College Compass: College dieting the healthy way

College Compass is a bi-weekly blog that aims to help students navigate the highs and lows of college life.


By Ana Altchek, Staff Writer

The combination of late nights and heavy drinking will eventually take a toll on anyone living such a lifestyle for prolonged periods of time. Since many college students are surrounded by this kind of living, these unhealthy habits can feel difficult to break — and when the weather hits freezing temperatures, the mere idea of change feels close to impossible.

When I first arrived at college, my imagination soared with fears about the apparently inescapable “freshman 15” that haunted me. But in my experience, the “freshman 15” was just another college myth that I quickly forgot once I realized its falsehood. The stress of college life and my new jam-packed schedule kept me away from snacking — and I rarely found myself overeating at Market Central.

With that being said, as I acclimated to college life and Market meals, I began to notice the shift that everyone warned me about. While I only gained a few pounds, I couldn’t help but feel out of control of my weight. Not only did I abhor working out, but I could rarely find the time to do so between my classes, and I often had meetings at night. So I tried out other less healthy and less effective methods. I would often minimize my meals during the day but my efforts would go to waste when I lost control at night and as someone who never enjoyed cooking, my midnight snacks canceled out all my daytime efforts.

After a couple sporadic sessions at the gym with no reward and weeks spent yo-yoing, I decided it was time to resort to more extreme measures — in my case — the keto diet. The keto diet calls for a daily intake of 20 grams of carbohydrates per day, which equates to a small apple. While it cuts out all carbs and sugar, it calls for high fat and moderate protein. While I initially planned to follow the diet for a month or two, once my body had adjusted to ketosis, the alternative metabolic state, I found it difficult to wean back to normal food consumption.

While I certainly lost the extra pounds on the keto diet, the constant restriction kept me in a permanently irritable state. As a true food lover, it was physically painful for me to share photos of pasta from Italy on my food Instagram account when I hadn’t consumed pasta in around six months. Not only was it difficult for me emotionally, but eventually I had to stop because of the negative health effects.

Not only was I lacking nutritional value from fruits and vegetables, which goes against the diet, but the excessive fat led to other health issues. After officially putting a halt to the diet, I’ve spent the last few months trying to figure out how to maintain a weight I’m comfortable with while remaining healthy. As someone who has experimented with various diets throughout my life, at 21 years old, I’ve finally begun to realize that moderation truly is key. I care about the way I look, but I value my mental and physical health equally, and what I consume — or don’t consume — affects that directly.

Unlike methods focused on losing weight as fast as possible, a slow and steady method will eventually show results and in a less harmful way. I’ve learned that the more I deprive myself of food I want to eat, the more I’ll end up eating more of it later on. Depriving myself of food is not only unhealthy, but it’s often unsustainable and leads to metabolic irregularities and binging, which reverses any progress.

In addition, any diet that completely cuts out a certain food group should most likely be avoided. Every food group has its importance and nutritional value and shouldn’t be ignored nor overly emphasized. So without a doctor’s approval and a nutritionist tracking your progress, diets should probably remain moderate, especially at such a young age. 

With that said, there’s nothing wrong with staying in charge of your body and weight. While portion control, frequent exercise and minimal snacking might be a difficult change to make, eventually it’ll show its merit. Weight loss may not happen overnight with these alterations, but they’ll last longer and feel better than the “diet starts tomorrow” methodology that often encourages overeating and starvation the next day.

While I don’t necessarily recommend a full implementation of Weight Watchers, the diet encourages a healthy mindset towards eating that anyone can adapt. Weight Watchers follows a personalized point system based on each person’s individual weight and their goals. However, fruit, vegetables and chicken count as free points so dieters can eat unlimited amounts — and as Oprah Winfrey likes to advertise — she still eats bread everyday. 

If you don’t necessarily want to start any actual diet plan, meal prep can be just as effective to cut out snacking and cut down on proportions. Without measuring food intake or determining how much you want to eat ahead of time, it can feel difficult to restrain from overconsumption. Meal prep is not only time-efficient, but it helps limit food intake. Sometimes when I buy a bag of nuts, I’ll lose track of how many I eat, and I’ll end up going through the bag in one sitting. Meal prep, or preparation, means literally prepping food in advance so you know how much you’re eating and rethink exceeding that amount.

And if you’re feeling really ambitious, a gym routine wouldn’t hurt either. Although working out won’t necessarily work wonders if your diet doesn’t follow the same pattern, it’s still a good way to balance out extra calories and stay in shape.

After many years of dieting, I’ve learned that these forms are far healthier and more sustainable than calorie-counting, which can create unhealthy eating and obsessive dieting habits. They also encourage mindfulness and portion control, which are the kinds of habits students should learn in college. In many cases, immediate weight loss is synonymous with temporary weight loss. Students don’t need to cut out all the sweets, they just need to rethink how frequently they consume them.