You gotta run, run, run, run, run
November 17, 2010 3:46 PM   Subscribe

Help a college student with a history of bad habits get healthy.

There are days where I just feel terribly unhealthy and I'd like for that to be over with once and for all. I'm 6'3 and 230 pounds, and I've had a build like this for all of my life. I've never really enjoyed lifting weights, etc, and while I enjoy running, I get discouraged from doing it remarkably easy. There were definitely periods of time where I would run several times a week, but I'd inevitably give up each time after promising myself that it would be different.

To make matters worth, I have fairly unhealthy eating habits. This is another thing I've just fallen into and would get out of for several weeks before falling back in. Unfortunately, the options at the campus dining hall, in combination with my inability to cook and my limited funds means my eating habits have done nothing but go downhill. My goal is weight loss and developing a regular routine of exercise.

So to anyone who can even vaguely relate, how did you deal with it? Not only in terms of routines and frugal shopping tips, but inspiration? I desperately want this to be the last time I end up disappointing myself.
posted by Echobelly to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think one thing to realize is that you're not going to change overnight. You already know that you have bad habits. But habits are things which are ingrained, and you don't just flip a switch and suddenly eat better or exercise. You have to really retrain yourself into making different choices.

If you want to eat better, don't try to make it a huge switch all at once. Make it that you deliberately choose the good foods one day a week for a month. Then two days a week for a month. (And not two days in a row.) If you want to exercise, don't commit yourself to walking or running 30 minutes a day EVERY day. Make it once a week, then twice a week. Etc.

I think you'll find this kind of method works best if you can also find an effective journaling tool which lets you keep track of when you did what, and for how long, and stuff.

Ultimately, the thing to remember is that falling off the wagon doesn't mean your efforts are ended, you've failed, you're disappointed, but oh well. Instead, any lapse in your new routine just means that you start the new routine again tomorrow. It is a matter of determination which has to come from within you, so if you really want this, you can do it. So don't beat up on yourself when you slide back into old unhealthy habits. Instead, just chalk that one up to having a bad day and get back on that horse again the next day.

After a while, you'll retrain yourself into having a different set of behaviors and expectations for yourself, and you'll discover that you've won the battle after all.
posted by hippybear at 4:04 PM on November 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Find a running partner. It will be much more motivating to have someone who is expecting you to be there to run with with a schedule.
It's very easy during college to develop or continue poor eating're stressed, up all night with homework, and a small baggie of chips is quick and fast. Now is the time to learn to start cooking! Start with something small so you don't feel like your goal is a gourmet meal. Find healthy recipes that can be saved as leftovers so that when you want to eat something quick and easy, you can just reheat it. Buy prepackaged salads with low-fat dressing if you're really into the convenience thing. Take small steps towards healthy eating; you don't have to become healthy overnight.
posted by mrdmsy at 4:06 PM on November 17, 2010

Learning how to cook is a good start. Subscribe to some food blogs that focus on frugal and healthy recipes.

Start a fitness challenge with your friends, or find a running partner. Use peer pressure to your advantage!

Sometimes it helps to find something healthy that you enjoy doing for non-health reasons. I've been mountain biking a lot lately, which is great exercise, but I do it purely for fun.
posted by Relic at 4:07 PM on November 17, 2010

Seconding finding a fun activity to supplant (or supplement) running. Since you're at college, I'd find a club level ultimate frisbee team to join. Or find a regular pickup basketball game.

Exercise (for me) is best when social. Being pushed by others to work harder doesn't hurt, either,
posted by jz at 4:11 PM on November 17, 2010

Diet: try cutting out particular ingredients or kinds of dishes one at a time: deep-fried foods, cheese, desserts, non-diet soda, full-cream dairy, etc. Over time you'll actually come to appreciate the taste of healthier food, and when you try something particularly fatty or sugary you'll really notice how gross these things can sometimes be. But don't deny yourself the occasional pizza or slice of birthday cake; just remember that it's a treat.

Exercise: heavily seconding the idea of doing something you find fun. For me, it's martial arts, cycling & swimming, and I bet I'd get a kick out of paddling a surfski or kayak if I gave that a shot - whatever you enjoy. If it's not a solo activity, it's easier to stay motivated. I also find that morning exercise makes me feel great for the day, and there's less temptation to skip training after a long day. Again, decide what works best for you. Good luck!
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:21 PM on November 17, 2010

In terms of 'dealing' with it, I remind myself why I'm doing it - to be healthier, to get stronger, to run faster. And you have to keep thinking that way. I get some comments on me looking too big and terribly un-feminine looking, but because I care about being fit and strong more than I care about what other people think (most of the time), I strike a Hulk pose and challenge the rude bastard to an impromptu pull-up contest. Sometimes you wake up and you really, really don't want to get out of bed - remind yourself that there's a reason why you're going to drag yourself out, and it's for that extra 400 metres you're going to be able to run today. It's going to be for those lower numbers on the blood-pressure measurement. It's going to be for you running flat out to catch the bus and catching it because you're fast enough. It's going to be because you want to run.

Inspiration is finding joy in things I can do with my body. I'll never be crazy Olympic-fit, but I can climb a rope, a tree, a fence, pull myself up a ledge and move a bunch of heavy things by myself and that's really neat to me. I want to be able to keep doing it, so I keep doing things that make me sweat.

Most people aren't really going to enjoy working out at the beginning, generally speaking. You have to want the benefits of working out more than you dislike the work, the hassle of finding time to work out, the cost, the embarrassment of being the weakest one in the gym, etc, etc - and then you just have to go for it. It's not easy, but it's doable. Good luck!
posted by zennish at 7:07 PM on November 17, 2010

Make a quick but honest self-assessment: are you the sort of person who responds better to gradual/incremental lifestyle change, or to ultimatums? I'm the former: I'd gladly cook healthier meals or add a few extra minutes climbing the stairs a day versus really shaking up my routine. My husband's the latter. He's was heavier than you 3 years ago, and is now approaching 180 through removing things from his diet ENTIRELY for long stretches, because cold turkey is the only way he can maintain any momentum or willpower. Cutting out soda and other liquid calories was the most dramatic and immediate improvement for him. Think back through what has (and more importantly, what hasn't!) worked for you previously, not just what you think you ought to be doing.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:24 PM on November 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Walk everywhere; if it's under 30 minutes - try walking there. Explore your neighbourhood(s - where you live, and where you work).

Stairs. Take them every time. Up and down. Walking up, take 'em two at a time at speed, with authority. Four/Five stories? NOTHING. Twenty stories? Challenge. (Or not.)

My problem with running is that it's.... so pointless. Instead, instead of waiting for a bus or paying for a cab, I'll just fucking walk when I want to get to a different part of the city. I'm 45 minutes from campus, 30 to downtown, and... most of a night from a suburb out in the mountains to campus (and a morning to my [former] apartment).

If being fat s ia problem, maybe carry around weight with you when you walk/power-walk/run a la Harrison Bergeron.
posted by porpoise at 11:33 PM on November 17, 2010

For people our age (I'm assuming you're college age), it's difficult to have patience when it comes to things like weight loss. We want it now or at least by next week or by the end of the month. To lose a significant amount of weight (30 lbs +), it's going to take a good 6 to 9 months. That's a long time for our on demand generation. It takes a lot PATIENCE and a small dose of failure here and there.

Being in school makes losing weight very difficult. It makes being healthy in general very difficult. When I was in school last semester, there were literally not enough hours in the day to get exercise in. I had to graduate, not wory about my waist. I didn't have time to go running or hit up the gym. I was lucky if I could do it once a week. It wasn't until I finally graduated and got a job that I could truly focus on getting on track. Once you get out of school, things will get better.

The biggest facet to losing weight is your DIET. Exercise is great, but it really is just a bonus. Cooking is not hard nor is it scary. I eat very simple things. Grilled chicken, baked fish, turkey burgers can all be prepared and cooked under 30 minutes. Pre-made salad in a bag is very cheap and can be put in a bowl in less than a minute. Need a carb? You can buy microwaveable brown rice or microwave a potato. Need some more vegetables? You can buy frozen vegetables that can be microwaved in a bag in less than 5 minutes. I got bags of frozen broccoli for less than a $1 and it contained 3 meals worth of broccoli. There are lots of choices and options. I shop at Costco,which may not work for you but it has the cheapest meats available. Lean protein + complex carb + veggies =s uccess.

As for exercise, I would recommend finding a workout buddy. It was difficult for me because the gym was so intimidating and I was kind of scared to ask the guys that worked out if I could work out with them. But, I found a guy across the hall from me. (He was super buff.) And I asked if I could join him. He was thrilled and loved helping me out. This was a hobby of his and who doesn't love sharing hobbies with other people. And I would highly suggest doing a strength training regimen over running. Weights will change the composition of your body. If you're a pear shape, running will make you smaller pear, but weights will change the shape of your body.

I've lost about 20 lbs in the past 2 months but I've had a personal trainer to help me along the way. The gym still scares me, but seeing all those guys with big guns and six packs motivates that I CAN and one day WILL look like them.
posted by bobber at 6:39 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't add to much to help you get motivated, that needs to come from you.

But I can tell you that once you are out of school it will be a bit more difficult. At least that is what I found. I went to a small school but it still had a great gym, indoor track, pool, sauna, etc etc.. I decided one year to take advantage of this wonderful 'free' health club as often as I could, and I am still glad I did, many years later. It is much easier to lose weight in your late teens early 20's then it is when you are approaching 30. Go work out, don't just run, hit the weights or start a push up/pull up/squat regimen. You need to work those muscles, makes all the difference with weight loss.
posted by WickedPissah at 7:15 AM on November 18, 2010

Also I am sure your campus has some healthy options, it is just that you need to look for them. Is there a salad bar, do they have a grill station, deli? Its all about choosing carefully.
posted by WickedPissah at 7:16 AM on November 18, 2010

There is some good advice here so I am going to try and keep that trend going.

1. Most college cafeterias suck, this is a good thing in a way because the healthier food is not likely to be any worse than the crap so you aren't really losing out on much by getting more familiar with the salad bar (try to stay away from the ranch and blue cheese), also don't try and quit the junk completely. This is not an overhaul its just incremental improvements. Just ask yourself if that slice of pizza that you know is going to be crappy it worth it more than a couple pieces of chicken and some veggies or whatever slop they are serving these days.

2. I strongly suggest you try and spend at least some time in the weight room. Muscle builds fat, and gives you tangible visible results fairly quickly (within a month or two, if you focus on the glamor muscles), so try and commit to spending an hour and a half therein 3 or 4 times a week, I don't know you, but I would bet that if you are typical undergrad that you have at least that much free time.

3. Weight lifting tends to suck for people because they dont know what they are doing, and try to do too much right away and are in a lot of pain for the next week or so. Do not be afraid to start out slowly and work your way up. If you are on the bench and you only have 5 or 15 lbs on each end of the bar there is nothing wrong with that, you will get stronger but until then you work with what you got.

4. When you are bored and sitting around ask yourself if you would rather be bored and sitting around and out of shape, or if you would rather be doing something productive with that time. Walk around, go play frisbee, hit the gym, it is your time use it wisely.

That was a bit of a screed, and I am obviously biased towards weights (I hate running, always will), but just focus on doing more than you are now and whatever it takes to keep that up, eventually you will start to enjoy and value it if you stick around.
posted by BobbyDigital at 10:00 AM on November 18, 2010

A few ideas:

1. If you can afford it, a personal trainer is ideal to keep you motivated. If you can't, there are web-based fitness communities you can join where you can keep a daily weight-loss blog and check in with others who are also going through the process of getting healthier. Both of these are the same concept: have some accountability to other people.

2. Bet someone you can do it. Tell them you'll pay them $100, or you'll do some big favor for them, if you don't do it. Somebody wrote a book about how this technique can help with all sorts of bad habits -- I don't remember who, but here's an article explaining the concept.

3. There are also websites (and mobile apps) that let you enter in exactly what you ate and calculate the calories, and they make little graphs so you can see where you are each day and how many calories you have left, and also track your progress over time. The old-fashioned way of doing this is to keep a diet journal, but the high-tech way works really well because it's so easy to track everything over time. A dear friend lost 40 pounds doing this.

I think for exercise, the biggest thing is just to get into a habit and force yourself to do it every day at the same time (right after I wake up works best for me). Let yourself do an easier workout if you're tired, but do it every day and after a while you miss it if you stop.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:50 PM on November 18, 2010

Muscle builds fat

I assume that was a typo, above. What BobbyDigital probably meant to write was something like "muscle burns fat" - because the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate. Muscle takes more energy for your body to maintain, even when the body is totally at rest, so it burns more of the energy you consume in food.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:17 PM on November 18, 2010

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