For many people, running and weight loss go hand in hand. And why shouldn’t they? Running is the best cardio exercise you can do to shift those pounds, given that it burns on average almost 100 calories for every 10 minutes you’re on the move.
But here’s the thing: running has never been about weight loss for me. Yes, occasionally weight loss is a side effect of running (not always, mind – I do like a spot of carb-loading), but it’s not a motivation. It never has been.
What I am interested in is running. For me, running is about empowerment. It’s about joy, presence, escapism, me-time and stress relief. It’s about miles covered, not calories burned. It’s about strength. It’s about happiness. It’s about grit and determination. At the end of the day, I give zero f*cks about the number on the scales. I don’t even own scales. Here's why I think you should switch your focus and worry less about weight loss, too.
Focus on healthy
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be interested in health. Oh no. I’m ALL for health. But I’m interested in health in a, 'Yay, we’ve been for a run and eaten lots of broccoli this week, now let’s have a slice of lemon drizzle cake and enjoy it because it’s yummy' kind of way. Not in a, 'How many calories are in this flapjack? Oh no, I’ve eaten the flapjack. Now I will feel guilty for seven hours while I manically do sit-ups to try to burn it off' way.
For me, health is about everything in moderation. It’s about cooking from scratch and understanding your ingredients. It’s about fresh, colourful foods. It’s about enjoying what you eat. It’s about not feeling like you’ve ‘failed’ somehow because you also like cake. (And wine.) It’s about exercising for fun, because the endorphin rush makes you FEEL GOOD. It’s basically the 80/20 balance; eat healthily roughly 80 per cent of the time and DO NOT STRESS about that triple chocolate fudge cake.
Get stronger, not skinnier
In a nutshell, focus on what your body can do, not what it looks like. This is such a positive mindset to adopt. Focus on miles covered, not calories burned. Work on your core, because core strength will help you get fitter, faster and will reduce your injury risk. Push yourself because you want a challenge, and because achieving something new is exciting and empowering.
Enter a race because working towards a positive goal is uplifting. It’s also worth noting that muscle is denser than fat. So while you might find your newfound ‘strength’ mindset will see your body shape change, you might not lose much weight at all. (Which means you may as well ditch your bathroom scales: they are dead to you now!)
Boost your energy
Let’s get back to basics here: you need energy to run. I guarantee you’ll have a happier, more positive running experience if you’re well hydrated and have taken on adequate calories a couple of hours beforehand, to fuel those miles. Food is your petrol, people!
Be a good role model
This one is a biggie. As a mum of two young children, I’m now a role model (God help them!) and as a role model, I want them to see me running; to see me happy, fit and active. I want them to see me enjoying my food. I want them to see just how much fun they can have in life. OK, I admit they aren’t always seeing this – sometimes they are witnessing me picking bits of dried Weetabix off my clothes and swearing under my breath after stepping on another bloody Lego block. Hey, I’m not perfect.
What I am adamant I DON’T want them to see is me prodding and poking my tummy, thighs or bum while looking into a mirror, berating myself. I don’t want it to seep into my daughter’s subconscious that her self-worth can be measured by her dress size, or the circumference of her waist. I don’t want her to grow up battling her body, because that’s what she’s witnessed at home. Instead we should be arming our daughters (and sons) against this. We should be proud of our bodies, whatever their size. We run; we are strong; we like cake. End of.
Enjoy the NOW!
Finally, I would like to end the worryingly common and completely incorrect assumption that all runners are slim and athletic-looking. We are not. Instead, we are an eclectic bunch of all shapes and sizes. Hooray for diversity! This means that you do not have to become slim and athletic-looking to be able to call yourself a runner. If you’re a couple of stone heavier than you would like to be and have just started a run/walk programme, congratulations – you are a runner!
So enjoy being a runner NOW, whatever your size and ability. Enjoy making progress, but also enjoy the moment – even if it hurts. Running is worth it – for the joy, not for the dress size you may or may not achieve because of it.