Let’s Lose Some Weight
In keeping with one of the themes of this site, we’re going to start with some basics and work up from there. To understand why running is a great way to lose weight, we need to examine how our bodies absorb, store and use carbohydrates, proteins and fats in the form of calories. A calorie is simply a measure of the amount of potential energy in the food we eat. Calories aren’t inherently evil, and shouldn’t be feared. They just need to be understood. Calories get a bad rap because the body naturally stores them in the form of fat, anticipating that we will need them later, when times are harder.
The trouble is, modern humans rarely need to use these stored calories. They’re always readily available and inexpensive to consume, so our bodies happily keep storing them in the form of extra poundage. Because of this, most of us have a substantial calorie surplus and our typical daily activities rarely make a significant or consistent dent in it. So, to overcome this and lose weight, we must learn to use more calories than we consume. So, Kylo, how do we do this?
As far as I am concerned there are two ways to do this. The first way is structured dieting, which boils down to limiting the number of calories we eat or drink, thereby reducing or eliminating the calorie surplus. Dieting is, in theory, a viable strategy, but as anyone who’s tried dieting will tell you, it’s really freaking difficult. Successful dieting requires constantly monitoring your caloric intake and in an environment of delivery apps, chai lattes, delicious craft beers and artisan cupcakes, even the most disciplined dieters will falter. If/when they do, the excess calories from their slip-ups don’t go anywhere; they still get added to the surplus. Plus, people just plain get sick of dieting; no one likes eating the same bland meals over and over again. Eventually, most people just kind of give up and revert back to munching on things that are tasty rather than low in calories. On top of all this, many of the “diet” foods out there strip vital nutrients from what would be healthy foods, and use chemical sweeteners that our bodies can’t digest as efficiently. No bueno.
All of that said, a runner’s diet is extremely important, but very possibly not for the reasons you’re thinking. Distance runners have very specific, and as it turns out, very healthy food requirements. A big part of becoming a distance runner revolves around learning how to properly fuel for your next workout. This may sound complicated, but it just means eating lots of simple, easily digestible carbs and proteins, such as eggs, oats, toast, peanut/almond butter, honey, chicken, fruits, seeds, veggies and, my personal favorite, sweet potatoes. Get that runner a sweet potato. Runners love sweet potatoes. Also, because you are definitely burning lots of calories, it’s perfectly fine to indulge in the occasional pizza, burger or beer. Personally, I like to follow the 80/20 rule. If I’m making healthy eating choices 80% of the time, I feel good and can train and race effectively. Of course, this strategy only works when I actually exercise. You may have guessed that my preferred method of exercise is running.
The other method, of course, is exercise. Exercise is just any activity requiring physical effort – which is another name for energy. Lifting weights, yoga, tai chi, curling, it’s all technically exercise; all of these activities require more energy than sitting on the couch. The important part is how many calories are burned during these exercises. I have nothing against curling, but it’s not exactly high-octane stuff. Running, on the other hand, definitely is. Even at the very attainable pace of 9 minutes per mile, running 4 miles for a 150 pound person uses about 450 calories. by contrast, the same person, sitting and watching an episode of Westworld (which, admittedly is a great way to spend an hour) burns only 68 calories. As good as Westworld is, I’ll take the 450 burned calories, please. Plus, if you can’t run, how are you going to escape the androids?
Let’s use a more realistic example to put this in better focus. A 6 foot tall, 200 pound, 28 year-old, sedentary (meaning, for all intents and purposes “doesn’t exercise”) male needs about 2500 calories a day, just to you know, sit there and be alive. While it may not look like he’s doing much (we guys are simple creatures), his brain and other vital organs do need calories/energy to function. If this dude eats exactly 2,500 calories worth of food each day, he’s going to consume about 17,500 calories a week and remain 200 pounds. If he starts to eat just one bag of Doritos per day with his lunch, that’s another 800 calories a week. Since he was at a calorie equilibrium of sorts before he discovered the wonders of nacho cheese powder-soaked corn chips, he’s now been pushed over the edge into a calorie surplus, and he starts to gain weight. On the flip side, if he decides instead to start running 4 miles 3 times a week and changes nothing else, he’ll be running a weekly calorie deficit of around 1,800 and his body will begin to use its energy reserves (fat) to make up the difference. It’s really that simple.
Diet.. and Exercising?!
I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, diet and exercise are good for me huh?… Thanks, really insightful.” I realize it sounds like something of a cop out, but it’s actually not. The reason why is that typical diet and exercising books or websites push elaborate plans that make everything more complex that it needs to be: as if you need to be managing every bite of food you take and/or following incredibly detailed workout regimens and/or taking expensive classes. My point is that it’s just a simple math problem. Need to lose weight? Replace 80% of your meals with healthy, lower calorie options. Also, start running 3 times a week. You will see results. If they’re not as pronounced as you would like, replace more of your meals with healthier, lower-calorie options and run just a little farther for your next workout, or run 4 times a week. You’ll see better results. Repeat until desired results are achieved.