Today, I’m gonna show you why running to lose weight might actually be doing more harm than good.
Don’t worry, I’m gonna show you what you need to do instead.
Running To Lose Weight (EXPLAINED)
Everyone knows that if you wanna lose weight, you just have to eat less and move more. That’s just conventional wisdom, right?
Calories in versus calories out. Calories in is ‘eat less’ while calories out is ‘move more’.
So now, you’ve got the masses trying to manually burn calories. They’re counting how many calories they’ve burned.
One of the most popular ways of counting calories in terms of exercise is doing cardio. The most popular way of doing cardio is running. Because all you need is to lace up a pair of runners and you’re good to go.
In the U.S. alone, almost 60 million people participated in running, jogging and trail running in 2017.
If you’re committed, you’ll run for long distances and multiple hours during the week.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s better than doing nothing. I don’t really blame people for doing it. They have the right intention by following conventional wisdom.
Because running burns more calories than lifting weights. Sure. Common sense suggests that you should run at an intensity where you’re breathing hard and sweating.
It feels great to see that you burned x amount of calories on the treadmill or your fitness tracker. Don’t forget the endorphin high you get aka the ‘runners high’.
It all sounds great. So if you burn an extra 500 calories every day which is about an hour of hard running. Then, you eat less. You only eat 1200 calories every day. Literally the definition of eat less, and move more.
You do a little math and you’re supposed to lose 2 lbs a week in theory. You extrapolate that and you’re supposed to lose 8 lbs in a month.
You’re finally gonna lose all the weight. You’re finally gonna have your dream body. And every runner is walking around with a six-pack and we all lived happily ever after.
The problem with conventional exercise wisdom
This is what a lot of trainers, nutritionist, “influencers”, and even your doctor. You know, your kind of overweight doctor. This is what they tell you to do.
It’s supposed to work, right? The problem is, it hasn’t really worked. It fails almost every single time. Calorie counting has about a 99% failure rate.
Let’s look at reality. This is from coaching thousands of people by proxy for almost a decade now. An elite endurance runner who spends 10-20 hours of running a week still carries an extra 10-20 pounds of body fat.
What about the average person? One disturbing study revealed that 30% of the participants in the cape town South Africa marathon were classified as overweight or obese.
Meaning, the physical appearance of the participants in a 42 km marathon is indistinguishable from that of the spectators? Something’s wrong with that picture. It doesn’t add up.
Calories burned during your hour long run should translate into pounds off the scale, right? Nope.
The UGLY truth about running to lose weight
Here’s the ugly truth about running to lose weight, especially if its your only form of exercise.
Falling into chronic cardio patterns where you’re going for your daily 30 minute, 5k or 10k run every day is one of the biggest reasons why you’re not losing weight. I’ll give you a second to digest that.
If you’ve been struggling to lose weight even though you’ve put in countless hours on your runners, you already know that to be true. Obviously, this is assuming that your diet is on point.
As the saying goes, you can’t outrun a bad diet.
Let’s talk a little bit about exercise physiology. Fat, which is what a lot of people are trying to get rid of, burns well in the presence of oxygen.
That only happens when you’re in the aerobic zone. Aerobic literally means with oxygen.
As your exercise intensity increases when you start running, your body’s preferred fuel choice shifts from burning fat at lower intensity, to an ever increasing percentage of glucose.
Because it’s quicker and easier to burn when oxygen is lacking from your fast pace. You know, when you’re huffing and puffing during your run?
The problem is, when you primarily burn glucose during your workout. You’re also teaching your body to burn sugar at rest, that’s what glucose is, even after your workout.
Because the body adapts to whatever fuel source is always available.
So when you go for your daily run, you’re teaching your body to prefer to burn glucose for energy. Not fat. Nobody talks about this.
That explains why you’re always craving something starchy and sugary after your long hard run.
Exercise physiology – EXPLAINED
Remember, exercise is a type of stress. Doing it in chronic patterns can then leads to chronic stress.
The human body treats all types of stress the same way. Whether it’s running, stress from work, financial stress, or a stressful relationship. All those things trigger the fight or flight response.
Our blood stream gets flooded with hormones and neurotransmitters. We’ve all experienced this. This is the infamous adrenaline rush.
It’s part of our hardwired mechanism we developed through evolution to deal with real flight or flight responses back in the Paleolithic times. Like when we were hunting for prey or when we’re being hunted by a predator.
Your body gives you the necessary energy from that adrenaline rush to either fight or flight. That’s literally where that term came from.
Short term stress isn’t a bad thing. Hormetic stress from saunas and ice baths for example is awesome. The problem starts when it becomes chronic.
Which brings us back to chronic cardio patterns where you’re doing workouts like running that are too long, too hard, too frequently, with insufficient rest.
The REAL culprit: Chronic stress
If you go for a run 7 days a week, sometimes you go twice a day, the stress from exercise becomes chronic.
Chronic stress leads to chronically high cortisol levels. Cortisol is our stress hormone. Chronically high cortisol levels leads to chronically high insulin levels.
If you’ve been following my channel, you’ll know important moderating insulin is when it comes to controlling your body weight.
The other thing is that cortisol has a really big effect on weight gain specifically around your belly.
So if you’re a runner and you’re not losing weight. Worse, you find that you’re starting to look like a pear. You’re starting to gain weight specifically around your belly. This is why.
It’s now been scientifically proven that calories burned during exercise does NOT translate to fat burned in the body.
Because exercise also stimulates a corresponding increase in appetite. You eat more calories as you burn more calories. Your metabolism doesn’t stay stable.
This is also where a lot of people justify bad eating behaviour. They think they can just burn it off. It creates a vicious cycle where people think that it’s just about the calories. Again, It’s not.
It also promotes general laziness throughout the day because you think that you’ve already fulfilled your physical activity allowance. It’s called the active couch potato syndrome.
Over the long run, pun intended, chronic cardio patterns increases systemic inflammation in the body.
Especially if you eat a lot of highly inflammatory foods in the form of ultra processed foods and industrial seed oils. Which opens up pandora’s box to elevated disease risk like cardiovascular disease, mitochondrial damage, and accelerated aging.
This is often referred to as the excessive endurance exercise hypothesis. One of the leading voices on this is Dr. James O’Keefe, who’s a cardiologist. He’s got an eye opening TedTalk called ‘Run for your life! At a comfortable pace, and not too far’.
According to him, a surprising amount of seasoned marathoners with six-pack abs and healthy blood profiles are showing increased scarring and thickening of their arterial walls caused by chronic exercise driven inflammation.
Just because you look good on the outside doesn’t mean that everything is fine on the inside. Think about skinny fat people.
This concept also applies to cardio based group fitness classes like spin or HIIT where every workout is like a near death experience every day.
Simply put, it locks you in a sugar burning, fat storing metabolic state.
The key: SLOW it down
Don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom. You just need to adjust the intensity when you run. You need to slow it down. Instead of running every day, you should go for a daily walk instead.
Because walking almost guarantees to keep you below your maximum aerobic heart rate.
Why is that important?
Your maximum aerobic heart rate is the point where you reap maximum aerobic benefits, that’s maximum fat burning, with a minimum amount of anaerobic stimulation. This is the infamous fat burning zone.
If you go past that threshold, you start burning an increasing amount of glucose instead of fat. You also stimulate more stress hormone production because it’s hard. I just spent the first 5 minutes explaining why doing that in chronic patterns is a bad thing.
If you wanna know your maximum aerobic heart rate, you can use Dr Phil Maffetone’s proven formula of 180 minus your age in beats per minute (bpm). You wanna stay below that when you do your cardio workouts. Don’t confuse it with maximum heart rate.
When you figure out your maximum aerobic heart rate and stay below your number, you’re gonna see that your cardio workouts are comfortable and energizing. When you go for a walk for example, you feel good. Right?
More importantly, these comfortably paced cardio workouts up regulate your fat burning metabolism. Because again, you’re mostly using fatty acids for fuel. It also improves your ability to burn fat at rest.
Other benefits include improved cardiovascular function, improved mitochondrial density, it strengthens your bones, joints and connective tissues, it builds a stronger immune system, and you get increased energy.
Because you’re actually finishing your cardio workouts feeling good and refreshed. Rather than a near death experience every time.
So instead of measuring your calories burned on your fitness tracker if you have one, measure your heart rate instead.
The nose breathing test also works here if you don’t have a fitness tracker. Which means you can easily breathe through your nose and talk without running out of breath.
Again, walking almost guarantees that you’re gonna stay below your maximum aerobic heart rate.
The truth is somewhere in between
I’m not saying you should never run. If it brings you joy, do it. 60 minutes in total done once or twice a week is plenty.
We evolved to move as human beings. Our ancestors regularly walked 3-9 miles every day.
They would occasionally sprint. That’s a short burst of running at maximum effort when they’re hunting, or when they’re being chased by a sabre tooth tiger.
Don’t confuse sprinting with running. Have you ever seen a fat sprinter? And again, 30% of the participants in the cape town south africa marathon were classified as overweight or obese. A lot of them fall in the category of skinny fat.
Our Paleolithic ancestors also climbed trees and built shelters which means moving big pieces of wood and heavy rocks.
We need to recreate those patterns in our ultra convenient modern times by sprinkling in some resistance training to build lean muscle.
As little as 10 to 30 minutes done twice a week is enough to get your benefits. That strategy will work for 95% of the population.
Again, we evolved to move constantly. Otherwise you’d be a tree. We did not evolve to run for hours every day and fall into chronic exercise patterns.
That’s another point that I wanna bring up and it’s just as important. Your goal is to avoid prolonged periods where you’re completely sedentary.
Try to sprinkle in multiple walks throughout the day. You want to especially do them after a meal. A 15 minute walk has been shown to cut the blood sugar and insulin response by half which is just mind blowing.
A good goal to aim for if you have a fitness tracker is to get in 10,000 steps every day. It’s about an hour of walking.
A lot of overweight or obese people think that it’s hopeless because it’s hard for them to run. When in reality, it’s better for you to walk.
Bonus points if you have access to a park, a trail, or a body of water like a river or the ocean, you should do your walks there. Because time spent in nature is really good for your mental health. It helps with reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. The Japanese call it forest bathing.
So lace up your trainers. But instead of running to lose weight, slow it down, and go for a walk instead. Less is more in this scenario.
As always, if this was helpful, share it with a friend who could benefit from it as well!
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