It creeps on. Before we know it, we are heavier than we ever thought we would be. We see a photo of ourselves and wonder who that big person is who looks just like us staring back at us.
Or maybe we notice a scale at a friend’s house and cannot resist the temptation to get on it.
“That’s it. I am on a diet.”
We often have these inner battles with our minds. We do so well with healthy eating, but suddenly, all of our focus is gone, and we are back to eating as we were before. Another diet attempt abandoned.
It has been made abundantly clear in many articles that if we are a heavier runner, we are putting extra stress on our muscles, bones, and tendons, which can put us at a higher risk of injuries, but realistically, most of us are trying to lose weight to look better. To feel more confident in ourselves for an upcoming event, be it a race, or just a party we are looking forward to.
Many runners turn to restricting their caloric intake to lose those extra pounds. An effective tool, but one that if we take it too far will actually cause the opposite.
If our body is used to 3,000 calories a day, and we suddenly cut back to under 1,000, our body will be very confused and will look back to our hunter-gatherer days when our ancestors would binge on food that was available and then go an extended period without anything.
When we limit our calories too much, our body will think this is what is happening. Therefore, it will cling on to every morsel that we consume, and we will gain fat as it tries to give a nice cushion to live on if there is no more food.
When we first decide that we want to lose weight, we think that the less we eat, the quicker the weight will fall off.
Makes sense right?
Unfortunately, that is wrong, especially if we are running while we are trying to lose the weight. Those calories we are putting in are energy, fuel for our training. If we do not put enough in, we are going to be unable to run as fast or as far.
Without those calories, we are missing the opportunity to make a significant gain in fitness, which we will regret come race day. Our body will also not be able to repair itself correctly after a run, which means our muscles will break down to find that energy within themselves. This means we go into our next workout not fully recovered.
The next time we run hard without enough calories, we will push our body further into a hole. Now we are risking over-training. If we are using a marathon training schedule to reach our marathon goals, this could spell disaster.
Okay, so what if we do not care about our performance?
What if I am purely running to lose weight?
If we do not care that our body will lose muscle as well as fat for running reasons, consider the following: Muscle is a metabolically active tissue (which means our body burns calories to keep that muscle). Muscle speeds up our metabolism so we burn more calories. However, if we start to lose that muscle or restrict enough, our body will slow our metabolism down significantly to save every calorie.
We will not lose as much fat, but will keep losing muscle as our body holds onto the fat, knowing it can use it in times of severe starvation.
So what is a healthy amount of calories to restrict?
If we want to lose weight, we should aim to have a deficit of 400-600 calories per day. If we try to lose 1,000-1,500 calories per day, we have to sacrifice some of the foods that are keeping us healthy. Think about all those vitamins and minerals, proteins, good fats, and carbohydrates that will keep us full of energy and strong.
By restricting, we are going to be hungry a lot. When we are hungry a lot, it just takes one weak moment to lose our focus, and before we know it, we have binged on all the junk food we could find, and we end up giving up this diet.
It is just too hard.
Cut back by 400-600 a day, and we will lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way, where we can keep it up for the rest of our life without feeling like we are missing out, and we will still continue to make improvements in our running, which brings much more true satisfaction and happiness to our lives.