This post isn’t strictly about running, although running is certainly part of what I did to lose weight. And yes, losing weight has definitely helped my running.
First, I need to throw out the usual disclaimer. I’m not any kind of medical professional or nutritionist. The last biology class I took was in 10th Grade. This is what worked (and for a couple stretches, what didn’t work) for me.
Next, I really want to emphasize that I’m not criticizing anyone else’s weight. There’s a lot of fat shaming out there, and I don’t want to be a part of it. Only you can decide if weight loss is something you want. Some people are happy with their weight, and that’s OK. If your doctor doesn’t have a problem with your weight, and you don’t have a problem with it, that’s cool. For me, at least in 2011, I don’t think it was about weight loss as much as it was about not wanting to gain any more weight. (At the end of 2012 it definitely became about weight loss.) I wasn’t happy, so I made changes. It was completely my decision, and I don’t remember anyone else criticizing my weight or suggesting that I lose a few pounds. If my story inspires you to lose weight, or gives you some ideas for how to do it, that’s great.
For reference, I’m 5′ 8″, so according to the BMI chart (Yes, I’m aware of the problems with BMI, but at the very least it’s a measuring stick), if I’m over 164 pounds, I’m overweight.
I weighed about 150 pounds in college. I ate like a typical college student. (The Lunch of Champions: M&Ms and a Coke.) At that age, I could get away with a lot. Once I entered the real world, my weight slowly crept up. I was around 160 by the time I turned 30, which is still OK. My diet wasn’t very healthy, and I didn’t really do any cooking at home. (I still do very little, only basic stuff like pasta, so that’s something else I need to work on.) Also, I did pretty much no exercise. (I occasionally did push-ups, because they actually helped alleviate wrist pain from using a keyboard and mouse all day. Seriously, after a couple of weeks of doing push ups, the pain was gone. But again, see the disclaimer about me not being a medical professional.)
Through my 30s, my weight kept creeping up. If anything my diet got worse. I discovered craft beer, which is delicious but not very low in calories. I would drink Mountain Dew at work to deal with stress. By 2011, I was 38 years old, and up to 189 pounds.
That’s when I started running. Right after I started, I also made a conscious effort to replace soda with water during the day at work. Initially, I saw results. By the time I ran my first half marathon, the Thunder Road Half Marathon in November 2011, I was down to 181 pounds.
After my race, for reasons I don’t completely understand, I stopped running. The best explanation I have is that after completing a half marathon, I asked myself, “What’s next?” And I didn’t really have a good answer. I fell off the wagon with the water thing too, and went back to soda, often drinking three 20 ounce bottles of Mountain Dew in a single day at work. I drank lots of beer, I ate like there was no tomorrow, and my weight kept going up.
I remember sitting in my parents’ living room on Christmas Day 2012, and even before dinner, I felt fat. I don’t remember ever feeling like that before, even after a large meal. At the end of 2012, I stepped on my bathroom scale, and I saw 199. Even though nobody was around, I let out an audible gasp. I had my answer to the “What’s next?” question: 200 pounds. This was completely unacceptable.
On New Year’s Day 2013, I went out for a run. I was the Human Cliché, going for a run on January 1. This time, though, I stuck with it, and since then, except for a couple of times when I was injured and couldn’t run, I haven’t stopped running.
Running was good, but I’ve heard people say that you can’t outrun your diet. (I’d argue that it’s possible, at least for me, but I have to put in a whole lot of miles to do it. And in early 2013, I was nowhere close to being able to run that many miles.) I needed to make some other changes.
I didn’t want to start an actual Diet. I wanted flexibility. A diet is no good if you can’t stick to it. I didn’t really want to give up every type of food that I love. Initially, I did 3 main things.
- Water instead of soda.
- No more than one beer per night. (And don’t go out for beer every night.)
- Portion control.
A good example of portion control is at work, we have a Moe’s. I used to get a burrito at Moe’s. I switched to getting a taco instead. It’s much smaller (and cheaper). Every little bit helps. (I’m aware that it would be even healthier if I brought a lunch from home. Baby steps.)
I never really cut back on carbs. I did cut back on the soda and beer, and most other carb-heavy junk food as well. I still managed to lose weight, but I have noticed that carbs don’t fill me up as fast as fat and protein. My diet is still pretty carb heavy, and maybe I’d be better off changing it, but for now, it’s still working.
As far as I can tell, I never did get above 199. Slowly over the course of 2013, I lost weight. I know I slipped up occasionally and drank Mountain Dew, or ate more than I should have, but by the end of the year, I was down to 178. That’s a loss of 21 pounds. I was really happy with my progress.
I hurt my foot at the beginning of 2014 and couldn’t run for a couple of weeks. Recovery was slow. I started backsliding on my eating habits, and that combined with less running meant that the pounds came back. I got back up to 186 before I finally buckled down again during the summer. And at the end of 2014, I finally did it. 164 pounds. For the first time in about 10 years, I was no longer overweight. Down 14 pounds for the year, and 22 pounds(!) since the summer. I had lost a grand total of 35 pounds since the beginning of 2013.
Since then, I’ve stayed mostly in the 160s. I had an ankle injury in early 2016 that caused me to briefly get up to 175, but by late summer, I was back down below 164.
Side note: Until I lost weight, I had no idea how much weight I carried in my face. People were complimenting me on my weight loss, and I was wondering how they noticed, since I don’t really wear anything that’s skin-tight, and then I realized it was my face. I guess the weight showed up on my face (and then came off of my face) so gradually that I didn’t notice until after it was gone.
My diet wasn’t (and isn’t) perfect. Far from it. And maybe if I made some other changes, I would have lost weight faster. But it was good enough for me. For the most part, it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. I think that’s the key. If it feels like a sacrifice, I’m more likely to slip up. Really, at this point, as long as I’m in the low 160s, I’m think I’m OK. I need to keep an eye on my weight, just to make sure it doesn’t start creeping up again, And let’s face it, I’m in my 40s now, I don’t have the metabolism I used to, and I don’t have as much margin for error.
It’s not easy. There are times when I feel like if I have one night out with friends I end up 5 pounds heavier. There have been many times when I’ve wanted to order a second beer. (I’ll bend that rule for special occasions like a wedding, but the rule is really for the times I go out with friends, typically during the week.) There have been times when I sat in my cube at work, really tired and wanting a Mountain Dew so badly, but instead I got up, walked around, drank some water, and got back to work. Sure, I’ve slipped up from time to time. It seems to go in cycles. Honestly, right now I’m going through a cycle where I’m drinking more Mountain Dew. Eventually I’ll (hopefully) buckle down again and choose water instead most of the time. There’s no finish line, I just have to keep fighting.
I guess my overall point is that it’s difficult, but possible, to lose weight. And when I look at my progress as a runner as I’ve lost weight, I have say, I think it’s worth it.