When I first started cycling regularly a few years ago, I thought for SURE the first thing that would happen was that I would lose weight.
I had finally found an activity that I absolutely loved.
I was riding often, getting miles in, signing up for group rides and charity rides…I mean, I was ROCKING IT!
I never thought I would be a cyclist. I never thought I would be one of those nut-jobs that actually LIKED exercise. And yet? Here I was. Checking my calendar, making plans, and looking forward to the next ride.
I learned how to optimize my bike to get the most performance. I learned how to shift. I pushed myself up those hills, and I actually got to the top without having to hop off my bike.
For the first time in my entire life, I loved exercise.
When I wasn’t on my bike? I was wishing I was on my bike. I didn’t really even need to motivate myself to get on the bike because cycling was just that much fun.
Gone were the days of having to motivate myself to go to the gym and do my 30 minutes of cardio on the elliptical, followed by some sort of strength circuit or strength training that I absolutely HATED.
I was loving life, loving moving my body, and legitimately in the best shape of my life.
The only problem was that I wasn’t losing weight.
In fact, I was actually gaining weight.
I would get on the scale, look at the number, and instantly think “What the f*ck?”
I was so discouraged.
I thought something was wrong with me.
I truly did NOT understand. So many people who began exercising regularly just had weight dropping off of them. I finally was one of those people exercising regularly! I was exercising MORE than ever before.
I was cycling 5, maybe even 6, times a week! This is from a girl who on a good week would do a 10 minute strength video, go for a walk or two, and say “Yup! That’s perfectly good enough!”
I kid you not, I went to my doctor and had my thyroid checked because I thought there was something physically wrong with me. When I found out it was functioning just as it should I was even more puzzled.
So why on earth wasn’t I losing weight? What was going on?
In a nutshell, I wasn’t addressing my nutrition, I wasn’t drinking enough water, I wasn’t getting enough sleep, and I hadn’t changed my mindset at all.
I wasn’t giving me or my body enough time to actually catch up with my new awesome habits, and most importantly, I wasn’t giving myself any sort of grace along the way.
In this article I will discuss some very probable reasons why you aren’t losing weight cycling.
Spoiler: you are not doing anything wrong, and there is nothing wrong with you.
We are all different. We have different lives, different schedules, and different priorities. Know and trust that there just may be some things you aren’t aware of.
There are likely some small shifts that you can make in your day that will put you on a path to developing healthy body/mindset habits.
Ultimately if you listen to your body and give it what it truly needs you absolutely will lose weight as a female cyclist.
REASON #1: You are Talking to Yourself Like a Jerk
This may be the biggest reason of all that you aren’t losing weight as a female cyclist.
As women, and even as female cyclists in particular, we often talk to ourselves like…well..like jerks.
We tell ourselves we aren’t strong enough. We say we should be able to get up hills faster but these extra pounds are holding us back.
We look in the mirror and say we look like absolute garbage in our kit.
We call ourselves fat or ugly. We pick on different parts of our body.
We are embarrassed by ourselves, and we compare ourselves to cyclists who are stronger, fitter, faster, and who we think look and perform better than we do.
If you’re talking to yourself like a jerk in general, it makes it really hard to lose weight, because you are trying to motivate yourself from a place of not being good enough.
If you have ever lost weight this way, you know it feels like crap.
You feel terrible about yourself through the whole process, you beat yourself up if you eat something that you have determined in your mind to be “bad.”
If you want to lose weight as a female cyclist, you need to get your head straight, and focus on loving yourself first. Loving yourself right now. Loving your body as it is right now.
Focus on what your body can DO. It can RIDE A BIKE! It can get you up those hills (well…at least most of the time!).
You need to focus on making improvements from a place of positivity and love for yourself. When you are kind to yourself, love yourself, and forgive yourself for the choices you have made in the past, you are so much more likely to make better choices moving forward.
When you talk to yourself like a jerk, tell yourself you look like crap and will never lose weight, say that you are going to fail again just like you have always failed before? You are a whole lot less likely to succeed.
And even if you DO succeed in losing weight this way, you are less likely to keep it off because you live in fear of making the next diet/exercise mistake and “blowing it.”
Losing weight as a female cyclist from a place of love and appreciation for what our body can do goes SUCH a long way to ensuring lasting success at weight loss. I am so much more confident about myself and my body today than I ever was before.
I even gained a few pounds this summer, and that’s OK! I have done it mindfully. I happen to like ice cream, for example, and the summer is the BEST time to get ice cream. I also was on vacation recently and I decided, in advance, to enjoy certain foods the way I wanted to enjoy them.
It is my choice, and I can always re-decide. Today I am choosing ice cream and a few extra pounds. Tomorrow I may choose something else.
I am not any “better” or “worse” for the decisions I have made. I am not doing anything “right” or “wrong.”
I am not “good” or “bad” in reference to what I eat, and neither, my friend, are you.
REASON #2: You’re Eating MORE Than You Think, and Are Cycling LESS Than You Think
This is a big one. I am sure you have likely heard of the 80/20 rule…that losing weight is about 80 percent diet and 20 percent exercise.
The reality is that even though you may be exercising more than ever before, unless you are cycling 50+ miles a day you are probably not exercising enough to eat whatever you want.
What is likely happening is that you are eating more calories than you are actually burning off with cycling.
Once I started cycling regularly, I also started eating more. I mean, I was hungry in a way that I had never been hungry before.
I was pushing my body physically in a way that I never had before, and my mind was responding by saying “FOOD! SO HUNGRY! GIVE ME ALL THE THINGS!”
I would eat, and just figured that I would burn it all off on the next ride. I mean I was EXERCISING for crying out loud!
Honestly, I wasn’t paying much attention to what I was eating, and I wasn’t thinking about how much I actually needed. I wasn’t really asking myself if I was full, and I wasn’t stopping when I had enough.
I am NOT suggesting you count calories. I don’t do that. I lost almost 50 pounds in 2020 without counting a single calorie.
If you are the calorie counting sort, and are interested in finding the balance between fueling property for your rides, you can shoot for a 200 calorie or so deficit/day to lose weight and make sure you have the energy to complete your rides.
I am suggesting, though, that you are simply more mindful of what you are taking in, and what you are putting out.
And this includes alcohol too. While caffeine has been shown to enhance athletic performance, I certainly have yet to see a credible study that says the same for beer/wine!
A lot of times we get really focused on the technical aspect of this, want to break out my fitness pal, want to count all the macros.
Which sounds great, and can be great, but most of the time just isn’t sustainable for us busy women who, let’s face it, would much rather spend that time on the bike!
You want to have a simple plan for your rides, and a simple plan for your food.
In other words, every day (either the night before or the morning of) plan what you are going to eat, and if/when you are going to ride.
Have a super tough ride? Eat a little more, hydrate well (especially in the lead up to the ride) and make sure carbs are in the plan.
Yup. I went there. I firmly stand behind taking in carbs as a cyclist and an athlete. Carbs are energy and fuel, and you need it on the bike.
I can hear you right now…”But Stacy! Come now. I am NOT a cyclist, or an athlete.”
Do you ride a bike? Spin wheels at any time in any way? Then you ARE a cyclist and you ARE an athlete.
On the days you are not riding? Eat a little less, and still be sure to hydrate…which brings me to reason #2 that you aren’t losing weight as a female cyclist…
REASON #3. You Aren’t Drinking Enough Water
Drinking enough water is simultaneously one of the simplest and most important things that you need to be doing to lose weight as a female cyclist.
Proper hydration is incredibly important for everyone for a number of reasons, but it is especially important for cyclists and all endurance athletes.
If we aren’t properly hydrated when we hop on our bike, we run the risk of having absolutely terrible performance and of not being able to complete the length/intensity of the ride that we planned.
We find ourselves playing “catch up” with our hydration and trying to drink enough during the ride to make up for the fact that we didn’t drink enough prior to the ride.
Additionally, lack of proper hydration can lead to us eating when we aren’t hungry. We think we are hungry, when in fact our body is craving water, not food. We can survive weeks without food, but only a few days without water.
How much water should you drink? I’d be lying if I didn’t say this is a very contested issue. Some say that you should drink half your body weight in oz of water per day. So if you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 75 oz. 200 lbs? 100 oz.
That’s a lot of water. If you can’t manage that much (and other experts will tell you it’s too much!) that’s OK! I try to shoot for at least 64 oz of water per day, and try to make only a percentage of that come from my tea/kombucha (two things I have a very strong attachment to!).
Reason #4: You Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep
Repeat after me: “Sleep. Is. Everything.”
According to sleepfoundation.org, lack of sleep can increase the chance of obesity, increase our appetite, and give us less energy for exercise.
Our bodies and brains need sleep to function properly, and no, the 5-6 hours you are likely getting per night is not cutting it. We need at least 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.
If we don’t get enough sleep, we are going to be “running on empty.” We won’t have the energy to complete our tasks, and we certainly aren’t going to feel great hopping on the bike.
When we are sleep deprived our brain isn’t in a place to make the best decisions, and we feel like we are just trying to “get through the day.”
A lot of times the importance of getting enough sleep in order to lose weight is overlooked, along with drinking enough water, and yet these are two of the most important factors in losing weight as a female cyclist.
If you struggle with getting enough sleep, and have issues falling asleep and staying asleep, there are a number of things you can do to make sure you get the sleep you need.
One thing is to develop a consistent sleep schedule, and go to bed around the same time and get up around the same time every day.
Additionally, it’s a great idea to have a “winding down” routine in the evening to prepare your body for sleep. I personally love a hot cup of herbal tea and a book in the evenings.
The principle here is that you want to hook up your future self for success. That means getting to bed at a reasonable time and getting enough sleep so that you can have an awesome day tomorrow filled with cycling and healthy food choices.
Reason #5. You Haven’t Given Your Body Time to Catch Up to Your New Habits
When we first start making changes and look to form good habits, we expect to see results right away.
We are, in a word, impatient.
I can’t tell you how many times I have had an awesome day of riding, have made great food/water choices for fueling my body, and then got on the scale the next morning only to find that I gained weight.
It happened this weekend, actually. I have an AWESOME and HARD 35 mile ride on Sunday and I crushed it. I was strong, and I was fast. I fueled properly, I didn’t overdo it with food after the fact, and I got on the scale on Monday and welcomed two additional pounds.
True body changes take time. Lots of it. The number on the scale is likely to go up and down throughout this process.
It took me a over a year to lose almost 50 pounds. That is less than a pound a week. If I was expecting to lose “x” number of pounds per week I probably would just become discouraged and give up.
Some days you will retain more water. Your body does this when it is building muscle. Hormonal changes can cause you to be heavier on some days than others. For whatever reason it seems every single time I have an amazing ride the scale goes up a pound or two the next day.
Be interested in that number on the scale, be curious about it, but do not let that number define you.
Weigh yourself. Every day. Look at the number and don’t say “I give up!”
Look at that number and say “Wow. That’s interesting. I wonder what caused that?”
Ask yourself these questions regardless of the result, regardless of whether the number is one that you were looking for, or one that you were not.
Now that I weigh myself every day there is literally zero drama. NONE. It’s just a number, and it’s just information.
And, I start to notice trends like that weight gain right after a hard day and know that my awesome ride will be paying its dividends over time, not right away.
I highly recommend investing in a scale like this bluetooth Withings one which tracks your weight over time and hooks up to an app so that you can track your overall progress.
This helped me to see the big picture, and not hyperfocus on one day or one number that wasn’t what I wanted or what I was hoping it to be.
These are just five, simple reasons why you aren’t losing weight as a female cyclist.
None of these reasons have anything to do with you being “good” or “bad” and doing the “right” or “wrong” thing.
It’s all about using these tips, experimenting, being curious, and seeing what works for you.
Having a simple, easy, mindful plan of what you are going to eat and if/when you are going to ride each day will go a long way to helping you lose weight as a female cyclist. More importantly you will feel empowered and know that you CAN do this.
You can lose weight as a female cyclist. It doesn’t have to be self-deprecating, and it doesn’t have to be the hardest thing you have ever done.
In fact, it shouldn’t be either of those things. It should be simple, manageable, and feel good while you are doing it.
The words you used in your email about the workshop were exactly what I needed today. I lost 20 lbs after I started riding 2-3 years ago, it felt easy and painless. I enjoy cycling the same way you do. This year has been different. It’s been hard to be mindful and “decide” to take care of myself and eat healthy and ride as I used to. Cycling is the best exercise ever because it doesn’t feel like something you “have to” do. It’s just fun. But, our minds play tricks on us, and yes, motivation goes out the window because of that. Thank you for the inspiration! I will start being mindful again, and follow your tips. Thanks!
Stacy Ann Smith
Thank you SO much, Mara, for sharing your thoughts! I am so glad that the article and email resonated with you. We go through different seasons with our bodies and our food choices. Just know that it’s always OK, and you are doing great right now!