Runners know that the miles they log on the pavement, trail and treadmill are great for keeping them fit. But another thing that’s high on the list of the sport’s many virtues is that it’s an amazing weight-control tool. But weight loss is a different story.
Runners often think they can eat whatever they want and still shed the pounds. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Running is only half of the equation. You have to look hard at what you eat – and how you eat, too.
Leslie Bonci, author of Run Your Butt Off! (£14.99, Rodale Press), pinpoints eight crucial nutrition rules of weight loss. Bonci’s advice can help any runner who wants to lose weight – whether it’s five pounds or five stone.She’ll show you how to track your food intake, space meals throughout the day to ward off hunger and honestly count the calories you consume.
These methods were tested by real runners who overhauled their eating habits and shed an impressive amount of weight over 12 weeks. And if they can do it, so can you.
Take really good notes
Writing down everything you eat may sound tedious, but it pays off: studies have shown that people who log their food intake regularly keep more weight off than those who don’t take notes.
Bonci recommends recording everything you eat for at least one week (and then doing so again every few weeks after that), including important details, such as when, where, why and how much you eat. “Reviewing these details will help you glean important information about your habits and highlight ways you can make healthier choices,” says Bonci.
Make it work
Keep a food log: a notebook will do the trick, as will an Excel spreadsheet or storing details on your mobile phone. Bonci suggests recording whether or not you’re hungry when you eat and grading the day from 1 to 5 (1 being unhealthy and 5 being super healthy). “This can be a reality check, as in, ‘I’m not doing so badly after all’ or ‘My diet is worse than I thought’,” says Bonci.
Do not rush weight-loss
In Bonci's experience of helping clients lose weight, she's noticed the self-education process takes about 12 weeks.
You need three months to train your brain to make a habit of good consumption behaviour: getting used to reading labels at the supermarket, learning how to plan your meals and shop accordingly, and figuring out how to add in more fruit and vegetables.
Quick-fix or fad diets, like those that rely too much on one ingredient (remember the cabbage soup diet?) or exclude nutrients (like fat or carbs), are destined to fail because they're just that - a quick fix.
"You want habits that are sustainable for years, not a few days," says Bonci. And it takes time to develop these habits. Remember, you're a work in progress - as an eater and an athlete.
Make it work
One of the keys to slimming down for good is avoiding some of the common mistakes people make when trying to lose weight quickly. They're usually errors of deprivation: limiting options until your taste buds get bored, or holding yourself to impossible standards. Then when you fall off the wagon, all the bad habits quickly return.So remember to be flexible and don't be too hard on yourself.
Make your food taste good
"When people go into diet mode, all they eat is grilled chicken salad, day in day out," says Bonci. "Pretty soon their eyes, tongue and brain start begging for something else - like salty crisps or sweet ice cream."
She suggests trying foods with different textures, spices and flavours. The more variety, the less likely you'll experience cravings for less healthy items.
Keep fine-tuning your plan
Sometimes an injury throws your upcoming race out the window. So you re-adjust and come back stronger. The same holds true for your diet.
A good way to re-examine your strategy is to restart your food log. You might realise you've been hungrier on tough workout days and need an extra snack. Or you might see you've been rushing through lunch and should slow down.
Don't give up
Just because you had an extra custard cream, don't fall into the 'I've blown it' school of thought. "People set up such rigid guidelines," Bonci says. "Then it's, 'Uh-oh, I deviated, so I might as well continue eating until I go to bed.'
Get out of that 'good vs bad' mindset. Maybe it was more than you wanted, but it's not the end of the world. Move on. You'll be far more successful on your path to weight loss."
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