The two come hand in hand. If you want to lose weight, you need to watch what you eat and exercise. Likewise if you want to become a runner, you are going to have to start noticing what foods help and hurt your runs.
First of all, cut fast food out of your diet completely and cut down on soda. These things offer nothing good for your body and will only make you feel sluggish on your runs.
"It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential."
Honestly, if you cut out fast food and soda entirely from your diet without adding any exercise, you will probably still lose a bunch of weight. That’s how bad it is for you. “But it tastes so good! It’s not worth living if I can’t eat a BigMac.” I remember when I used to think that too, but now the mere prospect of ingesting any fast food makes me queasy. If I am starving at a mall and the only food is in the food court my body literally doesn’t even acknowledge that as food. It’s been about 10 years since I ate it. Fast food is full of hundreds of empty calories with no nutritional value, and after you eat it you feel a little gross and lethargic because your body has no idea what to do with those calories so it just stores them as fat. Since there is no nutritional value in the food, you have to eat about 1000 calories just to feel full, and then your body gets hungry again as soon as it is able to digest what you just ate because it still needs those nutrients. It’s a vicious cycle that most Americans have fallen prey to. Running will help you break this cycle, because that icky sluggishness that you have become accustomed to will rear its ugly head and make your runs much more difficult.
I promise you that once you cut fast food out of your life and start to exercise, you won’t even miss it. There are so many other delicious and healthy foods out there that you’ve been missing out on because of your unhealthy eating! I seriously thought that feeling gross and not being able to move was just part of the post-eating process until I got healthy and started running. Now I am in tune with my body and can actually feel the difference when I give my body healthy protein and nutrients vs. greasy, empty calories. Give me the choice between fried mac and cheese and ice cream vs. a delicious sandwich or sushi and fruit and I will pick the latter almost every time. And it’s nothing to do with weight for me, it’s all just about how it makes my body feel. Once you realize that you can actually feel good ALL of the time, why wouldn’t you want that?
I can’t really sit here and tell you what to eat. There is no right answer. There are so many hundreds of thousands of possibilities for food out there, and you really just need to go explore what works for you. As a general guide, you want to avoid grease, fat and excess oil, and also very sugary foods. You want to eat foods with protein, fiber, and healthy carbs, such as fruit and veggies. When I say “healthy carbs” I mean carbs that give you something nutritionally. For example bleached white bread does nothing for you whereas whole wheat bread is full of protein and nutrients.
When you go to the grocery store, don’t buy unhealthy foods! If you don’t have them in your kitchen then you won’t see them and start to crave and eat them. Instead buy healthy alternatives. When you are hungry you won’t care what you eat as long as it tastes good and fills you up, so you may as well have only healthy options.
Read the labels and ingredients on all foods you buy! Don’t just trust the packaging to tell you it’s healthy. Avoid foods with trans fats, preservatives, tons of saturated fat or sugars, and high fructose corn syrup (that’s what is in soda that is so bad for you). If you can’t pronounce most of the ingredients then they probably aren’t good for your body. It’s so “hippy-ish” of me to say, but shop in the organic and natural foods aisle at the store. It’s a quick way to know that you are getting healthier foods.
Try drinking delicious coconut water or 100% juice instead of sodas. Chicken or turkey instead of fatty sausage or excessive red meat. Wheat instead of white. Real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Frozen yogurt or sorbet instead of ice cream. Skim instead of whole milk. Fruit, 0% fat yogurt and low-fat granola instead of Lucky Charms. Sandwiches instead of pizza. A quick and easy stir fry at home instead of going out for gross, syrup-y Chinese. Try cooking your meats in a little bit of water instead of oil. A pinch of cheese instead of two handfuls. Dark chocolate instead of milk or white. There are so many little changes that you can make to your diet that all still involve eating delicious foods, but they will add up in the long run to a healthier you.
The next time you are about to drink whole milk stop and think to yourself, “Do I think the whole milk is really that much better tasting than skim? Does that extra fat reallyadd that much more taste to make drinking it worth it?” I used to answer an emphatic “Yes! I can absolutely tell!” to that question, but it was more out of stubbornness than anything else. When I really, honestly, took a look at my diet, I realized that ultimately no, I couldn’t really taste that much of a difference between skim vs. whole milk, especially when it is poured over cereal. And any difference I could tell was in how “creamy” it tasted, which actually grosses me out now because I can almost feel the cream settling in the pit of my stomach, just waiting to make me hate my next run. The same goes for many low-fat foods: Haagen Dasz Chocolate sorbet (which is delicious) vs. ice cream, low-fat vs. whole milk mozzarella, low-fat vs. regular mayonnaise, etc. etc. The only thing I’m careful about is to read labels…don’t just pick low-fat by default, make sure that to make it low-fat they don’t add more processed chemicals. Dairy products are easy because to make them low-fat they usually just use skim milk instead of whole, so you know it’s safe.
The idea of benefits vs. consequences is something that I first began to understand a few years ago in relation to alcohol consumption (I couldn’t understand why I suddenly didn’t feel like getting drunk anymore). When you are younger, there is very little consequence for drinking alcohol. Yeah, you might get a little hungover, but it’s so goddamn fun the night before that it’s worth it. You suffer a bit the next day and then go out and do it again the next night. Then once you get older your tolerance goes way down and your hangovers get much worse. Many times it doesn’t feel worth it to get extremely drunk because the consequences greatly outweigh the benefits…you lose and entire day or two afterward to feeling sick. I see eating unhealthy the same way. When you are younger your metabolism is faster so you can eat lots of junk food and still look and feel pretty good. When you get older and your metabolism slow down, you have to work harder and eat much healthier in order to maintain your weight and feel healthy. So for me, it becomes less worth it the older I get to binge on gross foods.
Since I was completely ignorant about eating when I first started, it helped me to track what I ate on sparkpeople.com for about a week. I wasn’t doing it to lose weight, but to gain an understanding about how many calories were actually in certain foods and how much was burned off during the runs and in daily life. It gave me a better sense of how much I should be eating rather than relying on my body to tell me it is full (because at that point you have usually eaten almost double what you needed to). A good rule of thumb is “wait 5 minutes”. If you wait five minutes and are still hungry, then you should eat more.
I know some of you are reading this thinking, “She’s so full of shit…she’s just fooling herself into thinking she doesn’t like fast food or fatty foods because she doesn’t want to get fat…if she could eat them she would!” I could probably eat anything I wanted and still be skinny. I’m definitely marginally skinnier now that I run, but not enough to make weight/looks a huge factor in my eating and running. I could eat anything in the world that I wanted at any time, and I choose to eat healthy and run because of the way it makes me feel. When I was in college (over 10 years ago) I used to eat a big serving of waffles for dinner, with ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and whatever else I could get my hands on, along with 2-3 glasses of Surge (that bright green soda), then wondered why I was hungry again an hour later…so then I would cook mac and cheese in my dorm room crock pot, and after all that couldn’t understand why I felt so gross at night and always had insomnia. I was clueless! Now that I know the difference and I know what it’s like to feel healthy ALL of the time, I will never be able to go back. That all has to count for something when you are taking into consideration if I am someone to take advice from.
When you have the right fuel for a run you will feel it. You won’t get tired as quickly but also won’t feel sluggish during, because your body will have all the nutrients it needs without the excess grease and fats to hold it back. Eating healthy will make your runs easier, which will make you lose weight, which will make your runs easier again, which will make you able to run more, which will increase your metabolism even when you aren’t running, which will make you lose even more weight and have to run less, which will make runs fun instead of a chore, which will make you run more and continue to lose weight. It’s a win win.