Like many people, I have a problem with my weight. I’m not what you would call fat, but my favorite outdoor activities have always involved fighting gravity: rock climbing, hiking up mountains, cycling up hills.
So weight has always been a consideration, but I also enjoy food and drink. And I snack too much. For the last two decades I’ve put on weight every winter when it’s easy to eat and drink and it’s difficult to get enough exercise to burn the calories.
But I’ve always wanted to be fit and strong in June. That’s when the great weeklong cycling events of Ride the Rockies and Bicycle Tour of Colorado are held. For many years I had the goal of losing weight by the time the Bicycle Tour of Colorado began. But that’s a lie – I never really had the goal of losing weight. I had the goal of riding strongly on the Bicycle Tour of Colorado. It was the goal of wanting to ride well that motivated me to lose weight. (And to track my weight as part of the process of losing it. As Peter Drucker supposedly said, “What gets measured gets managed”.)
This year (2015) I didn’t sign up for Bicycle Tour of Colorado. Instead, Tanya and I decided to go to New Zealand for 3 months to cycle and hike. But that left me without a goal, and the lack of a goal left me with no desire to suffer the pain of food and drink deprivation.
The first part of the chart on the left shows the two months before we left for New Zealand. The big erratic swings are a result of unsuccessfully trying the 5:2 diet (more on that below.)
The straight line is the time we were in New Zealand, when I didn’t measure my weight. The final horrifying data point is from when we got back to Tucson and I could finally use the scale I’ve always used. What happened in New Zealand? I ate well – which included snacking between meals and eating chocolate after every evening meal. And I didn’t do enough long rides and hikes to burn the calories. Despite what you might have read about all calories not being equal, it really does boil down to calories in vs. calories out. And most exercise simply doesn’t burn enough calories, so weight control is really a question of food control.
To digress briefly, I graduated from university summa cum laude in Mathematics. I didn’t do it by being super smart, but by hard work. When I was at university, the entire degree depended on one week of exams at the end of the final year. For several months before the exams, I went through every past exam paper I could find. I did every question on every paper, and when I didn’t know how to do it – which was quite often – I went and talked with the appropriate professor. Studying mathematics and working through exam papers became my life. Nothing else was important.
What was the point of this digression? Despite all the attention I paid to mathematics, the biggest lesson I learned from university was that I could accomplish anything I wanted – if I wanted it enough. And wanting it enough meant being willing to deprive myself of all the other things I would like to have done.
That’s why my 2015 weight chart goes in the wrong direction – I didn’t have a goal that drove me, so I didn’t want the weight loss enough to give up the eating, drinking, snacking, and eating chocolate. I had no goal that made pain and sacrifice worthwhile.
It’s not enough to have a goal; one must also be willing to let go of conflicting wants. As David Wong puts it, “If you want to become a different person, part of it is deciding which parts of you need to die.” Or, as Mark Manson says, “What we get out of life is not determined by the good feelings we desire but by what bad feelings we’re willing and able to sustain to get us to those good feelings.”
Do you have any goals that you are not making progress towards because you can’t let go of some other desire or can’t tolerate some particular discomfort?
Links and Other Clicks
Mark Manson and David Wong both have wonderful articles about the cost of accomplishing goals or meeting wants. Manson’s article, The Most Important Question of Your Life, asks what pain you are willing to endure. Wong’s article, 5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Own Life, is worth reading in its entirety, but #4, Not Thinking About What Part of You Will Die, talks about the costs.
The 5:2 diet was recommended to me by my friend Bernard Bom who follows it successfully. It’s basically very simple. Two non-consecutive days a week you eat only 600 calories (500 for women). The other days you eat normally. After reaching his target weight, Bernard changed to a 6:1 diet. When I tried it, I didn’t eat normally on the other days; instead I tended to overindulge, as if I’d earned the right to eat more than usual. I’ll try it again sometime 🙂
Ride the Rockies and Bicycle Tour of Colorado – two beautiful rides in the heart of the Rockies. I’ve done one or the other (and twice both) for almost 20 years, and the week of riding is always one of the best weeks of my year. Ride, eat, drink, sleep; repeat. Absolutely wonderful.