If you are like most college students, you have put on a few pounds since you arrived last August. But now that spring break is over, summer break is on the horizon, and so is all its skin-bearing attire. Suddenly, those pounds are a bit more noticeable. Before you go on a diet, be sure to check your body mass index (BMI). Anyone whose BMI (see previous blog on BMI) is between 18.5 and 24.9 is a normal weight, so you may still be within that range, and you don’t really need to lose weight. But if your BMI is above 25, it is a good idea to instill some new habits.
Exercise. Before considering cutting calories, it is important to add exercise into your routine. A good start, and one that is easy to maintain, is simply to briskly walk at least three times per week. (Now that the snow and ice are melting, this will be easier to do!) Walking and swimming are the least jarring of all the options available, and they are great for your cardiovascular system, as well as many other bodily systems. If you never exercised before, and your calorie intake remains the same, you may find that adding exercise is the only lifestyle change needed in order to accomplish your goal.
The time of day matters when it comes to exercise. Ideally, the morning is the best time, because it jump starts your metabolism for the day. (But don’t make the mistake of not exercising at all. Some exercise is better than none at all.) Be aware that if you exercise too close to bedtime, you will lose the benefit of an increased metabolism, as your body will slow down in preparation for sleep. You will also run the risk of experiencing sleeplessness, which leads us to the subject of…
Sleep. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep hinders metabolism. Also, if you are sleep-deprived, you will be less motivated to spend energy on maintaining your exercise and nutrition habits. It is important to adhere to the same bedtime every night, and sleep at least 7 ½ hours. (Many adults need up to nine hours, just to feel human.)
Nutrition. Changing what you eat may be important, if you don’t eat a balanced diet. But sometimes changing the way you eat is more important. For example, you should eat the vegetables and fruit on your plate first before you eat the main course. (No, potato chips and French fries are not considered vegetables!) This will help you acquire the vitamins and fiber you need and may keep you from overdoing it with the more fattening entrée.
Another strategy is to eat only half of what you would normally eat, such as half a sandwich, or use a smaller plate, which tricks you into thinking your portion is larger than it is. (And don’t go back for seconds!) If you are out at a restaurant, it is OK to eat only half. Also be aware that a large percentage of the meal’s calories can be hidden in the beverage, so always opt for healthful choices, such as skim milk, unsweetened tea, or just plain water. Try to skip the caffeine, if possible, or limit it to the equivalent of two cups of coffee per day. It is also important to take the proper time to eat, since the stomach will not usually register it is full until 20 minutes afterward.
It is a good idea to read labels for items such as sugar, salt, fat, and fiber. If you can substitute whole food for labeled food, it’s all the better. An apple a day really does keep the doctor away! Plus, make certain you drink 64 or more ounces of water per day. (See previous blog on dehydration.) Sometimes when we think we are hungry, we are really just dehydrated.
Food Journaling. Keeping a food journal is a good option for those who are accustomed to snacking throughout the day. It is easy to forget about that cookie here or that small bag of chips there. Keep the journal with you at all times, so you won’t forget to write things down.
Fad Diets. Skip them. They don’t work. In the long run, you will gain all your weight back, plus more. The best course of action for losing weight is exercise and portion control, period.
Electronic Help. Though the jury is still out on the effectiveness of electronic help and smart phone apps, it may benefit you to try these sources: