Gaining weight seems to be every college student’s biggest fear, whether male or female. Given this commonality, there is no shortage of weight loss advice targeting this demographic. Google “Freshman 15″, and you’ll be directed to thousands of books, articles, and podcasts offering diet tips and workout regimens designed to keep you in your high school jeans.

All of this diet chatter is a good thing, right? It’s healthy… right?

I’m not so convinced.

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Paying attention to your health is incredibly important, but you really must be careful not to take things too far. The college environment is, unfortunately, highly conducive to extreme behavior, and neither end of the spectrum is a good place to be.

How do you find a happy middle ground, one between anxiety and neglect?

It’s not easy, and it takes a certain amount of self assurance and intuition. When we enter our formative college years, we’re just beginning to build these valuable qualities. I really wish more moderate, sensible advice were readily available to guide us in the meantime.

Here is what I wish someone had told me when I worried about my weight in college.

1. Don’t take the bus. Walking, as a form of exercise, really doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Even on a small campus, walking to class, to the library, to the dining hall really adds up. If you can commit to walking everywhere you go (within reason), you’ll get plenty of exercise without even thinking about it. Consider trips to the gym, intramural practice and late night dancing as icing on the cake. When you’re so overloaded with work that a trip to the gym just isn’t possible, relax and remember that walking to the library counts too.  

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2. Leave the tray. We all know weight loss is a simple equation. Consume less and move more. When you’re trying to slim down, the dining hall, with its endless options and dessert buffet, can seem like your worst enemy. It doesn’t have to be stressful. The first thing you need to do is this: put the tray down. With just two hands, you’ll be less likely to grab four different entrees.

3. Take a lap. Before you pick up anything, take a lap of the dining hall and see what each station is offering. Grab a plate of the food you want most, and enjoy.  

4. Lay off the booze. I’m not here to tell you not to drink. You’re in college, and drinking tends to be a pretty big part of the experience. Sorry, Mom. However, I will tell you to slow it down. Alternate drinks with water and save yourself an embarrassing display on the dance floor and a wicked headache the following morning. Oh, and several hundred calories.

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5. Use cereal as a garnish. Oh, cereal, I love you so much. One of the things I miss most about the dining hall and college in general is the plethora of cereal options. Granola, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cheerios, I will take you all. It wasn’t until my junior year in college that I discovered a sprinkling of cereal is just as satisfying as an entire bowl. If you’re craving something sweet at the end of a meal, I recommend serving yourself a little dish of cottage cheese or yogurt. Top with the sugary cereal of your choice, and relish every crunchy and calcium-rich bite.

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6. Carry snacks with you. It might seem counter intuitive to carry food with you when you’re trying to lose weight, but snacking can be a very healthy habit. I’m sure many of you have jam-packed schedules that leave you zero time to walk/run to your next class, let alone stop to refuel. You’ll be so happy to have a banana in your bag when your growling stomach drones out a boring lecture.

I hope you find these tips helpful, but above all, please do what feels right for you. Taking care of yourself means paying attention to all aspects of your health, not just weight. If a too-strict diet plan has you hating life, drop it and pursue a simpler approach.