Peddle the Pounds

Copyright ©2005 by John Mertus

All Rights Reserved

 

 

Carefully the attorney sets down a triple venti skim latte onto his mahogany desk; its cinnamon tang still on his lips.  "Another Monday, another pile of patents."  He picks up an overstuffed envelope with one hand, a gold letter opener with the other, and mechanically slits the manila wrapper.

 

Before the caffeine molecules even stir his brain, he stamps unapproved on the cover page.  Despite meticulous computer drawn diagrams of micro-gears and explanations about zero-point quantum fluctuations, the invention was just one more perpetual motion machine.   Such machines violate the most famous of all energy laws: you cannot get out more than you put in.

 

Losing weight is subject to exactly the same cold energy balance.  No matter how loud the TV announcer shouts his miracle diet, no matter what chrome-plated gewgaw the red spandex clad model demos, in order to free yourself of fat, you must expend more calories than you take in.   Except for cutting off a portion of your anatomy, and, personally, I happen to be fond of all my body parts, there is no other way.

 

This energy equation is simple, for each 3,500 calories you burn more than you ingest, you will lose about a pound.   Alas, the equation is not a blueprint of the optimal way to lose weight.  Is it better to eat less or exercise more? 

 

The problem is that trickster Murphy.  You know him.  He is the one who stabs with "if anything can go wrong, it will," and then twists the knife, by adding "and at the worst possible time. "   This Loki's dieting maxim is "Food has more calories when on a diet than when off."

 

Although Murphy's laws are not authentic laws of physics akin to the ones that prohibit PM machines, they often have a basis in psychology, thermodynamics or physiology.  Is there a truth in Murphy's dieting law?

 

Autumn in New England ignites our forested hills into a million flames of red and gold; leaf peepers drive hundreds of miles to worship at these magnificent pyres.  A maple tree has no brain; unlike us, it cannot read a calendar or listen to Fox News to learn winter is coming.  The maple evolved a complex response to shorter days and colder nights, and thus knows when it is time to suck the last nutrients from its leaves.

 

Throughout recent human evolution, we faced times where food was scarce and remained scarce for weeks or months.  To survive, our ancestors responded to a slight decrease in food by lowering what we now call the Basal Metabolic Rate.  BMR is a measure of how much energy our bodies use for the necessities of life, to keep our blood flowing, our lungs breathing and our eyes glued to “The Simpsons” reruns.   In moderately active people, the resting BMR burns between one half and two thirds of the calories needed in a day.  When we start to diet, like a maple tree shedding its leaves, our body instinctually responds by lowering our resting BMR.  This is the core of Murphy’s quip.

 

The BMR reduction is not just a bit of humorous curiosity.  When I decided to lose the weight gained from a herniated disk, I recorded my intake at about 2800 calories per day.  Just about right for my 6’ 2’, 200 lb mid-fifties frame.  My goal was to return to 185 lbs.  For breakfast, I meticulously measured 1 cup of Cheerios, a half-cup of skim milk, and a half-cup of fruit.  I packed my lunch, and totaled up the 70 calories for each slice of bread, 150 for ham and cheese; the mustard was free.  I used lots of mustard.  I reduced my intake about 500 calories per day.

 

Two weeks later, hungry as a bear after hibernation, I stood on the scale.  I had lost not two pounds, as the energy equation predicts, I lost, well, if I closed one eye, squinted with the other, and twisted just right, I lost about the width of the scale needle.  That was my introduction to Murphy and I badly wanted vengeance.  I retaliated with my bicycle.  

 

The resting BMR increases with physical activity.  With daily exercise, even when the heart has slowed back to normal, the resting BMR remains high.  Commuting by bicycle is an ideal way to impose daily exercise.  Also, if you ride in, no matter how tired you might be at night, you must ride back home.   It is the recurrent activity, more than the intensity, which maintains the BMR.

 

After a few weeks of daily commuting, if you miss a ride, your will discover your body craves exercise.  Burning calories now becomes a self-motivating activity.  Rarely in life do we find such a marvelous win-win situation where you also screw the city out of parking fines.

 

Lots of web sites allow you to calculate the calories burned when cycling, but hills, wind speed, and tire inflation affect the actual rate.  Take all the calculators with a grain of salt.

 

For my moderate speed commutes, I use a simple calculation: CM*Miles, where CM is equal to .25 * Weight in Pounds.   For me, CM works to about 50 calories/mile [2].   Although not perfect, this formula gives a reasonable approximation of how many miles to ride in order to burn off that glazed Krispie Kreme donut Store 24 forced me to buy when I stopped for a bottle of Polar Spring Lime Seltzer.

 

One day you step on the scale and find you are two pounds lighter.  You’re feelin’ good.  The next day, you eat less and find you have gained a pound.  Weigh yourself every day and you will find your weight fluctuates.   Most of this is just the loss or gain of water.  On a hot day, I will sweat out five pounds playing basketball.  Drink one 16 oz diet coke and you are one pound heavier.  This is not the weight loss you should be striving for because it has no effect on long-term health or body tone.  Water debit is the miracle weight loss program as seen on TV.

 

It is Monday morning.  “Why,” you wonder, “did I stay up so late just to watch Buckner Ball?   Fool me once, shame on you, Fool me twice and it must be late September and I’m a Sox fan. ”   Even a shower and a frappucino do not remove the lead in your legs.  The decision looms, bike or car? 

 

You might feel you will not get much out of a sluggish commute; but surprisingly, the number of calories burned in a leisurely ride and the number of calories burned in a hard ride over the same distance is not that much different.

 

For example, a commute at 12 mph will burn about 20% less calories then the same commute at 17 mph[1].  The fewer calories per minute in a slow ride are counterbalanced by the longer ride time.  You just suffer longer by riding slowly.

 

Take two full 2-liter bottles of soda.  Hold one in each hand and step on a scale. Feel how heavy and bulky they are.  Now put down the soda.  The scale will read about eight pounds less.  Since fat floats in water, in order to lose a mere eight pounds of fat, you must remove at least same volume from your body.  It is hard to even imagine where that fat could fit.  We set goals that seem easy, 10 pounds, but that represents a significant amount of body fat, about 6 quarts!   No wonder it is hard to thin down.

 

There are excellent sites on the web about dieting and I suggest you explore this wealth of information to find how to reduce calories that best suits you.  Many people substitute high protein foods for carbohydrates.  Others eat exactly the same thing every day.  I find portion control most effective.  No matter how you reduce calories increase your daily exercise.  It does not have to be Lance Armstrong racing to be useful; moderate bike riding every day is enough.

 

The ancient art of Jujutsu teaches to work with and not against ones opponent. Weight loss conflicts with our very nature; don’t fight with diet only.  Daily peddle to work and you can empty those 2-liter fat bottles hanging from your stomach and hips.

 

 

  John Mertus

  September, 2004

  Rumford, Rhode Island

 

 

References:

 

A Basal Metabolism Calculator can be found at http://www.room42.com/nutrition/basal.shtml.  Compute the Resting BMR by choosing couch potato.

 

An activity calculator can be found at http://www.efit.com/calculators/calorie.jsp

 

A Body Mass Indicator can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/calc-bmi.htm

 

Remember, all are just estimates!

 

For a more scientific assessment about exercise and weight loss, see

 

[3]Dahlkoetter J, Callahan EJ, Linton J: Obesity and the unbalanced energy equation: exercise versus eating habit change. J Consult Clin Psychol 1979;47(5):898-905

 

 

 

[2]How I computed CM

 

The following table appears Bicycling, May 1989 for flat road with no wind, riding upright.

 

Speed (mph)

12

14

15

16

17

18

19

Rider Weight

Calories/Hr

 

 

 

 

 

110

293

348

404

448

509

586

662

120

315

375

437

484

550

634

718

130

338

402

469

521

592

683

773

140

360

430

502

557

633

731

828

150

383

457

534

593

675

779

883

160

405

485

567

629

717

828

938

170

427

512

599

666

758

876

993

180

450

540

632

702

800

925

1048

190

472

567

664

738

841

973

1104

200

495

595

697

774

883

1021

1159

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I then calculated the coefficient CM, by Calories/Hr/MPH/Weight, which give C/Lb/Mile

 

Weight

C/Lb/Mile

C/Lb/Mile

C/Lb/Mile

C/Lb/Mile

C/Lb/Mile

C/Lb/Mile

C/Lb/Mile

110

0.22197

0.225974

0.244848

0.254545

0.272193

0.29596

0.316746

120

0.21875

0.223214

0.242778

0.252083

0.269608

0.293519

0.314912

130

0.216667

0.220879

0.240513

0.250481

0.267873

0.29188

0.312955

140

0.214286

0.219388

0.239048

0.248661

0.265966

0.290079

0.311278

150

0.212778

0.217619

0.237333

0.247083

0.264706

0.288519

0.309825

160

0.210938

0.216518

0.23625

0.245703

0.263603

0.2875

0.308553

170

0.209314

0.215126

0.234902

0.244853

0.262284

0.286275

0.30743

180

0.208333

0.214286

0.234074

0.24375

0.261438

0.285494

0.306433

190

0.207018

0.213158

0.232982

0.242763

0.260372

0.284503

0.305817

200

0.20625

0.2125

0.232333

0.241875

0.259706

0.283611

0.305

 

 

Within the range that I ride 12-14 and around my weight, CM is close to constant and about .21.  However, this consistently underestimated the cycling calories given in other web sites.   Moreover, the roads are never flat without wind, so I quite arbitrarily added .04 to bring it higher and match the online activity calculators and the affect of wind and hills.

 

 

[1]Consider a 150 lb person.  At 12 mph, the calories burned in X miles is .213*150(X, at 17 mph .265*150*X.    The percent calories reduction from 17 to 12 mph is 100*(.265*150 *- .213*150*X)/(.265*150*X) or (21.3-26.5)/.265 = 19.6%.    Calculations with similar body weight yield similar results.