eat like a college student, lose weight.
January 6, 2007 1:09 AM   Subscribe

Help two college students drop some fat and eat healthier.

My girlfriend and I have decided to try a diet that will help us lose weight but because we're college students we are limited in a bunch of different ways.

- Since we're at school, we're sometimes forced to order fast-food
- even in the dining halls, sometimes are options are very limited (when we get dining hall takeout, soda is our only beverage choice)
- We don't have time / money to cook our own food
- our sleep schedules and eating schedules fluxuate from time to time

Basically, we're trying to set a diet that is effective but takes into account our college lifestyle. Some friends have suggested a couple of things (no eating 4-5 hours before sleeping, no carbs after 8, 5 small meals instead of 3 big ones, etc), but I decided to tap the hive mind for some good ideas.

What's the best way we could drop some fat and eat healthier?
posted by carpyful to Food & Drink (42 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
The first step is to stop feeling forced by circumstance into eating fast food and drinking soda. Take control!

A sandwich and some pieces of fruit is just as quick and cheap as fast food. And water is free!
posted by Robot Johnny at 1:15 AM on January 6, 2007

I lost 20 lbs by following the "hacker's diet", which isn't really a diet so much as some common sense advice. Basically it's a pdf explaining in clear terms why "diets" in the conventional sense don't work and make no sense. The jist of it is basically what every responsible nutritionist or doctor will tell you. Eat a healthy diet of balanced foods (though you can still lose weight even if your diet isn't balanced) and exercise. That's it. It's not complicated. You simply have to eat less calories than you burn and you will lose weight.

I lost 20 lbs in 2 1/2 months by simply restricting my diet to X amount of calories a day and performing some very moderate exercise for 5 mins every day (and I do mean very moderate...running in place, jumping jacks, crunches, and pushups). It's not rocket science to loose weight. Eat less. Do a few push ups and crunches every morning when you wake up.

So sure, you can have that soda with your take out lunch, but that's ~180 calories. I know it's really hard, I'm a college student too. I understand that sometimes, your diet suffers because school and work leave no time to get something "good" to eat. And I'm not going to lie, I've gained back some weight after coming back to school this fall. But it's all about controlling your hunger, your portions , and ultimately the # of calories you take in.
posted by crypticgeek at 1:27 AM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

And ditto what Robot Johnny said. Especially the water. I try to drink lots of it. Not only is it important to keep hydrated, but it's a good appetite suppressant. When your stomach is screaming "feed me", but you know you're taking in a healthy amount of calories (say 2,000 if you're the federal government trying to represent the average person)...just drink a glass a water. Eat an apple or celery. You don't need more food, but feeling full helps you stay on the wagon towards your weight loss goal.

Healthier alternatives aren't "health food" or time consuming. Sometimes it comes down to the decision to have a salad and soup with water instead of burgers and fries with soda. When even McDonalds sells salads and fruit cups, I can't accept that you don't have time to eat something with less calories.
posted by crypticgeek at 1:33 AM on January 6, 2007

Can you really not buy/carry water? or at least have access to public fountains? Fruit is so portable that it's a great between meal snack. Can you lobby the dining hall management for healthier food options?

I've lost 40 pounds over the last year by increasing the quantity of vegetables I eat, decreasing the amount of starchy carbs, and monitoring the amount of fat that is in my diet. I've also increased my exercise to about an hour every two days. Oh and I recommend the Hacker's diet too.

I guess the most useful thing I've learnt is that feeling hungry isn't going to kill me. I run a spreadsheet and log my daily intake (apparently fitday is really good for that sort of thing) and I see when I'm beginning to exceed my personal limits.
posted by b33j at 1:35 AM on January 6, 2007

I totally agree with Robot Johnny. I cannot imagine why you cannot bring your own food to school. Cooking food is cheap, there are many examples in previous askme's about cheap healthy meals (beans and rice come to mind). Frozen veggies are very cheap. I do not imagine the soda at your school is free? At the very, very least switch to diet soda, but I'd recommend switching to water.

Stop being a victim of circumstances. If you feel that way now, you will feel that way forever: when you are right out of college your jobs are too demanding to cook. When you have young children, you will be way too tired to cook. When your children are older, you get a responsible job and you'll have to work long hours: no time to cook. I don't make this up, I have been a member of weight loss lists for a few years now and I see these messages regularly. There really is always something.

There is no big secret. You should eat less and exercise more. If you are currently eating fast food and drinking soda, the eating less calories should be very simple. At the very least inform yourself exactly how many calories you are eating. I agree that the hacker's diet is a good read.
posted by davar at 1:35 AM on January 6, 2007

The Hacker's Diet
posted by tim_in_oz at 1:40 AM on January 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

3500 calories = 1 pound. Make this your mantra.

To lose weight you'll need to both reduce consumption and increase expenditure, It's as simple as that, though - burn 3500 more calories than you take in, and you'll lose a pound of weight.
posted by chrisamiller at 1:41 AM on January 6, 2007

Oh, and another thing. The eating less bit has been covered above. The exercise more part is often problematic for people wo see themselves as time poor. If exercise is seen as somehow external to your life, you will always struggle to fit it in. If exercise is integrated into your life, then it will just happen: it's just how you live your life. Some examples:
* Only use an elevator if you're going more than 3 floors.Otherwise take the stairs.
* Ride a bike to college/work.
* If you have to use public transport, get off one stop earlier than you would otherwise and walk the rest of the distance.

The bottom line: to be an active person doesn't mean you have to exercise. you just need to live an active life.
posted by tim_in_oz at 1:47 AM on January 6, 2007

Exercise is not a requirement to lose weight; it isn't really even all that effective unless you're an athlete.

nth Hacker's.

physicsdiet for the charts.

Go! Little meals! Hunger is your friend!
posted by trevyn at 1:52 AM on January 6, 2007

soda is our only beverage choice

Noooooooo. Water. Water is your only drink. Except in special treat-yourself circumstances. Repeat after me. Water. They have water. It's what they make soda out of.
posted by trevyn at 1:57 AM on January 6, 2007

Of course, it isn't strictly as simple as that. Too many people skim the Hacker's Diet or the like and reason that if 3500 calories = 1 pound, then skipping meals for a day or two = dropping a cool pound of fat. The human body is a little more sensitive than this, and doesn't like to be jerked around. Drastic change doesn't work, on a physiological or a psychological level.

But yeah, for the most part, things like 'no food before bed' are like chicken soup for a cold - even when they're right, they're not really a big deal. Just try to be aware of what you're eating and how much of it, particularly when you're turning to fast food, and you'll be fine.

And for the love of god don't start counting your carbs.
posted by Simon! at 1:57 AM on January 6, 2007

After reading all the comments, maybe I should elaborate on what Hacker's means to me. It means small meals. Veggies are nice if you dig them, but they're also a big reason a lot of people fuck their diet. Tricks like apples and celery and sauerkraut are great for tricking you when you feel like you're starving, but if all you're eating is apples, celery, and sauerkraut sandwiches, you're going to go nuts.

The key for me has been to eat whatever I want, but in much smaller quantity. Just get an appetizer for dinner. Skip lunch if you're not hungry. Don't try to buy as much stuff as you can to meet your dining hall allowance, or try to get your money's worth if it's all-you-can-eat. Waste several virtual dollars. Go to lunch and just eat a banana. It is false economy to eat just because you "paid for it".

It will be slow going. You will get discouraged. Maintaining weight is hard, losing it is harder. It will take months of hunger. Put your mind to it. It's worth it.
posted by trevyn at 2:08 AM on January 6, 2007

Couple of thoughts,

I was reading somewhere, about not eating till you can't eat anymore, but eating enough to just hold yourself over.

When you take the stairs, try taking two steps at a time. Don't hurt yourselves, but it does take extra effort to climb them, especially when you start doing it a lil faster.

Walk as much as you can, cycle faster instead of a regular pace, and water & juice instead of soda.
posted by jasmeet at 2:25 AM on January 6, 2007

Nthing the "water". Buy a bottle of water/whatever and refill it from drinking fountains. Repeat when it starts tasting plasticy. I do this and I did it when I was attending college in Arizona and it was especially important to be hydrated all the time. Just stow it in your backpack.

Even if you don't have time to cook, you can still buy bread and filler(meat slices, greens(try salad packs)) and make sandwiches. Those only take a minute, and you can make a couple to take with you so you don't have to eat out for lunch. If there's a grocery store on-campus, they'll probably sell sliced bread and sandwich meat, at least. (And get whole grain and not white, if you can.) If there's a convenience store/gas station store nearby, they probably do, too. Even at hiked-up campus grocery store prices, it's much cheaper than fast food.

Some stuff that's good for snacking, is portable, and doesn't need any preparation: apples, oranges, baby carrots, celery, bell peppers, radishes, grapefruit(if you like it plain), tortillas(folded/torn up for portability), bagels, those Greek round bread things. Dry cereal. Pretzels, maybe, althugh I wouldn't vouch for the nutritional content of those. Carry this stuff with you and snack throughout the day(same idea as the "5 small meals instead of 3 larger ones" thing) whenever you feel hungry(just before class is a good time, unless you're on a really tight schedule). Of course, this is easier if you can get to a real grocery store every couple weeks or so, and have a place to store things that are perishable long-term.
posted by sleeplessunderwater at 2:53 AM on January 6, 2007

Pitas! That's what they're called.
posted by sleeplessunderwater at 2:54 AM on January 6, 2007

...Oh, and even at fast food places, they usually have a "water" dispenser. It's usually a smaller tab (marked "water") that uses the same spout as the lemonade.
posted by sleeplessunderwater at 2:56 AM on January 6, 2007

And for the love of god don't start counting your carbs.

Why not? It's a great way to keep track of whether your meeting your goals. Plus, if you're not, you know what to do, and if you're exceeding them, you get to eat more. Where's the harm?
posted by !Jim at 3:32 AM on January 6, 2007

Try this - don't eat supper, and then do a simple workout with dumbells. Do this in the evening. If you stress your muscles enough, you'll need energy to replenish, and since there is no new food available, fat has to be burnt.
posted by markesh at 3:38 AM on January 6, 2007

A. No ramen. Make this your mantra. Ramen is the single worst food commonly eaten by college students: full of refined starch, salt, artificial flavorings, salt, and not much else. It's not even high in protein.

B. No soda. Ever. Water, milk (if you drink it), and once in a while fruit juice. Black or green tea is fine too, but don't sweeten it.

C. No microwave popcorn: it's full of fat. If you have to have popcorn, buy an air popper and make it fat-free.

D. If you can have appliances where you live, get a slow cooker and a recipe book for it. You can make soups, stews, etc. without actually having to be there.

E. No fast food. You are NOT forced to eat fast food. Nobody is forced to eat fast food. A banana and a glass of milk is much better for you, cheaper, and lower in calories than a doughnut. A sandwich is better for you than a burger.
posted by watsondog at 3:49 AM on January 6, 2007

Here are the main things I learnt in the process of dropping from 150kg to 90kg in 18 months, fifteen years ago.

If you're trying to lose a health-affecting amount of fat, hunger really is your friend, and you need to recast your attitude to feeling hungry from "argh hungry must find food" to "feeling hungry, oh good, plan working, burning fat now". Deliberately scheduling hungry periods into your day is a good idea for a student, because hunger can interfere with study. If you can sleep OK when hungry, skip dinner; this gives you more flexibility during the day.

Regardless of what eating plan you choose, if you're eating little enough to lose weight, you are going to be spending more time feeling hungry than you've been accustomed to. If you're not, you're kidding yourself.

I should know; I've spent years kidding myself. It was mid December 2006 before I finally cracked and acknowledged that the way I did it then really is the way I'm going to have to do it again now (I'm currently 135kg, on my way down from 140). I'm writing this stuff down at least as much for my sake as for yours :-)

Don't eat if you're not at least mildly hungry.

If you have an occasional hunger pang that's truly too unpleasant to recast as a Good Thing, drink a glass of water and wait ten minutes before doing anything about it.

Ignore wishful thinkers who say exercise is unnecessary, and don't rely solely on building it into your day-to-day activities because that often ends up taking more time than a time-poor student has. But even the most time-poor student can surely find eleven minutes a day for 5BX.

If your school cafeteria won't sell you a cheese and salad roll with no butter, raise a massive stink and force them to change. Schools that refuse to serve anything but fatty salty crap are arguably in breach of occupational health and safety laws.

Read the nutritional info labels on your soda, and work out how many teaspoons of sugar you'd have to put in a cup of coffee to build it up to the level you'd find in a soda (a teaspoon of sugar is about 5 grams). If you've never done this exercise before, I guarantee you'll be surprised.

Get used to drinking water. Get used to lugging a two litre bottle with you wherever you go, so you don't need to buy anything from some outfit that only sells soda. Get a bottle with a built-in handle (I use an old orange juice bottle). Keep it close, take a slug the instant you're even a little bit thirsty, and you'll be surprised how quickly you use it up. Two litres a day should just about see you right, on a calorie-restricted diet.

Monitor your own body's reaction to carbs. If you find that your reaction to eating something with a high GI is a compulsion to eat more more more more now now now, find low-GI replacements or eat much smaller portions more often.

Figure out your healthy weight range before you start, and commit to staying hungry until you get there.

Don't rely solely on bathroom scales to monitor your progress. Use the feel and fit of your clothes and the look of your body naked in a full-length mirror. If you get used to noticing these things, you'll be better placed to avoid the upward creep once you've got rid of your excess bodyfat.

Enjoy your looser skin.

Best of luck!
posted by flabdablet at 4:42 AM on January 6, 2007

The three S diet has served me well in college:

No Snacks
No Sweets
No Seconds
(Except on days starting with S)

This is just another way to accomplish what has been mentioned above - if you can't eat healthy all the time, then at least eat less and you'll be on your way there.

While I don't understand the science behind "don't eat at night", it's still a good principle, because it will get you to focus on having breakfast, a nice lunch, a light dinner and no snacks afterwards.

posted by mikeyk at 4:53 AM on January 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm assuming you are on a meal plan? I had this unfortunate experience this past summer after years of cooking healthfully for myself. I sympathize with the difficulty you face.

Two suggestions. One: there are sometimes food service committees that students have a voice on. Find out who your rep is, and find out if there are "hidden" healthy options (i.e., things that are there, but you have to know what to ask for), and complain about the lack of non-soda choices for take out.

Two: Find out if your student services at school offer you free or cheap nutritional counselling, and get some advice on how to construct healthy meals, how to deal with fluctuating meal times, etc.

Some random thoughts:

Carry some fruit with you for times when you can't get to the meal hall in good time. If you're really hungry, eat something light (fruit, salad, soup), then go back and decide what your main meal will be when you're not starving. Join a class at the gym that you find fun because a) exercise does help with weight, and b) something that involves waving your arms around at some point really helps with the stress and tension that inevitably builds up in your shoulders.

Good luck!
posted by carmen at 6:47 AM on January 6, 2007

I would say that cooking food doesn't actually take that long, but the real issue is that I don't know what capabilities you have in terms of getting groceries, cooking and storing food.

If you have a kitchen/refridgerator, you could cook yourself a couple big meals a week and eat leftovers over the course of the week, for very little money (cooking enough food for 8 servings can cost less than $20).

Things like soup can be made on a lazy weekend, for about half an hour of work at the outset, and then lots of waiting with occasional checking, perfect time for working on homework, cleaning up, who knows what.

If you don't have access to even a refridgerator, then things get a lot more difficult. Honestly, fast food and take-out are never going to be that healthy. Eat less food. Drink more water. Do more things. Don't believe that making food is expensive or more time consuming than going out. Get more people involved.
posted by that girl at 6:49 AM on January 6, 2007

Shangri-La Diet. I'm down 64 lbs since May.
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:16 AM on January 6, 2007

PB&J is cheaper and healthier than fastfood, and none of the ingredients require refrigeration. You can also use bananas and/or whole grapes instead of jelly: a fruit! you just ate a fruit!
posted by unknowncommand at 7:36 AM on January 6, 2007

My university has a entire school of health and their nutritionists have worked with the various dining halls and retailers who sell food at the student union (like Starbucks, Jamba Juice, etc.) to offer healthy meals. They are indicated by a certain seal. I think students are able to access the nutritionists for free, or for very cheap - I'm an employee and I could consult with one for $50 and that included weight-training routines too.

I sympathize that going to the supermarket as a college student may be difficult if you don't have a car and you have all those meal plans/points. But it really is worth your while to at least go and pick up some healthy snacks, like fruit and veggies and some hummus, even. In my dorm I had one of those mini-fridges and my roommate and I usually had cereal for breakfast instead of whatever conconction the dining hall was offering. Cereal is just fine for my breakfast but if I went to the dining hall, they had stuff like muffins, donuts, hash browns, bacon, etc. and it was just too tempting to pass any of those up.

Check out your dining options on campus; maybe there is stuff you don't even realize is there. I don't know how big your school is, but where I work is gigantic and I am always amazed at learning about a new program or coffee shop.

As an aside, I really didn't lose any weight in college until I stopped going to the dining hall and started buying and cooking my own food. I moved off-campus, though, which I recommend for so many other reasons beyond the food thing.
posted by sutel at 7:52 AM on January 6, 2007

If you have a kitchen, then you should take advantage of it and make time to cook. Seriously. I got a cook book from my mom (Cooking Light, from about a million years ago) and taught myself to cook. Like sutel, cooking for myself was the only way I escaped the hell of college weight gain.

Failing actually being able to cook, one really really simple thing to do is to eat frozen dinners, like Lean Cuisine. We employ this strategy when we are too busy to cook (such as when we are in the middle of rehearsing a show) and it works. Just be sure to drink a LOT of water -- at least the eight glasses per day -- because the LC's are a little sodium heavy. They generally taste fine, but they make me thirsty.

But you need to eat fruit and veggies. Really. Keep them raw in your fridge (carrots and celery. Celery and peanut butter and raisins. really very tasty.) because I am not kidding, I knew guys in college who nearly gave themselves scurvy. As in, like they lived on a pirate ship, scurvy.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:40 AM on January 6, 2007

Try this - don't eat supper, and then do a simple workout with dumbells. Do this in the evening. If you stress your muscles enough, you'll need energy to replenish, and since there is no new food available, fat has to be burnt.

Please don't do this. Muscle is burnt, not fat.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:50 AM on January 6, 2007

I lost a 110 lbs about four years ago. So far, I've kept off 95 of those pounds. I'm now 21, FWIW. I lost the weight through a diabetics diet. My mom was diagnosed with type II diabetes, so I went on the diet along with her. It's essentially a lower carb diet. Lots of meats and protein based food. Funny thing about the diet is that you eat as much as you want as long as you don't go over 40 carbs/meal. Then you exercise 4/5 times week for 30 minutes (I ran a few miles) and the weight just melts off (almost literally).

In that time however, I came up with three ways to integrate that diet into any normal lifestyle. Here are the three secrets to my success:

1) Never drink calories. Not in orange juice, apple juice, coffee, tea, and certainly not soda. There's no exception to that rule.

2) Only eat the best part of the food and disregard people's ideas of your eating habits. For instance: you go to a party and there's a cake there. Let's face it - you love the icing, not the cake, but you eat the cake anyway - it's there. So to remedy that problem just cut off the icing with about one inch of cake attached to it and throw the rest of the cake away. Don't worry if someone looks at you funny for it. Know that you're going to be the one losing the weight.

3) When sitting at the dinner table, especially in a restaurant, ruin your food after you begin to think you're full. Passive eating is the easiest way to rack the calories on, especially at a restaurant where you're full after the salad comes. My little trick is to pour my soda (diet, of course) all over the food that's left on my plate when I'm finished. That way I won't pick at it while everyone else is still finishing up.
posted by drkrdglo at 11:10 AM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

drkrdglo- "When sitting at the dinner table, especially in a restaurant, ruin your food after you begin to think you're full."

You stole my trick! I cover the tempting remains on my plate (and others' plates too, with their permission) with salt/pepper/dish soap/whatever makes it yucky.

Wasteful? It's gonna be pitched anyway 99.9% of the time. Better ruined than on my ass.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 1:31 PM on January 6, 2007

One of the reasons college students drink soda is for the caffeine. If you need a study aid, try coffee or tea (no sugar, or cream if you can help it). Much less calories, and much better for you (both tea and coffee have high levels of antioxidants).

Get a french press and a thermos and you'll even save money.
posted by Coda at 2:02 PM on January 6, 2007

Yet one more vote for "drink water instead of soda" and "make food at home to bring with you".

Furthermore, cut refined sugar out of your diet. I don't care how good that Snickers bar in the vending machine looks. You can't eat a lot of sugar or corn syrup and lose weight.
posted by ilsa at 3:43 PM on January 6, 2007

oh, and don't forget to eat enough protein. if you fail to eat protein your body will cleverly steal it out of your muscles. besides, a nice handful of nuts will help you feel full. Maybe you'll also find this helpful.
posted by ilsa at 3:47 PM on January 6, 2007

I have frozen ice cubes with mint leaves (berries work as well) and put them into some water. It gives you something to taste other than water, and mint water usually helps me to not want soda.
posted by Homeskillet Freshy Fresh at 9:54 PM on January 6, 2007

Please don't do this. Muscle is burnt, not fat.

That's grossly misrepresenting what the very article you link to says:
"Keep pumping the weight! But expect to lose some muscle in the process."
posted by juv3nal at 3:43 AM on January 7, 2007

Why does everyone keep saying "no sugary soda, drink unsweetened tea or coffee instead?" Drink diet soda. There are many kinds.
posted by rxrfrx at 12:41 PM on January 7, 2007

Because first of all, there are some medical authorities who don't think artificial sweeteners are good for you. Second, some other diet experts think that the super-sweet of diet sodas fools your body into thinking it is getting its sugar fix (with all the attendant bad metabolic effects). Third, water out of the tap and coffee/tea made at home are universally cheaper than soda -- and money is of concern among college students as a general rule. Finally, everybody agrees that water is good for you, and if you read carefully you'll see that more people say "drink water" than "drink coffee/tea".
posted by ilsa at 2:06 PM on January 7, 2007

1. Nice use of "some medical authorities" and "some other diet experts." A less misleading way to say this would be "people with unfounded hypotheses."

2. How is coffee or tea all that much cheaper than diet soda? Diet soda is pretty cheap if you buy it on sale, and at a restaurant it's often cheaper than coffee or tea.
posted by rxrfrx at 3:02 PM on January 7, 2007

some medical authorities.

some other diet experts.

Sorry I don't have the time to do an exhaustive literature search for you. Many people have come to the conclusion that "the research is contradictory, probably because it's paid for by people who have money on the outcome, and in any event, it's probably not as good for you as plain water." For the record, I haven't sworn off diet soda, but I don't drink it every day either.

As for #2, the poster specifically said "when we get dining hall takeout, soda is our only beverage choice". This means "diet soda on sale" is not going to fix the problem. However, I suspect that in this environment, water is probably an option. Most soda fountains have a discreet "water" button somewhere on them.

Granted, in most restaurants I don't think you will save money choosing coffee over Diet Pepsi. However, if you are bringing your drink from home, I can get a box of 72 tea bags for $4 or three 2-liter bottles of soda for the same $4 (that is the local "sale" price). I can buy a pound of coffee for $6, and I am willing to bet it lasts longer than $6 of soda. You will note that I said "water out of the tap and coffee/tea made at home are universally cheaper than soda". That makes restaurant pricing a big red herring strawman sandwich.
posted by ilsa at 3:25 PM on January 7, 2007

The best way to take advantage of your student lifestyle is to use your university's gym! Your school's gym may have the best facilities you will (probably) have access to in your life, so make the most of it! Gym access should be included in your student tuition, assuming that you live on a University campus. Make a date with your friends to play Friday night volleyball, or try to take a for-credit class in weight lifting or something.

As for food, nthing the water. Also, the dining hall probably has cereal available all day.
posted by hooray at 4:45 PM on January 7, 2007

Dr. Weil and Some Person With A PhD does not equal "some medical authorities" and "some diet experts." I am aware that these hypothesis have their proponents, especially on the internet. That doesn't mean that the hypotheses are supported by a significant volume of evidence.
posted by rxrfrx at 6:13 PM on January 7, 2007

My motivation in arguing this is that sticking with a diet requires the dieter to not feel like his two options are an unpleasant diet, or unbridled junk food consumption. Using things that taste (fairly) good but are not calorific, like diet soda, can go a long way toward making a diet sustainable.
posted by rxrfrx at 6:14 PM on January 7, 2007

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