Let’s face it, if you ever had to lose weight before you know that doing the right things so you don’t gain weight in the first place is a lot easier than having to do the right things after to lose it. And, since it is only mid-October, I’m hoping you haven’t already gained what is known as the “Freshman 15” (15 lbs. of weight gain your freshman year, clever right?). However, if you are like me, even 5 lbs. is too much. So, let’s nip it in the bud before those unwanted pounds become a BIGGER issue.
The main reason why people gain weight is independent of where they are in life or even their age; meaning that whether you are 18 years old and in college or 48 years old with a family and full-time job, we all gain weight for the same reason. More calories are consumed than the body burns. No matter what philosophy you subscribe to: believing it’s the carbohydrates and refined sugars, believing it’s the proteins – eat red meat, don’t eat red meat, or my favorite believing you can eat anything you want every other day, but on Wednesday’s take in only 300 calories. You get the idea.
We gain weight because we take in more calories than our body uses for energy. It is that simple.
Now, I am not trying to debate the truths or untruths of whether our body burns weight in a certain hierarchy or whether high blood sugar levels contribute to the storing of fat. I am not a scientist and I have never studied food, nutrition or the body’s metabolism in any great length. I can only write from my own experience and what I have learned over my 46 years – more of them spent trying to lose weight or keep weight off than I’d like to admit. I tried the many current fad diets of their time, and most of the more popular well-known diet plans. I have failed more than I have succeeded, but with every failure I learned something and with every success I learned more. Here are some of the things I learned which worked for me – whether I was trying to lose weight or keep it off.
- Eat when you’re hungry
- Choose more “healthy foods”
- Exercise regularly
- Limit your alcohol consumption
- Everything in moderation
Eat When You’re Hungry
Sounds simple enough, right? However, most of us eat for many other reasons besides true hunger. We eat because we are sad, stressed, bored, happy, and/or excited. At that rate it’s no wonder we gain weight – we are eating all the time. It is really important to understand why you are eating when you’re not really hungry. This is not a simple task and it requires that you identify when and why you are eating. I suggest keeping a food log where you document what you are eating when and how you are feeling at the time. Are you truly hungry? Are you sad, stressed, or bored? After a month of entries you should be able to identify any patterns you have fallen into and from there work to correct them.
There are lots of great applications for your phone, computer or tablet that can help you keep a detailed log. One of my favorite free apps is MyFitnessPal (for all your favorite mobile devices). Now, evaluate apps for yourself and pick on you like. I’m certainly not getting paid to endorse one over another.
Choose More “Healthy Foods”
You know which types of foods are healthier than others and which types would be considered less healthy – you’re college students! Fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats are some of the foods that would be considered healthier foods. Chips, dips, cakes, candies, and fried foods are some of the foods that would be considered less healthy foods. The truth is that the healthier foods are not only better for you in every nutritional way but they also keep you feeling full longer. Foods like chips and fried foods are full of what are known as empty calories, as are many of the energy drinks college students enjoy. Meaning that, these types of foods and drinks are high in calories but add nothing in the way of nutritional value and don’t keep us feeling full as long, and so we may feel the need to eat again. Therefore, more often than not, choose vegetables over chips, fruits over candy and limit the number of energy drinks you consume.
If we gain weight because we take in more calories than we burn, then burning more calories just makes sense! However, the benefits of exercise go well beyond just burning calories when it comes to controlling our weight. Exercising regularly can have a positive impact on your mood and relieves stress which eliminates many of the negative emotions that contribute to over-eating. Regular exercise also increases your metabolism and a faster metabolism burns more calories. So, choose to walk rather than drive whenever possible. Take an exercise class that meets a few times a week. If your college offers a fantastic exercise facility – use it (you are paying for it after all)! And, don’t just limit your exercise to aerobic, work to build muscle also. Muscle burns more calories than fat.
Limit Your Alcohol Consumption (for those 21 and over of course)
I get it! You’re in college and there is a party every night… Just keep in mind that drinking too much alcohol can have many detrimental effects; gaining weight is only one of them. Alcohol is full of empty calories and because of its mood altering effects we can tend to drink too often and at times too much. This can be especially true during our college years. Even now, I enjoy a good party and I like to drink probably as much as any college kid, but in my many years of life I have learned to drink responsibly.
One trick is if you’re going to drink, substitute a glass of water for every other drink. The water will keep you full and reduce the amount of drinks you have in one night. Staying hydrated (and yes visiting the bathroom a little more) is a great way to keep toxins out of your body and will even help you feel better then next day too! Another idea is to choose to be the designated driver. Taking turns as the designated driver, and a night off from drinking will limit your calorie intake while helping keep you and your friends safe.
Everything in Moderation
This is my most important piece of advice. The more balanced one’s life is the healthier it is all around. This is true when talking about one’s emotional health, as well as physical health. When it comes to losing weight, or just living healthy and keeping weight off, understanding that you don’t need to deny yourself the things you love or want ALL the time is important. When we deny ourselves it can lead to intense cravings to which we eventually give in, and we are more likely to binge – which means overeating or drinking too much. It’s just as important to understand that you can’t have everything you want ALL the time either. Starting your day with donuts, eating a greasy hamburger and fries for lunch, and pizza and beer for dinner is not going to keep your body healthy or weight down. Eat well most of the time by making healthier choices, and every once in a while eat the fried food you love. Eat well all week and treat yourself on the weekend with a piece of cake. Make the better food choices Monday through Friday and on Saturday enjoy pizza and beer. You get the idea.
At the end of the day, it’s all about choices. So go ahead, enjoy yourself, just do it sensibly!