For some, running is primarily about weight loss. Running is after all, listed as one of the best forms of exercise for maximum calorie burning. But in some cases, weight loss goals can be thwarted by frustrating urges to overeat. This post will look at some of the reasons why some people tend to eat more than usual when they start a new running program.
1. Going too long (after a run workout, or throughout the day) without eating:
Runners who are on a mission to lose weight often make the mistake of “holding off” on eating after a long or intense run. The successful completion of a tough run can feel like such an accomplishment that it breeds an irrational fear of eating; in other words, there is a fear that eating will undo all the benefits of the exercise just completed.
It’s never a good idea to delay eating after a workout, not just because it may result in overeating, but because it will also impair the body’s ability to recover. Don’t ignore your body’s hunger cues; eat when you’re hungry and try to eat mindfully so that you recognize when you’re getting full.
2. There may be a biological connection between exercise and overeating:
In a study that tested the food-reward region of the brain, researchers put two groups of people through a vigorous bout of exercise, and then gave them various food cues to see if their brains would trigger a desire to eat unhealthy food. The first group, which consisted of relatively fit and lean individuals, hardly responded to the cues at all, but the brain activity of the second group (made up of heavier-set and less active individuals), completely lit up. The researchers concluded that individuals who are overweight and who typically don’t exercise, are more inclined to want to reward their workout efforts with food – and not necessarily with healthy food. On the bright side however, lead researcher Todd Hagobian, believes that consistent exercise, over time, affects the brain in such a way that unhealthy food is eventually seen as an undesirable post-exercise reward.
The biological changes that occur in the food-reward region of the brain, as well as hormonal changes that stimulate appetite, are referred to by some scientists as the “Compensation Effect.” Not everyone eats more as a result of increased training or exercise, but as indicated above, those who are untrained and overweight, and also women, are especially prone to the compensation effect. The best way to combat strong urges to overeat, is not to try and suppress or ignore the urges, but to fill up on nutrient-dense foods that a) are highly satiating, and b) promote optimal recovery – foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, lean meats (and other healthy protein options), as well as healthy fats and dairy foods.
3. Miscalculation of calories expended and calories consumed:
This is a mistake that is easily made by both beginner and advanced runners. A lot of runners don’t really spend a lot of time calculating how many calories they expend and consume, but they’ll make assumptions which are often far from accurate. In many cases, a runner may assume that he/she is burning x-amount of calories and consuming y-amount of calories, when in actual fact, the x-number is too high and the y-number is too low.
When runners make large discrepancies between their calorie intake and expenditure, they lull themselves into a false sense of security by believing that their increased exercise (running), gives them room to eat much more than they should. To avoid making incorrect assumptions, try using a calorie counting and exercise App, such as MyFitnessPal.
4. Last but not least, training and diet disciplines are not the same:
Even when a person knows everything there is to know about exercise and nutrition, the will to eat healthy never seems to match that of training hard and consistently. For some reason, many runners can stick to their training plan and get the workouts done, and yet fail miserably when it comes to sticking to their dietary goals.
If your diet needs a major overhaul, and you’re struggling to break old habits, try breaking just one bad habit at a time. Sometimes the big changes are only possible when small and gradual steps are taken; the process might take longer, but the results stand a far better chance of being permanent rather than temporary.