Running and weight loss: it seems like these two should go together hand in hand. After all, running burns a ton of calories, right? Weight loss and maintaining my weight loss was the main reason I started running.
I’ve struggled with my weight all my life.
If you can relate, then you might know that a lifetime struggle with the scale can mean a roller coaster of emotion, self-esteem issues, triumphs, pits of misery, one diet after the next, wondering which one the solution will finally be.
After all, there are a million Instagram trainers all selling their “breakthrough” programs claiming to fix you forever with a million before and after photos. If you just throw all your money at them it should work, right?
My First Shot at Running
My running journey first started right before Basic Military Training (BMT) in 2014. I started slow and worked my way up to running consistently without stopping. My recruiter scared me out of my mind that they were going to make me run for 30 minutes non-stop at basic training. And I had never run that long before in my life. It was all I could do to run 5-10 minutes without stopping. Because of this, I worked really hard at being able to run. I also worked with a personal trainer, lifted some serious weight, did hot yoga sculpt, and was on my feet for 10+ hours per day working on my parent’s horse farm.
This was a very active time in my life.
The Air Force has minimum and maximum weight requirements for each height to be able to enlist. Out of everyone my recruiter was preparing for BMT, I was definitely the most physically fit. I could run, spin, do push-ups and sit-ups, plus lift more weight than anyone there. Yet I was the only one within 5 pounds of being overweight. My recruiter wanted everyone at least 5 pounds under the maximum “just to be safe.” And he let me know that I was pushing the limit.
This contributed to an already terrible relationship with food.
It taught me how to manipulate my weight by powering through and depriving myself of the foods I most craved in the short-term, but resulted in a vicious cycle of binge eating that did NOT help my weight long term. In fact…after I graduated BMT and had real food choices again, my weight quickly escalated up 15 pounds. I really despised running at that point because it hurt, so I only ran when I had to prepare for my physical fitness test.
I still scored above 90% on every fitness assessment, which meant I only had to test one time per year. Over the years, my time for the 1.5 mile run started to slow down…a lot.
2014- 12:51 (At BMT)
A Turning Point
My run time in 2017 really scared me because I knew if I stayed on the same trajectory, I would soon be failing the run portion of the test. Right after my 2017 fitness test, I knew something had to change. That was the point in my life I decided: “If I’m going to stay in the Air Force, I need to have a better plan to keep myself in shape and be good at running so I don’t have to worry about passing or failing this test every year.”
How do I get better at running? I need to run more.
How do I tolerate running more and stick with it? I’m going to need to find a way to enjoy it.
How do I enjoy running? For one, slow down my pace and stop trying to run PT test pace every time. Second, lose some weight. Third, set other goals to work towards that give me a tangible focus like running 5k’s.
Around the same point in time (about 6 months after I started dating my now husband), I had also hit my heaviest weight: 170 pounds.
The number itself is arbitrary and doesn’t mean the same thing for different people. What matters is what it meant to me. This was the point when I hit rock bottom and said never again. It was April 2017. I felt miserable and disgusting, completely unattractive. Of course, my husband was amazing and still told me I was beautiful and attractive…but I really didn’t feel like I deserved those words.
I wanted to earn it back.
I figured if I ran several times per week, I would burn a ton of extra calories. This was when I started what would become a life of running. Hopefully, I thought, running would help with my weight loss efforts. I ran a number of 5k’s that summer and took several minutes off my personal record over and over again from April through August. Then, I decided I was capable of tackling a 10k. After I finished the 10k, I set my goal to run a half marathon before the end of 2018.
What was the result of all that running?
My fitness test 1.5-mile run times improved dramatically in one year. And the best part is…that test wasn’t even the biggest goal I for me at the time. It was just a small formality I had to check off my list.
2018- 12:41 (Faster than my BMT time!)
My goal for 2020 is to run my test in 12:00 or less.
6 Truths You Need to Know About Running and Weight Loss
Through the my entire journey, I was never happy with my weight. I lost 10 pounds between my starting point in April 2017 and April 2018 when I left for Officer Training School (OTS), where I took my 2018 fitness test.
While 10 pounds isn’t an incredible amount of weight, it was monumental in shedding the excess fat that was weighing my fitness down. After OTS, I lost another 5 pounds while training for my first half marathon in September 2018. My weight fluctuated up last winter, and I had to lose that weight again. Since April 2019, I’ve lost an additional 7 pounds and my weight now sits at 148.
My ultimate goal is 141 pounds to be at my peak racing weight, but I probably won’t reach that until Spring 2020, and I’m completely okay with that. It might take a couple more training cycles to reach my best racing weight.
Running isn’t a guaranteed route to weight loss. Many new runners train for a marathon and actually gain weight in the process.
Bluetooth Scale Recommendations:
- Fitbit Aria 2 Wifi Smart Scale
- Withings Body+ Smart Body Composition Scale
- Greater Goods Bluetooth Smart Scale
Lower Weight Does NOT Equal Better Fitness
One great benefit I have at my current duty station is free access to a Bod Pod. To take advantage of this, I schedule an appointment to have my body fat measured before every big goal race just so I can get a good set of data points about where my body composition is compared to how the race went. I did this 2 days before the race for both my first half marathon, and the last half marathon I PR’d.
Here are the results between those two half marathons:
First Half Marathon Time 2:19:41
- Date: September 14, 2018
- Weight: 154.7 lbs
- Body Fat Percent: 29.7%
Second Half Marathon Time 2:08:11
- Date: April 12, 2019
- Weight: 153.9 lbs
- Body Fat Percent: 30.7%
Seven months apart. I weighed less than 1 pound less, and actually had a slightly higher body fat percentage. Yet I ran an 11-minute personal record.
What does this mean?
Better body composition does NOT equal better fitness.
It just doesn’t. You can improve your fitness capacity dramatically, and your body composition might not change one bit.
Lesson #1: Focus on the non-scale victories. If you can run faster and hit a new personal record, lift more weight, or complete a distance farther than you’ve ever completed before, your fitness is improving!
Adjust Your Expectations
Sustainable weight loss does not happen overnight. Hell, most of us wish it would’ve happened by yesterday, but it’s not going to!
If you notice something about the weight loss journey I shared above…there is nothing monumental or extreme about it.
It took YEARS for me to lose (and keep off) 22 pounds.
Actually, I probably lost quite a bit more than that because I had to lose the same weight over and over again! But it took that much time to slowly adjust my eating and fitness habits so I could not only lose the weight but keep it off.
Some people can lose that much weight in the matter of months. The problem with losing weight quickly is that you haven’t developed the sustainable habits to keep the weight off. The diet and training methods that got you to lose the weight so quickly are probably temporary measures that you’ve implemented in the short term. After you lose it and you quit doing the things that helped you lose the weight, it’ll come right back on.
Lesson #2: If you want to keep the weight off as you lose it, adjust your expectations and make small, incremental changes over time.
Losing Weight Won’t Teach You to Love Yourself
Picture yourself as if you’ve already lost the weight you want to get rid of. Are you instantly happy?
You might think you will be, but happiness is a result of your thoughts. I’ve fallen victim to thinking, “If I could only get my weight under 150, then I’ll be happy.”
Well guess what?
I’m there. And the number on the scale isn’t the source of my happiness.
My happiness comes from my thoughts about the number on the scale, how I feel, appreciation for what my body can do, and excitement about how my body is changing.
Lesson #3: Happiness doesn’t start with the scale. It starts with your thoughts.
Weight Loss Takes Time…Lots of Time
I’ve created timelines for myself, and they almost never work. Usually they are too ambitious, and I fall off because I’m trying to sustain too aggressive of a calorie deficit.
Actually…I’m not sure if they’re really too ambitious, or if its just hard for me to sustain a calorie deficit and lots of running miles at the same time. Either way, running for weight loss is a long-term process and it can’t be rushed.
I mean…it can be rushed, but you might end up having to lose the same weight over and over again.
Trust me, I’ve done it. And it isn’t fun. Losing the same 5 pounds repeatedly is EXTREMELY frustrating.
Allow yourself enough time to implement sustainable lifestyle change. Learn how to incorporate your favorite foods in your regular diet in harmless amount so you don’t feel the need to “cheat” or “binge” and completely derail your progress.
Lesson #4: Be patient with yourself, because sustainable weight loss takes time.
Weight Loss DEPENDS ON Your Relationship with Food
I could probably write a whole book on this one.
It’s not quite a book, but I already wrote a whole post on nutrition habits for runners.
An UNHEALTHY relationship with food will not help you lose weight. It will only drive you to beat yourself up when you eat foods that are “bad.”
Just because you enjoy one treat doesn’t mean you need to beat yourself up and throw the whole day away. Accepting this fact and embracing it has been an ongoing practice for me. I used to use one slip-up as an excuse to just open the floodgates and go all-out on whatever I had been holding back on all week. That definitely doesn’t help move me closer to my goals.
You also shouldn’t completely exclude foods that you love.
Food is one of the sources of pleasure in life, and I wholeheartedly believe that we can find pleasure in food without overindulging.
Some of my favorite food pleasures are chocolate and wine. And Chick-Fil-A.
I’ve learned over time that I can enjoy a glass of wine and a piece of chocolate after dinner without drinking the whole bottle or eating all the chocolate in the bag. Just one, and that’s good enough for me. More indulgence does not equal greater happiness. If anything, the pleasure is numbed after the first serving.
Chick-Fil-A is more of a calorie bomb, so I try to make those stops few and far between. But I still enjoy every bite!
Now I feel less shame for my food choices because the majority of my choices serve my body, and on the occasions when I decide to indulge, it brings more pleasure when I indulge less often.
Plus, running eases the effect of treats on your weight loss efforts.
I implore you to check out Matt Fitzgerald’s book, The Endurance Diet, and discover the nutrition habits of elite endurance athletes. You’ll find they take a more moderate approach and avoid any and all types of fad or crash diets.
Lesson #5: Focus on fostering a healthy relationship with food.
You need to focus on a goal other than your weight, and have weight be a secondary goal.
Sometimes weight loss stalls. When it does, you might need to set another goal to take a mental break from your weight loss focus.
Back when I started on my journey to a healthier weight, I started running races. First a 5k, then a 10k. I was elated by the fact that I could run farther and farther distances. After I finished my first 10k, I could hardly believe I hard run for a solid 6.2 miles!
That was when I got an even crazier idea: If I could run 6.2, which was twice a 5k, then I could probably run half marathon, which is just over twice a 10k. (It’s funny how runner’s logic works…)
What those goals gave me was a healthy focus and motivation to do something other than just lose weight.
Challenging yourself to run farther or faster is a healthy goal that inherently will motivate you to exercise more and eat healthier. A greater focus on running for a race might help you push through your weight loss plateau without you realizing it. It’s also important to value health markers like cardiovascular fitness and increased strength, because those are signs your body is still improving and getting healthier, even if the scale doesn’t show it right away.
Once I ran my first half marathon, there was no going back.
It ignited an athletic drive for self-improvement like never before. Half marathons are also completely do-able and are something I can continue to do for the rest of my life. They also took my running and weight loss to the next level.
You don’t need to be a professional athlete to reap the benefits of the sport of running. The process of training for a half marathon will literally transform the way you view life, and you just might lose weight along the way.
Grab the 6-Day Half Marathon Kick-Start Course if you’d like to see for yourself:
What weight loss lessons have you learned from running?
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- How to Pace Your Half Marathon with 4 Simple Strategies
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- What is a Recovery Week and How it Can Boost Your Running
About Me: I’m Alexis, Founder of RunningMyBestLife! I am an avid recreational runner, half marathoner, wife, dog mom, busy professional, downhill skier in Northern Utah. My mission is to help new enthusiasts fall in love with the sport of running. I believe that running is a catalyst to taking control of your life and living your best life by design. Learn More –>