Dear Alice,

I feel I am getting fat, am eating poorly, and not getting enough exercise. I feel generally unhealthy. I have no time for exercise. Though I'm in physical education, the only class that fit into my schedule was yoga. This is a great form of meditation, but I'm unhappy with my body shape. I have to eat in the cafeterias, and I try to eat healthy, but I'm always hungry, especially late at night, and tend to go to inexpensive diners, where the food is not exactly first rate, and I order too much (such as tonight), and consequently feel ill, full, greasy, and like I'm going to sleep with it all in my system — yuck!.

I'm a vegetarian. I don't eat very poorly, but I'm still getting flabby. I want to exercise but either have too much to do, forget about it, have no time, am too worried about stuff, etc., and I don't really know what or how to exercise to tone up and feel good. I know that if I exercise, I'll feel better about myself, eat healthier, etc. I refuse to diet. It's such a waste of time and I know it's worse for me than anything else. What can I do?

Dear Reader,

Although the way you feel about your body is valid, sometimes it is helpful to remember that we are harder on ourselves than we need to be. You are smart for not wanting to "diet." Restricting food intake usually backfires because you end up eating more in the long run. This is especially true for college students with late night study schedules. Take a more holistic approach to your health, eating habits, and lifestyle, and make realistic changes considering your current situation at school.

Even if it's true that you feel better when you're exercising and now you're not, you can still benefit from eating healthfully. Many school dining services now offer more healthy and low-fat choices and can alter portion sizes to meet your needs.

For a healthy vegetarian diet, choose a variety of grains: brown rice, breads (whole grain when possible), pasta, cereals, and bulgur. Beans and peas — kidney, pinto, lentils, chickpeas — are a great way to balance grains and get a complete protein source. This category also includes tofu and tempeh, available at health food stores, and probably in some meal choices at your school's dining service. Fruits and veggies are also a critical source of vitamins and minerals. If you eat dairy products, eat them in moderation or try low-fat or nonfat varieties.

With whatever food choices you make, eat enough throughout the day so you are hungry, not starving, at night. Do you eat breakfast? If not, a bowl of cereal with fruit can help jump-start your day. If you're living in a residence hall, keep some food in your room, such as fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, and milk. You can also bring food with you to classes. Throw a piece of fruit in your bag for later, or carry some trail mix and dried fruit, graham crackers, rice cakes, or breadsticks, which won't spoil in your backpack. And you may want to eat several smaller meals throughout the day rather than three larger ones, if that's the case.

Additionally, plan for and allow yourself a late-night study snack, roughly two hours before going to bed. With this plan, you'll know you're supposed to have a snack, so you'll be more likely to make a wise choice no matter where you are. Try a piece of fresh fruit, air-popped popcorn, nuts and raisins, or cut-up veggies. Avoid a highly sugared item, like a candy bar, because it can leave you feelig more hungry, and even tired. And watch how much you eat because calories can add up quickly.

As you know, eating healthy at a cafeteria is only part of the challenge. Making time for physical activity is critical, too. If you don't have time to formally integrate exercise into your schedule, walking and climbing stairs are a great way to get some exercise without taking up extra time. Get off a few stops early if you are taking mass transit and walk the rest of the way to your destination. You can also try climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator all the time. Check out the exercise classes offered at your school's fitness center. They are usually free for students, and can complement your yoga class. Maybe you and a friend can sign up together and motivate each other to go; or, the two of you can agree to work out together twice a week. It sounds like you know what to do. The next step is to make a plan and follow through with it. Take it slowly, and don't get down on yourself if you miss a workout. You may want to speak to your health care provider or to a registered dietitian for more information.


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