One of the more common reasons people take up running is to lose weight. It makes a lot of sense - there aren't too many activities where you can burn 1000 calories in an hour... but you can with running.  

Here's some useful lessons we've learnt whilst trying to lose weight running.

Diet

The most common mistake people make is relying solely on running to lose weight. You can't out-exercise a poor diet.

In my experience, about weight loss is 10-20% exercise - the other 80-90% is what you eat. So if losing weight is your goal, keep running, but put at least equal (or ideally more) focus and energy into watching what you eat.  

I highly recommend MyFitnessPal - a free app and web site you can use to measure your calorie intake. Now hear me out, I know it sounds like hard work, but just give it a try for a week. You'll learn a fair bit about your daily eating habits - which foods are responsible for the most calories, what are the the right portion sizes. For me, I was surprised to discover what I though was a healthy breakfast (muesli) was high in calories. By scaling back my portion size I suddenly found the kilos coming off.  

MyFitnessPal works by calculating your daily calorie allowance based on your gender, current weight, weight loss goal. You enter everything you eat and it reports on how many calories you have left for the day. There's a bit of guesswork especially if you're eating out or someone else is cooking for you, but don't let that bother you too much.  

The app allows to 'earn' additional calories by exercising - so for example if you go for a 5km run, you log it and it will increase your remaining calorie intake by the equivalent number of calories you burnt on the run.  

Self Control

Give some thought to when you are most likely to over-indulge, then plan a strategy to help you out. For me, each night at around 8pm I find myself craving something sweet. I tried a number of strategies:

  • having dinner later - this meant I was 'fuller' and less likely to want to snack late at night
  • exercising after dinner - I noticed I'd feel more healthy immediately after exercising and therefore less likely to snack or binge on unhealthy foods
  • brushing my teeth straight after dinner - it was a signal to myself that I was finished eating for the night
  • a left field idea but if you're on instagram, check it when you feel the cravings - if you follow a few accounts that post motivational quotes and photos, they can help you refocus put you in the right frame of mind
  • ensuring I had something to do to distract me after 8pm. If I had something to occupy my mind, again it reduced the chances I'd roam the house looking for food
  • simply removing any unhealthy food from the house - your mindset almost needs to be like the way an alcoholic would view alcohol - remove the temptation all together!

Exercise

If you're aware of how many calories are in certain foods, be aware of how much exercise you need to burn calories. Don't fall into the trap of simply offsetting your exercise with more food.

Mix it up

If you've seen a bit of a plateau in your weight loss, try varying the exercise you're doing.  If you've been running, try swimming, bike riding or aerobics.  Or if you're keen to stick with running, try varying the intensity, duration, interval runs, add some hill runs, etc. See our types of runs page for more ideas.

Measure more than kilos

Don't just use your weight as a way to measure whether you're becoming healthier.  Some people, particularly those who are 'new' to exercise may find they are reducing fat but gaining muscle, resulting in their weight staying about the same.  Pay attention to other factors such as waist circumference, energy levels, fat/muscle ratios, your running times, etc.