The common weight gain many college students experience in their first year of college is known as the “Freshman 15.” It could be worse: Down Under, they call it the “First Year Fatties!”
It’s easy to pack on a few extra pounds when you’re studying most of the time and partying the rest of it. Fast food, alcohol and nearly all-you-can-eat meal plans are enough to derail anyone’s diet. Add to that stress eating, comfort food, and crazy schedules, no wonder those healthy eating habits from home disappeared in the first week.
Start with a strong structure
It’s easy to say you’ll stick to eating healthy, but if you don’t actually have a plan then you won’t accomplish anything. It’s like going for a run without a destination, it’s hard to see how far you’ve gone when you’re not mapping it out for yourself.
So start with a strong daily structure, it could look like this:
Breakfast: Consider this your first fuel up of the day, unless you’re someone who isn’t hungry in the morning, don’t force it! But if you are, use this as the foundation of your day of eating.
Snacks: Make these deliberate and also fueling. A snack should be a little energy boost to make it to your next meal.
Lunch: Keep this light, over-consuming during lunch almost always leads to that mid-afternoon slump. Something light and satisfying like a salad with a good source of protein and fat will prevent this.
Dinner: Try to consume dinner no more than 3 hours before you plan on going to bed, to give your body proper time to digest. This is a great time to incorporate a healthy carb source, along with protein and veggies.
Start a food diary
A daily log of the food you eat every day lets you see – in black and white – exactly what you’re consuming. For it to be effective, your food diary needs to contain all meals, snacks, and drinks. Also put the time you eat or drink these, and what you’re doing while you’re noshing.
By consistently entering all of the information, you’ll be able to recognize those habits you can most easily change to lose weight. For example, if you mindlessly go through a party size bag of potato chips while bingeing on Netflix, or a couple of hoagies while you read, you’ll understand that distracted eating is causing you to overeat. It’s also a habit you can change if you want to.
Count those calories (without overkilling it)
Calorie counting has a bad rap. That’s because focusing on just the numbers, so that you burn more than you consume, without thinking about what’s in those calories can indeed lead to problems.
Think of counting calories, then, as just another tool in your healthy lifestyle arsenal. Like your food diary, tracking calories keeps you from underestimating how much you actually consume.
You understand that a 560-calorie Big Mac is not the same in terms of health as a 500 calorie homemade load of veggie “sushi” rolls (with avocado instead of rice, and with its own secret sauce), right?
If you recognize this, you are certainly able to use counting calories as a measure to see if you’re on track for your target daily intake of food – nutritious or otherwise.
You could also take it a step further and commit to a type of diet. A popular diet that produces great results for many is the keto diet. Now that you’re home for the summer, try and see if you can get into ketosis and lose weight.
Make smart and intentional choices
There are little things you can do to lose weight. Remember the mindless eating example? What did you have with those chips and hoagies? A Coke or juice? Banish those sugar-laden drinks and replace them with diet ones, seltzer, or even just water.
If you’re still under the dated impression that sweeteners aren’t safe for consumption, check out the information provided by the FDA. Saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose, among many others, are all FDA approved.
What about your daily Starbucks? You can still get your fix, but make the choice smarter. Instead of a vanilla bean crème frappuccino at 280 calories, for instance, get a tall iced coffee with almond milk and sugar-free vanilla at 80.
Add more friends to your circle
If you tend to go out with the same people, doing the same stuff all the time, try switching it up. Hang out with people who like to do lots of different activities, not always centered around food.
Join a dance class, a bowling team, or a group that goes hiking every Saturday morning. Doing something a little different from the same old could be fun, and may help you lose weight!
And there’s research backing this up. In their paper published in Obesity, Volume 24, Issue 7, sociologist Matthew Andersson and social scientist and physician Nicholas Christakis write that “increasing contacts and interactions with thinner individuals, and declining contacts and interactions with heavier individuals, were linked to actual weight loss.”
This also can mean going a little outside of your comfort zone. If you’ve packed on some weight, you may have been calling in sick to pool parties and beach days. Be brave! Your friends love you, so dive in.
Get outside, and make it fun
When you have some free time, either alone or with friends, get some sunshine and fresh air. Be active, and go biking or do a little speed walking and explore the city. If you’re at home alone, remember you’re never too old for that backyard trampoline!
If you’re near water, hot days are great for water sports like kayaking and pedal boating. Back on land, a round of tennis or badminton can give you a great workout, with some friendly competition thrown in.
Make small changes slowly, but keep them until they’re habits. If you have to consider the pros and cons of an action before you do it, it’s not yet a habit. A habit is learned through repetition, and contrary to popular belief, there’s no hard and fast timeline as to how long it takes to create a habit.
Something that gives you pleasure is certainly easier to repeat than one that isn’t rewarding. Simple behaviors are easier to stick with than complicated ones.
To make lasting lifestyle changes for weight loss and maintenance, start with the easiest and most rewarding. They’ll become habits sooner, so you won’t have to think about them.
Here are some easy changes you can make today:
- Reduce your portion sizes. For example, instead of eating chips straight out of the bag, pour some in a small bowl and put the bag away.
- Add vegetables to every meal.
- Don’t forget to drink – water, that is. Sometimes, you may just be thirsty.
- Get enough sleep. Research shows a possible link between lack of sleep and weight gain.
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