The best way to get lean just might be to give in to temptation—to tantalize yourself with the reward of new clothes, a special getaway, even a new bike. Meet two Bicycling readers who shed a total of nearly 260 pounds with the promise of a big payoff, discover their secrets for transforming into fit cyclists and learn about the intriguing science of incentive-based weight loss.
Donald & Kelly Sorah
Pounds Lost: 260 Combined
Reward: A new bike (him) and charity ride (together)
Seventy-five miles into the Bike MS Breakaway to the Beach ride in the Carolinas this past September, Donald Sorah had a surprising thought. It was his first 100-miler, but he felt so strong he wanted to sign up for a second century scheduled for the following day. His only hesitation: Could his wife, Kelly, make it? Her longest-ever ride was 65 miles.
Before he could bring up the idea, she said, "Am I completely crazy to think that we can do the 100 tomorrow?"
A few years earlier, the thought of either of them riding even just a few miles seemed impossible. Donald, 40, a college music professor, had ballooned to 315 pounds. Kelly, now 30 and a school music teacher, weighed 265.
Both had been big since childhood and had tried to lose weight before. When they met, in January 2007, Donald had recently dropped 85 pounds on the low-carb South Beach Diet (on their first date, he took Kelly out for salad) and invited her to try it, too. Six months later, on their wedding day, they'd each slimmed down, but once Kelly got pregnant, they both started eating for two.
Put off by the thought of returning to a restrictive diet, Kelly started pedaling around on her old hybrid. When she got bored riding alone, she bought Donald a bike for his birthday in June 2011.
He struggled to stay upright during a test ride in a parking lot. But on an 11-mile trail ride, with Kelly pulling their young son in the trailer behind them, he had an epiphany: "It was the first sport where I could burn calories and enjoy myself at the same time."
In just a year, Kelly was running races and competing in triathlons, and Donald entered his first race, the 40-mile Guest River Bicycle Rally, in Coeburn, Virginia. "I bonked so hard I had to stop at a convenience store midrace to get a Gatorade," he says. "But I was ready for the next one."
He began to dream of a new, lightweight bike with all the latest gadgets. But at 230 pounds, he felt he still hadn't earned it. "I told myself if I reached 199, I'd go for it," he says.
In March 2013, Donald got his new bike, a Specialized Roubaix, and by fall he had put more than 3,000 miles on it, slimming down to a svelte 163. Kelly has since gotten a Specialized Ruby to celebrate losing 100 pounds. On those bikes, the duo ultimately completed the 200-mile weekend. "It's incredible to think that one decision to buy him a bike changed our lives so dramatically," Kelly says.
The Sorah's Tips
1. "You have to be in it together," says Donald. "If one person brings home doughnuts, it's harder for the other one to resist."
2. Sign up for a charity ride. "It really motivated me because I knew I was doing it for other people," says Kelly.
3. "Surround yourself with like-minded people—either in person or online," says Donald. It's motivating when they comment on your progress or share their own successes, he says.Search for a cycling event.