Dear Alice,

I am a 21-year-old male college student and I live in a fraternity house. I am finding that when I sit around the house, I get bored when I am not studying and often resort to going into the kitchen, and grabbing or making a snack. They are usually not the healthiest, but I always say that "it's only one." Then I feel really guilty after I eat it. I am starting to put the pounds back on now. I do work out, but don't have time to get into a set schedule. I try to keep myself busy, but I still eat a lot. Do you have any tips on how I can motivate myself or choose other activities that will push me away from the kitchen and the "College Diet?" Thanks.

— Fat Frat Guy

Dear Fat Frat Guy,

You write that you're sitting around the frat house bored. Perhaps, if you think about your time a bit differently, you may have more time to get some physical activity in than you realize. Reframing how you think about addressing your boredom might set you on the right track, but tackling your snacking in tandem with ramping up your physical activity may help, too. The good news is there are a number of ways to address both issues you’ve mentioned — read on for a few strategies you can try out in order to relieve the doldrums!

First off, it sound like in between classes, studying, and hanging out with friends, you’ve got a bit more time on your hands than you might realize. What might you do with this extra time? How about getting in some physical activity? Getting active doesn't always need to be a long, intensive workout. Short, frequent bouts can be just as effective as longer ones. Why not grab your gym shoes and go out for a walk or a jog? Does your frat house have a weight room? Taking advantage of exercise equipment is a great idea, but if there isn't any available, jumping rope between sets of push-ups and sit-ups, in your room or a living room or den, can help alleviate boredom.

To address your snacking concerns, take a moment to ask yourself a few questions when the snacking urge hits. First, ask yourself: Am I actually hungry? When was the last time I ate? Could I put off eating for 15 minutes? If you can wait 15 minutes and then see how you feel, you may decide that you really weren't hungry after all, or you may even forget all about that snack. If you don't and still want to eat — try to quantify your hunger. Figuring out how hungry you might actually be can help you make healthy decisions about whether you grab a snack and maybe even what kind of snack. Consider the Hunger and Fullness scale. On a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being BEYOND HUNGRY as though you haven't eaten in an entire day (not recommended) and 10 representing BEYOND FULL as if you ate three Thanksgiving dinners (again, not recommended)  — see where your hunger or fullness falls. Paying attention to your body's signals will help you do determine your hunger level — especially before you eat. Read How do I know when I’m no longer hungry? for more details on the scale and how you might use it.

If you decide you may be hungry you can try having a glass of water first. Just one glass of water can help you figure out if your brain is reacting to hunger or boredom. If you determine that you're actually hungry, give some thought to the snack options available. Are fruits and vegetables available? How about something simple like air-popped popcorn, or unsalted nuts? You may also want to chat with the person responsible for food purchases to see if the snack options might be updated to include some healthier options for the entire house.

Remember, food's main purpose is for nutrition and nourishment (though clearly, there's a lot to be enjoyed as well). If another part of you needs nourishment, try to figure out what that is and create other ways of meeting that need (e.g. maybe your mind needs enrichment — what about suggesting to a few of your frat brothers to play a game?). Excessive snacking often catches up with us in the form of excess pounds, as you have found. Taking time to assess your body’s signals and your true hunger level will help you make healthier decisions about when and what to eat.

Bottom line: Taking time to figure out what your body really needs may help you pass the time in a healthier and more conscious way. Paying close attention to your body’s signals and ramping up the physical activity — somewhere further away from the kitchen — could be a good start!


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