A Slow, Fat Realization
A couple years back, I was rummaging through a display of one of the now-defunct Borders bookstores. And while seeking out that $1 diamond in the rough, I found Jayne Williams’ Slow Fat Triathlete.
The title hooked me. “Raw, self-deprecating honesty? That’s me! “
At the time, I was only a year or so into bike commuting, but it was enough time to notice that a substantial amount of fat had disappeared from my body and I had grown some very powerful leg muscles. I felt “healthy” for the first time in years. I was still 230 lbs., but for a 6’1” male with new, hulkishly muscular legs, that’s not so bad.
I handed the book to my partner almost as a joke. You see, my partner used to be the type of person who, on a whim, would decide that she will have six-pack abs in one month. She would make extreme changes to her after life and then, a week later, give in to physical fatigue and for love of the couch. She used to be this “all-or-nothing” person when it came to her own fitness and she would always burn out before she met any of her goals.
She bought the book.
The more she read, the more she began to understand that physical change in a busy life is possible with small, incremental changes. She told me about what she had read I began to think about my own physical change that had been happening without any explicit intention of my own.
My physical change came as a result of committing to bike commuting. At the time, I had a 4-ish mile round-trip commute down steep hills in the morning and a work out climbing back up those hills in the afternoon. That 20-minute commute was the only change for quite a while. No diet change whatsoever!
Then I started going on Tuesday night rides. No, not for fitness- but for food. My weekly 20 miles of commuting had 10-25 miles added to it by virtue of attending the Taco Tuesday Social Ride on the UCI campus. Over the following months, I continued to eat as I had, but the change in physical activity meant I had more energy through the work day and more energy when I got home. I slept better, I lost fat, and I put on muscle. I felt happier in my skin. I was happier and healthier.
As someone in the place to influence others and convince them to try out bike commuting, I often tell them this story and they invariably ask, “So when are you going to change your diet and fully slim down?” I always respond, “Meh…”
Unlike proper “athletes”, I like having random weekends dominated by beer, wine, cheese, and pastries. I like going out to eat and not having to count how many ounces of sour cream I’ve had this month.
Don’t let all my biking confuse you. I’m a fatlete, not an athlete.
I think it would be cool to be ripped, but I just don’t have the willpower to work out for the sake of my looks. Moreover, I like beer. I like wine. I like cheese and pastries. And that’s OK!
Every Day Since
Today, having integrated biking as my main form of transportation, I’m healthier and so much more fit than I thought I would be a couple years ago. In such a short time of casual riding, I’ve been able to turn my health from “mediocre” to “Today I rode 30 miles round-trip to pick something up in Lake Forest.”
My commute is now 8 miles round-trip, but only minimal inclines. I no longer attend those Tuesday night rides due to other time commitments, but I still bike commute and, more notably, I bike pretty much everywhere else I need to go. For longer trips that require a trip on the Metrolink or Amtrak, I ride to the station and bring my bike with me.
Since realizing that biking to a healthier self and being a foodie aren’t diametrically opposed, I’ve begun seeing others who scoff at the “get thin” compulsion. I’m a big fan of FLAB (Fat Lads At the Back) in the UK and the Clydesdale/Athena discussion group at Bikeforums.net. Check them out if you think you and I may be in the same proverbial boat.
Healthier, happier, and slightly less heavy,
Ramon Zavala serves on the board of directors for the Orange County Bicycle Coalition and is a certified cycling instructor with League of American Bicyclists. He also leads the Sustainable Transportation program at UC Irvine while also serving as the campus’ Senior Bicycle Coordinator. If you liked what you read here, Ramon would like to hear from you. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.