By Dr Liz Applegate
When it comes to dieting, everyone wants to be a loser. But only 10 percent of people who manage to drop weight keep it off. The good news is that runners already have a head start.
For the past 12 years, researchers Drs Rena Wing and James Hill have meticulously tracked about 6 000 people who have met the minimum requirements to participate in a national weight control programme. In order to register, they must have lost at least 30kg and maintained that for at least a year.
The successful didn’t turn to weird eating plans, fad diets or extreme measures such as surgery. Instead, what worked was common sense – they modified their diet and increased their physical activity.
Whether you’re consciously trying to drop 2kg or 30 – or just looking to stay in top form – following these five key habits the participants did will make you a big-time loser and a better runner.
People that lose – and keep off – their weight won’t be on a high-protein diet. Most successful losers get about half of their kilojoules from carbs, about a third from fat, and the remainder from protein. This makes sense for runners, as you need the carbs to fuel your workouts.
The key is selecting the right carbs – foods rich in fibre, like grains, beans, fruits and veggies. Fibre helps dieters by providing a sense of fullness.
Even better, research shows that a diet that includes at least 34g of fibre a day actually drops the number of kilojoules your body takes up from your food. Over a year, this equals a 5kg weight loss.
- Divide and conquer your dinnerware. Carbohydrate-rich foods should make up about three quarters of your plate, with protein making up the rest.
- Go with the whole grains, as they are higher in fibre.
- Read labels. Select foods that supply no more than 30 percent of their kilojoules from fat.
Most dieters typically stop bothering to write down what they eat after a few months of weight loss. But many success stories, like runners logging kays and times, have kept a food diary for years, taking measurements and noting precise portions.
This allows them to respond quickly to changes in their eating patterns, says Wing. The bonus for runners is that, combined with a training log, a food diary can help determine the crucial connection between eating and energy – like how a late-afternoon snack of fruit and a handful of trail mix might affects performance.
- Write down what you eat, with serving sizes, for three days. Tally up the kilojoules (see the packs). For weight loss, your intake should be about 100 to 120kJ daily to every kilogram of your body weight.
- Review your log and decide which foods you could cut, with the goal of saving at least 400kJ a day.
- With measuring cups, compare how much you serve yourself to the suggested serving size. The discrepancy can be shocking. A serving of pasta or rice, for example, should be 1/2 cup. Runners only need six to seven servings a day.
In one study, 78 percent of success stories reported eating breakfast every day, which curbs your appetite later in the day. Research shows that breakfast eaters, especially those who start the day with cereal, have a lower body-mass index than those who skip the morning meal.
Plus, protein often appears in breakfast foods in its proper proportion for sating appetite. Eating in the morning is particularly important for runners who work out in the morning, since it helps restock drained glycogen stores, along with supplying a variety of vitamins, minerals, and protein needed for recovery and good health.
- Sit down for breakfast. Allow yourself time to eat a bowl of cereal with low-fat milk topped with fruit before heading off to work.
- Or take it with you. Stock up on easy-to-transport healthy food like peanut butter on whole grain toast or banana, cereal and yoghurt packed the night before.
- Always include a protein source: eggs, cottage cheese, yoghurt, lean meat, which helps curb your appetite later in the day.
Routinely stepping on the scale and checking body weight is another key to reducing weight. To keep that routine from becoming obsessive, don’t weigh yourself more than once a week. There are normal weight fluctuations throughout the day – especially for runners around workouts – of anywhere up to 5kg, depending on how much fluid you’ve consumed. Weigh yourself on the same day of the week, at the same time.
- Once every two or three weeks, step on a scale at your gym, perhaps with your running partner as witness. This creates a ritual that you’re apt to treat with more respect than if you were at home.
- Log this weight in your running journal and track how your workout performance and weight compare.
- If you once fitted into a pair of jeans that are now too snug, use them as motivation during your weight-loss phase then as celebration of success.
You know as a runner that burning kilojoules tips the scales in your favour. So it comes as no surprise that the weight-loss participants are steadfast with their exercise. “The average person in the registry is burning about 12 000kJ a week in activity,” says Wing. Sixty to 90 minutes is recommended daily physical activity for those trying to maintain weight loss.
- Decide when your run and other workouts will fit into your week ahead, and stick with the plan. Incorporate more routine physical activity by walking or riding a bike to do errands. Increments of at least 10 minutes throughout the day contribute to the total.
- On your non-running days, get that hour of exercise in, ideally in a way that stimulates your mind or body differently than running – play in the park with your children, try yoga, or take a brisk walk over lunch. Even cleaning out your house counts, as long as you keep moving.