315 Pounds to Magazine Cover Model: Donald Sorah’s Weight-Loss Journey

by guest writer Donald Sorah

At age 31, I was morbidly obese. I weighed 315 pounds, almost double the normal BMI for my height. Inevitably, my weight would come up in conversation with others, and I’d joke that if I were at a “BMI normal” weight, I’d look like a skeleton.

Donald SorahI had tried a variety of weight-loss programs with some success. The most effective “diet plan” of all my attempts was the South Beach Diet, which helped me lose 100 pounds in 1 year. I didn’t gain it all back, but a few years later, half my hard work was wasted.

Then I got a bike.

My wife presented me with a bicycle for my birthday, and I accepted it reluctantly. I wasn’t really interested in cycling, but I soon fell in love with the invigorating sense of freedom, the coolness of a breeze wicking sweat from my cheeks. Meanwhile, I was burning calories—and lots of them. By the time my weight fell to 260 pounds, I was burning over 1,000 calories every ride. The sense of freedom and the thought of burning all those calories kept me motivated to ride and to ride more. Soon I discovered I’d made a mental switch; I started planning my nutrition so I could get faster at cycling.

Instead of riding to lose weight, I was eating to ride better.

Donald Sorah CannondaleI started setting goals. My private goal, which I didn’t share with anyone, was to start shopping for a brand new road bike once I dropped my weight below 200 pounds. For me, this was the Holy Grail, a goal that seemed impossible.

Then one morning, I stepped on the scale. 197. I stepped on the scale again. Still 197. A third time, just to be sure. Yes, 197.

A few weeks later, I was riding a new Specialized Roubaix. Now that bike has seen 6 states, more than 7,000 miles, and over 300,000 feet of climbing. I’m a cyclist, and no longer a fat one.

Donald Sorah bandage
Battered, but not out of the race

Then I had another realization about my relationship with food. I rode a local 72-mile ride that finished with a very steep 3-mile climb. I finished the ride and made it home, but I passed out unconscious in my driveway. The scar I wear on the back of my head is a reminder of this critical moment.

It was at this point I realized I couldn’t starve myself to lose weight. What I was doing was unhealthy, and I needed a better balance of calories out and calories in. And this is when the Racing Weight series came into my life.

Enter Racing Weight

Although my Ph.D. is in music education, my “hunger” for knowledge led me to search for the ultimate nutrition plan. I interviewed friends and read about experts to analyze their approaches. I bought and read several books on nutrition. I purchased and downloaded the Racing Weight e-book on iBooks, reading it cover-to-cover in a few days.

After the conclusion of each chapter, I would make a collection of notes highlighting the most salient points, including ways this approach could be assimilated into my nutritional plan for cycling. Although the Diet Quality Score system seemed like a wonderful method of data collection for analysis of diet quality, I have decided to stick with my use of the LoseIt! app to catalog all my foods (which I have now done for over a year and a half).

I was intrigued by a mention in Racing Weight of a new cookbook. Being a foodie, a decent amateur cook, and the primary food preparer in our household, I sought to get my hands on the Racing Weight Cookbook. I found a copy at a local bookseller.

Donald Sorah Racing Weight Cookbook recipe
Playing with food (photography)

Before continuing, I should mention that, in addition to my career as a musician and music educator on the college level, I fancy myself a photographer and foodie. This means that my wife often asks if I am planning to eat dinner before it gets cold or if I am just going to keep capturing photos of my culinary concoctions. You must also understand that our lives as musicians and music teachers (my wife is a choir director and adjunct instructor at the local college) are quite complex and are very busy, especially with our growing four-year old!

My wife will be the first to tell you that our menu selections before Racing Weight Cookbook were quite limited and our weekly repertoire was quickly growing stagnant. The Racing Weight Cookbook has provided a breath of fresh air into our culinary repertoire. Thus far, I have prepared over twenty recipes from this cookbook.

Our Favorite Racing Weight Recipes

My favorite breakfast has been the the Cinnamon Raisin Wheat Berries (try it yourself!). With the flavor of cinnamon-spice oatmeal and the meaty texture with enhanced “tooth­sinkability” (thanks to Dan Pashman and the Sporkful podcast for the terminology), and nutty flavor of the wheat berries, this breakfast is filling, tasty, and packed full of nutrition. My four-year old even enjoyed a few bites and he is an extremely picky eater.

My wife and I have at least two recipes vying for first place dinner: Beefy Stuffed Poblanos and Asian Chicken with Peanut Sauce.

I have to admit that we have made a few substitutions in the recipes. We have always used 97% Fat Free Ground Turkey for the Poblano recipe and have used tofu as the protein the last two times we have made the Asian Peanut recipe. We did use chicken the first time we made the Asian Peanut recipe and it was just as good if not better than the tofu. We typically use whatever protein is on-hand and is simplest and quickest to prepare. Another favorite is the Black Bean & Cheddar Burger recipe.

We have also selected two dessert/sweet recipes as our favorites so far. The Lemon-Poppy Protein Bars, which I prepare as muffins, were one of my first recipes and remain my favorite sweet treat. My wife is quite fond of the Apple-Raisin Bars.

Have I Lost More Weight?

Truth be told, I have not observed any weight loss since investigating the nutritional guidelines in the Racing Weight book and preparing meals from the Racing Weight Cookbook. This is not to say that it doesn’t work. I am certain it does. However, I think my weight has settled where I need to be; in the low 160s.

What I have noticed is that my cycling fitness has improved, particularly in the area of endurance.

I have ridden seven metric century or longer distances so far this year and have not once “bonked” or run low on energy. In fact, a recent endurance ride of 60+ miles turned into 85 miles because I still had more to give.

It is remarkable how my energy level has surged since incorporating the Racing Weight Cookbook recipes into my diet. It would be interesting to collect data on the implementation of the Racing Weight philosophy into the diet of those who have significant weight loss to accomplish. I would presume that those athletes would be directed to minimize the preparation of those sweeter recipes and to place more emphasis on those designated as high-protein options.

The Cookbook Itself

The layout of the cookbook is well-designed. Although I love to cook and could spend hours in the kitchen even after a long day in the saddle, not all athletes share that same sentiment. The first two sections of the book are designed for athletes who don’t like to cook or just don’t have the time to prepare a more involved recipe. The middle sections are designed for those who can cook and have a little more time to prepare a meal. The final sections are offered to those athletes who enjoy cooking and are able to spend half an hour to an hour in the kitchen. Any athlete can find recipes that are easily within their current ability level and time constraints—and some that may provide a challenge to become a better cook should they desire to improve their culinary skills.

The Reaction

Since preparing these recipes and posting photos to social media including Facebook,Twitter, and Instagram, I have received numerous comments, questions, and requests for recipes from friends both local and virtual; many of them not even athletes. It is my desire that through social media exposure of the photos and recipes, others might begin to seek a healthier lifestyle.

My wife and I were recently featured on the Jan/Feb 2014 cover of Bicycling magazine for our weight-loss because, between the two of us, we have lost over 260 pounds. We will also be guests this summer on the radio show With Good Reason. Kelly was featured on the Half Size Me podcast last month.

Bicycling magazine Jan-Feb2014 Donald and Kelly SorahOur mission aligns with my mission of publicizing the Racing Weight Cookbook; we want others to see that if we can do it with all the time challenges in our lives, anyone can experience the same success and a healthier, happier lifestyle.

At age 31, I was morbidly obese. Now I know there is nothing like the feeling of being healthy and fit.

The daily increase in energy and brain power pays off at work as well as with the family. Why would anyone pass up the opportunity to be healthy, eat real food, raise their energy level, and be at the top of their game?

Donald and Kelly Sorah on bikes with son
The Sorah family

It took me forty years to achieve the best fitness and overall health of my life. With the continued support of family and friends, logging miles on the bike, and through the nutritional advice of the Racing Weight series, I look forward to many more years of healthy living, fun times in the kitchen, and flavorful and nutritious eating.

Donald Sorah is a cyclist, music professor, foodie, musician, photographer, father, and husband. He lives and rides with his wife and son in Virginia. Catch up with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Racing Weight is a proven weight-management program designed specifically for endurance athletes. Revealing the latest research and drawing from the best practices of elite athletes, coach and nutritionist Matt Fitzgerald lays out six easy steps to help cyclists, triathletes, and runners lose weight without harming their training.

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