By Seth Davidson
“How would I ride if I lost 25 pounds?”
Every cyclist has wondered what it would be like to shed massive weight and dramatically reduce body fat.
“Would I climb that much better?”
“Would it make me that much faster?”
“Would it be worth it?”
“Is it even possible?”
“Why am I so fucked up?”
Wankmeister drinks the Kook-Aid so you don’t have to
There is a long story about how I fell into the black pit of the Hunger Diet, but it’s not worth telling other than to say that a big belly and some unflattering race day photography led me to diet.
At first it was simply to reduce the belly roll’s jelly roll. Gradually the diet took on a darker, more morbid aspect, as it became dieting for the sake of dieting. Having numerous educated, experienced people caution me against my methods only spurred me on.
At 146 pounds I’ve almost reached my “goal,” not that I ever had one. My beginning weight was 167-170; guesstimated body fat was 25%. I’m now down to 12.2%, maybe 11%.
At 6 feet, 1/8 inch, this has been a dramatic loss of weight. If you’re considering something similar, I can’t advise you either way, except to say that only the somewhat unhinged have even a remote chance of “success” if you define success as being profoundly unhappy. Likewise, I can’t say how this will affect your cycling, though I can say how it has affected mine.
The bulk of the Hunger Diet consists in being hungry. Not, “Hey, honey, I’m hungry. Let’s grab a bite,” but more like “I will fucking kill anyone who obstructs me from licking these three tiny pieces of dried oatmeal stuck to the pan.”
It is like doing the hardest interval of your life, and each time you look up someone screams in your ear, “You’ve got another hour to go or we will tear your nuts off!”
This interval of hell continues as long as the diet continues, except for brief rest periods called “eating.” As soon as the eating stops, however, the hunger interval picks up where it left off. So it will suck to be you.
This type of diet can’t be healthy. I don’t know how it’s unhealthy, exactly, but you can look at my food log where I’ve blogged my daily eating plans and decide for yourself which aspects of my physiology I’m wrecking forever.
Aside from being unpleasant and unhealthy, people will treat you like you are a total pariah, even more than they already do, I mean. As a cyclist you’re ten times trimmer and fitter than the other slugs in your office, and they secretly envy you and may even openly make fun of you when you prance around in your tighties.
Once you let them know you’re on the Hunger Diet, and you actually start doing it, they will fear you and hate you and despise you and envy you, all at the same time. This will manifest itself in countless disparaging comments.
“You don’t need to go on a diet! You’re too skinny already!”
“Being too thin is very, very unhealthy!”
“You’re going to lose all your muscle, which is metabolically active!”
“You look like a cadaver.”
“I like my [men/women] with meat on their bones.”
“Is that your lunch? I could NEVER eat that.”
“I hate [tofu/canned tuna/yogurt/fruit/nuts/anything that's not soaked in lard and deep fried]. How can you stand to eat that?”
“Life’s too short to diet.”
“You’ll gain it all back.”
“How’d you like some of THIS?” [Holds a chocolate Hag bar in front of your nose, makes disgusting smacking sound.]
“It ruins the pleasure of food to count the calories in it.”
“Science doesn’t have all the answers.”
“You work out too much as it is.”
“It’s important to eat some fat.”
The list of demeaning and unsupportive comments is endless and can’t be combated. Just agree with them and go about your business. They’re pretty much right, anyway.
Massive weight loss and cycling
The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that I’m…lighter. Even going slow, or bonked, or completely flailing off the back there’s no sense of sluggishness. My legs turn around a thousand times easier, it seems. If this is what PED’s feel like, no wonder people take them.
I’m not any faster or stronger, at least according to the Strava times of the routes I normally ride. On the other hand, I’m completely focused on losing weight rather than putting in big efforts, so it’s possible that I will ride faster. It’s also possible that I’ll become a unicorn.
Although superficially I seem to be slower and weaker, it’s balanced by having lost all endurance such that I want to get off my bike and sob after about thirty minutes. So there’s that.
With regard to vanished endurance, when your body is in constant shrinkage mode, all of the reserves are gone. You know that funny burst of power and euphoria that comes right before a massive bonk? I get them all the time now…along with the bonking. In the chubby days, bonks used to send the pre-bonk notification via bonded messenger, “Excuse me, Mr. Davidson, our blood sugar center has indicated that recent withdrawals have exceeded deposits, and barring a reasonable infusion of sugary glop in the reasonably near future, the bonk that has been shipped out will be arriving in approximately ten minutes.”
Now it’s a little bit different. The delivery dude hasn’t shaved in two weeks and just barges in without even ringing. “Yo, fucker. Bonk here. Enjoy.” Then wham, just like that.
The plus side to riding while completely bonked is that it forces your body to consume gristle, bone, heart fiber, and brain matter, which further reduces weight and impairs your ability to force yourself to stop losing weight.
As quickly and viciously and unexpectedly as the bonking happens, recovery is ten times quicker than it used to be. This is the one thing I didn’t expect and that I truly love. Recovery. No matter how hard I go or how deeply I bonk, I am completely recovered in minutes. “Recovered” as in “ready to go again at 100 percent.”
In the old days there would be a hard effort followed by a big message posted over the windows, which had been boarded up with enormous cedar timbers: “Closed for business until further notice.”
Further notice was usually Thursday.
Now, on the Hunger Diet, it’s like you’ve got a team of professional fluffers at the ready. “2000-watt effort? Oh, noes! Don’t worry! Come on, boys…fluff!” Then there you are hard as porcelain and ready to go again. I’m talking about cycling, by the way. The other area, with all the starvation and deprivation is, ah, shall we say, sadly underperforming.
More incredibly, on days where I do the NPR and then have to commute home at night, I used to be a dead man pedaling during the end-of-day commute. No more. The morning beatdown, no matter how vicious, leaves no imprint on my legs by five or six in the evening.
This feeling alone has made the whole ordeal worthwhile, that and the sensation of turning weightless legs. My cycling hasn’t improved in a competitive or performance sense, but it is worlds easier as an activity. No idea why this is so, but for me it is.
Postscript (Or: Why the experts are experts)
Yesterday I awoke with a new morning weight low of 145.5 and a massive stomach ache but nevertheless went on a fool’s errand. It was raining and cold and the NPR was going off on schedule, so I dutifully rode over to the 6:40 AM start at Manhattan Beach Pier to see how my new wonder weight would fare under the pressure of a full-on effort.
It fared worse than badly.
I stopped at the end of the alleyway to take off some gear and would have never caught back on had Jonathan Paris not waited for me. The group was driven by Stathis the Wily Greek, and without ever taking a pull I thought my legs were going to fall off. That effort alone, on a flat stretch of road sitting on a wheel, was all I could muster.
It went downhill from there.
The entire ride was an exercise in no power, no endurance, constant muscular pain, and a stomach cramp worse than any menstrual period I’ve ever suffered through. Frozen and shattered at ride’s end I sat in the Kettle Restaurant back at the Center of the Known Universe and tried to atone for my sins with a massive breakfast of grease, huevos rancheros, grease, beans, and potatoes topped with grease.
This wise dietary choice got me as far as the office, where I showered, changed, and drove home, doubled over in pain. Six hours of sleep, and constant food throughout the day revived me (somewhat) so that I was able to drive back to the office, do some work, and ride back home in the rain in time for dinner, where I ate more food, completely abandoning all pretense of diet.
I went to bed at 7:30 and awoke at the point of 4:00 AM again, ravenous. Morning weigh-in confirmed the damage…149 pounds, a 3.5 gain in 24 hours.
The motivation to return to the Hunger Diet hasn’t abated one whit, though. One carefully measured 1/4 cup of oatmeal and some raisins later, I’m raring to hit the gym and convert more of those brain, heart, and liver cells into muscle.