The Third Street Grackles at the Bike MS Ride to the River. Robert Rivard helped found the team in 2005. Photo by David Rangel.
The Third Street Grackles at the Bike MS Ride to the River. Robert Rivard helped found the team in 2005. Photo by David Rangel.

The diet industry weighs in at billions of dollars a year in advertising and marketing come-ons, with billions more of published words devoted to the latest fad diet. I knew when I started on my own path back to a balanced lifestyle through fitness and good nutrition that diets were not the way for me.

Fewer calories, more exercise, tenacity. Five words were my formula for success. No secrets, no shortcuts. It was all about changing bad habits, simple yet not so simple. Easier said than done.

Tuesday was Day 30 of my plan. I’d rather call it a quest. I imbued it with importance at the outset, and that’s the mindset I’ve sought to maintain. There is definitely a “one day at a time” element to it.

For those who haven’t followed my stories, I had become overweight and sedentary over the first 30 months of at working the Rivard Report. I gained a pound for every month spent night and day working on this start up: 30 months, 30 pounds. I was borderline obese, according to my Body Mass Index (BMI).

The great satisfaction gained by working with a small team to create this local media website, the pride in building something out of nothing in San Antonio, a city I love and the city that has been home to my family for more than 25 years, was offset by the corresponding decline in my health, wellness and sense of self.

(Read more: One Lucky Duck: My Path Back to Good Health and Fitness, Day One: Tipping the Scales of Change, and Week One: Rediscovering Good Habits)

My wife, Monika, who I call Miss Moderation, and I discussed my eating and drinking habits and my work patterns as I designed my plan. I knew I had the willpower. I had run marathons, cycled century rides, and maintained a fairly high level of fitness throughout most of my adult life, but now at age 61, I was finally admitting big changes needed to be made. And they needed to last.

I weighed 210.6 lbs. on July 14, Day One. My goal: Lose 35 pounds and return to an ideal weight of 175  lbs. I needed to lose 15 percent of my body mass and rebuild muscle mass.

This map provides a snapshot of the FITNESSGRAM BMI results by Texas school districts in 2013. The darker districts have a greater share of students falling in the BMI High-Risk Zone. - See more at
This map provides a snapshot of the FITNESSGRAM BMI results by Texas school districts in 2013. The darker districts have a greater share of students falling in the BMI High-Risk Zone. – See more at

Everyone is different. My approach might not work for others. But it’s working for me. I decided to give up two things I love, both part of my daily life: red wine and red meat. Actually, I simplified it and gave up alcohol and meat, period. I also committed to eating a healthier, more balanced diet in general. I don’t drink sodas, eat salty snacks, or gorge on desserts. As a matter of principle, I do not eat in fast food franchises. But there was still plenty of unneeded fat and sugar in my diet. Adios, breakfast tacos.

The Rivard Report has published dozens of articles in our first 2 1/2 years devoted to fitness, wellness, and the city’s obesity and diabetes epidemic. Now it was time for me to set the example and show the city that if I can do it, so can anyone else willing to make the commitment.

On the exercise side, I recommitted to at least 100 miles a week on my bike, cycling with the Third Street Grackles, an independent cycling team I helped found in 2005. The team has been a big part of my life for nine years, and this year we will surpass $500,000 in funds raised for the annual Bike MS Ride to the River and multiple sclerosis research and treatment (see top photo). And I committed to using my membership at the Tripoint YMCA to run and workout on a regular basis in between bike rides.

I needed to spark my campaign and I did so with the help of One Lucky Duck and Noah Melngailis, the owner. I knew nothing about raw and vegan food, really, when I walked in there. I’m no expert now, but I know good results when I see them, and it turns out the food and shakes there are delicious, and the people behind the counter are really nice. There are other such places in the city now, and I’m sure customers at those places feel the same.

The Cost of Eating Well, The Cost of Eating Poorly

Some readers have questioned my five-day juice, shake and raw vegan food experience there, saying the expense was beyond the reach of themselves and many other readers. For the first five days of my plan everything I consumed, except for black coffee, came from One Lucky Duck. Even afterwards, I have averaged one meal every other day there for the last three weeks. It’s become a source of healthy food and drinks, and also a source of support.

The money challenge is a valid one, but not eating healthily for financial reasons is a cop-out. One Lucky Duck was my summer vacation. It’s how I have chosen to spend money that might have been spent on a plane ticket instead. But you don’t need a vacation fund to eat well.

We published Eating Well on a Stretched Budget two weeks ago by freelance journalist Sarah Gibbens. The story details a new weekly program at many H-E-B stores where dietitians and healthy eating experts demonstrate how to shop for and prepare healthy family meals on a budget.

Weekly H-E-B cooking demos show the components to healthy meals in one convenient location. Photo by Sarah Gibbens.
Weekly H-E-B cooking demos show the components to healthy meals in one convenient location. Photo by Sarah Gibbens.

I’ve since shopped for and prepared a variety of vegetarian meals and will share some of the recipes going forward. I’ve also interacted, literally, with dozens of overweight readers on the subject of lifestyle changes and the financial costs of such challenges.

Almost every individual acknowledged that alcohol and fast food were regular, if not daily parts of their life. Most said they ate out at least once a week, usually at chain restaurants. A significant number answered yes when I asked them if they sometimes purchased prepared foods at convenience stores. Such “meals” are highly processed, devoid of nutrition, and costly. In a better world, store operators would not be allowed to call it food.

Interestingly, none of the readers I spoke with or exchanged emails with had taken the time to add up the cost of their bad habits, money that could be redirected toward healthy eating without an extra penny spent. It costs money to eat crap, and you never stop paying for it.

The point is this: Most of us spend far more of our so-called discretionary dollars on food, drink and entertainment than we realize. You can spend your money on a case of beer and super-sized junk food or you can spend it on fresh produce, fruits, legumes, nuts, fish and lean meats.

Before you tell yourself you can’t afford to eat healthily, track your out-of-pocket expenditures for one month.

How Am I Doing?

I can’t declare success yet. In fact, I am falling short of achieving all my goals. All of us at the Rivard Report agreed to reduce our evening hours of work to devote more time to family, friends and other non-work related pursuits. I’d give us a C+ or B- on that count. Monika might make that a C-.

I’ve cycled 100 miles or more every week since July 14 except one, but my goal of running three miles a day three times a week at the Y has turned out to be only one run a week and one walk on the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River. I need to do better.

I give myself a A on sticking to my eating plan. Our youngest son, Alex, is the family chef who works at Central Market’s culinary school, and at his birthday and house-warming party the other night, I ate half of a mesquite-grilled Central Market sausage and then sampled a friend’s indescribably good home-made ice cream. Otherwise, I’ve been good on the food front.

Alexander Rivard celebrates his birthday over a home cooked meal with family and friends. Photo by Robert Rivard.
Alexander Rivard cooks a meal with friends. Photo by Rebecca Marino.

I give myself an A+ on the alcohol front. I haven’t had anything to drink, and while I miss a couple of beers or glasses of red wine on social occasions, I definitely do not miss drinking as a nightly tonic to the day’s ravages. I’m confident I won’t weaken on that front.

The weight is coming off more quickly than I had hoped. I lost seven pounds the first week; two pounds the second week, when I missed two training rides with the Grackles; five pounds the third week; and four pounds the fourth week.

After 30 days, my weight had dropped from 210.6 lbs to 192.6 lbs.  Late last week I entered my closet for a long-awaited moment. One by one, I removed all the 36? waist trousers and jeans and XL T-shirts and packed them away. I’m not sure if I’ll take them to a shelter or hold on to them. I want to believe I’ll never need them again. Last Friday I wore 34? waist khakis to work, and Monday I wore 33? khakis, although my guayabera concealed a tight waist band.

I’m not a 33? waist yet. That will probably come when I hit the 185 lb. mark. I know the pounds are going to come off more slowly now. I’m mentally working through that and how I will sustain my quest. I remind myself I am still a fat person. Not as fat as I was one month ago, but still quite overweight. People delude themselves, and I don’t want to be one of those people. People who are 50 pounds or more overweight tell me they need to lose a few pounds, too. Come on.

On the other hand, one of the most rewarding aspects of the experience has been hearing from readers who are honest with themselves and with others and are inspired to embark on their own wellness campaigns.

Two of those readers have written their own stories for the Rivard Report. Reading them just might inspire you. See you in another month.


Weight Loss Challenge Redux

Week One: Rediscovering Good Habits

Day One: Tipping the Scales of Change

One Lucky Duck: My Path Back to Good Health and Fitness

HEB Slimdown Showdown Transforms Body and Mind

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.