Why you shouldn’t be ‘running off’ calories this Christmas

We spoke to sport and eating disorder dietician Renee McGregor.

If you’re looking for an article that tells you exactly how long you’ll need to run to ‘earn’ your Christmas dinner, this isn’t it. Instead, we spoke to sport and eating disorder dietician Renee McGregor about how running should never be a validation of what you eat, at any time of year.

1. Running is about more than burning calories

‘I guess my biggest concern is people seeing running as validation of the foods they eat, as this is not what your relationship with running should be. It should not be “I should go running” but “I want to go running”. Running is about so much more than burning calories – it’s about your wellbeing, your heart health, your serotonin and dopamine levels, it can be something you do socially, or because you want to explore a new trail or adventure. Calories are a side effect, but not the be all and end all.’

2. Our bodies require fuel regardless of whether we run or not

‘People overestimate how many calories they use running. There’s a misconception that we think “well I’ve run for an hour so now I can eat a mince pie,” but actually our bodies require fuel regardless of whether we run or not. Remember we need a certain amount of energy just to function, to think and to go around our daily tasks and that’s the biggest component of our daily expenditure. In the grand scheme of things, an hour or an hour and a half of running isn’t going to make that much difference.’

3. Our bodies are very good at maintaining control

Indulging [for a couple of days at Christmas] won’t make much of a difference, Renee explains. ‘We often forget our bodies are very, very good at maintaining control. For example, there’s a common misconception that the average person puts on kilos of weight over Christmas, but this is impossible, you can’t. On average, overeating for a few days, people only put on 0.5-1 kilos, and that’s if you really go for it. You’ve got to remember you’re going to be eating what you normally eat, then an extra 600-1000 calories a most for a period of what, a week?’

4. It’s important we look at the bigger picture

‘It’s just a few days and as long as you go back to your normal practices and diets after a period of indulging, it won’t make any difference. When we have a period of excess, your body will usually crave fruit and vegetables, or just your normal diet. The problem is as humans we have lost sight of what we want, because we’re constantly being told what we should and shouldn’t eat, and how much exercise we should do. There’s some really interesting research coming out of Edinburgh University by Professor Leng that looks at neuroscience and appetite and control. His whole area of research is about how the body has a good way of trying to achieve balance. So if you under-eat for a few days and tap into your conscious mind, you’ll feel hungry. If you overeat for a few days, you’ll regulate and find you don’t feel as hungry the next few days.’

5. Listen to your body

‘It’s easy to lose sight of this, but if you’re a normal weight, you do regular exercise (by this I do not mean running every day) and you’re in a healthy weight category for you, your body biochemically and hormonally will tell you when it’s hungry and when it’s not. In fact, if you fancy chocolates and eat them when you fancy them, you’re far less likely to overindulge. If you crave a croissant and eat one, you’re more likely to feel satisfied and won’t go searching for something else. When people try and control and restrict, they put their body out of balance and are more likely to make poor choices, so listen to your body.’

6. Embrace the extra time you’ll get during Christmas

‘Rather than seeing periods of rest as a time where you ‘have’ to run, look forward to having more time to set out on a run without the normal pressures of everyday life.’

6. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself

‘When you start thinking, “I’m going to sort it all out in January” or “I’m going to hit the gym hard on Monday” you’re almost putting more pressure on yourself. Everybody puts a focus on getting things right in January, but actually it sets you up to fail, as you end up over restricting and overtraining. It’s best to build yourself up slowly – be realistic about your goals and spend the first few weeks of your normal routine getting back on track.’

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