There is a psychological component to the compensation effect that affects some people. This component is sometimes referred to as reward eating. The basic idea is that a person rewards himself or herself for completing workouts by eating high-calorie treats such as cookies and snack chips, which offset the calorie-burning effect of the workout. A single cupcake could put as many calories back into your body as were burned in the preceding four-mile run. If you are prone to reward eating, choose sensible rewards such as a bite of dark chocolate or a small bowl of Greek yogurt with fresh berries and a sprinkle of granola.
Another cause of failure to lose weight during marathon training is almost the opposite of the compensation effect. Some runners who are especially concerned about their weight do not allow themselves to eat more when they exercise more despite an increase in appetite. Deprived of the energy the body needs to meet the challenges of training, the body reacts by hitting a kind of biochemical panic switch. As a result, resting metabolism slows dramatically, and fat storage increases. The athlete also starts to feel lousy during workouts, so less work is done and fewer calories are burned.
More: The Starving Runner
The idea that not eating enough could cause a runner to fail to lose weight or even gain weight during marathon training is counterintuitive. Yet I've seen it happen many times, and so have many other sports nutritionists that I've surveyed on the matter. When I was contacted by Amanda, I immediately suspected that this was her problem too. Sure enough, she told me that throughout her marathon ramp-up she had limited herself to the same 2,000-calories-per-day allotment that she had targeted before because she was getting married soon after the marathon and wanted to be sure she could fit into her wedding dress.
More: Eat More to Lose Weight
I encouraged Amanda to eat more. Specifically, I counseled her to stop counting calories and simply eat enough high-quality foods each day to fully satisfy her appetite. She took a leap of faith and heeded my advice, and within three weeks she had lost the six pounds she had previously gained. By following the same advice, you too will be assured of getting leaner when training for your next marathon.