Tipping The Scales

Want to lose weight? Exercise alone not enough? Here are nine weight-loss strategies, just one of which will help you shed those unwanted pounds

Posted: 16 May 2003
by Kristine Clark

Keith Fitzpatrick was very active when I first started seeing him at my sports nutrition clinic. He ran 25 miles a week, played rugby and lifted weights regularly. In the previous three years, Keith had lost almost three-and-a-half stone on his own.

But he still wasn’t where he wanted to be. He couldn’t lose that last 10lbs. It was clear that Keith’s running had been mostly responsible for his weight loss, so I didn’t want to prescribe more of that. Instead, I suggested several new nutritional strategies for him to try. “Pick the one that works best for you,” I told him, “and stick with it.”

What follows is a menu of the nine weight-loss choices I gave to Keith. In the 15 years that I’ve been a sports nutritionist, I’ve found these to be the most successful strategies for active people – whether you’re looking to lose that last stone or the first one. If you’re not able to use all nine strategies, fine. In fact, that’s the point – you don’t need to.

Simply choose the tips that are most appropriate for you. Then practise them regularly; make them into habits.

By adopting these habits, you can expect to lose about two pounds a week, or 10 within a month. And you’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel. And the final bonus? You’ll run more easily and both faster and farther.

Start keeping a food diary – today

As much as you may dread doing this, research consistently shows that people who keep a record of what they eat lose more weight, and keep it off longer, than those who don’t. Many runners find it tough to remember what they ate even for their last meal. A careful record of what, when and how much you eat is sometimes the only way to get a handle on what may be thwarting your weight-loss effort.

To keep a diary, I suggest you carry a small notebook with you. Since weekend eating is typically different than weekday eating, keep your diary for at least seven days to get an accurate account of your usual eating habits. If you have an office party or some other celebration during this period, don’t record that day. Skip it and include a more typical day. The point of this exercise is to examine your normal eating routine, to find problem areas and make the appropriate adjustments.

Pick one aspect of your eating behaviour that is contributing to your current weight level – and change it

When runners tell me that they can’t lose weight, I usually ask, “What do you think you’re doing wrong?” Almost everyone can think of one aspect of their eating behaviour that’s keeping them from achieving their goal.

Let’s take the use of margarine as an example. Say you put a tablespoon of margarine (plus jam) on two slices of toast in the morning. That’s 180 calories’ worth of margarine. Then you use margarine for your turkey sandwich at lunch. That’s another 180 calories. At dinner you add a small dollop of margarine to your cooked vegetables or pasta. That’s 90 more calories. Eating those same foods without the margarine would save 450 calories for that day, which is the calorific equivalent to four miles of running! Margarine may not be your particular problem. It could be salad dressing, soft drinks or a particular snack food which you enjoy. Cutting out one of these can make a huge difference.

Once a week, plan your meals for the next several days, then buy groceries accordingly

Planning menus means that you’ll be telling yourself what you’re going to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Write it all down and stick it on the fridge. This will eliminate guesswork at mealtimes, and stop you from saying, “Hmmm, there’s nothing here I want to eat, so I might as well order a large pepperoni pizza.”

It’s like keeping a running schedule. Once you have a routine mapped out, you’re more likely to follow it through than if you make it up as you go along. It takes some planning – but it’s worth it. Like a food diary, a meal plan will provide a record of your eating as your weight-loss effort proceeds.

Place a basket of fruit on your desk or counter top

It’s as simple as that. Fruit should never go in the fridge (once there, it’s out of sight, out of mind). Fruits (and vegetables, for that matter) are high in fibre, which causes a feeling of fullness and helps you eat less. Studies show that people on high-fibre diets (25-35 grams of fibre per day) tend to take in less fat. Carry around packets of dried fruit (apricots, dates, raisins, apples, figs etc) or sliced vegetables (carrots, celery, green peppers and the like). Dried fruit is non- perishable, so you can keep it in your desk drawer or your gym bag. Or keep some in the glove compartment of your car for the commute to and from work.

Consume more fluids

The reason for this is simple: they fill you up, according to nutrition professor Barbara Rolls. Rolls has studied groups of people who drink lots of water (at least eight large glasses a day) or eat lots of fruits, vegetables and broth-based soups (all high in water). These people tend to consume fewer total calories than those who don’t take in as much fluid.

Again, there’s no magic here, just common sense. If you fill up on low-calorie, high-water-content drinks and foods, you’ll be less likely to crave more fattening foods. (Remember, the drinks need to be low- calorie. Beer, wine and fizzy drinks don’t count.) It’s the same concept as eating more fibre – take in the good, and you’ll be less tempted by the bad.

Have your body-fat percentage checked

Okay, this may not be a weight-loss strategy per se. Rather, knowing your body-fat percentage tells you for sure whether you need to lose weight at all. My own history serves as a good example here. When I was training for a marathon 10 years ago, I had my body-fat percentage checked. I was 34 years old at the time, and I had 17 per cent body fat. Today I’m 44 and weigh 6lbs less than I did back then. However, I had my body fat checked recently, and it was 23 per cent.

Not bad, but it made me realise that the weight I’d lost in 10 years wasn’t from fat, it was from lean tissue – from muscle, in other words. In my case, I didn’t need to lose weight, but I needed to strength train in order to build up my muscle mass.

Check with your doctor on the various ways to have your body-fat percentage measured. (Note, though, that some are more accurate than others.) Once you know it, refer to the table below.

Recommended Overweight Obese
Men 6-18% 19-24% Over 25%
Women 10-25% 26-30% Over 31%

Get adequate protein

Of the three nutrients that supply calories in our diet – carbohydrates, protein and fat – protein is the best at making us feel full. When you eat high-protein foods, you’ll stop eating sooner than if you eat only carbohydrate. Most runners know that carbohydrate is the most important energy source, and a high-carbohydrate diet (50 per cent or more of total calories) is vital for maintaining adequate muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrate). Still, too many runners emphasise carbohydrates in their diet at the expense of protein.

Sedentary people should take in around four grams of protein per 10lbs of bodyweight per day. As a runner, you need roughly six grams of protein per 10lbs of bodyweight. This comes to around 78 grams a day for a 9st runner or 108 grams for a runner who weighs 13st. Look for low-fat protein sources such as fish, lean beef, skinless chicken and turkey, as well as low-fat dairy products or meat alternatives like eggs, dried beans or reduced-fat peanut butter.

Exercise portion control

“Obvious enough,” you may say, “but what’s a portion?” Good question. My advice: think small. Use small bowls, glasses and plates so that you’re more apt to consume smaller portions.

As a guide, a serving in the bread-and-cereal food category amounts to half a cup of pasta, rice or cereal, half a bagel, an English muffin, or one slice of bread. In the dairy group, one portion of milk is one cup, whereas a portion of cheese is one ounce. A portion of meat is three ounces (about the size of a deck of cards).

The point of all this is that portions should be small. Keep this in mind when exercising portion control, except for your fruits and vegetables. You’re probably not getting enough of these nutritious foods, so pile them on without worrying.

Practise asking yourself whether you’re really hungry

Okay, this might sound crazy, but plenty of people eat for reasons other than hunger. Feelings of stress, happiness, boredom, fatigue or frustration can make even the most disciplined person head for the fridge.

Food can provide an escape from these feelings or be associated in your mind with them. So get into the habit of asking yourself, “Am I hungry, or is something else making me think of food?” If you’re not hungry, close that fridge door and figure out what’s really on your mind. The more you do this, the better you’ll get at it. Eventually it will become second nature.

And more...
This article was written with two additional panels:
  1. Training changes for best weight loss ('Running by Numbers')
  2. How to estimate your calorie needs ('Calorie Accounting')
You can see them - and all other premium content on our site - if you're a subscriber to the UK edition of Runner's World magazine. Subscribe here for a special offer and instant access.

Previous article
Tasty Tips
Next article
Tipping The Scales - Extra Content

weight, training misc

Discuss this article

Kristine Clark's article on losing weight while running is great for people who struggle with their weight. But what about those of us that already follow all the advice she gives.

I have been running for just over 2 years and I saw a nutritionist about 18 months ago that gave me all the advice that Kristine recommends. Initially I lost 2 stone without really feeling that I was dieting, but now I can't seem to lose any more. I am still about 13 stone, and very short, so I have got plenty of fat to lose.

Is anyone else in the same boat as me? Any ideas why I can't lose the weight?
Posted: 14/06/2007 at 08:24

Nope. I'm my own worst enemy.

I dieted, took up running lost a stone, stopped dieting then put all the weight back on again.

But I love running, it's just a shame I love crisps, fish finger butties and live in an area where there is a price war between all the curry houses, pizza shops and chipies!
Posted: 14/06/2007 at 09:32

Caz, are you doing any strength/weight training as well as running? I lost a good deal of weight last year through combining sensible eating and lots of mainly cardio exercise, but began to plateau a bit before doing a weights induction at the gym, started weight training 3x/wk in addition to regular cardio, then my weight loss sped up again - and my body was starting to look a lot more toned. :) (Only THEN did I start running regularly and lost even more!...)

If you're following good nutritional advice then it might be the case that you need to mix up the calorie-burning side of the equation, to give your body a new impetus to lose more weight.
Posted: 14/06/2007 at 10:12

Supercaz - i started running a year ago and i've lost near 2 and a half stone, but i too have stopped losing weight. I've just joined weightwatchers as a gold member (if you know what i mean) to see if i can lose the last 7lbs to get to the weight i would like to be.
Problem is ....im always hungry.

I started running to lose weight and now its not working anymore i have been tempted to stop. I don't do it to compete so why do it now?
Posted: 14/06/2007 at 11:16

do you keep a food diary? if so how about posting say your last weeks food on here so people have a better basis to comment? also how tall is "very short"?

if you don't keep a food diary then its one of the best things you could do to help you lose weight.
Posted: 14/06/2007 at 12:50

sorry - i've actually read the article now. so please ignore my question. obviously you do keep a food diary! so as i said - if you post say the last weeks food then you might get some useful ideas?
Posted: 14/06/2007 at 12:52

It's a simple fact that if you put in less calories than you burn, then you'll lose weight.

The hard part is doing it. I find it hard, so find myself always being just that little bit heavier than I want to be.

But if you stop running, then you'll burn less calories so you're more than likely going to gain weight.

Everything in moderation.
Posted: 14/06/2007 at 13:00

OK, here's a bit more background.

I run three times a week (usually for an hour each time), I work out at the gym twice a week including weights (30 to 45 min) and cardio (45 min to 1 hour). I have a personal training plan for my food and my exercise levels so I feel that I am getting a balanced workout and have been told that I am eating enough.

In a typical day I eat one Shredded Wheat with a tablespoon of tinned or fresh fruit and skimmed milk. Lunch is a carb-free, high (lean) protein salad. Dinner is a normal meal, but with a maximum of three tablespoons of carb. I have stomach problems that prevent me from eating a high fat diet anyway so dinner is usually lots of stir-fried veg with some chicken or chickpeas. We very rarely buy convenience foods and cook from scratch, so I know what is in my food.

Once a week I eat out. I normally have either salad or salmon, but occassionally (once a month) have something like bangers and mash.

For snacks I have a low fat yogurt or an apple. Occassionally if I crave something sweet I will have dried apricots or a handful of furit and nuts.

On days that I run I have a homemade flapjack in the afternoon otherwise I don't have the energy to get me through to dinner. This is my only 'bad' food.

Friday nights I share a bottle of wine, but otherwise don't drink alcohol. The rest of the time I mainly drink water or fruit/green tea with one cup of coffee (black, no sugar) in the morning.

I always eat when I am hungry because otherwise I end up eating the wrong foods, but I am rarely hungry on this diet and I certainly don't starve myself.

Just to put this into context. I am about 5'3", 13 stone, but only a size 14/16. I am not worried about how I look and am comfortable with my size, but I do have problems with my joints and I feel that if I could lose some weight life would be less painful for me. I do have fat to lose, but although the Doctor claims that I am obese I don't think that realistically I could lose the 3 to 4 stone that he recommends.
Posted: 15/06/2007 at 08:24

Supercaz - i don't think you're eating enough to get ya metabolism going properly. I'm eating more than that on weightwatchers and managing to lose a steady 2 lbs a week :-)
Posted: 15/06/2007 at 09:22


I went from 10.5 stone to 9 stone over a couple of years then plateaud just like you. I then decided to listen to my body, eat when hungry, if not hungry don't eat, and make sure it's all healthy stuff. I continued with my food diary to ensure I was getting the right % of protein, carbs and fat.

Initially it was a bit odd cos sometimes I'd eat like a horse on certain days, other days I'd eat bugger all. However it kind of evened out and gradually over the last few months I've dropped another half a stone and it's still going down.

Why not try that, and also keep the weight training but add a few more miles each week, preferably by an extra run to give your metabolism another kick?

I agree with Kathy as well, it doesn't sound to me as if you're eating anywhere near enough. I find I'm eating more now and the weight is coming off since I started listening to your body. I find it never tells me to eat if I've got a stack of fuel in the tank to burn off from previously having a good nosh.

Good luck!
Posted: 15/06/2007 at 10:00

blimey from little lizzard to minute(or is it my newt):O)
Posted: 15/06/2007 at 10:30

Hoosey, yer nutter, LOL!
Posted: 15/06/2007 at 12:32

I never let myself go hungry and my meals are huge, even if they are low calorie. I hate feeling that I am dieting, so I always make sure I have a full plate and feel full after a meal. The nutritionist says that I am eating enough. She should know what she's talking about, shouldn't she?

When I was putting the weight on my diet was very similar to what it is now. All I did was swap my cereal for one with less sugar, remove bread from my lunch and have about half the carb with my dinner. I can't believe that such small differences can result in me not eating enough. Or am I just deceiving myself?
Posted: 15/06/2007 at 13:39

Try the Paelo Diet. Eat as much as you like and some and still lose weight. Also very healthy for you. It is not low carb as some people seem to suggest as you can eat as much fruit and veg as you like. It does have a two week braking in period where you feel very tired as your body adjusts to not having all the usual junk food. There was an article on it in Runnersworld a few months back but I can't remember which issue. The article was called The Paeolithic Diet For Athletes.
Posted: 01/08/2007 at 01:48

Hi, is it possible that it is the size of the meals? Even a low calorie meal, if it is large, adds extra calories. At the end of the day weight loss is guaranteed if there is a calorie deficit, what I mean is if the amount of calories consumed each day encourages weight loss by being low enough to create this deficit. Sorry I haven't worded this very well. I read somewhere that to feel hungry is good for you as it is a sign that your body is losing weight (when you cut the size of a meal) as long as you have small healthy snacks in between meals so that you are not feeling extremely hungry or tired then I think the feeling of hunger is good as it is a sign that your body genuinely needs to eat. I think the average woman expends 2000 calories a day so to lose weight it needs to be under this, if exercising then the deficit need not be so great as the exercise uses calories. Eating over this amount, regardless of where those extra calories come from, whether it be fruit or crisps or whatever, weight will over time, go on. Hope this makes sense!
Posted: 12/08/2007 at 16:22

You've probably already done this but have you tried shaking up your exercise routine? Do you always do the same weight exercises? Do you always run for the same pace for the same amount of time? Maybe try some different cross training exercises such as swimming or cycling to see if it gives your weight loss a kick?

I find that if I shake my routine up then it stops the plateau. It's the same with food - if I find myself always eating the same things then I'll change what I'm having for breakfast or just try and generally shake things up to make my body pay attention and wake up!

If that doesn't work then maybe a few days of eating maintenance calories and then reducing them, just so it gets that metabolism wakened!
Posted: 12/08/2007 at 18:57

Well, things haven't been going well recently. I have hurt my ankle adn been unable to go any exercise for three weeks. Hope to get back to crosstraining today, but have been told not to run for at least another week.

My diet has stayed the same and I have put weight on. No surprise there really.

Maybe I have got stuck in a bit of a routine with my eating habits. My exercise regime changes every few months because otherwise I get bored, but I will look into eating different foods.
Posted: 13/08/2007 at 09:31

Oh flippin' 'eck!

A glass of wine and some chocolate anyone? Peronally think there is some law or other in physics stating the fatter you feel the more you eat....probably just me tho' eh? 

Posted: 16/11/2007 at 21:03

Nope, Becky - I know that one.

I've had ankle problems and have been out of action, and been ill as well, but somehow inactivity has actually made me want to eat more crap food (mmm...red wine and chocolate!)  Since going for a short run Friday night and the first decent run in a couple of months yesterday I actually feel more enthused about eating healthily again (but still had to buy a cappuccino this morning even though I'd supposedly sworn off them).

Sorry, SuperCaz - wish I had some advice for you on this one, but despite not being overweight I'm grappling with my own food issues at the moment!  Best of luck with it though, and I hope you get the problem sorted out.

Posted: 19/11/2007 at 09:44

i go from one extreme to another -picture of health running every other day and eating very healthily and then after a few months have a really bad binge where i dont run  and eat utter shite for a few weeks. I just cant be good all the time -trouble is i undo all the good work!

Im on a binge at the moment about to order a curry - i feel a fraud being on this web site as i havent run for weeks!

I think im one of those people who when they do something they make sure they do it to the full - even the bad stuff.......

when will this binge end? i feel it coming but then its christmas soon so should i just stay like this until the new year?

de ja vous......did i say that last year?

Posted: 19/11/2007 at 19:55

Laurie I know exactly what you mean.  I was vegan for five years, and I mean strict vegan.  Nothing but healthy plant-based food (as well as no leather, wool, animal products in cosmetics yada-yada-yada).  Maintained the same fairly low weight for probably that entire time.  Yet before that, I was an overweight fry-up junkie.

Since about April I'm not even vegetarian.  I recently came to the end of an extreme, extended cake-binge (yay! all those things I couldn't eat - lets have loads of them!).

I know objectively how to eat healthily but don't always feel like it.  I've put on weight (not a vast amount but more than i'm happy with) and am struggling to lose it.

October/November were supposed to be my healthy months in the run-up to Xmas.  But with sprained ankle and illness that went out the window slightly and I've found it a struggle.  And even when I do eat healthily my portions are too big.

Now I'm back running again, and I'm hoping the momentum of more exercise will spur me on to be more sensible in my eating.  Perversely, I do actually find it easier to maintain a healthy diet when I'm doing more exercise as well.

...Or maybe I just have no faith in my ability to eat sensibly, and this is only kept at bay when I'm active enough to burn off the extra calories.

Posted: 20/11/2007 at 08:49

I read somewhere that a good binge-eat is good for the diet as it tricks the body into thinking theres plenty of food so it doesn't go into starvation mode.

Sorry, I can't offer any specific advice other than what worked for me which was to eat the same meals as normal but add more veg (and always eat that first) then put my fork down the instant I felt full. No snacking, three solid meals (including a larger than normal breakfast) and two treats a week (chocolate bar and homecooked pud). This, combined with excercise saw me lose 3 1/2 stone in 7/8 months. The trick is not to get hungry, if you're hungry your body will go into starvation mode and preserve all the fat you want to lose.


Posted: 20/11/2007 at 13:30

We'd love you to add a comment! Please login or take half a minute to register as a free member

Smart Coach
Free, fully-personalized training plans, designed to suit your racing goals and your lifestyle.