Running for weight loss: food as fuel

What is it they say–diet for weight loss, run for fitness? In my experience, that’s absolutely true. During the Couch to 5K program, I didn’t lose a pound. Probably gained several, in fact. I was traveling during those months, and the 30-minute run/walk workouts just weren’t enough to counteract the calories in the delicious local foods. Can’t visit a new country without trying the cuisine, right? It’s surprising how easy it is to out-eat your running, especially during those beginning stages.

One of my goals during this 12 month marathon project is to lose 40 pounds. As humiliating as it is to admit this in such a public forum, I currently weight 171.5 pounds, down from 175 a couple of weeks ago. If I manage to muster the courage, I’ll post “before” photos–motivation, maybe? At 5’5” with a medium frame, my goal weight is 130-135.

In the past two weeks, spurred on by my nutrition-obsessed, extreme athlete brother, I’ve made a genuine effort to view food as fuel for running. Now, I am what you might call “domestically challenged.” I can count on one hand the dishes I know how to cook–and since I’ve recently discovered that eggs are the cause of extreme, painful bloating, I’m down to about 2. (And I *really* miss my fried egg whites on toast.) For most of college and the four years of my professional life, I’ve resorted to packaged food. Even when making an attempt to drop weight, I’ve focused on the number of calories and ignored the quality of those calories. Light breakfast, skipped lunch? Yeehaw, I can eat a bunch of frozen pizza for dinner and still fall around 1400 calories!

Now, as a runner, it’s fascinating to have actual physical feedback about how certain foods affect performance, even on a 3-mile run. If I’m not well-hydrated, I’m sluggish. Eggs are off-limits. Eating too close to running causes sharp stomach pains mid-run. Frozen pizza? Maybe, but not four pieces of the thick-crust kind, and there had better be a good serving of vegetables in there. Whole wheat pasta loaded with vegetables and beans–great. A green monster made with yogurt? Amazing. (Seriously, spinach in a smoothie = best idea ever. Thanks to Oh She Glows!)

What’s even more exciting is that the way I think about and react to food has really shifted. In the grocery store the other day, a friend suggested a dinner of fried chicken and french fries from the deli, and my mind and body immediately revolted. I didn’t exactly think, “too much salt, too much fat, too many calories,” but instead felt the absence of veggies and a healthy grain. In the end, I decided on a big salad before the meal, and ate some of the fried chicken against the will of my newly-developed inner nutritionist. And what do you know–an hour later, the horrible grease was aching in my stomach.

Big triumph of the day: in the grocery store, starving, looking for something fast to take home. A month ago, I would have grabbed a frozen pizza (I love it, can you tell?) in a hunger haze and stressed about the calories later. I would have gravitated toward it as though I had no control. Today, I craved it but walked right past and grabbed veggies for fresh guacamole and a couple of chips. And a bag of brussels sprouts, because they’re delicious.

This is a big deal for me. 🙂

The transition has been easier this time because it’s easier to say and think “I need to eat healthy things to help strengthen my body for running,” than, “I need to eat healthy things because I’m trying to lose 40 pounds.” (immediate body rebellion) A lifestyle change as opposed to a diet, I suppose, but this is the first time I’ve actually understood what that feels like.

And before I forget, a fantastic column by a newbie runner over at Runner’s World. This guy has me laughing out loud every time, and it’s so good to know I’m not the only one!

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3 Comments

Filed under Half Marathon, Weight Loss

3 responses to “Running for weight loss: food as fuel

  1. It’s always great to hear from a fellow runner 🙂
    Good luck with your goals!

  2. I just found your blog and feel the exact same way! I just rededicated myself to running again and can definitely notice how what I eat and drink affects my runs and my energy. Amazing how our bodies work, isn’t it?

  3. I like this post. I know what you mean about running changing the perspective on food as fuel. I felt that way too.

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