Running, Christmas Cookies, and Luigi Cornaro

For me, the holidays aren’t just about childhood memories, shopping (which I hate to do), and carols. They’re also about food. Specifically, the food others give me. It seems that ’tis the season to give Jason Karp lots of cookies. This Christmas, like all other Christmases, people push their cookies on me, not letting me leave their holiday parties without giving me a package of goodies, thinking I’m going to run off any excess calories anyway. “You can afford it,” they say. “You’ll just run it off.” 

I admit I have always eaten what and how much I want, perhaps because I grew up with sugar cereals like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Fruit Loops and perhaps because I, like those people who send me home with cookie packages, know I’m going to burn all the sugar off. I have never tried or needed to lose weight. But, despite all those sugar cookies and chocolate truffles, I have also never gained weight, which underscores the importance of daily running for maintaining weight. I have been running six days per week since I was in sixth grade, including plenty of high-intensity interval training and races and, at age 42, my weight is exactly the same as it was when I was in high school. Seriously. Running is the best fat-burning torch there is. But running, despite its large calorie burn, is also not enough if I wanted to lose weight. And just because I run a lot doesn’t mean I should eat Fruit Loops.

What? Wait a minute! Did Dr. Jason just say that running won’t make you lose weight? No, I didn’t exactly say that. But there is a qualifier. Running by itself won’t make you lose weight. That’s because running is only half the equation when it comes to weight loss. Burning big-time calories isn’t enough to lose weight; you must also eat fewer calories during the day. Interestingly, research shows that exercise alone does not lead to weight loss. Empirical evidence supports that, too—with all of the gyms and personal trainers and fitness gadgets and DVDs on the market, the rate of obesity is still rising.

One of the reasons why running per se is not very effective to lose weight is because it takes a lot of running—and therefore a lot of effort and time—to accomplish the caloric deficit needed to lose a significant amount of weight. It is much easier, both theoretically and practically, to manipulate one’s diet and consume fewer calories. For example, to achieve a 300-calorie deficit, you can either run three miles or you can not eat a couple of ounces of potato chips. Which is easier to do? To drop pounds, people tend to stick with low-calorie diets more readily than they continue with exercise. Same is true for burning calories versus replacing them. It may take you about 30 minutes to run 3 miles and burn 300 calories, but it can take you just a few seconds to replace them (and then some) with a glass of Gatorade and a Christmas cookie.


For this idea of eating less to lose weight, we must thank Luigi Cornaro, a 15th century Italian nobleman who adopted a calorie-restricted diet at age 35 to address his failing health. His popular book, Discorsi Della Vita Sobria (Discourses On the Temperate Life), describes his diet that consisted of just 350 grams of food per day (including bread, egg yolk, meat, and soup) and, interestingly enough, 414 milliliters (nearly three glasses) of wine. It worked. The diet cured him of his ailments in less than a year, and he went on to live to 102 years old.

This doesn’t mean that running isn’t effective to lose weight. Because it is very effective. What it means is that a combined running-and-diet approach is significantly more effective for weight loss than either approach alone. Research has shown this over and over again. What research has also shown over and over again is that running is very effective at keeping your weight off once you have lost it. People who don’t exercise are not only more likely to gain weight, it is inevitable that they will.

Running for weight loss is the topic of my next book and one of the seven featured manuals of the Run-Fit Specialist certification. Join the rapidly-growing family of certified Run-Fit Specialists around the world and get certified with the home-study course or attend a live workshop. And if you refer anyone else who gets certified, you’ll receive $50 for every referral when they enter your name in the Referral Name box.

So, if you have any Christmas cookies left over, don’t give them to me. I already have enough to last through January. 

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