Magazine Writing

Just Say NO to Excessive Weight Gain

mandy1Published in the Fall 2003 issue of “CollegeBound Teen
 College is more than just classes and grades. As if stressing about new courses, friends, and money isn’t enough, you’re also worried about your weight. The frenzied routine of college life, academic pressures, and hectic schedules cause many students to develop poor eating habits, like routinely hitting the fast food drive-through at 2 a.m.
Hence the infamous  Freshman 15 .

Beware, though — it’s not always the Freshman 15. For some, it’s the Freshman 25 or 40! When Loren Gmachl went to the University of Oklahoma (Tulsa, OK), she anticipated the pressures of being away from home. What she didn’t expect was the onset of weight gain. Despite her usual high metabolism and thin frame, Loren packed on 20 pounds her first year.

Fast-Food Traps
“I ate a lot of cheeseburgers with fries and soda,” Loren admits. With several fast food chains located within minutes of campus, the quick meals were convenient in light of her busy class schedule.

Students at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (Edwardsville, IL) don’t even have to leave campus for the convenience of fast food — Chick-Fil-A, Taco Bell, Starbucks, and Auntie Anne’s have moved right into dining services. According to Lorraine Huntley, the university’s staff dietician, the convenience has caused college students to grow larger and larger.

“I would like to see healthier, diverse places be a part of campus life, but I don’t see that happening with the growth of fast food chains on college campuses,” she says. “Students are at the mercy of the type of food provided by the food service on campus.”

The convenience does not come without a cost to our bodies, she adds. “I think super-sizing, drive-thrus, remote TV, and a lack of physical activity have caused society to grow [large] as a whole.”

Get on the Right Eating Track
According to Huntley, healthy eating habits begin at home. “You look at children now, and more and more are being diagnosed with diabetes as a result of the weight they are carrying around, which I would attribute back to families eating ‘quick and easy.'”

Quick and easy meals are what got Jamie Partridge through her first year of college at St. Louis University (St. Louis, MO). Living off campus, Jamie was forced to cook her own meals, but her choices were far from healthy. “We lived on macaroni and cheese the first year,” she recalls, “and the 2 a.m. White Castle cravings came about every other night.”

As a result, Jamie gained over 25 pounds. “I was so preoccupied with being away from home and enjoying the freedom that I stopped paying attention to my eating habits,” she admits. “I could eat pizza for breakfast if I wanted to.”

By her sophomore year, Jamie developed a workout plan and began to limit her intake of fatty foods. “It wasn’t easy at all,” she says. “I just didn’t want to bring home another 25 pounds the following summer.” Despite the challenge of shedding the extra, unwanted weight, Jamie’s persistence in doing so is what ultimately helped her achieve her goal.

“Life is not a quick and easy pill,” Huntley emphasizes. “If weight management were easy, it would be in pill form.”

Don’t Do the Diet Stuff
So what about all those pills, supplements, and protein drinks that claim to magically drop the pounds? Huntley warns that excessive dieting can do more harm than good. “A lot of times I see individuals who are insecure and self-conscious coming into a new environment with so many pressures and influences, and they are apt to try some of these things.”

Unfortunately, yo-yo dieting and starvation techniques often lead to more serious problems.

You’ve Got Health Options
Your best bet is to follow Jamie’s example and put a healthy living and eating plan into place. Consider the following options:

Work it. Huntley advises students to devise a realistic plan that will work with their schedules. “Don’t think of weight management as a diet — it’s a lifestyle.”

Buddy up. Creating a more structured schedule allowed Loren to adopt a healthier lifestyle. “In the past six months, I’ve gotten interested in eating better.” In fact, Loren and her boyfriend, Butch, joined forces to adopt a healthier lifestyle by incorporating whole wheat pasta and organic foods into their diet.

Be choosy. There are more choices out there than ever before. Veggie burgers and soy products are becoming mainstream, even at fast-food chains.

Do the math. Create a food diary and log your calories for one week. The total may surprise you and even inspire you to make a change.

Walk your way to wellness. Walk or run to your campus wellness center. Besides, most colleges offer free nutritional analysis and body fat count. While you’re there, jump on the treadmill or take an aerobic class at the fitness center. Jamie found that walking to class rather than taking the shuttle helped her lose weight. “At first it was hard to get motivated, but after awhile I looked forward to the walk across campus each morning”.

Top 10 Healthy Snacks
Snacking isn’t just about gobbling down chips, cupcakes, candy bars, or cookies. You can pick up some quick, delicious, and healthy snack hints here:

1. Dry cereal bars: No milk required — just unwrap ’em from their packaging and chew, chew, chew… ’til they’re all gone.

2. Instant breakfast mix: Pick up a carton of milk and mix away.

3. Hard-boiled egg: Lots of protein, with little hassle.

4. Fruit: Whether it’s in solid form, canned, or dried, it’s still fruit — and it’s definitely better for you than processed snacks.

5. Carrot sticks: What’s up doc? Eating carrots a la Bugs Bunny contributes to good eyesight. Dip them in hummus for a healthy bonus.

6. Yogurt: Eat it with a spoon or squeeze it from a pouch if quick and easy is what you need. It tastes even better if you mix in some berries and nuts!

7. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich: Make mom proud by sticking to the basics.

8. Pre-mixed salad: Let someone else do the work for this healthy side dish. Top it with grilled chicken or beans for a protein blast, too.

9. Tuna: Tasting tuna has never been so easy — it now comes in a pre-drained pouch. Scoop some on whole wheat bread.

10. Veg out: Steamed veggies are smart snacks — all you have to do is throw ’em in a pan with water and then add to soups, cold salads, or roll into a wrap. Yum!

– Shannon Philpott


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