I Wanted to Lose Weight by Running, but What I Learned 4 Years Later Surprised Me

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” -Tom Robbins

Ever since I started on my health journey in 2009, my goal was to get healthy and look it. I have been after a lean body for a long time. My plan was to get there by running. It took me over four years to figure out that wouldn’t work.

Today, I’m writing about my quest to get lean and sharing some ideas I learned from Metabolic Effect’s book. In order to reach my goal, I have drastically reduced the number of miles I run, but Kim at (Just) Trying is for Little Girls, who also read Metabolic Effect’s book, is continuing her goal of running a half marathon in every state–balancing a lean lifestyle with long distance running.

We are writing about our two experiences to help other runners who want to lose weight–fat–and get lean. You can read about her experience on her blog today, and my experience is below.

Kim, left, and me in my lounge pants...it's a long story.
Kim, left, and me in my lounge pants…it’s a long story. We decided to write about our experience with Metabolic Effect during this SHORT run in Portland a few weeks ago.

When I started my journey to get in shape, I decided I wanted to run. Why did I chose running? Well, I have always enjoyed running. But mostly I thought that was what you had to do to get in shape. Everywhere I looked (i.e. magazine covers or on TV, etc.), it seemed like running was the way to do it.

A marathon was on my bucket list, but it also seemed like the fastest way to get a lean, fit bod! In 2009, I began my quest. I started with a 5K and then within the first four months of my journey, I ran a half marathon. I immediately started training for the full…but then fractured my shin from overuse in the spring of 2010. (I eventually ran a full in 2011.)

Almost four years laster, I continued to think that adding mileage and cutting calories was the only way to lose weight and get in shape–even though I still hadn’t achieved it after all that time!

Yes, I’d lost some pounds and my heart and lungs were healthy, but I continued to carry an annoying layer of fat around my tummy, hips and thighs (which couldn’t be healthy for my insides either!). Of course, my boobs shrunk down to almost nothing. Typical!

I Wanted to Get Lean: The Knowledge

While I wouldn’t take back all those miles with wonderful friends that I made because of running, I do wish I would’ve known what I know now because I would’ve been able to “get in shape” a lot faster. I wouldn’t have damaged my metabolism by cutting calories. I wouldn’t have fractured my shin.

The difference between then and now, is knowledge.

What started this education transformation was a book called The Metabolic Effect Diet. It completely opened my eyes to a world of health and fitness habits I never even knew existed.

I don’t have to run 20-25 a week to get fit? Whaaaaa? You mean, I can work out for 30 minutes just 2 or 3 times per week and lose weight? And the fat will come off? Whaaaa?

Before you read any farther, know this: I don’t think everyone who loves to run should stop running. Keep running if you enjoy doing it. But running or doing hours of cardio every week to get “in shape” is a myth. (Of course, “in shape” is different for everyone: For me I mean healthy on the inside and looking lean and strong on the outside.)

I feel really passionate about people to get educated about weight and fat loss. Reading The Metabolic Effect Diet is a good place to start that education. So is reducing your running mileage.

Can I Get Lean and Run Long Distances?

I looooove running (although my love affair has moved to shorter distances as of late), and I would not take back any of the races or runs I’ve done over the  years. I made new friends with this blog and with running–wonderful friends whom I cherish.

But last summer, when I read The Metabolic Effect Diet, it changed everything I knew about getting lean and fit. To be fair, I didn’t really know much since I thought I could get “in shape” through high mileage running and hours of cardio, including even last winter on my bike trainer.

When I tried to lose weight through lots of running and/or by reducing calories (sometimes to unhealthy levels), I was doing myself a disservice by wrecking my metabolism and by stressing out my body (which, probably, made it hold on to the very fat I was trying to get off!).

I did lose some weight, but what I lost most likely also included muscle. (And you want muscle because it burns fat!) Metabolic Effect taught me that when you get your cardio through weight lifting (20 minutes, heavy weights, high intensity), you build muscle…which burns fat! This is a very short explanation. I’ll put links for more info at the end of this post.

I don't know this woman. I found this on Pinterest and, unfortunately, the link was broken. It's a great comparison. I think all the pictures look great; it just shows that there's a difference, and it's all about what you want your body to look like.
This isn’t me. I don’t know this woman and I cannot confirm whether or not these photos have not been altered with graphic design software. I found this on Pinterest and, unfortunately, the link was broken. But, whether or not it’s real, it’s a great comparison and visually shows my point. Really, I think she looks great in all the pictures; it just shows that there’s a difference in shape. It’s all about what you want your body to look like.

I learned about how stress affects my body, how well (or not well) my body processes starch, how what I eat and how I exercise affects the hormones in my body, and how my hormones affect how I feel and look.

Part of me wants to say that if you are not looking to lose body fat/weight, then The Metabolic Effect Diet may not be for you. But I can’t. I learned so much about how my body works, I think everyone should read it. (No, they did not pay me to write about their book.) It’s just good information to know.

I have one issue with the book: it’s title. Putting the word “Diet” in the title, to me, implies this is just another one of those fad “DIET” books. But that’s not what this is. There’s no “eat this, not that.” You’re not going to get meal plans. It’s simply an educational read about food and hormones and exercise. The book gives you all the information, and then you decide what to do with it.

The book does give you workouts to do. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as sweaty after any run as I get after a ME workout. Just sayin’.

The workouts are important because long, steady-state cardio sessions do not help burn fat. I can just say this after more than four years of doing them and not seeing results. After just a couple of weeks doing ME workouts and making good food and lifestyle choices based on what I learned in the ME book, I dropped 8 pounds.

I had a hard time thinking I didn’t need to run for miles on end. I had a hard time not counting calories and believing “weight loss” wasn’t all about calories in, calories out (there’s more to the equation!). I had a hard time watching my running mileage go down to 6 miles per week or less (sometimes)….at first.

But wearing size 6 jeans and seeing muscle definition in my arms convinced me. And not feeling hungry all the time convinced me. And there was even a faint outline of some–wait for it–abs!

The best part: I felt more relaxed and less ruled by exercise and calories than…ever.

Getting Lean: Making Exercise and Food Work for Me

What the ME book helped me see was that there are certain types of exercise that work for me and there is exercise that works against me. And certain foods that work for me and certain food that works against me. And there are certain behaviors that work for me and certain behaviors that work against me.

I learned my body is very susceptible to stress–both from environmental factors like not getting enough sleep, and from stressful exercise, like long distance running. ME recommends easy stress-reducing walks in between 3 days of 20-minute high-intensity weight workouts.

But stress is just ONE of the reasons my body was holding on to fat around my belly, hips and thighs.

I also learned that what I eat has a lot to do with my body fat, and not how much I eat. I was eating a lot of yogurt and oatmeal last spring, and my body cannot process those foods as efficiently as higher protein foods and vegetables, I have learned. The book helped me to be more aware of how food made me feel. I really started to notice how different foods affected me after I read the book.

For example, my stomach was always upset after eating yogurt. Once I cut back on eating so much of it, I felt better. I like that ME teaches you how food can help you instead of hurting you.

Changing my diet to be more protein and veggie focused with smaller amounts of starch at meals, made a huge difference. I looked better and felt better. AND I was eating more. Right now*, I eat 6 times a day, and I feel satisfied after I eat.

The types of food I was eating was just ONE factor to my soft belly, hips and thighs. Being on restrictive low-calorie diets for so long was also ONE more reason.

Getting more sleep also made a big difference. Eight hours is where it’s at. Not getting enough sleep is just ONE reason my body holds on to fat.

What works for me:

  • Sleep 8 hours.
  • 20-25 minutes of high-intensity exercise with heavy weights 2 to 3x/week (metabolic workouts)
  • Optional 20-minute sprinting interval sessions 2x/week
  • 30 or more minutes of leisure walking every day
  • Lots of protein and veggies at every meal with 5 bites of (high-quality when possible) starch, and lots of water
  • Eat 4-6x/day (don’t let myself get crazy hungry/hangry)

That’s it. That’s the basics of how I am getting leaner. You’ll notice there is no running aside from the optional sprinting…

How I Became a Diet Detective

Despite knowing all of this, I had to step back from the metabolic workouts in November. My lower back, which has a bulging disc that sometimes gets aggravated, was bothering me. I tweaked it somehow and it just wasn’t getting better so I had to rest. Surprisingly, when I rested and continued to eat well, my weight and inches did not change much.

But then I started following a new lifting routine, just to see if I liked it. The routine was more strength-focused than metabolic. So, I was lifting even heavier, but it wasn’t getting my heart rate up much, and my eating wasn’t so clean. For various reasons, I was binge-eating chips and junk food in between meals, and toward the end of December to mid-January, I went up 3 pounds and gained an inch or more on my belly, hips and thighs. (All in all, not that bad considering I was eating so much junk.)

The best way to show you what happened with me is to share a graph of my weight for a year. (Note: Before I read the ME book, I had read Bob Harper’s The Skinny Rules, which was basically just a lesson in eating cleanly. Again, not really eliminating anything, just eating better. But, my yogurt and starch consumption was much higher.) Okay, here’s what my weight journey over the last year looks like:

Weight over the last year.
Weight over the last year.

Can you see how I was stuck last spring? Can you tell where I started eating and exercising according to the knowledge I learned from Metabolic Effect? It was last May.  Can you tell where I strayed? December and January.

Weight is not the only, or even the best, way to measure your progress, but it is the one thing I had kept track of consistently.

One of the best things about Metabolic Effect and ME trainers (such as Jill Coleman of the blog JillFit), is that they stress that a lean lifestyle is all about finding what works for you. Setbacks are not failures. I only found a way that does not work!

I consider myself the Sherlock Holmes of my own lean lifestyle. I keep tweaking and trying different things in line with what I’ve learned from ME (and other books, see below). Long runs aren’t going to get me the abs I want. Running two hours and then telling myself I can eat whatever I want won’t help me get my goal.

Now, if I run, it’s because I enjoy the act of running. But I will never again confuse it as a good way to lose weight or fat.

Get The Metabolic Effect Diet on Kindle here or in paperback here.

Another book on fat loss I like:

Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle on Kindle or in paperback by Tom Venuto

More about the Metabolic Effect:

A couple helpful articles about cardio and weight loss from Jill at JillFit:

A podcast on fitness and nutrition I’m really enjoying:

The Fit Cast hosted by Kevin Larrabee, CSCS

*I’m a “diet detective”! Six seems to be working for me now; it could change.

11 thoughts on “I Wanted to Lose Weight by Running, but What I Learned 4 Years Later Surprised Me

  1. This was an interesting read. I’ve been trying to be a diet detective for the last 6 months or so. I’ve learned some of what works and what doesn’t, but it’s so hard to give some of that stuff up. I’m trying to add in some weight training to my triathlon training in hopes it makes me leaner. I will have to check out Metabolic Effect and see if I can get some tips.
    Christy Brookhart recently posted..Whole30 Day 17My Profile

  2. I love this. I’ve been following Kim’s journey and just re-affirms that running does not work for my body to get in shape. I just finished racing my 50 state half marathon quest in January and people keep asking me “what’s next”. They’re baffled when I say “to get in shape”. I think this whole concept of less running and more weights is foreign to most unless you’ve been running for year and not getting your results you thought you would. Glad you found something that worked for you!
    Lisa J recently posted..Weekly Recap 2/10-2/16My Profile

  3. Very interesting! I have gotten so much out of talking to Kim about the ME plan, and you guys both have such great perspectives on this. Now I just need one of you to do it for *me*, haha!

    In looking at those pictures, though, I feel like it’s straight out of the “expose” on how to fake before/after pictures. Changing posture, flexing muscles instead of relaxing, etc. It reminds me of when I first saw this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M957dACQyfU

    Regardless, I’d take her body in a nano-second in any of those pictures! And I am so impressed with you and Kim and all your hard work and success on this plan!

  4. Oh no, it was this blog that I remembered with the before/after pictures!

    Haha, I know it seems like I am taking the entirely wrong message from your blog, but I promise I’m not. I’m just having an OCD moment of *needing* to understand these pictures, haha. Don’t mind me! 🙂
    freejulie recently posted..Weigh-In Wednesday: Stoopidhead Scale EditionMy Profile

  5. Thanks so much for linking up with me. Your post is so informative (love the graph, really tells your story).
    I hope to continue to figure out a way to enjoy the run, and get lean. Miles over muscles? Muscles over miles? We’ll see!

  6. Thanks for a very informative post. I lost about 120lbs for years ago through eating 1200 calories & working out 5 days a week with a combo of lifting & loads of cardio. I was fit but I was still squishy in places I didn’t like. I was also running and training for a half marathon spring of 2011. After a surprise pregnancy in 2012 I have not been able to loose the weight & I’ve really been researching the eat more – get lean philosophy. For awhile I have been thinking that what I did really hurt my metabolism – and also after returning to counting calories, doing cardio & working out I just haven’t lost. I’ve had my blood drawn thinking it was a thyroid issue, nope. Looking forward to reading this for me & hopefully making some progress.

  7. Thanks Kerrie! This was great, I’m still working on this stuff myself. I will read Kim’s entry next & check out your links.

  8. Metabolic Effect’s book was life-changing for me. Read it about 3 years ago and started using their workout DVD. Later I incorporated more of the workouts and programs offered through their website and Lifestylers Club. The membership to Lifestylers is my “gym” fee. I have learned so much about what works for me and even though I get off track at times, I have the tools to get back to where I want to be.

  9. Amen. I’m an ex cardio junkie. 1/2 dozen marathons, too many half marathons to count, Ironman triathlon and tons of shorter distances. Was skinny fat at best.. Gained weight super easy so was always training for the next thing. Ate nothing but carbs and alcohol. Very restricted calories. Fast forward a few years, I have 2 kids and no time for all that cardio. Started lifting weights, drastically reduced the cardio, educated myself on nutrition and it changed my life. I now do hardly any cardio but some 30-min steady state and 1-2 HIIT interval sessions a week. I now eat more than my husband by volume. Never hungry. MUCH leaner and now compete in masters bikini – actually got my pro card last summer. Take it from an ex skinny girl… Nutrition is magic. Thanks for this post about ME. I’m gonna read for sure.

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