Use sports foods wisely--sports drinks, gels and energy bars serve a real purpose when used to supplement carbohydrate and energy needs; otherwise, skip them. It only takes 100 extra calories a day to gain 10 pounds in a year. That's one high-calorie pre-run snack or bottle of sports drink you didn't need.
Plan to eat every few hours during the day-- three balanced meals and two to three snacks daily--and coordinate meals with your running schedule so you're fueled before you go and to speed recovery afterward. Otherwise, losing weight healthfully and keeping it off is impossible.
And don't forget to build in a few "fun" foods. We eat sweets, treats and salty snack foods because they taste good, not for their nutritional value. Allow yourself a few treats in moderation so you don't binge.
"Eating too much pumpkin pie does not make someone a bad person," says Edison. "So often, women feel guilty about their 'mistakes' with food and punish themselves, sometimes by vowing never again to eat the item. Unfortunately, this only sets you up for overdoing it again."
Build Fitness and Muscle
In its Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends 60 to 90 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise most days of the week if you're trying to lose weight. Running more miles (more minutes) per week is an option, of course, but the intensity of workouts is a key variable.
Fast-paced training such as tempo runs and interval workouts builds maximum fitness and burns more calories per minute than low-intensity running or walking. For example, a 10-minute-per-mile runner who improves her fitness and becomes capable of clicking off eight-minute miles for an hour will burn almost 150 calories more per hour of running.
Spending quality time in the weight room is also important, especially if you're over the age of 30.
"Strength training balances your body, which reduces your risk for lower- body injuries, especially of hips and knees," says Otis. But it also helps you lose weight: The average woman who strength trains two to three times a week for two months will gain nearly two pounds of muscle and lose nearly four pounds of fat, according to studies by Wayne Westcott, Ph.D.
The bottom line is if you want to lose weight, combine healthy eating with daily exercise. But that doesn't necessarily mean running every day--your body needs rest days to recover and repair. On days you don't run, choose a cross-training exercise, such as swimming or stationary biking, which are non-weight-bearing exercises. Or simply walk your dog or go for a hike--the key is to keep moving.
Keep It Off
You'll need an action plan to keep pounds off permanently. Edison reminds her clients that autopilot isn't always the best strategy. "Continue to listen to your body," she says, "and always keep plenty of fruit and vegetables on hand for easy snacking."
Last but not least, maintain a consistent but varied activity schedule. "Even runners need variety," says Edison. Remember: Whatever it took to lose the weight, keep it up.
Suzanne Girard Eberle, R.D., C.S.S.D., author of Endurance Sports Nutrition-Second Edition, is a board-certified sports dietitian in Portland, Oregon. Find her at eatdrinkwin.com.