Running for weight loss: Why it doesn’t work

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“I thought running would help me lose weight – but all it did was create a world of pain. I sustained multiple injuries that sidelined me for months, lost my period for 2 years, developed PCOS, developed iron deficiency and as if that wasn’t enough, I actually gained weight instead of losing it.

This is my story about the mistakes I made in my weight loss journey, please avoid them at all costs before it’s too late.”

Mel Oliech

How I started running

I started long-distance running at 18. One day I was bored so I went out and ran 4km (2.5 miles). It felt amazing, but I wanted more. I also thought running would help me lose weight so I started working towards my first goal of a 14km (8.7 miles) fun run. 

While I was training for that race, I lost a lot of weight. I ran a lot — anywhere between 4 and 7 times a week — and I restricted my food. I also weighed myself regularly. I tried to keep myself under 60kg (132 lbs) and I eventually got down to 55-56kg (121-123 lbs) which was exciting. 

I completed my 14km goal in an amazing time. However, after I ticked off this goal, I started bingeing because I was restricting food. I lost control of my eating and gained weight. So I signed up for another race thinking running more was the answer to my weight problem.

I relied on willpower

I increased my running, whilst restricting food even more. Despite my hopes, this didn’t lead to weight loss. It only leads to more binge eating and further weight gain. So I kept increasing the distance of my runs to offset my binges. At my running peak, I ran around 70km (43.5 miles) a week. I remember at one point I ticked off a 90km (56 miles) run week. 

Around that time I was training with lean, elite runners who I compared myself to a lot. I always felt I had to lose more weight and wished I could look like them. Occasionally, I would drive into work early, run 8km (5 miles) before work, and then run an extra 2km (1.2 miles) to work. After work, I trained with the elite runners and ended up running a total of 21km (13 miles) in a day.

At the time, I believed I felt good, but I had little awareness of what I was doing. Only now do I understand that I was relying on willpower and adrenaline to see me through instead of addressing the habits that were holding me back. Because I was also counting calories and watching what I ate, I became low on iron. However, I kept running (which felt like running through mud) because I didn’t want to get fat. I look back now and can’t believe how much my diet mindset controlled me and how much pain I pushed through.

The binges continued and my body didn’t change

Despite my food restriction and my exercise levels, my body wasn’t changing at all. I was frustrated and annoyed and thought I needed to run even more and eat even less. I increased my running to burn more calories. However, I was still in the cycle of food restriction and binge eating and didn’t have any control over my food. Because I was relying on willpower and not addressing my habits, I thought I just needed to learn to control my binges and run more. 

While I felt confident about the way my running was improving, my self-confidence was low. Nothing was ever enough. My body wasn’t changing the way I wanted it to and I even called myself a ‘fat athlete’. I thought that if I could just keep running and lose weight, I’d feel better about myself.

When I started my first business (which was a running group) I was only running 20-30km (12-18 miles) per week as my business became my main priority so I was limited on time. However, I still hadn’t addressed my habits, so I kept bingeing and my weight kept going up.

Once my business was established, I increased my running again alongside the weight training I was now doing. I was running and lifting, sometimes training twice a day, several times a week. I was cutting calories, eating minimal food and started working on my mindset. I completed a 12-week challenge, ran a marathon, lost 7kg (15 lbs) and was in the best shape of my life. 

Then suddenly, my world fell apart.

Not addressing my habits and relying on willpower finally took its toll on me.

A shocking discovery

My body broke down and I sustained injury after injury. My body was inflamed, I pulled calf and hamstring muscles several times, had hip problems and a chronically inflamed toe. I remember I signed up for 10 fun runs that year and didn’t make it to the start of any of them because my body was so broken. My spirit was also broken. I felt worthless because I couldn’t run, I was gaining weight, and kept comparing myself to other people.

I blocked my emotions and never asked for help. I just kept going. Around this time I also lost my period for around 2 years. When I eventually went for a checkup I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormonal disorder where the ovaries develop cysts, which can cause infertility. 

The doctors found 50 cysts on one of my ovaries and 45 on the other. I was devastated but I suppressed my emotions. Instead, I told myself it was okay because I didn’t want kids. I tried to console myself with a lie. 

Less was more

While my identity as a runner wasn’t something I was ready to let go of because my self worth relied on it, my diagnosis changed the way I trained and ate. Instead of long-distance running, I moved to sprinting. I also began to address my habits and increase my food intake, focusing on eating protein and more veggies. About 6 months later, after eating more, training less and reducing stress, my period came back. That was a big achievement for me. It’s a big lesson I love to teach other women who are stuck in the diet merry go round.

As I continued to consistently address my habits whilst eating more and training less, my injuries began to heal and my body shape started changing.

While I had dropped the calorie-counting and developed a better relationship with food, my self-worth was still low. As a result, I still compared myself to others. I felt very embarrassed about how my body looked, especially as I had been toned in the past, but struggled to get that back.

A new chapter beckoned

By now, I was burned out after putting everyone else first but myself. I felt I needed time to do something for myself. To cut a long story short, I moved to the US for 3 months to train with Olympic runners in Miami, USA. I was excited to go for two reasons — I wanted to work on myself and lose weight, but I also wanted to understand why I and other people struggled to achieve long term success despite working so hard.

I spent a month volunteering in Peru on my way to the US and thought I’d be able to lose weight before training with the coaching squad, by moving as much as I could. While there I was frequently served rice — something that I normally wouldn’t eat. My habit of restricting food and avoiding carbs made me question whether I should eat it or not, but I felt I needed to surrender to eating it. I couldn’t believe how good my body felt after eating rice. 

That was when I started listening to my body.

When I got to Miami, my coach told me I was overweight for an athlete and recommended I cut my food down. However, I made a choice to trust myself and rather than restrict food again, I continued to listen to my body. 

I was still being really hard on myself though and after 8 weeks with the squad, I felt really ashamed and embarrassed because my body hadn’t changed as much as I thought it would. I was actually scared to go home and have people see me and think “she’s still fat”.

The invisible sign that changed everything

After 9 weeks of training with these Olympians, I sustained an injury. I slipped and hyperextended my knee which had never happened to me before. I remember it vividly because it had been a good day of training and connecting with people. After falling, I looked at the ground to see what I had tripped on and there was nothing. I had this feeling come over me and I remember thinking “Okay, I’m done. I’m listening and surrendering. That’s it”. 

That was the moment that I decided to stop relying on willpower and running, and address my habits. 

That was the moment that I finally admitted that running was simply a distraction from doing the real work I needed to do.

It was also the moment that I admitted running was a distraction from my intense feelings of loneliness.

I knew at that moment that I had to let go of my identity as a runner and accept that running wasn’t the answer to my problems. 

Looking back now, I can see that there were so many warning signs that I was pushing through. However, I had no awareness of what they were. I’d also ignored them because I wasn’t ready to admit that I needed to work on my habits. But that was about to change.

So I came home and hit rock bottom.

My snap point

By the time I got back to Australia, I’d lost everything. I’d lost my identity as a runner, I’d lost clients as a result of going overseas, I’d spent a lot of money, and I’d lost a lot of friends. 

So I started to create a new identity. I chose to not work as much so I could focus on my habits and begin my healing process. I started resting more. I stopped worrying about what my body looked like and began to learn how to listen to it, respect it and love it — I came back to my body and it was like I was discovering it for the first time. I started building my self-worth based on who I was, instead of being a runner or high achiever. I began putting myself first.

How I healed

I knew that if I wanted to heal, I needed to do things differently. So I:

  • Surrendered and accepted where I was instead of pretending to be who I was not.
  • stopped putting a timeline on my weight loss journey.
  • trained less and prioritised Focused Intense Resistance Training (FIRE) 
  • added  structure and accountability
  • Invested more time in my rest and recovery
  • focused on improving my sleep and reducing metabolic blockers.
  • Addressed my self-worth and habits (not comparing, people-pleasing, mindset, etc.).

As a result, I met Ronnie, who helped me implement all these things by making me accountable and pulling me back when I wanted to do more. And it was during this time that I experienced the biggest change in my body shape. 

Changing habits changed my body

The truth is, working on my habits changed my body more than running, exercising or dieting ever did. 

Running isn’t a bad thing, running for the wrong reason is the problem. More often than not we want to run to lose weight in order to cover up our other habits which is a recipe for disaster – and because of that, running is not the solution. 

People run from a place of fear instead of running from a place of love. They tried the diets that didn’t work, so they run to burn calories, instead of looking at the real reasons they’re not losing weight — their habits.

In addition, a lot of people look at what athletes do but don’t realise the habits that athletes have. Their mindset and habits are more important than their training. 

I haven’t run for many years but I’ve recently started jogging. I jog 2.5km (1.5 miles) — a far cry from what I used to run. The difference now is that I’m jogging from a place of love not a place of fear. It’s fun and I’m not relying on it for weight loss.

It’s been a long, hard road to get to here, but one thing is for sure — running doesn’t solve your weight problems.

Running for weight loss

If you’ve ever taken up running, chances are you did so thinking it would help you lose weight.

A lot of people believe running is the solution to weight loss because it burns calories. And because the diet industry touts the belief that the more calories you burn, the more weight you’ll lose, many people turn to running. But creating a calorie deficit by burning extra calories and restricting food doesn’t always equate to weight loss. We explain this more in our blog Why calorie deficit leads to weight gain.

Why people use running for weight loss

Don’t get us wrong. There’s nothing wrong with running. But if you run from a place of fear and rely on running to lose weight, instead of working on your habits, you have a problem. 

Most people turn to running to lose weight because it’s easier than addressing bad habits and confronting the fears that are holding them back, but at the end of the day, your habits have the biggest influence on your weight – not food or exercise.

But rather than work on their habits, they run from them and try to use willpower instead. This is the same reason why people focus on food by trying to eat better when struggling with weight loss, instead of addressing the deep habits that reflect on their poor eating.

Another reason people take up running is because it requires very little investment of their finances and of themselves. For example, other than investing in a good pair of running shoes, running involves no other expenses. You don’t need gym memberships, you don’t need to work with a coach, and you can do it anywhere, anytime. And you don’t need to make yourself accountable to anyone either — something that many people want to avoid at all costs especially if they don’t feel worthy.

Why running for weight loss doesn’t work

As a weight-loss strategy, running simply won’t work. Here’s why.

Fitness doesn’t guarantee weight loss

There is a thin line between training for weight loss and training for fitness. If you want to use cardio exercise to lose weight, you need to do an activity that you’re inefficient at, not what you’re already good at. If you’re a runner, more running will more likely make you fitter and lead to minimal or no weight loss at all. It will just help you become a better, fitter runner (i.e. more efficient at it). This explains why there are overweight people who can run a marathon. In Mel’s case, extending her runs didn’t lead to weight loss. It just helped her improve her running and helped her achieve faster race times. The truth is that increased fitness doesn’t guarantee weight loss. This is explained in great detail in our blog Training and exercise: What’s the best workout routine?

Running can reduce muscle mass which makes it harder to lose weight

One of the mistakes that many people make when trying to lose weight is focusing on cardio exercise. While cardio exercise may burn calories, too much cardio exercise breaks down your existing tissues, including your muscle. However, muscle is what will help you lose weight because 66% of your metabolism is influenced by your muscle mass. That means if you want a faster metabolism, which will help you lose weight, you need to build muscle. Unfortunately, running doesn’t build you muscle mass and therefore won’t effectively help you lose weight. We explain this in more detail in our blog “I don’t want to get bulky”: 8 reasons why muscle is your friend.

Running distracts you from the real work you need to do — addressing your habits

The biggest influence on your weight isn’t exercise or even nutrition. It’s your habits — thoughts, beliefs, mindset and fears. Exercise is only 3% of the weight-loss equation, so focusing on exercise — in this case running — to lose weight, is simply solving the wrong problem. In short, you’re spending a lot of time and energy on something that only leads to 3% of your results. 

In Mel’s case, she spent hours and hours every week running, but never got the results she was looking for. She continued to sabotage herself by restricting food, running more, and comparing herself to other people. It was only when she stopped relying on running to lose weight and began working on her habits, that she started to get results. 

You don’t need to solve your weight problem with running or any other kind of exercise or diet. You actually need to solve the habits that led you to become overweight in the first place. Because unless you do, you’ll never lose weight and keep it off. We explain this in our blog Nothing changes if nothing changes: How to lose weight for good.

You increase the risk for injury

The majority of people have trouble incorporating regular walks into their week and staying consistent with that. Yet they start running distances they haven’t even walked. This is a sure-fire way to sustain an injury or burnout, effectively sidelining you from any other activity until you recover from your injury. Running can also compromise the health of your joints by placing unnecessary pressure on your joints, especially if you are over 40. We talk more about this on our blog best way to exercise for weight loss after 40.

Basically, if you’re not consistent with walking, don’t start running. And certainly don’t run a distance that you’re not capable of walking. It’s a bit like trying to walk before you stand. 

Even people who are used to running can sustain an injury. As we saw, Mel’s undereating and overexercising caused her body to completely break down. She ended up with an inflamed body and sustained multiple injuries which prevented her from running. This only led to more weight gain and lower self-worth.

Running can compromise your health

It’s very common for people using running for weight loss to believe that to burn more calories, they simply add in more running. While this approach may sound good on paper, in reality, this is not practical because you’ll eventually get to a point where it won’t be possible to do more. And simply ‘doing more’ leads to over-exercising. As well as increasing the chances of injury, over-exercising can have significant impacts on your health such as interfering with your sleep, tiredness and lethargy, irritability and low mood, a compromised immune system, disrupted hormones, infertility, low libido and erectile dysfunction — just to name a few!

As we saw with Mel, her food restriction coupled with long-distance running led to low iron, PCOS, and the very real risk of not being able to have children.

Relying on running to lose weight will erode your self-worth even more

The biggest barrier to losing weight is low self-worth. People who don’t feel they are worthy engage in behaviours that actually sabotage their weight loss. A very common characteristic in people with low self-worth is they base their value on what they do and achieve. For people who rely on running to lose weight, this means they base their feelings of worthiness on how far they’ve run, how quick they’ve run, how many running events they participate in, and how well they perform in their races. This can quickly turn into needing to do more. But this approach only feeds those feelings of low self-worth. In Mel’s case, she found her value in her identity as a runner, and when she couldn’t run, she felt even worse about herself than she did when she first started running.

Forget running for weight loss

As you can see, running didn’t help Mel lose weight. In fact, it only made things worse. Running didn’t help Mel because she was running from a place of fear, not love (i.e. running away from loneliness) and she was relying on willpower to solve her problem of low self-worth. Other people rely on willpower to solve their lack of self-worth by going on diets.

However, relying on willpower only perpetuates the problem. When we rely on willpower everything becomes harder. You have to exercise more and restrict food more which is recipe for disaster. In Mel’s case, this perpetuated the cycle of calorie-restriction and binge eating, contributed to her habit of comparing herself with other people, prevented her from building her self-worth (because she always measured her worth against what she achieved in running), caused multiple injuries, and threatened her future as a mum.

Mel’s story is a great illustration of why running for weight loss just doesn’t work.

So what does work?

How to lose weight long-term

If you want to lose weight and keep it off long-term, you need to stop running away from the real work you need to do — and that’s addressing your habits. It won’t matter how good your intentions are, your habits will influence everything you do. You can read more about this in our blog 7 habits for effective weight loss. 

However, the habit that will have the biggest impact on your ability to lose weight is improving your self-worth. This is because all the habits that have contributed to your weight problem stem from your poor self-worth. We call this a keystone habit. You can read more about self-worth in our blog How low self-worth affects your weight.

But for now, let’s look at what happens when you build your self-worth. You will stop:

When you build your self-worth, you will start:

As Mel said, working on her habits changed her body more than running, exercising or dieting ever did. 

Let us help

Overcoming the diet mindset and associated thoughts, behaviours and habits isn’t easy especially if you have struggled with your weight for a while, or have always believed what the diet industry has told you. This is why it’s important to surround yourself with the right people who can support you on your journey and work with a coach who understands what you’re going through and has come out the other side. 

Through our DATSTM Personal Coaching Program, we can help you overcome your habits and change your mindset, so you can finally lose weight and keep it off.

How DATSTM Program helps 

We understand exactly how you feel because we have been there too. We have tried the diets and the exercise and know firsthand how frustrating it is to work so hard and not get results.

But we also know what works — changing your habits and building your self-worth, first and foremost.

The DATSTM Personal Coaching Program is based on habit and mindset change and is designed to help you build your self-worth, rather than focusing on diet and exercise. Because when you feel worthy, you’ll finally stop the weight loss self-sabotage and weight loss will take care of itself. 

Through DATSTM we give you specific, personalised action steps and provide you with the right amount of structure and accountability, to help you reach your goals. In short, DATSTM will give you the knowledge, systems, tools and skills to help you deal with any situation, so you will always be able to make progress – even on your worst days.

In summary…

  • Many people take up running to lose weight because they believe that burning calories is the answer.
  • Running for weight loss doesn’t work. It just distracts you from the real work you need to do — work on your habits while creating a host of other problems.
  • Long-term weight loss is achieved through habit and mindset change, not excess exercise or calorie restriction.
  • Our DATSTM Program is based on habit and mindset change, so you can finally lose the weight you’ve always wanted to and keep it off for good.
  • Our DATSTM Program gives you the knowledge, systems, tools and skills to help you stay on track with your weight loss, even on your worst days.

Want to finally lose weight forever and feel confident?

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To give our clients the personal care and attention they deserve, we only open to new clients twice per year and enrolment is on a first-come, first-served basis. Don’t MISS YOUR CHANCE to change your life!

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