Email from a Reader: Running vs Walking and Feeling Constantly Hungry

by Andie Mitchell on December 28, 2011

“Andie,

First off, I want to thank you for such a beautiful blog you have created.  It truly is one of the most inspiring, honest, thoughtful pieces for work I have ever read.  Thank you for taking the time to put so much thought and meaning behind each and every post.  It shows every time.  

I wanted to ask you a couple of things that have been weighing heavy on my mind.  It has nothing to do with weight loss, but more so on attaining a piece of mind.  I, like you, am a runner.  I run about every other day.  Nothing too crazy, or to time consuming.  Running has always been my go to form of exercise.  Sometimes I will go weeks where I don’t run, and just walk my dog a couple miles a day.  I am perfectly happy/content, but in a way feel guilty that I’m not doing something “more”.  So then I hit the gym, for another cycle of running every other day.  The problem I am having trouble with is that I am ravenous.  When I run, I find myself not appreciating the food I eat.  I am a healthy eater by nature (always have been), but I still don’t like how I feel.  I am constantly wondering/thinking about what I am going to have for my next meal, when am I going to have it, etc. At night, I can’t sleep b/c I am thinking about breakfast, etc.  I find myself not “enjoying” the process, I guess.  I appreciate good food.  Really.good.food.  I love to cook and when I sit down to dinner, I just shovel it in mindlessly. 

Was that how you felt?  How did you change your mindset about walking vs. running? 

Again,  thank you for your time and your thoughts.  I appreciate every word.

M”

……………………..

Hi M!
First, thank you very much for your kind email. I crave this kind of honesty. It’s what this blog is all about.

I’m going to address your thoughts in separate parts because I find two issues we should cover. I also like sets of two- case in point: all that is good and pure and lovable in this world comes in a twin pack with cream filling.*

*Swiss Cake Rolls

Running vs. Walking and the Notion of Calories Burned
Here’s the thing: when I stopped running and began simply walking, I lost a few pounds. Cardiovascular activity (cardio/aerobic exercise) makes you work up an appetite. It makes you hungry and sets a fire under your metabolism. But the problem is: though we feel as though we’ve summited Everest as we finish our sweating session, we have not burned that many calories. Note the italics here. It’s so very easy to eat something that’s calorically much higher than anything you could ever burn in a running session. Even if you burn a few hundred calories (at most, honestly), you will be hungrier for the rest of the day. It’s easier than boxed cake mix to breeze right through a 300 calorie snack and feel even more ready for dinner to follow. You’re not alone in feeling this way.

Many, many people who train for running races speak about feeling constantly ravenous. I have loads of friends who have trained for marathons and have gained an average of 10 pounds in the process. It’s natural to feel hungrier when you’re moving more.

Eating well, eating in a proper calorie range for you, that is almost all of the weight equation. Know that what you eat will influence and account for 85% of where you find yourself on the scale. I walk because I love it. I walk because it sets off a domino effect of healthy choices in my life- I feel good, I’m energized, I’m motivated to do more, I’m peppy about eating wholesome foods, I’m wanting to maintain a feeling of health and vitality. I walk because we are what we do and I want to be up, out, and exploring. I want to be here and there and everywhere. I also want to listen to podcasts and call my mother several thousand times a day. For these reasons, my feet are often sidewalking.

Honestly, it’s not the calorie torcher we hope it will be. Not walking, not running, not elliptical-ing or even stairmaster-ing.

At most, and I’m going to be generous here: I’m burning 300 calories on a 4 mile walk. That wouldn’t even cover the donut I want at Dunkin’ Donuts (vanilla kreme filled, thankyouverymuch). I would barely blink ten times in the span of time it’d take me to eat 300 calories. But it’s not about the calories I’ve burned. Because when I think about a Snickers being equivalent to 45 minutes of moving my legs, my body, I realize that the notion of ‘working off’ what we eat is fairly ludicrous. It’s blown out of proportion, at the very least.

Moving is good for your heart- your whole being. Moving sets a tone for your day, your lifestyle. The way you feel about yourself from pushing your boundaries builds positive momentum in ways far beyond health.

The day that I untangled exercise from caloric burn was one of my happiest. The only way you’ll learn this as truth is to test it yourself. You must take a risk and try a few weeks (I’d go with three) of just walking or biking or swimming, whatever gets you going. Notice how you feel, how much you weigh at the end of it all. Notice your sleep, your routine, your physical comfort.
And then,
no matter if your weight is up or down
Ask yourself this:
Am I more content doing this day in and day out? Do I not dread the coming days now that I know I don’t have to pound out a set number of miles just to maintain?

Ravenous Beast Syndrome and How to Treat It
I hear you when you say you constantly fantasize about food. What I want you to pay attention to is this: your body is telling you something. You are consumed by the thought of food because of two things:

1. You are hungry. You are hungry. This is nothing to fear. Nothing to be afraid of. Nothing to get angry at yourself over. Everyone is hungry. Everyone would like to eat a million times a day because the thing about food is: it’s delicious.And even when it’s not delicious, it really is.  We’re hedonists at heart. We find flavors that make us swoon and we want them over and over again. If given a choice between hooking myself up to a frosting feeding tube or being free, I’d choose the tube.

The key is to find satiety for you.

2. You have a mental picture of yourself as a ravenous machine. You’re thinking that you’re constantly hungry, and probably feeling a little guilty/anxious/afraid of this hunger. What we focus on only becomes larger, more meaningful to us. You must trust that, if you ate until you were not hungry anymore, you would not be a wildabeast. You would eventually find fullness.

When we’re hungry, sometimes we let it get so far that we feel as though nothing, and I mean not a thing- not even 10 cakes (and wouldn’t we love to test that hypothesis)- could fill us. This is untrue. Just last night, I arrived home near-starving from a full day of Christmas shopping, gallivanting, Starbucks-ing, wearing yoga pants like I invented them. I felt certain that there weren’t enough items in my parents’ home to satisfy the empty pit I’d become. I was sure I’d have to eat all through the night and into the next day just to get to a point where my body said, ‘OK, we’re all done here. We can move safely onto dessert. Thank you for your time.’
I was certain.
We tell ourselves these stories and hold them as truths of the highest order. We are un-fill-able. We are always hungry. Nothing is enough.
Here’s what I learned at 8:30pm after eating a tub (16 thick and luscious ounces) of Fage 2% greek yogurt: I had been wrong.
I was fill-able. I was not always hungry. I had
I had had
enough.
And I reminded myself then, that so often I think I’m right. I act as though the thoughts I hold about myself in any given moment are the gospel. The reality is that yes, we will be hungry. Yes, we’ll even be starving beyond starving, thinking about eating those french fries sitting limp and lonely on a fellow restaurant diner’s plate (why didn’t they finish them?). Yes, we’ll overeat. Yes, we will feel stuffed. Those are truths.
And here are more:
Yes, we will be un-hungry. Yes, we will be full.
Your body, your mind, they’ll tell you those truths when you’re treating them kindly. They’ll be more honest when you let them say what they want without judgment.

This is the longest email you will [hopefully] ever receive. Bless you for making it to the end.

Wishing you the best of all years,

andie

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

The Mrs @ Success Along the Weigh December 28, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Man I can’t wait for the day I can distance myself from worrying about calorie burn and just exercise because it’s good for me. I’ve gotta bust my hump and aim for 800-1000+ calorie burn to get this schtuff off! Bookmarked for future me though! ;)

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atten June 22, 2013 at 3:42 pm

I know what you mean I feel like I think about dieting so much I dont have time to think about anything else. I long for the day that I can get up and go about my day and just be Happy in every way possible. I feel like I’m so far from that and I’m completely hopeless.

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Leanne (Bride to Mrs.) December 28, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Loved this! I needed to read this today.

I’ve missed your blog lately due to being busy.. :( I hope you had a great christmas Andie.

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Chantal December 28, 2011 at 8:55 pm

I just happened on this post and I have to say it couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Thank you. You just put it all into perspective for me.

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Brooke @ Covered in Grace December 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm

What a wonderful post!
It is amazing how just the right things fall into our paths at just the right times.
I definitely needed to read this right now. ;)

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Jodi December 28, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Thank you so much for this post, you are amazing and I love you! I have never read such good, encouraging news on weight loss and nutrition;)

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Sarah December 29, 2011 at 12:15 am

I’m new to your blog and absolutely love it. Your weight loss was so dramatic but your attitudes are so practical and grounded. Your advice in this post is really timely for me. Thank you for writing such an eloquent and inspiring blog!

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Natalcho December 29, 2011 at 1:19 am

I feel the same way – exercise makes me hungry, makes me hugrier than I would otherwise be. And the benefit of exercising is definitely not in the calories I can burn so I can eat them afterwards. No, the benefit for me is also in setting a healthy mindset, a “I did something good for my body today so no, I will not eat that tub of ice cream”. I crave whole foods when I exercise – I am not sure why that link in my mind exists but it does and it is so strong.

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Laura December 29, 2011 at 3:04 am

I have been a long time reader but am commenting for the first time because I am sitting here SOBBING over this post. I have always struggled with my weight and have beat myself up over not doing everything perfectly- exercise, diet, you name it so lately I had just given up. Reading what you wrote made something click and I realized that I was being so cruel to myself. You are so right, we can’t rely on exercise just for the calorie burn, we have to think of it as being kind to ourselves and setting a healthy wheel in motion. We also have to listen to what our bodies are telling us and that I am not a failure if I eat more one day than I do the next. I am so tired of the roller coaster, the guilt, the shame, the sadness. Thank you so, so much for putting it into perspective for me. You are a lifesaver.

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Beth December 29, 2011 at 5:06 am

I love your blogging. I have been reading it for about a year and it has given me confidence and enjoyment in cooking. Thank you so much!

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Kelly @ Free Spirit Food December 29, 2011 at 5:17 am

Thank you for this post, and thanks so much for your honesty. I’ve been a runner and doing weight training with a trainer for years, and I am definitely BIGGER than when I walked for an hour a day. I know it’s because I’m so much hungrier… such a struggle.

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Emmie Douglas December 29, 2011 at 7:17 am

Thank you so much for this post. It has made my day.

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Pattie December 29, 2011 at 7:21 am

I’m trying so hard to pull myself together, start moving around in any sort of fashion that even PARTIALLY resembles exercise. Peace with food has found me… peace with exercise has been difficult. It’s tied to being teased by my Mother for being athletic as a teenager. I’m in therapy to deal with it and i hope it starts working before I die far too young, due to lack of movement.

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Emily December 29, 2011 at 8:01 am

This is SO TRUE. I lost a lot of weight too, and had a hard time incorporating exercise when I started my first full-time job. I remember going a week without exercising, and being worried I was going to gain weight – instead, I lost a couple pounds!

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Linda December 29, 2011 at 9:31 am

This was an awesome post and I can relate to so much. Thanks for the reminder of these things and the positive message.

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Deanna December 29, 2011 at 10:16 am

Thanks for posting this! I’ve been nervous to start working out again. I like to do TurboFire, but I’m so ravenous when I do it, I don’t make any progress with weightloss. Thanks for this. I needed to hear that I just need to be active to be good to my body. Simple as that. Now, hopefully this message will stick with me!

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Lea @ Healthy Coconut December 29, 2011 at 11:28 am

I agree with everything you said on this post. What a great question from a reader and what a thoughtful and wonderful respond Andrea.

I personally have experienced the weight gain from training a race, but I’m fine with it because once the race is over, my body usually goes back to it’s happy weight.

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Lisa December 29, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Excellent post. Thank you! It helps me to think about things I *can* eat when I think I’m hungry, i.e. fruit, veggies, low fat dairy or protein. It puts my hunger back in to perspective and I can decide if my body is hungry or if it’s my mind or soul.

Thanks again and happy holidays!

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Jo @ Jo In the Kitchen December 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Andie, sometimes I feel like you’re speaking directly to me! Thank you so much for this.

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AshinMT December 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm

I just found your blog a few weeks ago and read many many previous posts (all awesome, ps)- i remembered it this afternoon and i have to say (along with some other’s before me) that this question and response resonate with me. I started doing aerobics (or as i lovingly refer to it *jazzersize*) about a month ago, and i had not previously done as much or as intense cardio vascular excersize in…. years. So needless to say i thought to myself “ssiiiiickkk… im going to lose like 10 lbs in a month…” not so much. Turns out i am a wild beast upon my return home and then for the rest of the night. This has in turn made me depressed. I cant do even “good” things for my body without “good” results. Even though i feel better, stronger- im not…. skinnier. Peace with food, peace with myself and with health is like a stair case- up some down one… constantly. Thanks for the reminder that im not the only one seeking this balance. And also for allowing my rambles. :)

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Gina December 29, 2011 at 3:59 pm

The limp and lonely french fries…I love that line! It’s just something about those fries sitting there on my boyfriend’s plate about to be *gasp* wasted!

I love this post, rings so true. I find I often have to take a step back and remember the basics of what I am eating and how food really does affect my mood and my thighs…more than the exercise or lack there of! Thank you for the reminder, it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time:)

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Candice @ Sailing on Paper December 29, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Andie, thank you so much for writing this. I’ve bookmarked this post and will come back to it over and over as I find my own way in “healthy living.”

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Sylvia December 29, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Needed this. Thank you!

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Dolcie December 29, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Yes, I needed this message as well! I’ve lost weight and continue to lose weight and I’m helping people lose weight but this is one of the things I’ve really been struggling with. Every time I think about eating something like a candy bar or a cookie or a slice of cake I wonder what it would take to burn it off. I’ve even Googled “how many jumping jacks does it take to burn 100 calories”. The answer? 780!!! I now realize it’s ridiculous to think you can burn off that piece of pie in one day. Knowing this makes me want to make healthier choices but it also helps me to not have crazy expectations with my effort to exercise off the treats I eat once in a while. My goal now is to simply enjoy them.

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AmandaL December 30, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Best. Post. Ever. You just validated what I’ve been thinking to myself over the last month. My New Year’s resolution for 2012 is to move because I WANT to, not because I HAVE to, and to eat healthier, more fulfilling foods.

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sarah@spinach and spice December 31, 2011 at 6:31 am

you have an incredible way with words. so so inspiring and blatantly true. there need to be many many more people in the world like you :)

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Kath December 31, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Beautiful post!

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Jessica January 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm

I love this post! Both the email and the response were beautifully written.

I have another thing to add to the thought of hunger, which ties into with the points covered but is slightly separate. I don’t know how old the emailer is, but one thing I’ve noticed in the past year is how much expectations play on hunger. For example – It’s 12 o’clock, I must be hungry! So you feel hungry, even though you may or may not be actually hungry. (This goes both ways in denying your hungry, as mentioned above).

For me, this ‘hunger’ was a result of an insanely high metabolism as child/teen (ie 9 full meals a day when I was growing). I’m also highly sensitive to my blood sugar, so when I am truly hungry, I lose it (cry, yell, get real ugly). As I’ve gotten older (and metabolism has slowed), my mental picture of my food needs didn’t reshape and ever little emotional bump needed to be saved by food ‘so I could function normally’. I guess the point of this little ramble is, emotional eating is not just eating your sadness or hurt. It can come from many sources and identifying whether you have true hunger, or the perception of it, can be difficult.

Removing the expectations of when you feel hungry can help you determine if you are genuinely not fueling yourself enough, or, if this need comes from a different place. After I realized my mental connection to hunger, I noticed my need to eat ravenously after a long run drop. I could run 8 miles and eat normally, whereas before, I figured ‘hey! I just ran 8 miles! I must be super duper hungry!’. Although, I will admit 10 milers always get me.

Hope this was of some benefit. I just have been on a similar hunger/running path recently and am working on a new hunger approach. Good luck with yours!

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Deebi27 January 2, 2012 at 4:57 pm

I have fallen into this blog and I love this email/pos!!!. My goodness…sooo beautifully written/explained!

As I have never been a runner, only a walker until recently when I took up Kangoo Jumping, I love the exercise, cardio and my joints feel fabulous! I have tried to not dwell on exercise vs eating issue. I have recently (6 months ago) found a bean salad recipe my husband and I love to eat. And finding many great benefits are added extra, the leveling of my weight (123 – 125), more energy and great cholesterol levels! It’s a winning combo for me!

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Kristin Murdock January 4, 2012 at 9:21 am

Andie I have been away from bloggie world for a month and I just LOVE being back and reading what you have written while I was away. You’re the best. And we should probably hang out. ;)

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Joelle (on a pink typewriter) January 5, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Andie, I just love, love, love this post. I struggled with this for a long time myself, being a runner. And then suddenly I couldn’t run like I used to (injury upon injury), and it was a struggle to untangle myself from that feeling that I needed to run to stay fit.

It’s too bad you don’t live in D.C., because we could walk together while calling our mothers 1000 times a day ;-) – I do the same each day.

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Leah January 7, 2012 at 11:02 am

I made a similar realization about weight loss/food consumption these last few months. I was laid off from my job, so with no money to buy the gym pass I was planning on purchasing and being somewhat “stuck” at home due to waiting for job calls, prepping for interviews and freelancing to pay the bills I didn’t do much of anything for exercise despite a few mind-clearing walks a couple of times a week. What I did decide, is that if I couldn’t get to the gym, I would try and be extra mindful of what I was eating. Smaller portions and healthy foods… and… I lost weight. The healthy eating paired with low-impact outdoor activity (walking in nature – not the gym) had me feeling AND looking better, and NOT totally ravenous! Moving because you want to, and not having that “I didn’t spend 20 minutes in traffic to make to the gym to do my 50 minute elliptical routine” guilt was totally liberating.

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Marissa Andrews January 10, 2012 at 10:41 pm

i know others have already said this, but i just have to chime in that this post is wonderful. i found your blog about 6 months ago and have been inspired ever since. my goal for 2011 was to exercise more because it’s good for my health and i thought it would help me lose weight. while i worked out more regularly than ever before in this last year, i really didn’t lose any weight. so about 2 months ago i started WW and already i’ve lost 11 lbs. it has really hit home that weight loss requires restricting and being aware of caloric intake. your post put into words what i’ve been realizing these past 2 months. so even though dieting can be difficult, at least now i have a successful way of losing weight. AND exercising has become more enjoyable and freeing because i’ve stopped focusing on using it to lose weight. anyway, thank you again. your blog is most lovely!

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Lee January 13, 2012 at 1:17 pm

I don’t remember where I originally read/heard this, but “your body come 80% from your diet, 10% from what you do, 10% from your genes”. So it makes sense that changing what you do (doing more or less exercise) won’t have dramatic effects. Can I make a plug for weight training, though? I don’t know if you mention weight lifting elsewhere on your blog, but it actually will change how you look (assuming diet is dialed in) with a pretty minimal time commitment of, say, 2.5-3 hours/week.

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jhailstone January 24, 2012 at 1:15 pm

This has really been informative. I think a lot of people start overeating with the excuse that you can just exercise it away. Well, that’s not really the case. You don’t lose that many calories exercising. But, what would really work with weight loss is to have the diet that you are following and supplement it with exercise also. You will lose a certain amount of calories and have a higher metabolism for the next 24 hours. And, all of that is helpful.

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JJ March 5, 2012 at 5:22 pm

THANK YOU for this post; I love it.

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Shira September 14, 2012 at 12:36 pm

What an interesting post! I never see this perspective on running vs. walking with weight loss.. I’ve always worked out for fun/health, never really worried about calories (I have never been overweight), but there was a while where I was working A LOT, as a bartender and cocktail waitress, looong exhausting on my feet all day (in heels no less) hours, and just had no time or really desire to go to the gym… and I lost 5-10lbs. Now this obviously had to do with constant walking and movement at work, but still, I always wondered how/why that was, if I wasn’t formally working out. Makes sense!

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Lori November 4, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Great blog!

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Kaity December 7, 2012 at 11:35 pm

I never want to read every single blog post someone has ever written. I want to read EVERY last word you have written. Thank you for putting into words how I feel everyday: dreading that 4 mile run (though I claim to everyone I love running, reading your posts has shown me, you know, sometimes I DO hate running), feeling so terrible that I ENJOYED four peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (oh my goodness) today, and feeling like a monster because I’m STILL hungry, really, I’m still hungry? But reading your words “You are hungry. This is nothing to fear,” brought tears to my eyes. You’re gonna help me, girl.

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amy April 10, 2013 at 11:59 am

Thank you!

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A November 11, 2013 at 11:15 pm

Thank you for your honesty!! So refreshing and true for me.

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