This week’s theme for Take it and Run Thursday over at The Runners’ Lounge is “Running and Weight Loss.”

I thought I could weigh in on this discussion since, during my relatively short running career, I have lost about 40lbs.

In my opinion, running is a great weight loss activity. But, running alone is unlikely to net you any negative poundage.  For people like me who need to lose a significant amount of weight, the most assured way to success usually lies in lifestyle changes.  For me, running has been the keystone to these changes.

Below are some tips from my experience that I hope will be helpful:

Set non-weight related goals.

This is where running has played the biggest part in changing my outlook on health, nutrition, and weight loss.  Once I started running regularly, my desire changed from wanting a skinnier body to being a better runner.  In order to be a better runner I had to change the way I exercised and the way I ate.  First, to become faster, I had to run faster:  High and varied intensity levels have been shown to improve fat-burning capacity. (Here is a great six-part blog post on interval training and weight loss).  If you are already running try setting some new challenges for yourself (there are some good ideas in this post).

Second, I had to eat healthier so that I would feel good enough to perform my workouts; which leads to my second tip . . .

Nutrition and exercise; you can’t have one without the other.

Weight loss is more about how we burn fuel than anything else.  Exercise burns fuel and nutrition regulates the fuel we consume.  Rebecca has two great posts on this here and here.  I will not reiterate what she says other than this: Weight loss=more calories burned than consumed.  Eating the right amount of calories is much easier when you eat good foods often.  I personally focus on balance and try to consume plenty of high-fiber low-calorie foods. I also try to eat often enough (every 2 to 4 hours) to make sure I don’t get too hungry during the day (believe me this is more important that it sounds).

Practice patience.

In February this year, I made it a goal to run a 5k before the end of the year.  My first week of exercise toward this goal included three days in which I would jog for thirty-second intervals.  At that rate, it was hard to believe that someday I would be able to run 3.1 miles without stopping.  I moved slowly but inexorably forward, and pretty soon I was running more than I ever expected: About eight months later I finished my first Half-Marathon.

Also, rather than considering being overweight as a barrier to exercise, I tried to think of it as an advantage.  When just starting out, every little change yields results.  As far as running, I like to think that I may have started out slower, but I have built in speed training because every pound I’ve lost has made me a little bit faster.

Change up your exercise.

The human body is an amazing machine.  Our bodies react and adapt to any stress we choose to put it through.  If your exercise consists of running the same distance, on the same days, at the same pace, eventually your body will be so efficient at that activity that you will burn less calories.

That is part of the reason I think training for a race is a great way to introduce some variety into your running.  To race well, you need to practice running at different distances and intensity levels.  This helps to keep your body guessing and using energy in different ways to keep up your calorie burning capacity. and are two great places to find a race near you.  I trained for about 12 weeks for my first 5k.

Racing is great, but I also think that runners who need to lose weight benefit greatly from consistent cross-training activities.  My favorite is swimming.  But I also do lots of resistance training, use an elliptical machine, and am currently in the market for a road bike.  I believe, that including a wide variety of activities in your training helps to improve overall fitness, not just running fitness.

All of these tips, for me, amount to a life-style change.  I don’t watch as much TV as I used to, I haven’t yet had the time to start writing the next great American novel,  I definitely do not sleep in on the weekends anymore, and I eat a lot less of my favorite foods (though running provides some joyous moments of indulgence).

I still have a long way to go losing weight, but my focus is on becoming fit for my first marathon, which is just four months around the corner.