Well, I don’t know about you, but I ate an incredible amount of food on Thanksgiving, and spent the rest of my weekend slightly comatose as I recovered from the experience. After I gorged myself on poultry and pies, I did happen to imagine myself in my red bikini in Mexico— where I’ll be over winter break. It was terrifying.
Maybe more realistically terrifying for me than for you, as I experienced something last year that is fondly referred to as the freshman fifteen. It wasn’t that I hadn’t been warned; my friends who had gone through their freshman year of college gripped their new chub with unfamiliarity to illustrate the common trend.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but when I came to college I came with the cocky attitude of a kick-ass in shape cross country freak/track runner/soccer player. I thought that I was exempt because of my student-athlete status. Then I went ahead and gained ten pounds. It was an incredibly rough year.
Oh, you may think that you’re exempt and untouchable; but in college, the deck is stacked against you. For many, college brings a new environment that has a foreign and intoxicating mix of responsibility, freedom, stress, irregular meals, late nights, constant snacking, alcohol and buffet-style cafeteria food.
Students also cannot simply rely on the after-school sports that kept their weight down during high school years. Though we have our incredible gym, it can be difficult to go every night. Then it can be difficult to go every week. Even though we do a great deal of walking around campus, we need regular cardiovascular activity to both keep our hearts healthy and also to burn off excess calories.
For some, alcohol is one of the largest contributors to weight gain. The drinks themselves contain a large amount of calories, which factor into a student’s daily caloric intake, a great deal considering the rate at which some college students are drinking them. A regular beer contains about 150 calories, while light beer has around 95. A glass of wine contains from 80 to 170 calories. A single 1.5 ounce shot of hard alcohol contains around 100 calories. I’ve heard of people who would drink shots upon shots in order to “save calories.” Little did they know a serving of alcohol contains close to the same amount of calories across the board. Mixed drinks are another whole issue, as they mix hard alcohol with sweet, high calorie juices.
Lack of sleep is another issue that college students are likely to deal with. This has a great effect not only by introducing more time for you to eat, but it also gets your biorhythms all out of whack. Studies have been done recently showing that sleep-deprivation is closely related to weight gain. Though the causes aren’t clearly outlined, one hypothesis is that your disturbed biorhythm leads to disturbed brain chemical levels, especially relating to the chemical that gives us the feeling of hunger or fullness.
My freshman year was a rollercoaster of weight gain and loss. After a hard breakup, I exercised a ridiculous amount— three to five hours in the gym, six days a week— and didn’t eat enough to support my calorie expenditure.
Spring quarter brought the end of track season and sun drenched days, which drew me away from my schoolwork. I procrastinated horribly and ended up eating large amounts of unhealthy, greasy foods to “help me cope with my stress” as I pulled frequent all-nighters. I stopped exercising because of “lack of time”— I was WAY too busy hanging out at the beach to go to the gym.
I gained ten pounds. I was out of shape. Ever since I was 11 years old, I have been an athlete competing at very high levels. My self-esteem plummeted, and it was progressively more and more difficult to get started exercising again. I just kept eating that unhealthy food, figuring that my old, healthful body was already long gone.
Luckily, as a Western student there are is a small arsenal at your disposal to help you avoid the unhealthy habits that I fell into. Though the cafeterias boast an incredible array of unhealthy foods, at least they’re honest: you can go to Sodexho’s website and search for the nutrition facts for every one of their meals. This function is by no means simple and easy, but if you’re truly dedicated to seeing the nutritional content in your food, it’s out there.
Also, the cafeteria has a little known and magical place called a “salad bar.” Here, students are able to find foods that fulfill all sorts of nutritional needs without providing a day’s worth of calories.
Dining Services also employs Kara Ten Kley, a dietitian who will answer questions submitted on the Western Dining website. You can also call her at 650-2972 to arrange a meeting. She has posted various informational tidbits on the Dining website which provide great tips for managing stress-eating, overeating, etc. Kley also puts on educational programs on subjects like sports nutrition and women-specific nutrition.
Some tips on unhealthy weight gain:
Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. You can actually trick your metabolism into kicking into a higher gear by eating smaller, more frequent meals. This is because each time you put something in your stomach, you expend energy digesting. Eating frequently also helps to avoid getting ravenously hungry and sometimes tired or grumpy between meals due to blood-sugar level drops. To further fight these drops in blood sugar levels, eat some low-fat protein with every little meal.
Drink at least 64 ounces of water daily, especially before and with meals to help keep you from overeating. Drink more if you are exercising regularly.
Exercise regularly! Three to five times a week of cardiovascular exercise is recommended. Adding two days of weight lifting will help speed up your metabolism, because supporting muscle versus fat requires more calories to be burned.
Don’t put food off-limits. Try a little bit, share with a friend or try a healthier alternative.
If you get hungry late at night, eat something that fills you up that is also healthy. Air-popped or low-fat popcorn isn’t a bad idea due to its high fiber content and large volume.
Most importantly, don’t obsess about all of this stuff. Just try to incorporate healthy behaviors into your daily life. If you’re eating moderately healthily and exercising and you still gain weight, maybe your body is finally finding the place where it is the healthiest.