Why do you run?
Right now, I run primarily to stay fit and maintain mental sanity (two kids under four). I am a better person, employee, husband and dad because I run.
Your answer to this question has (or will change) the longer you’ve been running.
I have received over 300 responses to a survey I send to subscribers of free my Beginner Runner Course. When asked why they run, more than 66% responded that they are running to lose weight.
There are lots of ways to lose weight, but one central theme.
Consume fewer calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight.
How you create the deficit is up to you. In this lesson, I provide some simple tips and strategies to help you lose weight with running.
Is Running Effective for Weight Loss?
The media has been grabbing hold of the notion that exercise is not a good way to lose weight. While Coke, will try to convince you it's the only way (click here for more on Coke's flawed messaging).
This study states:
"Based on the present literature, unless the overall volume of aerobic ET (exercise training) is very high, clinically significant weight loss is unlikely to occur. "
So, is the media right?
So you need to run a lot to lose weight from solely running. The good news is that you don't have to run the same weekly miles as a professional if you also incorporate some positive dietary changes.
More on this later. A little bit of exercise will not do much, but exercising a lot will.
While running by itself is not the best way to lose weight, it's crucial for maintaining weight loss. Want to lose 30 pounds without exercise.
That's totally possible.
Thousands have done it before ... and then gained the weight right back.
"More than 90 percent of people who succeed in losing large amounts of weight and keeping the weight off exercise regularly." - from Matt Fitzgerald's book, Racing Weight.
If you want to lose weight, focus on dietary changes to initially lose some pounds. But you must keep up with your running if you want to keep the pounds from creeping back.
Running will also help you maintain muscle and lose fat better than dietary changes alone.
3 Rules for Starting to Run When You Are Overweight
Anyone who starts running needs some basic guidelines to help keep them injury free and to increase their odds of enjoying it.
This study provides some guidelines for overweight men and women who are starting a running program. Simple, yet so important.
- Start with walking or run with intermittent walk breaks.
- Progress your distance no more than 5-10% per week.
- Incorporate rest days. When you're just get started, never run on two consecutive days.
Do I Need to Make Dietary Changes if I am Running to Lose Weight?
The short answer to this is no. Earlier we talked about how it's possible to lose weight from just running, but you need to run a lot.
In this study, researchers found that people who ran more than 5 km per week who also made positive diet changes over a 1-year period, lost an average of 12.3 pounds in fat mass.
People who ran more than 5 km per week, but did not make any changes to their diet, lost an average 8.4 pounds over the same 1-year period.
To maximize weight loss (and reap the health benefits), you should couple consistent running (more than 5 KM per week) with some positive dietary changes.
What Changes to My Diet Should I Make?
As mentioned earlier, the ultimate goal is to consume less energy than you burn.
Here are some simple strategies to move the quality of your diet in the right direction.
- Stop drinking your calories. Drink water, coffee and tea instead of sugary drinks.
- Keep a food diary. Consider this quote from obesity expert, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff.
"Clinical studies suggest people who keep food diaries lose twice as much weight as those who don’t. My own experiences with literally thousands of patients would be that people who keep them really well lose three times as much weight as those who don’t." - Dr. Yoni Freedhoff
- Eat out less and spend more time in your kitchen cooking your own meals.
- Do not wait until you're hungry to eat. By then, it's too late and your chances of overindulging are high.
- Ensure you're getting enough protein. Protein satisfies hunger longer than other nutrients. Get some in each meal.
Why Do Some People Gain Weight When They Start Running?
Cruel isn't it?
But it's actually quite common to gain weight after starting a running program.
How does this happen?
Many runners overestimate the number of calories they burn from a run.
Here are some stats from a 5 km run I did a few months back. And for reference, I am 6'2 and weigh 182 lbs.
Total calories burned: 485
If I go for a run after dinner, it's not uncommon for me to have a cold beer right after and maybe a bowl of cereal before bed. Boom - there's 400+ calories in a few minutes.
It's so easy and fast to consume calories.
Yet, it takes a lot of time to burn them. When you've just completed a run, it's so hard not to reward yourself with mmmm, some cake perhaps?
What's a better strategy?
Think of your run as the reward instead of that piece of cake on your kitchen cupboard.
How Can You Make Running More Enjoyable (and Ultimately the Reward)?
- Run slower. Your still getting huge benefits from running slow.
- Listen to music or podcast.
- Listen to an audio book.
- Run with friends or a training group.
- Use an app to compete with yourself or others.
- Try running a new route.
- Run to your favorite coffee shop to meet up with a friend.
- Bring your children along for the run with a jogging stroller.
Training for Fast Times and Weight Loss Should be Treated Separately
Research shows that when training for performance (i.e. running a certain distance in a shorter duration), substantial reduction in calories consumed is not compatible with hard training.
In other words, when you start a running program with the goal of losing weight, focus more on turning the caloric scale in your favour and less on getting faster at a particular distance.
When you're ready to focus on getting faster for a race, then go for it.
Weight loss first, then performance.
Suffering and Deprivation Will Make You Quit
If you feel like you are suffering from changes to your diet, your chances for long term success are doomed.
Nobody enjoys suffering or feeling deprived.
Make small changes to your diet at first. So small that there is little chance you'll fail.
It could be as small as drinking one less soda per day.
Or better yet, just start with a food journal.
Recommended reading: Level Up To Lose Weight (http://zenhabits.net/levels/)
Focus on Habits and Behavior (Not Numbers)
Let's say you want to lose 30 pounds. Where do you start?
It seems daunting to me.
Sure you might go for a few runs and make some tweaks your diet, but most people measure success by how fast they run or how they look in the mirror.
Why not start smaller?
Start with habits. Instead of focusing on losing a specific number of pounds, focus on making running a habit.
Become that person who runs three times per week - rain or shine. Make it part of your identity. Or become the type of person who does not snack after dinner.
It's a subtle change in approach, but focusing on your habits instead of numbers, appearance and performance will get you where you want to be.
I am not a weight loss expert nor have I struggled with weight in the past.
But I do love running and want to help the best way I can.
The information above has been compiled through my own research and by interviewing many running, nutrition and obesity specialists.
Running is an excellent way to facilitate weight loss.
Whether you couple it with changes to your diet or not, running can help you lose weight and keep it off.
Your initial goal should be to enjoy running (or work towards it).
Not running fast, or running a marathon. If you're suffering, you're not winning. You win when your run becomes something you look forward to.
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Have you had success running for weight loss?
Further reading if you're interested in running to lose weight:
Nutrition for Runners (Lose Weight and Run Faster Without Dieting)