And while they work for many, I don't think they are for me. I'm looking for a lifetime lifestyle change. Much like I did 9 years ago when I became a vegetarian, ok, technically a "pescaterian." This is about improving my own health. I'm following a middle path. Moderation as opposed to deprivation. My goal is to lose Lance, but more than that, to make the necessary changes in my life, so I never find him again. If this means it might take longer to drop him, so be it.

Saturday will mark the end of week 1. I’ll be posting a progress update probably on Sunday, since Molly and I will be on the road to Arizona on Saturday.

Ride On!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Operation Losing Lance begins!

Every once in a while life brings us a rare moment of clarity. A moment when you actually see things as they are and not as you wish them to be, or through the filter of your ego’s denial. Buddhist monks call this clarity, when it's a permanent condition, enlightenment. Most of us are lucky to get mere glimpses of raw truth. I know I’m waxing philosophical in what is essentially a cycling blog, indulge me a bit.

Shedding Light

A few weeks ago I caught a glimpse of this type of unvarnished reality, unfortunately the glimpse came via my bathroom mirror. The one I always avoid looking at. Those of you who struggle with weight know exactly what I mean. We get really good at avoiding mirrors and reflections of ourselves. That glimpse however came in a moment of careless absentmindedness. I had no time to mentally prepare, which meant that with no filters and no softeners, I saw myself. I had no time for a forgiving “it’s not so bad” or the optimist “It could be worse” or the existential “you just have to be comfortable with yourself.” There was none of that. It was a basic simple stark truth: “Oh crap, you’re fu#@ing fat man! What the hell have you done to yourself?” It’s not like I was deluded before and all of a sudden I saw the light. I mean, I’ve known for a long time I’m dangerously overweight, but in that little unhindered peek at my self, it all came together as one huge reality lightning bolt.

In that instant, random facts such as my actual weight, the size of my pants, the feeling of discomfort in my own skin, the lack of energy to hop on my bike which I love to do and the troubling thought that if I didn’t want to see myself in the buff, why would anybody else? All of these independent thoughts and many more that are easily dismissed when dealt with one at a time, became impossible to deny in that one instant when they all came together.

I’ve wrestled with being overweight all of my adult life. The last time I weighed below 200 lbs. was December 1987. That year I had lost about 60 lbs. going from around 240 to the low 180s in preparation for my wedding in December of that year. Since then I've steadily gained weight. There have been some ups and some downs but mostly it's been an upward trend: weight gain leading to plateau, leading to an effort to lose, small loss then up more than before. Repeat. A familiar pattern for most of us dealing with weight issues. All of this begs the question...What now?

Step 1: See the Problem for what it is.

The first part of solving a problem or reaching a goal is looking at the current situation as clearly as possible. A couple of weeks ago, when the lightning bolt struck, the first thing I did was to step on the scale: it read 330. The suspicion that I was at my highest weight ever was confirmed. And while I’ve never been this public with my weight, it’s important to call a spade a spade.

In an effort to find my ideal weight I looked for a BMI (Body Mass Index) table. I knew I was in trouble when I couldn’t readily find a chart that listed 330 lbs. I’m off the chart. I finally found a chart that listed my weight. At 5’10” and 330 lbs. my BMI is 47. Obese. I know, big duh!

Having established the current condition, I looked for what would put me in the “normal” range. According to the BMI table the highest I could weigh and be in the normal range would be 173 lbs. Setting aside whether this is a realistic goal for someone that doesn’t even remember ever weighing below 180, the chart was telling me that I had to loose 157 lbs.

Operation Losing Lance

As I wrestled with the hard cold numbers I was reminded of an event a couple of years ago after the Rosarito-Ensenada Bike ride. It’s a 50 mile ride with a pretty tough hill right in the middle of it. The tough climb is known to locals as “El Tigre.” At a family get together my oldest brother asked me how I had gotten over the climb. I remember telling him jokingly that it was difficult, because for me it’s like two guys on the bike and only one is doing the work. Those words have been constantly buffeting me over the last two weeks. Needing to lose 157 lbs. made them real.

Out of curiosity I checked some websites looking for weights of some of my favorite pro cyclists. It didn’t take me long to find how accurate I had been when joking with my brother.

Lance Armstrong.jpg

Lance Armstrong is listed on Team Radio Schack’s website as weighing 156.5 lbs.

Thor Hushovd crop.jpg

I looked up “The Big Man,” Thor Hushovd, on the Cervelo Test Team, and the big guy comes in at 183 lbs., if my conversion of 83 kg is correct. Those two riders combined weigh 339 lbs. Just 9 lbs. more than myself. I’m also sure that in the middle of a Grand Tour like the Tour de France, by week 3 they weigh less than I do.

Thus, Operation Losing Lance was born. I need to lose a full Lance Armstrong to get within the border of a normal BMI range. My 330 lbs. minus Lance’s 156.5 lbs. gets me to 173.5 lbs. Right on the border of a normal BMI

I don’t know if this is a realistic goal or not. I will consult with my doctor along the way. What I do know, is that If losing a full Lance isn’t realistic, I do have to shed a pretty large portion of him.

The Basic Plan

I’m not approaching this without a plan. A lifetime of struggling with weight has taught me a lot about what doesn’t work. For this task I know that nibbling around the edges definitely won’t work. I have a plan which I will share in the coming days, but I’ll outline some of the basic points here:

  1. See the Problem for what it is. I’ve shared that process above.
  2. Diets don’t work, a lifestyle change is absolutely necessary in regards to food and how I relate to it.
  3. Keeping a food journal is critical.
  4. Exercise is key. While I love cycling and it will be a big part of the plan, I need to do more than that. I’ve already started that, more to come on this.
  5. Accountability and support. Between the time I was working with Coach Sean on my cycling, and working with my current trainer at the gym, I know that accountability is important for me to be successful. Which is why I’m being so public with this process. Not that I expect you to “take me to task,” although I’m certain some of my friends will, I’m hoping that by putting it “out there” I feel an added sense of responsibility to follow through.
  6. Make this the number 1 priority. I can't give the best of me, either to my students, or in service to colleagues or to Molly, who puts up with me on a daily basis, if I'm not at my best.

Ok, this is enough for today. There will be more to come in the upcoming days and weeks. I hope you'll join me on my journey. For now...

Ride on!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Roberto's Granola Bars

I posted on facebook a couple of days ago that I had made my home made granola bars, and a couple of people asked for the recipe. I suspect it was jokingly, but here it is. I confess that I got this a few years ago off of the Food Network website after seeing Alton Brown make them on "Good Eats." The recipe calls for dried fruit. I use a combination of blueberries and cranberries. One last tip, when you put the mixture in the baking dish, really press down as much as you can, otherwise when you cut into them the squares break appart fairly easily. Enjoy!

Embedded Recipe Image (Unsupported on IE 7 and earlier)
Granola Bars

Home made granola bars


  1. 8 ounces old-fashioned rolled oats, approximately 2 cups
  2. 1 1/2 ounces raw sunflower seeds, approximately 1/2 cup
  3. 3 ounces sliced almonds, approximately 1 cup
  4. 1 1/2 ounces wheat germ, approximately 1/2 cup
  5. 6 ounces honey, approximately 1/2 cup
  6. 1 3/4 ounces dark brown sugar, approximately 1/4 cup packed
  7. 1-ounce unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
  8. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  9. 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  10. 6 1/2 ounces chopped dried fruit, any combination of apricots, cherries or blueberries


  1. Butter a 9 by 9-inch glass baking dish and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Spread the oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, and wheat germ onto a half-sheet pan.Place in the oven and toast for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. In the meantime, combine the honey, brown sugar, butter, extract and salt in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat.
  4. Cook until the brown sugar has completely dissolved.Once the oat mixture is done, remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees F.
  5. Immediately add the oat mixture to the liquid mixture, add the dried fruit, and stir to combine.
  6. Turn mixture out into the prepared baking dish and press down, evenly distributing the mixture in the dish and place in the oven to bake for 25 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container for up to a week.
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I get about 9 squares out of each pan.

The nutritional value per square is:

Calories: 354
Calories from fat: 98
Total Fat: 11g
Total Carbohydrates: 53g
Fiber 4.5g
Sugars 31g
Protein 9g

Play with it to your liking. Good source of energy before a ride!

Ride on!