For most, college is the first time that you're out of the house and completely on your own. You're in charge of everything. New schedules, new responsibilities, new choices, and plenty of crossroads. Your fate is in your hands. This means that you are in an extremely important stage of your life. Good or bad, the habits that you create now, on your own, will influence your decisions for years and years to come.
Due to these new opportunities and experiences, I've seen a lot of damage done. I've seen too many of you completely throw away your health due to "the college experience". Not only have a lot of you decided to throw away your health, but you've also just put on a bit of fat and quite frankly it's not a good thing. I know you probably haven't heard the word "fat" on your campuses, since your schools feel like they have to be extra sensitive to your feelings or whatever. But I'm not your safe space. I'm here to give you a light slap on the face with a side of advice and encouragement. By they way, that was the slap in the face, the rest is nothing but advice and encouragement :)
Let's not get off on the wrong foot. I don't want you to be under the impression that I believe weight gain in general is this horrible thing that should always be avoided. We all gain weight. Sometimes it's healthy, and sometimes it's not. In this situation, it's almost always the latter and that's why this article was written.
Remember how I was talking about decisions and habits at the beginning? Well, that's where it all starts. As you know, this is the first time (whether you're a freshman or not, it's still new) that you're out of the house making nearly every decision for yourself. It's so liberating. You can do whatever the heck you want, with seemingly no consequences. Due to the nature of this stage in your life, you're like this piece of clay, just waiting to be molded all over again. Parents can brag about how well they raised their kids all they want, but no matter how they raised you, you'll make decisions however you want. You have an opportunity to completely rebrand yourself and start over. Having said that, the things that mold you into the young adult you'll be after school are the friends you hang out with, and the habits you create in college.
We all know what friends are, and we all know what habits are, but just to make sure I'll give you a refresher on habits.
According to Brilliant Living HQ, "a habit is the repeated thinking and behaviors that become automatic..."
These habits are created by behaviors, which are initiated by cues. Following the behavior or action there is a reward. Cue, behavior/action, reward.
So how does this play into your stage of life (college), your health, and the rest of your life?
Habits and Health
As mentioned earlier, college is place where students gain a lot of body fat, and seem to take poor care of their health. This is bad for two reasons:
1. You're getting fatter and it's most likely not looking good, and it's hurting your self-esteem.
2. This weight gain is a result of poor habits that are developed in college. These poor habits leak into life after school. Next thing you know, you're 50 pounds overweight and you have several health issues in your 30s.
Sure, I may have titled this article "How Not to Get Fat In College" and I'll teach you how not to get fat in college, but throughout that process I'm going to stress the importance of habits, too.
So here's how I'm going to do this. I'll keep it simple. We'll identify the problem, what's causing the problem, what the solution is, and how you can change your habits for the better through that solution.
Since we've already identified the problems (weight gain and poor habits), we'll address why this is happening.
What's Causing the Problem?
You're smart, right? You're in college and you know exactly what the problem is. An overconsumption of alcohol, and and overconsumption of food. Ultimately, the problem is overconsumption of calories from those two sources.
If I could summarize this issue into two gifs...
I'm not going to sit here and say that the solution is to stop doing both of these things for the rest of your life. I'm not your mother.
But what I am going to do is teach you how to make sure you DON'T put on excess body fat, create bad habits, and damage your long-term health.
Two Different Approaches
We know that the problem is an overconsumption of calories through food and alcohol, and we know that the solution is properly managing calorie intake. The question now is: how do we do that?
I want to break this section of the article into two different sections, one for each approach.
There are two different ways you can manage your caloric intake. Both will keep you enjoying college, but you'll be doing it in a safe way that will enable you to create good habits in your life.
Approach Number One: The Tracker
If you've been following me and reading my articles for a while, you know how much of a fan I am of macronutrient tracking. If you haven't been following me and you didn't know that, well shame on you. And now you know.
Tracking food intake does one major thing for us all. It completely opens our eyes to what we're putting into our bodies. Beyond that, it allows us to think of food as nutrients and fuel, rather than just palatable items that only serve our taste buds. Through tracking, you're able to learn how much food you need to maintain your weight, and how much you should be eating based on your goal. It's an accurate measurement to make sure you're not doing anything to damage your body composition and health. It's like a budget for your food. If you go over your budget in real life over and over again, you'll be broke. If you go over food budget over and over again, you'll be fat.
Bada bing, bada boom.
So if you enjoy numbers, you have experience with tracking, or you don't mind taking a few extra minutes each day and you'd like to learn, I'd suggest going this route and keeping track of what you eat and drink each day. And yes, this includes the moments where you drink too much and you eat three burritos rather than one.
Beyond learning about what's in food, what quantities and serving size actually look like, and realizing how much or how little you really eat/drink in a day, tracking macronutrients can help create some great habits.
One of these habits is thought. Think about the budget analogy again. When you have a budget, you're forced to think more about what you're purchasing, why you're purchasing it, how much you're spending on it, and whether or not you should actually be purchasing it. Same thing goes with tracking. Tracking makes you think these things to yourself:
"What are the macros in this meal?"
"Do I have room for these macros in my day?"
"Should I use all of my carbs on these pop tarts?", etc.
Before you know it, you'll have a different relationship with the food and drinks you're consuming. You'll really think about what's best for you and your health before you dive into chugging or stuffing your face. It'll be a habit before you know it.
If you need a place to go to find a good starting point for what you should be eating, check out iifym.com to get your numbers.
Alcohol is a lot more tricky to track and takes a bit more practice. But that's ok, I wrote an article on this just for you :)
Approach Number Two: Being Intuitive
This approach is a bit more advanced and I recommend it to those who have experience with tracking food and want a bit more freedom in their life. This can be done by a beginner, but it's a lot harder to implement this if you don't have a good idea of what's actually in the food/drinks you're eating/drinking.
Being intuitive includes many practices that can help you stay lean in college while creating great habits for the rest of your life. Some of these practices are:
Completely rejecting a diet mentality
Listening to your body
Recognizing real hunger
These basically can be packed into one, and that one thing would be respecting your body. But, since intuitive eating can actually be a bit more complex than it sounds, I'll touch on each one a little bit.
Completely rejecting a diet mentality can be dangerous which is why I only recommend this intuitive eating thing to those who have experience in tracking food and thinking deeply before they make decisions. Note: this is not to say that diets aren't dangerous either. They definitely can be and that's why I've never put a client on one. But as you know, complete freedom can offer some enticing but dangerous opportunities whether it's about food or whatever it is y'all college students do nowadays.
But you know that. You're in college. If someone is to completely reject a diet mentality, it opens a world where possibilities are endless. There are no rules and regulations to keep the individual within healthy boundaries for the food and drink intake. So the only way to make this really work is by listening to your body.
Listening to the body is something that is completely forgotten about by most of us. We don't understand what being full is. We understand what being stuffed is, but not full. Heck, we don't even chew our food enough. Listening to your body includes many things like understanding hunger and fullness. Are you actually hungry, or do you just feel like you need to eat? Are you actually full? Or are you physically stuffed to the point where the thought of more food makes you gag?
Here's my advice when it comes to college and intuitive eating. SLOW THE EFF DOWN. I know you have so much to do and there are a lot of things happening. When you eat, don't be on your phone, don't watch TV. Think about what you're eating. Think about each bite. Chew your food. Chew your food A LOT. Did you know the purpose of chewing is not just to get it down, but to actually help liquify the food? So yeah, chew.
When you're drinking, SLOW THE EFF DOWN. If someone is encouraging you to chug, or you feel like you want to chug, stop and realize that you're doing it for a false sense of approval that you ultimately don't give a crap about. I'll try not to get too into the moral dilemmas behind binge drinking, so here's this piece of advice:
Try not drinking on a full stomach, but rather an emptier one.
I know it sounds crazy, but if we're trying to avoid overconsumption of calories, we're also trying to avoid overconsumption of alcohol. And if you're out trying to feel the effects of alcohol - don't think I'm an idiot. I know exactly what you're doing. Because if you're going to tell me that you enjoy the taste of an IPA more than a Coke, I won't believe you. - you'll feel it quicker than you would if you had 2 pounds of pasta and bread in you. Also, take more time in between drinks. Especially if your stomach is on the empty side. Don't go into the bar expecting to slam 3 beers and 2 shots because that will be a freaking disaster and it won't be a good night for you.
Just like tracking food, being more intuitive and listening to your body will help you slow down and think. Beyond that though, it will help you understand what real feelings are, what real hunger and fullness really is. It'll help you understand what your body is telling you. You'll know when your body has had enough, and you'll know when you're being lied to because your mind is telling you it hasn't had enough.
Catch my drift?
Bottom line. Stop, think, act. Slow down, and then slow down some more.
Anticipate your environment before you get into it, and have your actions ready.
College is an opportunity to make or break your present and future self. Don't only make the right decisions, but be prepared to make the right decisions.
Take care of your health by either tracking your macronutrients or eating intuitively. Heck, practice both at the same time. Implement either or both of those into your health journey and I'm willing to bet that your body composition, physical health, and mental health will change for the better.
As always, thank you for reading. If you have question feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email. For those that are interested, coaching spots are open, and I have also made myself available for consultation. They're a great way to sit down with a professional and figure out a plan that works well for you as an individual without breaking the bank.
Adam is a fitness professional, Chipotle fanatic, and cookie enthusiast based in Fort Collins, CO. After hanging up the baseball cleats, he found a strong interest in the human body and how it performs. Since then, Adam has been transforming lives through fitness in a fun and encouraging atmosphere.
Adam is an ACE CPT and Fitness Nutrition Specialist and has years of experience in fat loss, muscle hypertrophy, and sports performance training.