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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

How to not get fat at college

Published: October 13, 2006
Section: Opinions

Weve all heard of the infamous freshman fifteen – those extra pounds that many will gain within their first year at college. It is easy to let our eating habits slide in this environment, where beer runs freely on the weekends and we all have the Dominos delivery number tacked securely to our bulletin boards. Unfortunately, the freshman fifteen doesnt melt away come sophomore year. Many people fail to ever lose that weight, carrying it over into their post-college lives.

With obesity in America such a hot topic issue these days, it is no surprise that the efforts to educate the public about healthy eating and weight loss are carrying over to colleges too. Gone are the days of our parents youths, where dining halls served up a limited menu of mac and cheese and tuna casserole for dinner. Now we are bombarded with tons of eating options, many of them very healthy.

We have the Balance station in Usdan, serving up appropriately sized portions of protein, starch and veggies. It might be a long wait for the salmon on some nights, but its worth it. There are the salad bars and a wide variety of soups, as well as organic options at Natures Balance. You can customize your meals now by asking for whole wheat bread, or a naked burrito (without the tortilla). We even have our own campus dietitian, Laura OGara, who handed out Healthy Eating pamphlets at the beginning of the semester. With all these tools in place, youd think it would be easy to stay fit and avoid gaining weight at school. Despite all the commendable efforts towards promoting healthy eating, there remains the issue of temptation.

No matter how many alternatives are provided, dining services is never going to wipe its menus clean of the basic staples. Lets face it, pizza is delicious;

the signature food of the college student. It will never deny us our cheeseburgers, eggplant parm, chicken nuggets or chocolate cake, nor should they. It just so happens that the food we tend to like best (high on carbs and cheese, low on protein and veggies) is the cheapest and easiest to prepare. Sweet deal. So even though there has been progress, for the most part the menu here is still not going to fully satisfy any health food expert.

Thats where the trouble comes in. Weve certainly got all the elements of a perfectly balanced diet. Now all you have to do is find it – not an easy task with all of the temptations. I know that when 3 oclock in the afternoon rolls around, Im going to want something to eat. Laura OGara might suggest a small handful of nuts. But oh man, a measly few cashews looks pretty sad when Im standing in front of the candy display in the C-store (ps: the chocolate covered mini oreos are amazing). My cure: dont stand in front of the candy display. Duh. A lot of the time, Im not actually hungry, Im just bored. Drinking some water or a diet coke can shut your stomach up. And sometimes if I really cant resist, I will let myself give in and get a few gummy bears… but just a few. It is best never to deny yourself any foods, but just to learn how to control how much you eat. If I denied myself ice cream, Id probably be in a permanent bad mood and then break down and eat an entire quart of fudge swirl. Eating sensibly and indulging every now and then is a good way to go. The following are four main tips that I can extend to you–lessons learned along my own pathway back from the Freshman Fifteen.

1) If, like me, you tend to suffer from eyes bigger than stomach disorder, try to limit your Shermanating to only a few dinners a week. Freshman year I lived in Massell and ate almost all of my meals at Sherman. Sherman is dangerous. The big heap of baked ziti alongside a scoop of rice is bad enough, but I found that almost all of my meals included a few of those baby slices of pizza. You know your diet is going in a downward spiral when pizza is a side dish. And then, of course, theres the old second round, which inevitably will include a cupcake and maybe some ice cream. Do yourself a favor and just walk up the hill to Usdan. Youll get less bang for your buck there, and sometimes that is a good thing.

2) Avoid the dreaded impulse buys at the checkout in Usdan and the Boulevard. Yes, we all know the cookies are good. Still, there are probably between 350 and 400 calories in just one–about as much as you should be eating at lunchtime overall! And of course they have to come in pairs, just to make things even more difficult. So unless your lunch consists of one cookie (which probably aint so balanced, anyway), skip it. If youre going to succumb to the cookies, maybe just have one and save the other for tomorrow or give it to your enviable roommate who can eat an entire pizza and stay rail-thin.

3) One of the easiest ways to avoid empty calories is to watch what you drink. Girls are always drinking diet coke for a good reason – no calories! Energy drinks like Powerade, lemonade and full-calorie soda are pretty much a waste. Id much rather eat my calories. Java City is also full of hidden dangers. Just because there is a shot of espresso in that concoction of caramel and milk and syrup doesnt make it coffee. Those suckers can pack hundreds and hundred of calories. Sure, they taste good, but you might as well be eating Ben and Jerrys. Dont go there.

4) As mentioned before, try your best to avoid meaningless snacking. I know it sucks, but before you eat a non-mealtime bite, ask yourself if youre really hungry. A pretty interesting experiment is to spend a day not eating until you wait for your stomach to growl. I am not suggesting this is a good idea for everyday eating (waiting till you're starved can lead to overeating), but youll be surprised how long you can actually go before you really need to eat again. This can be easier to do in the afternoon, but harder at night when dinner was hours ago. Eating after dinner isnt off-limits, but it should be done carefully. Dont eat an entire bag of popcorn every night after youve already indulged in a piece of cake after dinner. I never eat dessert right after dinner. Instead, Ill save it for later on, around 9 when Im sick of working and need a break. After that I can tend to get the munchies despite not being hungry at all, so I just brush my teeth and call it a day. I try not to eat past 10, unless it is a weekend night at 2 AM Tiki House is just too good to pass up. Then it is ok. Youve got to indulge sometimes.

Obviously there are a lot more tips and facts out there to support healthy eating, but these are a few campus-specific suggestions that can help anyone from going astray in our carb crazed, super-sized collegiate bubble. Eating well is hard to do, and even harder here. So best of luck! If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere.