College Weight Gain – not inevitable

There is a book I once read in which famous, accomplished women were asked to write a letter of advice to their younger selves. The advice ranged from be bolder to don’t take yourself so seriously. I remember thinking, “I would tell myself to not get so fat in college.” The other day, my niece and her college-bound cousins suggested I write an entry about avoiding the Freshmen Fifteen, or worse, the Senior Sixty. As is the case with many of my entries (e.g. Are Your Kids Getting Enough Sleep?), this is one of those do what I say, not what I did. My college boyfriend almost broke up with me sophomore year when the bloat started to take on a life of its own. I looked like a swollen tick. Luckily, he donned his beer goggles frequently enough to overlook the chub. Today, we still take out pictures and laugh about the way we looked, so it all worked out. Despite all the fun, I do reflect on that time, and wish I had approached those four years with a healthier mindset. At the risk of getting critiqued for putting an emphasis on thinness at a time when poor body image and eating disorders are so prevalent, please read on for some practical, healthy advice for preventing weight gain – it will work in a dorm or in the real world.

1. Do not let it get out of hand – I am going to start with the single most important thing you can do to control your weight. My self-proclaimed superficial, beautiful grandmother gave me this advice. You don’t have to get on the scale every day – in fact, don’t – it can be depressing. When your clothes start to feel a little tighter, rein it in. If you feel like you have put on a little weight, you probably have. Don’t let the snowball effect kick in – do something about it immediately.
2. Eat fruits and vegetables every day – If college food plans and off campus kitchens still look like what they did twenty years ago, you have to make a point of getting some good stuff into your body each day. No one is going to do it for you. I know junk food is a staple. I am not suggesting you ban it from your cupboards. Just make sure you have a supply of healthy food on hand as well. Go to the carrot sticks and apples when you are feeling like you need a snack. Often this will make the craving for the chips will go away. If it doesn’t, try not to eat the whole bag.
3. Do not diet – College is the perfect environment for yo-yo dieting. Avoid it at all costs. You will not be able to make up for the binge eating and the late night pizza with two days of starving yourself. People who approach food with an all or nothing mentality, often struggle with weight and health issues their entire lives. Try to be consistent. Eat three meals a day, do not drown cafeteria foods in sauces, dressings and butter to improve the taste and, if you have a kitchen, learn how to cook. Get your roommates involved. Cooking as a group is fun and a bowl of pasta with a nice salad is easy, far better than fast food, and will make you feel like a real human being.
4. Move every day – Force yourself. Yes, I know you are young, tired, hung-over and stressed. Move. Get off the couch or the bar stool. It does not have to be a full blown work out session. Walk, jog, do yoga, get some friends together and play a game in the quad. Make a pact with yourself – you will not go out that night unless you have done something active for 30 minutes. Believe me, the promise of fun is a great motivator. Exercise will also decrease stress, improve your immune system and ward off fatigue.
5. Alcohol – So I don’t get in trouble, my disclaimer is that the following only applies to the over 21 crowd. There are tons of calories in booze. Beer is a huge weight-gain culprit because it is full of carbs and people tend to drink so much of it. It is cheap and no one has a vodka-pong table. Sticking with clear drinks with water in between will help. More than the caloric load, alcohol is a problem because of how it affects your eating. Nothing is more disabling to a weight management attempt than a night of hard-partying. You come home, raid your own fridge and possibly your neighbor’s. You wake in the afternoon wanting the greasiest cheeseburger and the softest couch. Fight the urge. Don’t beat yourself up for the excess of the night before with a sloth-like day after. Rather, get in the habit of drinking lots of water, and getting out and breathing some fresh air. Junk food, I promise, will end up making you feel worse. Take it from the girl who opted for the milkshake and french fries with cheese and gravy – it was not a pretty sight.

Re-reading these, I want to emphasize the first point. Don’t let it get out of control. Moderation is key. College is an incredible time – savor every minute. Not until you hit the retirement home, will you be able to enjoy a life surrounded by only your peers. Just because it is AWESOME does not mean you have to gain weight. You will never be this young or independent again. Don’t waste it. I know right now you value thinness for its aesthetics. Change this notion and it will serve you well forever. A healthy weight is to be valued because it is … well, healthy. Take care of your body and you will be happier, stronger, smarter and more energetic. You will feel better and it will show – this is the secret to true beauty.

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