10 Steps to Lose Weight, Get Fit, and Start Running

10 Steps to Lose Weight, Get Fit, and Start Running
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How to Start Running

Since you’re here, you’re probably interested in how to start running. Running is a high-impact sport, and it can be hard on your knees and ankles, particularly if you’re overweight and needing to lose weight. Or more specifically, fat loss. 

The answer can seem obvious. Just start running, right? But if you fail to consider how carrying a lot of excess fat can make running difficult, you may not be setting yourself up for success

Should Fat Loss Be Your First Step?

If your weight is making it difficult to run without pain or risk of injury,  you might not want to start running until you’ve begun your fitness journey. Here’s how to trigger the right kind of fat loss to start running.

How To Start Running — 10 Steps to Prepare Your Body

1. Log Your Food Intake

If you want to lose weight, you need to eat healthy food, and you need to be in a caloric deficit. That means you need to have an awareness of both what kind of food you’re eating and how many calories you’re taking in.

For at least the first month, keep a log of all food you eat. You can use an app on your phone or a simple pad of paper, or snap pictures of everything before it touches your lips. Track what you eat, at what time, and in what quantity. Count, as precisely as possible, how many calories you take in, as well as the breakdown of your macros: protein intake, fat intake, and carbohydrate intake.

After the first month, you can stop counting calories and macros, but it’s still good to keep a food log. The easiest way to do this is the photo journal approach mentioned above: Snap a quick photo of everything you eat before you eat it.

2. Follow the Crowding Out Principle

Diets usually focus more on what to cut out than on what to add in. While that may be justified from a biological standpoint, it makes dieting more psychologically difficult than it needs to be.

Instead, focus on adding in healthy, low-calorie foods — particularly lean meats, vegetables, and low-sugar fruits. Make an effort to eat one to two servings of each of these food groups with every meal. By filling up on healthy food, you’ll keep yourself full and satisfied, and by focusing on what to eat rather than what not to eat, you’ll make dieting more enjoyable. If you do this right, you’ll eat less unhealthy, calorically dense food simply because you aren’t hungry for it. The healthy food will “crowd out” the less healthy food.

3. Drink Water Before Meals

One quirk of human biology is that mild dehydration doesn’t always produce a sensation of thirst. Instead, the effects of mild dehydration can easily be mistaken for the sensation of hunger. The upshot? People slip into overeating and taking in more calories than they would have otherwise.

This is easy to prevent: Just drink a glass of water shortly before every meal. It’s a simple way to reduce calorie consumption.  As an added bonus, the water will produce a temporary sensation of fullness in your stomach, further limiting your desire to eat.

4. Prep Meals in Bulk

If you don’t love to cook, and you find yourself ordering in or eating crappy microwaved food more often than you should, start meal prepping. Schedule meal prep sessions of one or two hours once or twice a week. During each session, cook four to six servings of two or three dishes.

If you’re not much of a cook, the easiest dishes to get started with are meat and vegetable stir-fries, curries, and slow-cooked meat and vegetable dishes. All of these options are both simple technique-wise, and very forgiving in terms of how long you cook them for, particularly the slow-cooker meals.

5. Use an Elliptical Machine to Pre-Train for Running

Elliptical machines are about as close as you can get to running without actually running, and they put far less strain on your joints. They are a less-risky path to a base of fitness, health, and fat loss than just going out and pounding on the pavement.  Until you’re ready to start running, spend a half hour on an elliptical machine four to seven days a week. Forget interval training; just set the fastest pace you can sustain for a half hour.

6. Lift Weights to Build Muscle

Most people who lose weight also lose muscle in the process, slowing their metabolism. If you build muscle instead during this time, you’ll look and feel better, and have an easier time keeping the weight off. The keys to growing muscle are eating more protein and lifting weights.

As a novice, you’ll want to train each muscle group twice a week to help build muscle mass. That means you have two options. First, you can train your entire body twice a week. Second, you can separate your training into an upper body and a lower body workout, doing each one twice a week for a total of four workouts a week.

7. Being On Your Feet Burns More Calories

Here's a piece of low-hanging fruit for fat loss, and also for preparing to run. A simple, low-impact way to prepare your legs and joints for running is to simply spend more time on your feet. By either walking 10,000 extra steps a day, or standing for a few extra hours throughout the day, you can burn off several hundred additional calories per day while also strengthening your calves, ankles, and knees.

If you choose to walk more, don’t try to find opportunities to walk on an ad-hoc basis. Instead, build walking into your daily routine. Keep your mind tuned for a choice that burns more calories. Common sense applies. Example: What’s going to help you lose fat? Shoveling or using a snowblower? Hence, you’re integrating incremental gains of health and fitness into routines that otherwise might not contribute to fat loss.

If you choose to stand more, get a standing desk. You can find them on Amazon for as little as $50. You’ll probably need to alternate sitting and standing throughout the day, but even standing for a half hour after every hour of sitting would be enough to net you more than two hours of extra standing time per day.

8. Sleep Eight to Nine Hours Every Night

Getting sufficient sleep is vital for your health — I don’t think I need to belabor that point. But few people fully appreciate just how vital sleeping well is to losing fat and improving body composition.

Yes, weight loss is mostly about calorie balance. But if you don’t get enough sleep, very little of the weight you lose will be fat — instead, most of it will be muscle mass. If you want to lose fat—not just weight, but fat—you need to be sleeping well. Read this article for a more thorough guide on how to optimize your sleep.

9. Go Grocery Shopping When You’re Full

It’s hard to make rational decisions when your willpower is depleted, and even harder to separate what you want now from what you want in the future. Small decisions like these will affect your total calorie intake and ultimately your body composition.  One upshot to all this is that when you go grocery shopping, you’ll tend to buy whatever food you’re craving at the time, even if it’s not necessarily what you’ll want in the future.

The fitness, fat-loss solution is simple: Always go grocery shopping shortly after eating a meal, when you’re full. You’ll buy healthier, lower-calorie food — and less calories overall — when you time your shopping expeditions that way.

10. Get Into a Supportive Environment

You will tend to take on the attitudes of the people around you, so it behooves you to surround yourself with people who are actively, enthusiastically working toward the same goals you are. In this case, that means surrounding yourself with people who are serious about fitness.

If you follow this guide, you should be ready to start running within a few months. After that, it’s only a matter of time before you’re ready for your first obstacle race.

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