Q: How to lose weight before cross country season?

Hey Lauren,

I am running between forty and fifty miles per week. I want to try and lose 10 pounds before cross season. Advice to help please? Also I have a problem with stress fractures and am taking calcium supplements. Do these really help?




Hey Run4Life,

Feeling pressure to be thin and light is part of the culture of collegiate cross country and many competitive high schools.  And I understand the pressure.  I’ve felt it many times, especially once I got to college and tended to carry an extra 5-8 pounds in the fall and winter.  Every year I would get beat by flash in the pan athletes, and it absolutely killed me.

I’m going to be blunt with you.  If what you want is a short window of success and a shortcut to get there, drop weight quickly and train hard.  Its a gamble, and you are playing with the highest stakes possible (your health and vitality), but you may have a season of dramatic improvement.  It might even last through part of outdoors.  You might be All-American even, or win a title.  People might recognize your name, and maybe your scholarship will improve.   But it is impossible to sustain the eating habits that would let you lose 10 pounds in a few short months.  And since you will be training hard while dieting, your body will be silently weakening your bones, ligaments, and tendons for nutrients, and all of this leeches from your raw speed and power.  Before you know it, you are in a hole.

Don’t fall into the trap.  Don’t put a pressure timeline on weight loss.  Don’t worry about the exact number of pounds.  The psychological effects can take down the strongest women.  One athlete I know, after putting herself under a deadline to lose weight while training hard, eventually found that she cared more about looking skinny than running fast.  One of the most competitive girls I ever met literally said to me, “I’d rather be skinny and injured, than be bigger and running fast times.”

My point is really not to scare the crap out of you.  But the reality is, deciding to lose weight in a competitive athletic environment is a completely different animal than deciding to lose weight as a sales clerk for example.  So if you are interested in long term benefits and success, here is my weight-loss advice:

Take the pressure off.  What is the objective? To be a leaner version of yourself, so you can be more efficient when you run, leading you to faster times.  Forget the “10 pounds.”  It might take 5 pounds to reach the objective.  It might take 12.  You will know when you get there.

Similarly, ditch the deadline.  You’ve made a decision to take your running to the next level, and you’ve identified one way to do that.  If you want to lose the weight while protecting your bones, it will probably take longer than two or three months.  When you really want to be killing it is the track season, so remove the stress of having to quickly and dramatically change your body, and you will increase your chances of success.  Trust that if you make the correct lifestyle changes, your body will respond, and if you allow it do happen in its own time, you are more likely to stay injury free.  If its December or May, who cares, so long as it lasts.

Finally, approach your body changes as lifestyle adjustments.  When I was finally able to successfully lose weight in college, I made changes to my diet and training that I still use today.  Study sports nutrition, or see a professional for a nutrition plan.  Educate yourself on what is in the foods you eat.  Understand portion sizes and metabolism.  Learn about meal timing.  And do it all in the name of being fit and powerful, not in the name of being skinny.  Above all, never ever put yourself down.  Its a hell of a lot easier to improve yourself from a place of love, than it is from a place of self-loathing.

"athletic", not "skinny" is what helped me run 14:58 for 5k

Becoming more “athletic”, not “skinny” is part of what helped me run 14:58 for 5k

I spent most of college at a heavier weight.

I spent most of college at a heavier weight, winning 4 of my 5 NCAA titles

From another work in progress,