This article was originally featured on the website for Marathon Training Academy, authors and hosts of the multi-million downloaded podcast about marathon training.

Running and Weight Loss?

I’ve lost 140 pounds, about half of my body weight. I didn’t have surgery or use medication; I lost the weight the old fashioned way, through diet and exercise. I understand that’s not a sexy answer. People want a quick fix, a powder, a plan, something they can purchase with monthly installments and VOILA! Weight loss guaranteed. Still, folks want something to hang their hat on.

“RUNNING? YOU RUN MARATHONS? Well of course that why she lost weight!” is what I often hear.

“Well I could lose weight too if I could RUN A MARATHON!” they continue, followed with all of the excuses of why running is impossible.

This got me thinking…

Did I run to lose weight?
Or did I lose weight so I could run?

I’m going to get all crazy right now and suggest the later. The greatest secret of running and weight loss is that it is backwards. Running with the motivation of losing weight rarely works, but losing weight so you CAN RUN? Now we’re talking!

Why is that?

Running requires fuel. You need to eat to run. I've tried running on an empty stomach and I end up slowing my pace or worse, walking. My pre-run regime involves a banana, granola, some pretzels, or dare I admit, a donut! You need food in your body to perform. Every runner has their favorite regime. Find what works for you and stick with it.

There is a danger to running and over-eating. We tend to overestimate the calories burned during exercise. 5k tomorrow? Well I should eat a whole pizza! To compound the problem, there is the post-run “I deserve it” syndrome. As in, I ran this morning, so I'm headed to Starbucks for a milkshake disguised in drag as coffee.

While the act of running may not directly affect weight loss, the lifestyle it supports sets you up for success. The benefits of running, but not the run itself, are symbiotic to losing and maintaining weight loss:

MORE ENERGY - I can run 20 miles in the morning and then come home to shower, work, shop, and clean my house. I have more energy on days that I run than when I sleep in. If I don't work out, I'm exhausted before finishing my coffee and look to the fridge for constant energy. Now that’s ironic!

TIME AWAY FROM THE KITCHEN - Sometimes my trip out the door to exercise is only a means to keep me away from the kitchen. Whether it’s a walk with a friend, a yoga class or a run, I can count on at least an hour where I’m not opening my pantry or fridge a thousand times, mindlessly snacking on fake food in a box.

POSITIVE SELF IMAGE - All activity, but especially running, make me feel so good about myself! I will even go so far to identify how I’m feeling during a good run, telling myself that I feel “strong, powerful, athletic, healthy…” (like a Dove soap commercial?) Starting off the day with positive self-talk helps, in turn, keep me on track the rest of the day to make healthy eating choices. When I feel like a runner, I eat like a runner. I eat clean and honor the body with healthier choices.

STRESS RELIEF - The rush of endorphins that create a “runner’s high” relieve my stress like no bag of chips could ever compete with. There is something about fresh air, sunshine, being out in nature (if the irrigation canal by my house counts as such) that have a calming affect on my day.

PROBLEM SOLVING - I often find creative solutions to my biggest problems during a run. I would even go so far to add that I find solutions to problems I didn’t know I even had! My best ideas come from a run.

MEMBER OF A TRIBE - When I became a runner, I joined a new group of shiny, healthy people that I yearned to emulate. Humans yearn to belong and be accepted. I won't talk smack about my old crowd as their antics of fried-appetizer-eating and pretending-to-make-brownies-so-I-can-lick-the-bowl still call my name in dark moments (I don't want to anger the beast!). I'm grateful to be part of the marathon crowd that inspires me to take care of myself every day, day after day.

CONFIDENCE - Skinny folks won't understand this one, but losing weight takes balls. It's scary to be thin! Being fat makes you invisible. You need confidence to lose weight, and running provides that in droves. The first time I ran a mile I walked like a pimp with a limp; I was the MAN. Multiply that experience tenfold for my first 10k, and exponentially for my first marathon. I'm not afraid anymore of new challenges and situations. I'm a more confident person in every area of my life thanks to running.

So when people ask if I ran to lose weight the answer is no. Maybe it started off that way, but ultimately I've learned that I lost weight so I could run. Pounds or pant sizes are temporary in comparison of the feeling I get from exercising. That is the real secret to weight loss, and it doesn't come with a monthly installment plan of three easy payments.