Hapneu Year

January 1, 2011

Today and only today, not any other day of the year—- unless this remains up tomorrow and beyond, and then later in the blogarchives— I speak to you as Grant Petersen, AA, 1975, Diablo Valley (Junior) College in the all-encompassing field of “General Studies.” It was quite an undertaking, but I wanted a broad education in a short time span. No test-tubes and petri dishes or complicated subject-specific scientific notations for me. I figured, correctly, that with an AA in General Studies, the whole world would be my oyster.

That’s to establish my credentials for today only, not later on when I re-don my “skinny tubes and good clearances and high handlebars” hat.

One of the biggest, pervasive, and most harmful lies is that weight gain or loss is simply a matter of calories-in versus calories-out.

In a non-exerciser’s world, it’s the notion that you can deprive yourself skinny.

In our world, it’s the notion that you can ride yourself skinny.

You can’t believe skinny people when they say they rode themselves that way. They’re not the experts on their own internals. It’s hard to be that, by external observation alone, because you can’t actually see anything happening, you can see only the thing that happened.  It’s like asking the local 101-year old the secret of long life. You know she’ll make a joke for the benefit of the television audience, but you also know that if she tries a serious answer, you’ll be able to find 50 others who did the same stuff she did and died between 58 and 85.

Everybody knows a pound of fat has 3,500 calories, and that exercise burns calories. If you don’t know that, you haven’t been paying attention.

Everybody also knows pro-road racers and top marathoners burn lots of calories and are lean. Doctors and exercise experts all over the world tell you weight loss is just a matter of burning more calories than you eat. It is mathematically irrefutable, scientifically incontrovertible, verbally unassailable, indubitably indisputable, athletically a slam dunk, but is also and unfortunately a lie of Bunyanian proportions.

It’s hard to burn 3,500 calories on a bike ride or bike rides (or a hike, or run, or on a Stairmaster or  Elliptical machine) without compensating by eating back most or all of those calories.  Hard riding burns maybe 700 calories an hour.  You want to ride off a pound of fat? Ride hard for 5 hours. If you eat two Power Bars, or a Power Bar and a Clif Bar during the ride, better make it 5:45.

If one of the hours wasn’t hard, cover yourself by making it six and a half hours, just to be sure you get to the 3,500 calories for one pound of fat.  Don’t drink a pint of Gatorade, or you’ll have to add another 17 minutes.

That’s how it works in the mathematically correct, Calories-in/Calories-out world. BUT…

…that world ignores the reality of compensatory eating, or what your granny and her pa called “working up an appetite.” That’s an expression we’ve all heard, can all relate to, but when it comes to fitness articles and promoting running or cycling as a way to get lean, it gets ignored.

It’s no less real for being ignored, but they never tell you the obvious— that you’re going to be hungry as a billy goat after those long hard rides, and so those rides can’t, actually, be effective in weight loss.

Sometimes after a longish brutal ride you can get only a small dinner, or maybe none at all. Maybe you’re at somebody’s house and don’t have free access, or the restaurants are closed or something. You wake up the next morning feeling lean, and think, “I’m gonna take advantage of this. It’s the new me, I’ve got the momentum. If I did all those hours on that little food, I sure won’t have to eat my Usual Ton when I do my normal rides.”

Within a day or three at most you’ve gained it back, and it’s not through lack of will or anything. It’s just your body rebalancing itself, making you replace the calories you’ve spent. The bodies that didn’t do this didn’t propagate.

I’m not saying don’t do those rides. They can be satisfying,  even a blast. I’m saying don’t do them for the purpose of weight loss.

If you really don’t want to ride that century, or Double, or 400k brevet, but you think it may kickstart your new leanness, this is good news (that it won’t help your weight loss). Don’t look at skinny guys who do them and figure they weren’t that way to begin with. Lots of skinny people do endurance stuff, because being skinny makes it easier, so they get there by gravity.

It’s the same non-coincidence as short-legged guys with longish arms doing the pommel horse, and tall guys playing basketball. They don’t get that way from doing it. The pommel horse weeds out tallies and basketball weeds out stockies, except for Shaqy, who is tall and stocky.

Any exercise increases your appetite and makes you eat back on the calories you burned. It’s likely that skinny marathoners and BORAF (Big Old Race Around France, since it really isn’t, after all, a tour….) riders would be skinny even if they didn’t ride so much.

Sure, Eddy Merckx got fat after he retired, but for every athlete who gets fat after retiring, there are two dozen athletes who are fat, or at least not as lean as they’d like to be, despite years of obsessive and often hellish exercising. It’s because they’re eating incorrectly and eating too much. (In the Cannibal’s case, it was probably the result of being unleashed from so many years of the pressure to stay light for racing, combined with the wining-and-dining that happens to celebrities.)

Have you ever been sick in bed for several days and lost weight? The effect is more dramatic if you’re strong going into it. Even if you don’t throw up and get diarrhea, you tend to lose weight because you’re eating less, and you’re eating less because you’re exercising less.

Meanwhile, your muscled body is still burning more calories than a body bereft of tone would, so there’s a net loss. You might feel so skinny because you feel so empty that you think you see a rib you’ve not seen in years, and you’ve been a slug-a-bed. The more muscled you are and the less you eat because you’re just lying around, the bigger the visual diff.

When you recover, your exercise resumes, your appetite recovers, and you gain back the weight. We can all related to that.
I’m not making a case for lying around in bed. That’s no way to live. Beware of bedsores and bedbugs.

Today is the day when many of you may resolve to exercise more and eat less. It will work on paper, or on your computer spreadsheet, if you resolve to ride 200 miles a week and eat 1000 fewer calories per day, or 250. Counting calories is too hard and no way to live, either. It’s tedious, depressing, and not sustainable. It gives you false hope.

I can’t hear or say or read the word “hope” without this 1961 Bob Dylan poem lyric coming to mind:

But hope’s just a word that maybe you said and maybe you heard/On some windy corner, ‘round a wide-angle curve.

Failing on the calores-in/calories-out program also makes you feel ashamed for failure. But failure is built into the program, like losing loot in slot machines. You may have tried it last year, or five years ago. With a calories-in/calories-out approach it never works.

There’s a new book out, published December 28. It’s by Gary Taubes, science writer, and it’s written for all the people who didn’t read his monster-long Good Calories, Bad Calories.

It’s a short version of that book, with fewer scientific references and footnotes, and about 1/4 as many words. It is a book that will make any authority who’s gone public or built their empire with the Calories-In versus Calories-Out chant, pee in their skivvies and wish they hadn’t said anything.

Maybe we’ll carry the book. I’ve read Good Calories, Bad Calories, and I didn’t find it hard to get though, but I’m kind of into this stuff. The new book, and of course I’ll tell you what it is in a few moments, is like reading Dear Abby, or your favorite column in the Sunday paper, or the Sports Section, or whatever. Gary Taubes is a terrific writer, and his plan is to Not Lose You Along the Way. The type is big, the chapters are short, and you’ll dog-ear and mark up every other page. Plus, the pages have “deckled edges” like those old-timey books used to have. It makes thumb-flipping a bugger, but there’s always licking and rubbing.

We will stock the book. It’s a companion to The Primal Blueprint. Don’t think you don’t need it, just because you’ve read TPB, though. Everybody wants to not get fat or to lose the fat they already got, or a good chunk of it, anyway. It’s harder as you get older, as you’ve noticed. If you’re 50 you may have given up, but here it is the start of a new year again, and out of habit you say you’ll give it another shot— exercising more and eating less. It’s perfect on paper and mathematically, but it won’t work, and  you’ll beat yourself up for not having will power. It’s not about that, either.

Will power is a circular, explanatory fiction. That means if you accomplish the deed, you use the accomplishment as proof that you had enough of it, and so you feel proud. And if you fail’t, you use that as proof that maybe you had the will power, but didn’t use it, or didn’t have enough of it, and so you kick yourself. All the will power myth can do is give you a false sense of pride or shame, and it’s wrong in both cases.

The book is Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It, and if you are concerned with your weight, frustrated by past failed attempts to lose it, and barely willing to give it one more shot, get the book. The book is great. It shatters the calories-in/calories-out/it’s all will power myth and spills the beans right away— I think it’s page 10 of the introduction. He doesn’t mess around, and there are no menus with nutritional breakdowns or any of that. It’s simpler than that.

The best way to get it is to go to


It’s a great photo blog. The owner, Mike Johnston, is some kind of a friend, and makes money on the ads and the links. Don’t click on the Joyful Nudes link on the lower left. Focus, focus, focus on the Amazon link at the top right, then go to books and type in Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It. If you link to Amazon from that, he’ll get a small percent, and it won’t cost you any more, and that’ll be my way of feeling good about this. In two weeks we’ll have the book, so you could buy it from us. But get it now, don’t delay.

Monday we’ll all be back to normal. I may delete this post, I’m not sure.

A customer just this minute posted this to me:


I don’t know if that works. If not, go to eBay and search for item


I think it’s kind of dirty pool, but on the other hand, it would be dirtier pool if it were a wild and rare exception to the rule, but it seems to be the rule. We don’t know how it happened, but failures should be dents, buckles, and slow fatigue failures, and this isn’t any of those. No matter how it happened, it is telling and darning that the frame failed in that way. Not that it failed, period, but that it failed in that snappy sort of way we’ve come to expect from carbon, because clean, snappy, sudden failures are the carbon fiber signature. That, and generally horrible clearance and low handlebars.  Not always on the bad clearance and low bars; always on the snapping failures, though.