DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: I joined a gym about a year ago and worked my way up to running about 3.25 miles at least three times a week, usually four. I run at a decent speed and I have been time and distance regularly. I am a vegetarian and eat pretty healthy but I am sure I have work to do there. Just like you discussed in your book, this time feels different for me. But I’m wondering, how much were you running when you started to see weight loss? How long had you been running before you changed your diet? Will continuing to run ever make my thighs thinner?—Jane
DEAR JANE: Thanks so much for your note—and congrats on becoming a runner! I just have to say, before I get to the heart of your question, that regardless of how much weight you lose, you are doing great things for your health by establishing a habit of regular exercise. Keep it up!
When I started running, I was determined to do it most every day—I was afraid that taking one day of rest would throw me off so much that I’d abandon the whole exercise thing. I’m not saying that’s the smartest thing to do for your body—it’s just what I did. I was intent on working my way up to running the complete 6-mile loop that the “real runners” logged their miles on around Lake Austin (where I was living at the time). While I wasn’t weighing myself at all, my clothes started fitting me differently—better—about 6 months in. By that time, I was running every day, probably about four miles at a time.
But I wouldn’t necessarily advocate following my example. I know now that those rest days are really important for rebuilding muscles and getting stronger—not to mention preventing overuse injuries like shin splints. You don’t want to end up hurt and sidelined for good. So I would continue running 3-4 days a week, adding time or distance to keep on building up your endurance. Where I would suggest following my lead is in changing your diet. I did Weight Watchers about a year (give or take) after I started exercising, and that’s where I really started seeing results. The thing about exercise is that—and this is scientifically documented—we tend to compensate for it by eating more. Either we think we “deserve” bigger portions or treats or whatever, or there’s some kind of biological mechanism that kicks up our appetites. But that could be why you aren’t seeing the results you want.
The other thing people often do is overestimate the healthfulness of their diet and underestimate the number of calories they’re eating every day. So I would start by keeping a detailed food diary that includes things like portion size as well as what you’re eating and how often. Be brutally honest—that’s the only way you’re going to get a true sense of how much you’re eating and where to cut back. You may choose to adjust your diet yourself, or do a program like Weight Watchers (the gold standard, in my estimation). But whatever you do, keep moving! There’s nothing like exercise for boosting your health and your self-esteem.
Hoping this helps! All the best.