Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by William O. Roberts, M.D
When it comes to runners, we are in a paradox of energy balance. Some under eat for the energy expenditure and experience a drop in performance, health risks, weight loss, or Body Mass Index (BMI) levels of less than 17-19. Others eat more than they should, and despite regular activity, carry excess weight with BMI levels over 25 (the marker for overweight) and sometimes well over 30 (the marker for obesity). Each of us has inherited a set of genes from our parents. And although we cannot do much about that, we can work to optimize the hand we are dealt at birth.
Running is a great way to lose and maintain weight. The goal with weight loss is to increase calories burned to the point where you begin to utilize stored energy. Much of the body’s energy is stored in the body fat distributed around the body under the skin and in the omentum of the abdomen. Men tend to store extra fat in the abdomen, which produces the “apple shape” that is associated with health risks like diabetes and heart disease. Women tend to store fat in the hips and thighs leading to the “pear shape” that is also associated with health risks. For women, this can be complicated by the fat laid down during pregnancy that is mobilized by breast feeding and will usually disappear with a few months of breast feeding. For women who do not breast feed, the fat is more difficult to shed and seems to multiply with each pregnancy in some women. One of the simple measures of improving health risk is the reduction in abdominal and waist girth that comes with increased exercise. The reductions in “belt size” often precede the loss of weight measured on the scale.
From my perspective, the “best” weight loss occurs with a combination of reduced total calories consumed and increased calories burned, but that is easier said than done. Some people are non-responders to exercise, but this is relatively rare. The most common reason for failing a calorie reduction combined with increased exercise program is overeating the exercise calorie burn. Exercise makes some people feel hungry, and many are lured into thinking the calorie burn was much higher than it really was, giving the feeling that a little extra reward of food will not hurt. So if you feel hungry, reach for a carrot or an apple rather than a calorie-dense snack. Try to eat more natural things without any or very few ingredients, especially ingredients with really long names that likely represent additives or preservatives. Move away from sugary drinks, sports drinks, and other extra calorie fluids and toward water or flavored waters.
The exercise side of weight loss is a little different than the fitness prescription. Weight loss, especially for women, usually requires five to six days of 60 minutes worth of exercise each week to be effective. The intensity is also less than the fitness level and tends to be at the comfortable to slightly uncomfortable conversational pace. For “never-evers”, I usually recommend starting with five minutes of walking a day, adding a minute or two every couple of days, and building walking endurance before progressing to running. If you have soreness from the activity, take the next day off or cut back a minute or two. Once you get to 30 minutes, you can add in alternating blocks of running and walking. If you already run or jog 20 to 30 minutes, three to four times a week, start to fill in the other days with walks or slow runs and gradually add a minute or two every week to your usual runs. Build this up to 60 minutes six days a week. If you can dial back the calories, you will lose some weight, unless you are one of the rare non-responders.