A sensible approach to running and weight loss

December 07, 2023

The season of new year's resolutions isn’t upon us just yet but still, some of us think ahead of the great holiday feasts and what it might mean for our waistlines. Running is a great tool for weight loss but, just as with any other sport, there are some key considerations to keep in mind to do it safely and efficiently.

Here’s your step-by-step guide to running for weight loss, including diet and training tips.

1. You can’t outrun a bad diet

First and foremost, this needs to be said. Weight loss occurs when you consistently burn more calories than you consume. We refer to this as CICO - calories in, calories out. There are certain factors that influence CICO: age, gender, hormonal imbalances, certain medical conditions and medications, etc. These variables can account to a few hundred calories a day, and calorie counting isn’t an exact science either. We absorb calories from different types of foods to varying degrees. However, this doesn’t mean that calorie counting is moot and pointless. Think of it as doing a household budget: sometimes you’ll have unexpected spendings or a bit of an extra income, so it’s impossible to create a to-the-cent accurate budget of your expected spendings. Still, with structure and planning, you can stay within your allocated limits of spending. To create a weight loss plan that is effective and sustainable, calculate your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) and take away 500 calories of it daily. This will come to a 3500 calorie deficit each week which is the equivalent of roughly one pound of fat.

2. Consult your doctor if you need to

When I first started my health journey, I had a good 40 pounds to lose. With my BMI in the obese category and a permanent knee injury, I couldn’t just up and run for the hills. If you have more than 20 pounds to lose or have pre-existing conditions that might make physical activity riskier for you, it is extremely important to see your GP and inform them about your weight loss plans. GPs historically speaking do not receive in-depth training about nutrition as part of their studies; you might want to consult a dietician about that. Beware of nutritionists - the term nutritionist has no legal protection, therefore anyone with a weekend degree or enough confidence can label themselves as such.

3. Assess your starting point

Your starting level will heavily depend on the amount of weight you need to lose. Each extra pound of body weight puts 5 pounds of pressure on your load bearing joints. This isn’t to say that there’s a weight limit for being active, but heavier people need to exercise more caution when starting their running journey. Doing too much, high impact running can cause unnecessary damage to the ankles and knees. Low-intensity exercise then becomes the key to sustainability. Start by going on walks, increase time spent outside and frequency gradually, until you’re ready to jog and finally, run.

4. Know it’s going to be difficult at first

During the first few weeks, your shins will hurt as previously unused muscles start to form and gain strength. (Pro tip: read this article to see which 3 exercises to do to overcome shin splints) You will be hungrier than usual - cutting your calories and increasing physical activity will do that, and it takes a fair bit of mental fortitude to not give into the cravings. Pushing through this time of discomfort is hard and you might not even feel it’s worth it - that is, until you start celebrating non-scale victories: enjoying better stamina, tightening your belt an extra notch, having that extra spring in your step. For myself, the day I realized I no longer have to take a deep breath before I lean down to tie my shoes made all of it worth it. Not to mention, not being out of breath after walking up two flights of stairs was also pretty neat.

5. Make it easier for yourself

They say that weight loss is simple but it does not make it easy. The principles are fairly straightforward but the rhythm of our own lives, our daily responsibilities and commitments can all make it difficult to adhere to a consistent diet and exercise routine. By making healthy choices accessible and convenient, you can reduce distractions and stay on track. If you only have time to run in the morning, make sure to lay out your running gear before bedtime. This way you can roll out of bed, get ready and be on the road in no time. If you’re prone to snacking, make sure to keep healthier options around and choose foods that are high in protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. These foods will keep you fuller for longer and fuel your workouts and recovery. The healthy option doesn’t have to be bland or boring either - we even have a protein-packed cheesecake recipe for those with a sweet tooth.

6. Remember to rest

“It’s a lifestyle change” is said by many who have lost and kept off weight long term. Before you embark on this journey, remember that you are not doing a fad starvation diet and despite what some people might tell you, there’s no magic exercise that will spot reduce fat from your preferred area (short of getting a liposuction). As you progress along, your goals and methods will change but ultimately health is a lifelong commitment - so there’s really no need to rush.

Scheduled rest days are a part of any good routine and it’s also crucial to listen to your body when it tells you it needs an extra day of rest.

7. We all make mistakes

Your extra day of rest turned into an extra week of rest. You caved and had that big thing of takeout. Are you doomed? Heck no! Every day is a new day and a new opportunity to better ourselves. If you find that lapses in training or diet happen too often, it doesn’t mean you failed either, it just means it’s time to get back to the drawing board to see what’s not working, why it is not working, and how it can be fixed.

8. You don’t have to do it alone

Being alone on your weight loss journey can be a lonely, isolating experience. Surrounding yourself by like-minded people who have the same goals as yourself will help tremendously. Going on runs with an AC, swapping tips and recipes in a Facebook group or even just knowing other people have the same ups and downs as you can become a huge source of strength and inspiration.

RunRepublic has a wealth of resources available for runners of all abilities and we pride ourselves on collaborating with respected specialists who excel in their fields. Head over to our Training page to get full training plans, useful tips and interesting bits of information.

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