College Dieting: the Fake, the Useless and a Recipe For Success


College is the time in a young adult’s life when late night paper writing and alcohol consumption tend to fall high on the priority list. In a drastic attempt to avoid the dreaded muffin top or beer gut, some students go to extreme measures to keep their weight down and self-confidence up. Ryan King, a graduate of the University of Vermont, is no stranger to dieting during college.“I gained a lot of weight when I traveled abroad, which is funny, because in Ireland there’s almost no delivery and we walked everywhere. But I also drank almost every night. For years I blamed white wine exclusively, so I avoided it until very recently,” says King. Although King gained most of her weight while abroad, she believes the residence campus can be a tough place to manage a healthy lifestyle. She says to “Stay out of the dining halls if it’s an option. Every time I went in there, I ended up eating, like, seven meals in one time span: salad bar, hot lunch, soft serve.”King is not alone in the battle of weight gain and loss between the ages of 18 and 22.

Megan Collins, a senior at Simmons College, says “So many of my friends, including myself, complain about how they look and wish they could go back to high school, at least looks wise, when their waists were smaller and they fit into a smaller dress size.”It’s experiences like these that push people to ask, how do I get back? How do I return to my pre-college weight? People look to different diets or lifestyle changes in an attempt to become healthier, but to what extent will they go to get the results they’re looking for?

How far is too far?

When asked about dangerous dieting, King admits to trying laxatives and turning to diet pills in hopes of shedding a few pounds. “I took that stuff you put in your water- Hydroxycut or something- for a month. I lost some weight, but definitely felt a bit cracked out, like I’d had an entire pot of coffee or something. I was kind of shaky and unable to focus well.”

Joanna Meager, who attended Berklee College for music, also turned to diet pills: “I remember someone introducing me to Xenedrine as a diet pill,” she says. Like King, Meager felt the caffeine while using these supplements.

These side effects are normal in pills like Hydroxycut and Xenedrine, which both contain an amount that is equal to 2 or 3 cups of coffee. Added to an already caffeine enriched diet, they can increase heart rate, blood pressure and induce insomnia and anxiety, according Erin Richards, in her article “The Real Deal Behind Diet Pills” featured in Live Science.

Leah Petrizzo Sutherland, a graduate of Bob Jones University, may have not turned to diet pills, but found herself cutting carbohydrates completely from her diet. Licensed Dietitian Kirstie Craul, says that it’s these “fad” diets that are most popular and cause the most damage.

“Most ‘fad’ diets out there eliminate certain food groups: low carb, high protein, low-fat or no-fat diets. This is not a healthy way to eat because our bodies need nutrients from all of the food groups,” says Craul.

“I got into dieting because I am self-conscious about how I look. It’s easy for me to fall into the trap of what Hollywood says I should look like,” says Sutherland.

Sutherland followed the Weight Watchers program while at home, which assigns certain point values to foods, and although she found it successful, returning to campus made it difficult. She often found herself starving at the end of the day: “In college, it was a nightmare. Some of the foods offered, even if I halved the portions, would take up all my points at one meal.”

Even Craul, who went on to become an RD, found herself gaining weight while in college. “I think for me it was mostly due to lack of exercise, as I had done sports in high school but not college, and eating a mostly carb based diet since I was a vegetarian at the time and the drinking of too much beer! Frequent dining out at fast food places didn’t help either,” she says.

What nutritional knowledge do students really have?

The solution to weight gain is something that people never seem to agree on. There are so many diets out there, such as ones previously mentioned. It’s hard to know where to start if you don’t have a background in nutrition.

Meager had heard of programs like Weight Watchers and Atkins (which limits carbohydrate intake) while living on campus, but doesn’t remember knowing or ever learning about healthy habits. “It wasn’t until I started going to Weight Watchers and started getting into “The Biggest Loser” on TV did I start reading up on Jillian Michaels and reading her blogs about diet and nutrition,” she says.

While King had a different experience at UVM, where she says she “heard a lot about nutrition on campus as a student athlete” and felt well-informed, Sutherland followed in Meager’s footsteps, admitting that she had little to no knowledge on the subject while in school.

Why don’t these fad diets work?

After surveying about 20 people between the ages of 18 and 22 regarding what kind of diet they find most effective, almost 55 percent chose decreasing calorie intake as the best way to lose weight while 27 percent chose decreasing fat intake and 18 percent chose cutting carbohydrates.

It is important to “eat less than your body needs to create an energy deficit and therefore utilize and burn stored fat. It’s all about cutting back on calories and that is why ‘diets’ work because most of them are low in calories (1200-1500 calories a day).  The reason diets don’t work is because once you go back to your old eating and exercise habits the weight just comes right back on and usually brings some extra pounds with it,” says Craul, “It’s also important to include foods from all the food groups, while watching portion sizes; especially concentrating on fat and protein since those tend to be what the typical American overeats.

How to lose weight safely

Craul stresses the importance of balance between diet and exercise and to never tell yourself you can’t have any one food. She says, “It’s never a good idea to avoid foods that you enjoy because in the end you will most likely end up overeating the foods you think you ‘can’t’ or ‘shouldn’t’ eat.

“Moderation also plays a huge role in successful dieting, especially sweets, alcohol and fast foods,” says Craul.

Craul’s guide for students to lose weight and keep it off:

  • Make half your plate full of fruits and vegetables.
  • Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in nutrients so they are perfect to load up on and are also packed with fiber to help you feel fuller.
  • Eat protein at every meal.
  • Including protein at each meal or snack is a great way to curb hunger since it takes the body longer to break down protein. It will leave you feeling more satisfied.  Always anchor every meal or snack with a lean protein source.
  • Eat breakfast every day as a way to rev up your metabolism.  Remember to include a whole grain, lean protein and fruits or vegetable as well.  A breakfast smoothie made with one cup of greek yogurt, one cup of berries and two tbsp. of wheat germ is a healthy and tasty way to start the day.
  • Fiber is your friend when trying to shed the pounds.  It makes you feel full and can help stabilize bloods sugars, which can often lead to overeating when not stabilized. Look for breakfast cereals and breads made with 100 percent whole grain flour. There are many imposters that claim to be made with whole grains but unless you see “whole” before the grain on the ingredient list, you are most likely eating refined flour. Look for cereals with five grams or more of fiber and breads with three grams or more of fiber per serving.
  • Alcohol, sodas, juice and flavored coffee drinks are loaded with empty calories that often lead to weight gain.  Look for diet sodas or calorie free flavored water and limit juice to no more than four ounces a day.  If you need that coffee in the morning, switch to skim milk and switch to a sugar substitute.  Most flavored coffee drinks have over 300 calories.  If you choose to drink alcohol, limit it to no more than one drink per day for women and two per day for men. I know this can be difficult, so if it’s easier, try switching to a light beer or have a glass of water after each drink.
  • Dining out is a huge source of calories and even if you order the “healthier” item on the menu, you may be surprised to find it is still loaded with calories and sodium.  Treat yourself to an occasional fast food or restaurant meal once a week and try and split the entree with a friend or bring half of it home.
  • Exercise for 30-60 minutes most days of the week.

Living a healthier lifestyle after college

King left her strict dieting with her dorm room: “I don’t diet so much as make conscientious decisions about what I eat and keep available in my home. I avoid meat mostly, so I have to find ways to keep protein and iron in my diet. I also like to have a great deal of variety.” If she has cucumbers with her lunch for example, she will have red bell peppers with dinner.

Exercise also plays a big role in King’s post-college lifestyle. She exercises between four and five days a week. Meager also tries to exercise this often, alternating between Zumba and bootcamp classes at her gym. Even now, 35 weeks pregnant, she still continues to work out when she can by walking and lifting small weights.

Sutherland turned to an online exercise program titled “couch to 5k” which takes people who are completely new to running and gradually increases their ability from walking to running a 5k, or 3.1 miles over the course of nine weeks. “I just completed the program and will continue to run,” she says.

Meager looks back on her weight loss journey saying, “I think I got into dieting once I realized I had no friends and people tended to avoid the fat girl. I became motivated to make changes for myself and I gained more confidence when I saw my 100-pound loss. I found not only friends, but a boyfriend and my journey has continued from there. I didn’t give up through a miscarriage, a pregnancy that was successful and lots of other life things, and I don’t plan on giving up until I feel my best.”

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  1. Foods that make you look younger | Situation Fat Loss - May 24, 2012

    […] College Dieting: the Fake, the Useless and a Recipe For Success … It makes you feel full and can help stabilize bloods sugars, which can often lead to overeating when not stabilized. Look for breakfast cereals and breads made with 100 percent whole grain flour. There are many imposters that claim to be … — Wed, 23 May 2012 22:16:07 -0700 […]

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