Sometimes it feels as though a new theory comes along every week that asks you to consider the relationship between eating, running and weight loss. Who hasn't experienced eating everything in sight, only to wind up feeling guilty because adding more running doesn’t get rid of the pounds careless eating added?
Perhaps you need to learn a bit about balance and accept the fact that achieving your weight loss goal is more about biology than it is about how much you deprive and/or push yourself.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it makes no sense to eat the wrong foods and expect to knock off the weight it adds simply by running it off. So what’s the secret to achieving this delicate balance? Accepting the fact that your body is in charge, not your head!
The science of homeostasis
If metaphors help you digest concepts, you’ll like the one most often used by nutrition and lifestyle experts: Every person’s body is like an automobile that requires proper care. Over feed it and pricey gas comes pouring out of your fuel tank, splashing on the ground.
Run the car too long without a fuel stop and you’d better have someone’s phone number on speed dial, because you’re going to need a ride. Your well being depends upon fuel in the same way a vehicle does, but that’s where commonalities end: put too much fuel into your stomach and rather than running off the pavement, it’s going to stick around your midsection and compromise your muscle.
How does this impact your run? Belly fat — the place most likely to store the extra fuel you’ve been ingesting — slows you down as muscle mass is replaced by that fat and your metabolism goes into a nosedive. So what’s a runner to do when faced with this dilemma? Surprisingly, if you restrict your food intake, you’ll do more harm than good.
You’ll can get crabby. Short-tempered. Even your best running buddies won’t want to be around you! So there you are, stuck with fat stores and pissed off. To make matters worse, that fat triggers a cortisol rise that can ruin your good health. Maybe it’s time you thought about embracing a new lifestyle.
Have you heard of Leptin? It’s secreted by fat cells, and when calories are restricted, fat cells shrink. Primal forces overtake your body: as less Leptin is produced, your brain yells, “Feed me!” Okay, maybe not in those exact words, but at this point, biology has taken your brain captive and its natural reaction is to slow your metabolism down to a crawl.
You can run as much as you want at this point. It won’t help. Your body is on auto-pilot. Literally. It’s gone into a spiral.
Several ways to change your lifestyle
Intermittent Fasting. Among the many populist movements currently making news is intermittent fasting. Introduced as a way to rest the gastrointestinal system for long periods of time, this fasting method has been extolled by medical experts and criticised by them too, so if you’re looking for a topic that polarises people, this is it!
In a nutshell, one goes without food for between 14 and 36 hours daily or for longer periods, and according to research findings, this calorie break can restore health, balance and even extend your life by years.
While too complicated to go into detail here, there are many resources that describe a variety of intermittent fasting techniques and plans aimed at athletes, but remember that there’s a difference between lying around at home while fasting and being physically active. Only you can decide if this is the way you want to approach your weight loss challenge.
Three-hour eating plan. Not as drastic as the aforementioned fasting protocol, modified fasting programs have borne results for runners who want to lose weight yet eat more. Some of the strategies in this plan offer big payoffs, including not getting “hangry” because you’ve deprived yourself of fuel:
- Eat every three hours rather than sitting down to huge meals during the day.
- Start with a big, healthy, protein-based breakfast.
- Add a snack three hours later.
- Tackle a big lunch three hours later that’s made up of foods that are packed with energy boosters like peanut butter on crackers, carrot sticks and hummus
- Make dinner the smallest meal of the day: a cup of rice or pasta that shares the plate with lots of veggies.
- Bedtime snacks, if you can’t live without them, should be small but filling (lean protein or whole grains).
- If you remain hungry while acclimatising to this eating schedule, examine your motives. Do you need more time to adjust? Are you ruled by the kitchen clock or tempted to eat because you’re bored?
Customised eating. If you’ve ever sat down to discuss the topic of an ideal diet, even strangers will jump in and offer their personal advice! One woman swears pre-packaged diet foods are the mainstay of her lifestyle. Another joined a club or a movement like Weight Watchers or sought psychological support.
But here’s the secret to figuring out which one can help you eat more and lose weight: Try a variety of these solutions to find the one that works for you. Perhaps your weight gain is the result of taking a medication or you’ve been prescribed a blood thinner that restricts the amount of produce you can eat.
There are dietary ways around most situations, but you’re going to have to ferret them out.
What does a customised plan entail? Eating any combination of healthy foods on a specific schedule and adopting the mindset that cutting back on nutrients and increasing physical workouts are counter productive because as you deprive your body of calories, it goes into survival mode and instinctively begins to fight against weight loss.
It's a complicated, primal reaction that resides in our DNA.
If you try to run more and cut back on your food intake, you’re going to be one angry runner because your body wants food and it won’t reward you with weight loss if you simply run past the ‘fridge when the urge to eat consumes you. Calorie restrictions impact your body’s ability to store glycogen so post-run recovery and muscle damage could both be dangerous outcomes.
Instead, turn to protein and fibre-rich foods and eat them in abandon using a combination of diet and running that makes sense and keeps your system in balance.
Invest in a proper eating plan, there’s no need to go crazy and work out for unreasonable amounts of time because you change the way your body reacts naturally when you follow the right eating plan. Running can’t compensate for bad food intake and help your weight hold the line and there’s one more factor that bears mentioning here: therapeutic sleep.
Even if you adopt a sensible eating plan and cut back on your exercise to lose weight, you still may not see results if you don’t get adequate sleep. In fact, it only takes three nights of tossing and turning before your blood sugar levels react and throw your appetite into a spin, so as you work whichever program you’ve chosen for your health and wellbeing, factor in sleep if you have problems following the routine you’ve set for yourself.
Perhaps the best way to explain the interrelationship between food, weight loss and physical exertion was uttered by Matt Dixon, an exercise physiologist with a decade of coaching, research and testing expertise. It’s his opinion that one can eat more, run less and keep the pounds off.
In fact, he advises athletes to eat right and, “…you shouldn’t have to worry about weight—the pounds should come off of their own accord.” As a bonus, you don’t have to turn the sport you love into punishment to achieve your weight loss goal!
Have you come up with a way of eating that allows you to keep your weight at optimal levels so you don’t have to increase your exercise? We’d like to hear about what you do and how you do it!