Diet and Exercise–or–How Two Twinkies can Change Your Life.

Fitness can be a bastard. Anybody that’s ever wanted to lose a few pounds–or hell, probably anybody that’s ever had to run a mile in middle school knows how hard it can be to do things under your own power.

I’ve talked about this stuff before, but in this rant, I’m going to talk more specifically about diets–and even MORE specifically about the issues I’ve found with them.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with dieting, in and of itself.  But, like our culture as a whole, there is the tendency to want instant gratification. People see some airbrushed, painted and artificial idiot on TV, looking all “hot,” and they want to do that. Then the commercial ends and they tell you that all you have to do is eat all the iceberg lettuce you want and you’ll lose 65lbs in a month. And, as a special treat, on the Tuesday of every other week, you can put a dash of pepper on it.

Of course it works. Iceberg lettuce has no nutritional value. You’ll lose weight–FAST–but it’ll be miserable. Who on earth wants to inconvenience themselves like that? They work so quickly and are so horribly uncomfortable to deal with that once you complete your month-long iceberg lettuce fast…you get all the weight back, and possibly more.

Crash diets and fad diets have that tendency. Why?

Because they don’t do anything to establish habit up front. They don’t teach you much of anything. And they’re drastic.

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I am leaving all of that typed there, because one of my cats did it while I was out getting a burrito.

So anyway.  Where was I?

Oh yeah. So they teach you little, make drastic claims (which are technically true, but they give you little of the science behind it), and they’re hard to stick to. Then you get your results, and turns out you have to keep it up or all the weight comes back.

That last sentence is my issue with drastic dieting as a weight-loss mechanism. You lose a pound a day. And find out that it’s unsustainable after the fact. Drastic is the operative word there. If you want to eat a little healthier, awesome, I should do that, too. But I’m not gonna go on an iceberg lettuce diet, because after a week, I would be on a pound cake diet and that would be counter productive.

I’m going to try to not get this too jargony, but I have to include a bit.

Maintaining your body is a balancing act between input and output. Input is everything that goes in. Output is everything that comes out. That goes for what you eat, what you drink, what you poop, what you pee, and what you burn through metabolism.

You’ve heard of calories. Some diets have you counting them (I like that approach, but it’s labor-intensive), some streamline them into “points”–you have a certain amount per day, eat whatever you want, just stay within them.

My philosophy is a merging of those two techniques, and I’ll get to that in a bit.

First of all, you’ve heard of calories. And you’ve heard of pounds. Well, like a pound, a calorie is a unit of measure. Really? Yeah. 16 ounces makes a pound. So does 3,500 calories. Really.

So if you have 3,500 calories, you have a pound. I don’t care what it is. Red meat, potatoes, ice cream, sour patch kids. I don’t care. Because a pound is a pound. Less nutritious foods like cake and ice cream will get you that 3,500 calories with fewer nutrients. That’s the catch. Eat a bunch of collard greens and you get a LOT of nutrients with fewer calories.

So you do what you do, and you eat what you eat.

Where you are RIGHT NOW is your starting point.

Try and think about what you’ve eaten for the past few days.

For example: For lunch I had a small bag (one of the 99cent deals) of jalapeno potato chips, a bottle of Honest Tea Honey Green iced tea, and a turkey/avocado panini. Not too healthy, not too unhealthy. Probably heavy on the salt end, maybe erring on the side of too fatty. But I wouldn’t call it gross.  My guess is it was right around 1,000 calories.

For breakfast, I had a muffin and black coffee. The muffin was probably 450 calories of nothing but garbage and sugar, and the coffee was about 9 calories, plus a liiiiittle bit of sugar because it wasn’t actually good coffee so I had to put crap in it to make it taste like it wasn’t crap.

Going by the 2,000 calorie base intake that everyone thinks is universal, it sounds like I’ve almost filled up my day before dinner. But I work with my output instead of my input.

See, I love to eat.

You might be different. You might not have aaaaany issue dieting. Maybe you have dietary restrictions. Maybe you were born with diabetes or have hypoglycemia or celiac’s. Maybe you’re just super into cooking and have no problem getting into a healthier way of doing that.

But I love to eat.

I’m going to eat my muffins. I’m going to eat 13 pounds of burritos in the first half of the month. All of my siblings (and my girlfriend) are born between July and August. We all get individual cakes. And I’m going to eat them all.

I love going to cafes and checking out their breakfast sandwiches.

I also love to bike.

For me, it was slow going. I biked a little. My bike was stolen. I got a new bike. I biked a little. I traded that bike to a friend who needed it. I got a new bike. I loved it. I biked a LOT. Or, I thought I did.

I biked around the city. I even biked to work sometimes. 16 miles! It was a big deal to me.

Then I started thinking about better bikes, and why they’re so expensive. I started wanting to swap out some parts on my bike to make it better. And found out that for the price, I might as well get a new one.

So I did that.

And I loved it. It was completely different from anything I had ever experienced.

And I started biking. A lot. Or what I thought was a lot.


That’s the thing.

I was biking so much that despite my love of food, I started losing weight.

And I was hungry. I ate more. I probably doubled my food intake because I was so hungry.

On my way to work, I would stop and get a muffin. And be starving by the time I got there. And I would eat another. And probably something else before lunch.

See. I was out of shape. This output was so high compared to my normal state of things, that my body needed a lot to sustain it.

After a while, I started wondering about all this crap.

I spent $60 on one of those wrist watches with the bra-strap thing that read out your calories.

Turns out that biking into work I burned 1,000 calories.

That’s why I started eating an extra muffin and the extra “probably something else.” Because my body didn’t wanna give up those calories. I wasn’t conditioned to this. But I was becoming conditioned.

Biking home, I’d burn the same amount. And get just as hungry.

Now it’s a bit different. I don’t need to take a break. I bike faster and tire more slowly. I burn fewer calories (just under 700) doing it because I’m conditioned for it. And, at least for my work commute, I don’t get nearly as hungry. My heart rate doesn’t get nearly as high, either.

I started small. Just puttering around the city.

Then I decided biking to work might not be so unreasonable. It wasn’t until I realized how friggin’ hungry I got that I got interested in my diet. I moderate my diet now, but I’m not “on a diet.” I’ve spent enough time paying attention to my caloric intake vs output that I have an internal gauge of what I’m up to.

But it was gradual. After the heart rate monitor, I got another because I didn’t like the one I had at first. Then I got a new, awesome one for Christmas from my dad. It also tracks your workouts via GPS. I downloaded mapmyride. This does the same thing, only it’s an online interface that also allows you to track calories and stuff.

Small steps. You adjust to a new normal, and you will if you give it time.

But if you go and watch the Tour de France and then think you’re gonna be a cyclist, you might be disappointed. Those are athletes that spend 8-10 hours a DAY on their bike. Every day, while training.

If you’re starting from a base–whatever that is, maybe you’re pretty active, maybe you’ve never run in your life. But all you have to do is a little more.

If you run once a week, run twice a week. If you’ve never run before, go for a walk around the block. And then do it again.

Find something you like, or–even easier–find something that you don’t mind changing.

I told you that a pound is 3,500 calories.

That means that if you find 500 calories in a day that you don’t need to eat, and do that every day, you will lose a pound in a week, changing NOTHING ELSE.

Seriously. It’s simple math. Your body is running on whatever you’re putting into it. That’s your starting point.

If you eat two boxes of twinkies every week, stop eating four cakes. That’s just two packs. Eat the rest of the two boxes, and don’t get the calories elsewhere.

You will lose a pound a week. Not only that, but you can keep eating your twinkie diet.

The calories have to come from somewhere. If you stop eating them, they’re going to be burned from your ass. Because the fat on your body is being saved until it’s needed.

If your body needs it, it will use it.


Going back to my breakfast and lunch. I was at like 1,500 calories for breakfast. But I’ve also worn that calorie counting watch thingie at work, and I burn almost 1,200 calories in a day of work. Also, over the past 7 days, I’ve burned 5,609 calories biking for 8 hours and 13 minutes. So combining work and exercise, I’ve burned approximately 11,609 calories in the past 7 days. More or less. There’s the weekend…but I’m fairly active even when not biking, so my days spent off the bike are likely to burn as much as my days at work.

So I’m at 11,609 calories burned a week just in activity. Then there’s metabolic burn…which is just what your body burns in the process of keeping you alive. I don’t know what that is, but it’s more or less where the 2,000 calorie per day rule of thumb comes from.

Then, one more factor. It’s called afterburn. When you engage in cardiovascular exercise, your heart rate jumps up. This in turn boosts your metabolic rate for a while. So your body, for a while after exercise, will burn calories at a higher rate than when you didn’t exercise. It’s about 200 calories more over the course of something like 14 hours. Not a hell of a lot…but it’s still stuff you wouldn’t burn otherwise, and in my case it adds up to 1,400 more calories weekly.

So now it’s 14,000ish calories weekly that I’m specifically burning, not taking into account metabolic function.

On my bike alone–not taking work and whatnot into consideration, I burned almost 20,000 calories in August. That was actually a pretty light month for me, comparatively, because I had just gotten back from a trip to Kenya and was all discombobulamafied. I’ve already exceeded that for September, and there’s still two weeks left.

This is why I eat everything in front of me. At this point I call it diplomatic immunity.

Small steps.

When you cut your two packs of twinkies, and after a month, you’re down 4lbs…you’ll do what I did. You’ll start wondering what else you can do. Maybe you’ll cut out the rest of that first box! Maybe you’ll only have one pack a week.

But when you see what small steps can do, you’ll see how easy it is to chip away.

For me, I didn’t get into it for weight loss. I didn’t even get into it for fitness.

But I lost 20lbs. After a while, I wanted to keep that weight loss going as long as I could. I thought it was funny that it kept ticking down. That was a side effect, for the most part. As was my heart rate. I’m not gonna get into it, but in general, the slower your heart beats at rest, the more efficient it’s working–more accomplished with less effort, just like my ride into work.

When I started cycling, my heart rate at rest was in the 70s. Let’s say 75–right on the average. Now it goes down to 46 (but it’s usually in the mid-low 50s unless I’m really relaxed). That means my heart isn’t working as hard. That means it’s healthier and isn’t as likely to explode as it used to be. All because I liked my bike.

People would joke that I was fat because of what I ate, and then tell me how awesome I looked when they were being serious. My friends come to me for fitness and nutrition advice now. I started a group that’s attempting to build a community around fitness while making it less intimidating and more accessible. It’s confusing at first. I’m also looking into getting my personal training certification.

And now I have 2 bikes, I just got a third that is kind of a project bike. When I’m done with that project bike, I am going to ride it across the country.

When I first started biking, there was this one hill in Providence that I couldn’t think of riding up. Then I rode up it. Then I rode to work. Now I drive about 50 miles a week while biking the other 150.  Now the next small step is planning to ride across the country.

I tell people that, and they think I’m insane. They think I’m insane for biking to work. Or to school. Or for a few hours on a Sunday. They tell me they don’t know how I can bike through the city…but I’m faster than city traffic now so even for the time factor, driving doesn’t make sense.

But I didn’t start here.

I started because I felt like it one day. And after a while, I noticed a difference, and it was good. So I changed a little bit more.

That’s all I’ve ever done. Small steps. Two twinkies can change your life.

It isn’t about what everyone else can do. It’s about what you can do, where you are RIGHT NOW. Because that’s where you are. And who cares? You’re not gonna “lose” if you can’t run a mile in 7 minutes. I’m not gonna “lose” if I have to walk my bike up Plain Meeting House Road. But anything MORE that you do, is more. It doesn’t have to be a lot. It just has to be something.

And go from there.


About Pedal Powered Anthropology

I have a degree in anthropology from Rhode Island College. My focus was in biological anthropology but I also have a broad interest in cultural anthropology, archaeology and linguistic anthropology. This blog is intended to be for the development of my own positions and ideas, mostly regarding paleoanthropology and paleontology in general, with a heaping helping of evolution on top...but also includes bits about a lot of different aspects of culture, primarily race, gender, privilege, the environment and my own personal relationship with anxiety.

Posted on 09/18/2013, in Health, fitness and athleticism. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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