Losing Weight from Running

Many people start running, jogging, or walking as a way of losing weight. Those activities can help one lose weight, but it is not a fast way to lose pounds. Let's take a look at running, jogging, or walking as a method of weight-reduction. In this discussion, I'll use the word "running" as a catch-all for all three types of exercise.

Running Does Burn Calories

Running burns about 100 calories per mile. This estimate ignores individual factors such as metabolism or hereditary factors. Since a person can run or jog a mile in 10-15 minutes (typically) and can walk a mile in 20 minutes, it looks like these activities would be a great way to lose weight. However, to lose a pound of weight through running, one would have to do approximately 35 miles since each pound lost means about 3500 calories burned or not consumed (of course, we're all different, and the exact number of calories burned for a pound lost varies with the individual). Thirty-five miles is quite a distance, especially for a beginning runner who may do only 3 or 4 miles per week. Thus, we realize that running is an important factor in weight reduction, but it is not the whole picture. It is just one piece of the puzzle.

Eat Less and Drink More
You'll have fewer calories to burn, thus loosing weight, if you eat less each meal. Many nutritionists recommend that you eat until you're 80% full. It takes about 20 minutes for your body to recognize that it is full, and by stopping eating when you're approximately 80% full, you're giving your body time to recognize that it is, in fact, full. Also, drink more water before you eat. Don't drink carbonated water. Don't drink soda. Just drink plain water. This will help your body believe it is full, and you'll get more nutrition from your food due to the extra water.

Get Into the Long Haul

Since one pound of weight-loss requires 35 miles of running, recognize that you may have to run for several weeks before you lose one pound! Don't become discouraged if, after two or three weeks of running, you don't measure any loss of weight. Weight-loss will come, but it takes time and miles. As you run, try and develop a positive attitude about running. Forget, for a while, about running to lose weight. Run for enjoyment.

Throw Your Scale Away

Many people weigh themselves every day hoping to see the needle come down. The needle hangs up there, and they become discouraged. My suggestion is not to weigh yourself more often than once a week.

Most older bathroom scales aren't awfully accurate, and those scales may not measure weight to a fraction of a pound. In measuring your weight, you need to realize that there is a small range or tolerance about the number you see on your scale, and your actual weight could be anywhere within that range. For example, suppose your scale has a tolerance of plus or minus a pound. You weigh yourself and see the number 143. Your weight could be anywhere from 142 to 144. Thus you can not accurately measure your weight with older bathroom scales, and there is no need to weigh yourself every day since daily changes in your weight are probably within the accuracy tolerance of the scale and thus can not be measured accurately. On the other hand, newer digital scales are more accurate, and if you have one of those scales, you can weigh yourself more often. However, from the psychological viewpoint, only weigh yourself once a week to avoid discouragement if your daily variations are small.

No Need to Run Fast

Except for an effect on your metabolism before and after running, going faster does not increase the calories burned per mile. Thus, if you're running, slow down and enjoy it. Don't try to sprint. Take LSD, not the drug kind, but the running kind.

Running is only Part of the Story

Putting in the miles will help you lose weight, but there is the other half of the weight-loss equation.
Weight Loss = Exercise + Reduced Calories
Reduced calories come from reduced eating! However, don't go on a crash diet! To be successful in reducing weight, you must have fewer calories going into your body. If you try and reduce too many calories through dieting, your body may think it is starving, and it may lower your metabolism in an attempt to conserve energy. You may lose weight, but you probably won't be able to continue your diet for years and years, and when you leave your diet, you will eat more and, due to a lower metabolism, you may gain even more weight than you lost . This is known as the "yo-yo" effect.

A reasonable goal is to reduce your calories from food by about 300 per day. Many people can do this merely by consuming fewer calories from sweets and sodas. Others have success with small changes in diet -- losing 50 calories here and 25 calories there. That, plus losing 200 calories per day due to running will give you a weight loss of about a pound a week. That may not seem like much, but that is 52 pounds per year, and that is significant weight loss.
Be sure that the calories you do consume come from a nutritious diet. Eat veggies, fruits, fish, poultry, nuts, and whole grains. If you eat meat, eat small amounts as a condiment not as the main course. If you eat foods with a high glycemic index, balance that with foods with
a low index. If possible, shun processed foods and prepare meals from "scratch". Avoid eating three big meals a day. Instead, eat five or six small meals. If you eat three meals, you'll probably be pretty hungry at each meal and may overeat (it takes a while after you eat before your hunger subsides). If you eat more often but smaller meals, you'll be less hungry for each meal and may be better able to control your intake.


A check on your weight is to occasionally calculate your Body Mass Index or BMI. Your BMI is a number that is calculated from your height and weight, and for many people that number is a measure of body fat. However, for some people BMI is not a good indicator of body fat. For example, for the same BMI, women tend to have more body fat than men. Older persons have more body fat, and athletes have more muscles that cause their BMI to be higher even though they may have less body fat. Here is a good site that discusses BMI in detail.

BMI Weight Status
Below 18.5 Under weight
18.5 to 24.9 Normal
25.0 to 29.9 Overweight
30 or higher Obese

Here is a BMI calculator from the National Heart Lung and Institute.

Get Your Sleep!

We all know the importance of getting sufficient sleep at night. It's through rest that our bodies recover from stressful workouts. Researchers from St. Luke's -- Roosevelt Hospital Center and Columbia University in New York have learned that insufficient sleep also increases our desire to eat. So, if you're trying to lose weight, get good sleep each night! Dr Kristen Knutson, from the University of Chicago said that "A review of the evidence shows how short or poor quality sleep is linked to increased risk of obesity by de-regulating appetite, leading to increased energy consumption." 

Volume not Weight

People who are too big and want to reduce usually think in terms of weight -- they want to lose weight. Thinking in terms of weight is fine for people who don't exercise, but people who do exercise may get confused if they think in terms of weight. It is common for runners to increase their muscle mass and thus gain weight since muscle is heaver per cubic centimeter than fat. I thus suggest that runners who want to reduce think in terms of how well their clothes fit. They may gain a bit of weight due to increasing their muscle, but if their clothes fit looser, they are reaching their goal. They want a smaller body, not necessarily a lighter body.

You Can Do It!

Be assured that you can lose weight and that running can be a part of your plan. Take a balanced approach to weight-loss, an approach that involves exercise, good nutrition, and a slightly lower consumption of food. Here is a good article on carbohydrates. Here is the story of one man and his quest to lose weight.


Mike said...

Great article--thanks for taking the time to write it. I just recently started up running again and have found these tips to be useful.

Anonymous said...

this are article is garbage, please do not read!

Allen said...

Hi Anon,

Please do all of us a favor and explain why you think the article is garbage. The article is based on concepts that are well documented in the health and running literature, but I would like to know the specific points you disagree with so I can research them.

Anonymous said...

The BMI portion of the article is not true. I am 6'1" 202 lbs. but not overweight. My body fat percentage is 16%. I do cardio but also lift free weights 4 days a week. So how can this BMI index be accurate? Please explain.

Allen said...

Hi Anon,

Thanks for coming back and explaining your concerns. I'm new to BMI, and this has been a learning experience for me. I did some reading about BMI and modified the page to explain why your BMI is slightly high.

Wow, 16% body fat, lifting weights 4 days/week. You are in good condition! According to the BMI web page of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (a government site), athletes tend to have a higher BMI because they have a higher ratio of muscles to body fat. I don't think you need to worry about your BMI being above 25. You're in great shape! Keep on doing what you've been doing.

If you will, please do me a favor. Read my post again, and if you still have concerns, email me and explain your views. This will help me make further changes to the page to improve the post. My email address is allen ? bergstedt ? org where the ? and leading and lagging spaces are the normal characters for email addresses. If you prefer, you can post your comments here.

Anonymous said...

I think it is a good article, thank you. I jog/run minimum 5 days a week initially to lose weight. I think I have lost about 2 or 3 pounds in the last 2 months (I am 1.6meters and weigh 156kgs) which I felt wasn't much. But my clothes fit much better and I look toned and fit. Plus I have noticed increased energy levels and just being better able to deal with stress. I now just execise for this reason rather than losing pounds in a week and your article has encouraged me to continue to do so.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was a great article that anyone could undertsand and enjoy. I was orgiginally seeking an answer to why I was not seeing the scale got down for all my efforts. That question was answered. My clothes and physique are different, definitely - even if the scale is stubborn. But I was also enlightened to learn that faster doesn't create better results necessarily. My gpaph of miles run to calories burned proved that this idea is 100% accurate. Whether I can fast and finished my workout in 30 minutes or slower done in an hour - the miles/calories were the same. So why kill myslef trying to be Mr. Speedy? Enlightening.

Ivan said...

Thanks for the article. Like the previous poster I too have hit a plateau in terms of weight loss. thanks to this article I have been given a boost to my motivation and am off to measure my bits!

Heather said...

Thanks for the article. I was getting discouraged about running for 8 weeks and not seeing any weight loss. This article helps explain it logically.

Nicole said...

Thanks Allen for the information about 'running'. I am just starting with the gym and outside walks. This helps because now I know to pace myself and to rest when I feel its right. Ill be sure to tell my gym partner too.

Anonymous said...

BMI may not work for people who lift weights i.e. 5'6 and weigh 12 stone of muscle his bmi may say he is over weight... im 5'9 and weigh 12 stone solid my fat % is 9.81...

BMI is basically just for the average person, ifs generic and does not always work....

if you have stopped losing weight then change things around a little, your body gets used to routine...

riddhima said...

Fantastic article..all the myths about weight revealed to a better understanding...awesome

Anonymous said...

Feeling better

Been running at the gym for 5 month and have not seen much weight loss. Your article helped me understand the process and the muscle gain versus the weight loss. Love running but still want the lower BMI. .....

Porter Daniel said...

I don't have any doubt about running. It is one of the great exercise as well as way to lose weight. Very easy to do and very effective to lose weight. You can trust me or not, I was fatty person and while I was started running in the morning and in the evening then in the middle of just 3 months I was able to lose a great amount of weight and now I'm just 59KG but I was 82KG. Its really very big achievement for me. Thanks

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tanut srichai said...

Medium pace jogging is good up to 40 years age. After this even jogging is not good. The best exercise is medium pace walking for 30-60 minutes on the road (preferably).


John Forrester said...

I am 6'2" 245 lbs. My body fat percentage is 16%. I do cardio but also lift free weights 4 days a week. This is overweight? If yes then what I will do to healthy way lose weight.

Legionary13 said...

Currently in week 13 of running around 50 miles a week. This has always worked in the past to help me lose weight. This time the losses have been slow, and some of that will be down to age. However, the mechanics of my stride have changed a lot since I picked up a severe Pilates habit and running requires a lot less effort than in the past. I am happy with this trade-off because the improved efficiency should help protect against some injuries.

Allen said...

50 miles per week is a lot of distance! Are you training for a marathon? If not, you should be :)

Legionary13 said...

50 miles a week is great! I had a stack of unused vacation from early December so have been out of doors in daylight most days since then. Pretty strict LSD, monitoring my rest pulse to avoid overdoing it and the numbers are moving my way. Rest pulse fell from 65 to 47 in first six weeks.

For me rule number 1 is not getting injured (this site has helped a lot) and I accept that this is implies patience: getting thin and getting faster will take the time it takes.

Sometimes I think I should start a website called DontDoItLikeMe.org because I spent 30 years acting as if my body was just a machine to carry my head around. I have been lucky in my health and it has been great to see how willing my body has been to respond to challenges. Example: three years ago I could not lie on the floor without a three-inch support under the back of my head. Nothing now needed. I (now aged 57) have been immaturing fast and plan to do more.

Allen said...

Your rest pulse dropping to 47 is likely a result of your high weekly mileage. When I was in marathon training, my pulse went down to 40. It now in the high 50s to low 60s (I'm 80). Keep it up, and thanks for sharing with us!

Legionary13 said...

The process is what interests me. I enjoy most runs, enjoy the excuse to be out of doors, enjoy whatever weather we get, whatever wildlife I notice (from a bluebell to a buzzard). While I would love to attack the PBs from when I was younger that won't work: I need to observe what my body can do and let it get there to its own timetable.

Today was fantastic, running through a wood full of bluebells before going up and down a steep grassy slope three times. When I ran back through the bluebells I began to feel very light on my feet and it was if I was being run rather than doing any work myself. This persisted as I left the grass for tarmac. I have read about this sort of experience; if you know Herrigel's "Zen in the Art of Archery" this is what happens when 'it shoots'.

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