Congratulations. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably made it to university, the land of due dates, fast-speaking professors, minimal parental control and laptops with short battery lives. And because all of these things are so overwhelming to cope with on a constant basis, we end up relying on our fun, lazy habits to keep us sane. While this lifestyle may have the intoxicating taste of takeout, get us sufficiently inebriated on a Tuesday night, and causes us to sleep halfway through our philosophy class, they contribute to the famous “fifteen pounds” we never thought we’d find on our hips come freshman year.
The Freshman 15 is a North American term used to describe college students’ weight gain associated with erratic sleep schedules, stress, affinity for fast and unhealthy food, and being away from mom and dad who are usually there to set our ways straight. However, studies show that Canadians are gaining weight at a less significant rate compared to previous years. So whether you’re in the freshman 10-and-a-half or the 5 3/4 category, you can beat the bulge.
If you look downâ€”no, not at your newly pedicured toes or your fresh Reebok kicksâ€” at your waist, and it’s gotten bigger ever since you’ve enrolled into this fine learning institution, you’re not alone.
Shayna Mestel never thought she would be looking forward to hitting the gym after class to reserve the elliptical machine. She also never considered herself to be the type of student to set her alarm clock back seven minutes earlier to pack herself a heart-healthy lunch. But here is a Concordia student who has taken the textbook approach to fighting the Freshman Fifteen phenomenon and won.
“After high school, I stopped playing basketball and being in dance shows,” said Mestel, an exercise science student. “I also started snacking a lot more and didn’t care what I ate.”
After enrolling in an exercise prescription class where she learned about all of the short- and long-term effects of eating poorly and not exercising, the truth began to emerge. “I realized I had to change my ways or I’d have lots of issues as I get older,” Mestel said. “I got my friend who is a certified trainer to help me get started because I finally found my motivation.”
Mestel wasn’t always a keener when it came to meticulous weight loss. Like 85 per cent of students, she got 5 1/2 Â hours of sleep a night and never had the energy to workout due to a heavy frame and an even heavier workload.
“Skimping out on the recommended eight hours raises the hunger-inducing hormone ghrelin,” said Richard Tardif, a kinesiologist who earned his bachelor’s degree in exercise science at Concordia. “And this lethargy and hunger are both a recipe for weight gain.”
You think you’re doing your body and mind good by studying, and then you mindlessly find your fingers in the cookie jar yet again.
“I started snacking a lot more when I was studying and didn’t really care what I ate,” Mestel confessed. “So I ended up putting on weight and didn’t really have the motivation to do anything about it.”
If you’re in the same sinking boat, here’s what you can do about it.
Make your own meals
Save money and your waistline from expanding by skipping the long line at McDonald’s, where ingredients are unpronounceable, let alone actual food. Bringing a lunchbox to school is no longer one of the nerdiest things you could possibly do, unless of course it’s Batman- or Ninja Turtles-themed. Packing your Ziploc bags with unprocessed, fresh ingredients such as whole wheat bread with baby spinach, low-fat feta and turkey will keep your insulin levels steady, thus preventing future cravings for crappy food. Here’s a general rule of thumb: If it comes in a box, it’s bad for you. If it can perish, it’s usually good for you.
Sneak in some exercise
Not to put the lovely and ever-so-convenient Concordia shuttle bus out of business or anything, but walking to school will do long-term wonders for your bod. Aaron Borek, a YM-YWHA personal trainer certificate recipient, said that everyone needs at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per day. “You really have to fit in some cardio. Anything is better than what you’re probably getting now.” Anything is a pretty vague term, and that’s what is so great about it. If you have $60 to spare for the semester, signing up for a membership at Concordia’s Le Gym isn’t such a bad idea. Intramural sports are also offered, like badminton and ultimate frisbee. But who needs a team sport when Concordia is located right next to a year-round scenic bike path that stretches 3.4 km across downtown Montreal? Hop on a Bixi and wear a helmet.
Hit the snooze button
Don’t go forging doctor’s notes as a get-out-of-jail (I mean class) free card. Instead, develop a regular sleep schedule that your brain could adjust to. Don’t use your bedroom for anything other than sleeping (alone or with friends, I don’t judge), so that you associate your bed only with sleep and don’t experience the burden of insomnia. According to Tardif, being tired impairs your judgment, causing you to make poor food choices. Similarly, Borek said that “by not giving your body significant rest, you are liable to having a weak immune system, causing you to feel sick and lazy, and therefore sedentary.” Think of eight as the magic number for health: eight glasses of water a day, eight servings of fruits and veggies, and bingo, eight hours of sleep.
Get drunk on life
It’s not hard to stay sober when you discover all the calories in beer. (It tastes like crap anyways, but maybe that’s just the woman in me talking.) Alcohol plays an obviously huge social lubricant role in campus life, as it is readily available in large, cheap quantities at cultural and program-related events. Be wary of the brew though, because alcohol is a poison. “When the body senses poison, it stops everything it’s doing and tries to get rid of the poison,” Borek explains. “By consuming too much alcohol you are not letting your liver deal with toxic substances produced by your own body, so it can’t metabolize your food.” And no, puking at the end of the night does not negate the calories.
The endorphins produced by attaining success will become addictive, and soon enough, second nature. “I am so motivated and in such a good spot right now with how I feel towards exercise and nutrition that I won’t ever repeat my old ways,” Mestel vowed. “I make time in my schedule to go to the gym no matter what.”
Let’s make it a point here at Concordia University to defy the fat brand and re-dub it the “Freshman Zero,” or even “Negative Five.”
“I can personally tell you that all of this works because during my first year of university, I tried to lose weight and used a lot of these suggestions and I have lost 36 pounds since October 2010,” Mestel proudly said.
The Freshman Negative 36 works, too.
-Mix it up: Don’t spend months on the same activity. You WILL get bored, and so will your muscles. Challenge and confuse them by spending a week on hot yoga and the next on salsa dance classes.
-Don’t starve yourself: Eating less is only effective if you feel satiated. Afterwards, robbing your body of energy it needs and craves will only ruin your workout performance and cause you to binge later.
-Go clubbing: You heard me. Dancing the night away is a great way to workout without even realizing it. Plus, walking around in heels does wonders for the calves. And guys, don’t buy your girl too many drinks. Um, hellllloooo calories!
-Don’t try too hard: Getting obsessed with fitness and weight loss backfires when you start to neglect your passions and hobbies. Live life, be happy, and keep it simple by balancing work and play. This stability will end up normalizing your eating and exercise patterns.
-Phone a friend: This is your most crucial lifeline. BBM your buddies to try out new classes around your area. Establish a non-judgmental relationship with them to force you to go to bed at a normal hour and go for tea instead of cupcakes.
-Surf the net: Websites like Tuango.ca, Livingsocial.com and Groupon.ca offer huge daily deals on things like workout classes and healthy gourmet food. Sign up, and purchase the deals that fit your newfound healthy freshman lifestyle.