How I Slowly Changed my Unhealthy College Lifestyle

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I’m warning you this is long. I don’t claim to be an expert on nutrition and exercise, and I’m not trying to be superior to those that don’t view it as a priority. It wasn’t that long ago I subsisted on Poptarts, pasta and Taco Bell. I’m just sharing the experiences I’ve had the last 13 months and maybe some of you might learn something from them. This is also my first semi-educational/instructional post so feedback is appreciated.

I just had my wisdom teeth pulled today, and I’m sure I’m speaking too soon on this and tomorrow will be a whole other story, but I’ve been feeling great most of the day. The numbness for the first couple hours was really frustrating because I couldn’t talk or swallow/eat anything, but after I got the hang of using my half-functional mouth, the day has been almost perfectly normal.

I think I owe a lot of it to the lifestyle I’ve been leading recently. I knew I would only be able to eat liquid foods all weekend and therefore planned ahead and made things that I knew I’d want to eat and would be good for my body (like butternut squash soup and mashed cauliflower for veggies, and filled out my protein/carb requirements with protein shakes). Proper nutrition has skyrocketed to the top of my priority list this last year (right under my loved ones and work). It feels so good – physically and mentally – to know that the stuff you’re putting in your body is serving a purpose bigger than satisfying a fleeting craving for something greasy or full of sugar that you know will just leave you feeling like shit in a couple hours.

In celebration of 1 year since I started taking baby steps towards better health (it was 1 year on October 1st really), I’d like to chronicle all the habits I’ve changed. Anyone who is reading this who may be looking for motivation to start a similar journey – I’ve outlined this in a way so that it’s clear how slowly I progressed with this. I didn’t change these things overnight. My mentality may have flipped a switch when I realized I had some changes to make, but applying this mentality to my actions took time, and some of them I’m still actively working on. But trust me when I say baby steps are so much more effective than a full-blow overhaul.

Fall/Winter 2013

Joined a gym and started working out regularly. Bryan and Jordan were in a gym class, so Laura and I went on a run with them one afternoon. I ran about 200 feet and died. That was my cue. I’ve since cancelled said gym membership (2 months ago). I’ve transitioned to home workouts and running. That works for me. It took a while to figure out the best workout plan/schedule for me, but even the process of figuring it out is better than sitting on the couch because you don’t know where to start. The gym helped me get the start for sure.

Trying new vegetables every chance I get. If you knew me well enough before last fall, one of my defining traits was my extreme hatred for vegetables. But vegetables are super important in a healthy diet, so that’s the first thing I did. Things I tried that I previously hadn’t even touched: peppers and onions. Things I had previously eaten but started eating more of: broccoli, carrots, celery, spinach. Vegetables I’ve tried more recently: squash (all forms) and tomatoes, Trying new foods is something I’m continuously trying to do…especially with the pleasant experiences I’ve had with them this last year. The more foods I like, the more flexibility and variety there is in meals and variety keeps things interesting and sustainable.

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Snacking between meals. I now have a pretty concrete eating schedule. Breakfast at 6:30-7, snack at 9:30-10, Lunch at 12-12:30, snack at 3:30, dinner at 6-6:30 and a light dessert or treat after dinner. My body has adjusted to this and I actually get hungry at all of these times. My snacks are light, usually a string cheese, granola bar, piece of fruit. And my meals are average size or a little smaller.

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Cut out Soda and other liquid calories. This was way easier for me than it would be for most people. I drank soda with my fast food before but it always made my belly hurt so cutting it out and opting for water instead not only saved me money, but saved me the bloat too. As far as other liquid calories go, I never got swept up in the sweat tea trend when I moved down south so that wasn’t an issue. And I still do enjoy an occasional sugary cocktail, or a few beers here and there. That habit is hard to break.

Water water water. While we’re on the subject of liquids, I’m in the habit of guzzling roughly 64 oz of water a day. Just do it. Your body will thank you. (this is also great for desk jobs because it’s a reason to get up and shake out those legs when walking to the bathroom several times a day)

Switched to whole wheat/whole grain. Honestly…I still don’t know what the difference is between the two, but I know they’re both better options than white/enriched grains. Some people say they can’t stand whole wheat pasta…I could never tell the difference, not even when I first switched. I had a problem with whole wheat bread for things like french toast and grilled cheese but I’ve since gotten used to it and I’ll never buy white bread again. Whole wheat tortillas are the same to me – I really can’t tell a difference. This was a no-brainer.

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More Fruit. Less added sugar. I have a major sweet tooth. That’s something I still struggle with. I’ve started opting for fruit instead of fattening/sugary desserts and when I do want something a little more decadent I follow recipes with healthy substitutions for things like sugar and butter. Also, fruit smoothies have replaced Pop-tarts for my go-to breakfast. I still run into problems when I come to my parents’ house and get fed chocolate chip waffles, or go to other parties where people serve sugary desserts…I just can’t resist. But there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself occasionally – this lifestyle can’t be sustained without it.

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Spring 2014

Ran a 5k. one of my new years’ resolutions was to run a 5k. I started training in late February and completed it on April 5th in 27 minutes. I’ve never been a runner so this was a major accomplishment and probably the first time I started noticing positive changes in my body. I felt healthier overall. I haven’t run anything more than 1.5 miles since that day. After this was when I started turning tostrength training and body weight workouts, but I still enjoy an occasional mile run as a quick cardio workout.

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Added strength training to my workouts. As said above, after the 5k I cooled it on the running and started strength training. I kept a workout log so I could keep track of my weights and reps. I kept up for it for a little while, while I still had my gym membership and worked out alright. But I was intimidated by all the muscle-y men in the weight section and felt self conscious squating a 30 lb barbell next to them. This wasn’t sustainable, and once I got busy with moving to my new apartment I fell out of it but it still taught me a lot about strength training methods.

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Started using My Fitness Pal to track my eating. I can’t keep up with this app – it’s tedious, and counting macros is a pain. I’ve gotten back into it lately but I don’t use it as my nutrition bible.I started it to see where I stood, and what adjustments I still needed to make. While I was strength training I wanted to monitor my macros so I was sure I was eating the right foods to support my training. This behavior really wasn’t sustainable to me at the time but since getting back into it just recently, I feel more driven and motivated to keep it going. Just goes to show you habits don’t form overnight. And sometimes it takes multiple tries.

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Summer 2014

Started baking more healthy things. I like to bake. and I like eating baked things. I’ve been finding healthy recipes on pinterest and trying them out to find my favorites. I make pancakes nearly every weekend – always with whole wheat flour. Some have protein powder in them too, but none of them have more than 1-2 tbsp of oil, and none have granulated sugar in them. And they’re delicious!

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Started home-making things instead of buying them. Taco seasoning, ranch seasoning, enchilada sauce, cauliflower alfredo sauce, granola bars and energy bars. The list keeps growing because I’m finding that not only is making things fun, but using homemade ingredients is a lot more rewarding and WAY healthier for you. Things I want to start making in the near future – salad dressings (with greek yogurt) and jam.

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Fall 2014

HIIT workouts. Jillian Michael’s workouts are awesome. I did her 6-week 6-pack one starting in September. It challenged me until the very end. Now I’m on her 30 day shred and just completed the first 10 days. I’m taking a break obviously since I just had surgery but I’ll pick up on Monday. For some reason my commitment to these videos is better than my commitment to coming home and pulling up a pinterest workout was. I really wanna start building some solid muscle – especially upper body strength because that has never been great (attributed to elbow issues. long story but that was the last and only other surgery I’ve had, 9 years ago).

I EAT EGGS NOW. Eggs are one of those things I absolutely hated. I could not stand the smell of them. Eating french toast was the closest I came to eggs…and if I got a particularly eggy bite it grossed me out. Just last weekend, I made myself scrambled eggs with cheese and green peppers and enjoyed them. Opens so many doors for meals now. (and it’s a good thing for this weekend too because it’s on my list of foods I can eat)

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Learning to drink in moderation. This one has been a doozy. I have a naturally VERY low tolerance for alcohol and I don’t drink regularly with dinner or come home and open a beer several days a week because of the whole liquid calories thing. So my drinking tends to be binge drinking and it always ends bad..or it’s fine until the next morning when I wake up full of regret. I hadn’t quite learned when to say when. But you can only black out so many times (roughly 5-10 for me) before you put your foot down.  So after blacking out the weekend before Halloween, I went out last weekend for a friends birthday. We took a party bus downtown and because I had the obligation to drive home from her apartment at the end of the night, I stayed composed but still had a couple drinks and really enjoyed myself. I even planned my meals for the day to allow for the extra calories and carbs so there was no guilt involved. AND I had no hangover the next day. This night proved to me that I could drink and have fun without having to go all-out binge-mode.

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I’m sure there are a dozen other minor changes I’ve made and obviously there are still things I’m working on. But the point is I made these changes gradually overtime by introducing a new habit or a different food swap every couple weeks or even months. That’s the only way you can change your life for good, at least in my opinion. I’ve tried to do this twice before. Junior year and Senior years of college and neither stuck because I went about it the wrong way. And I figured once I failed and binge ate one day, that was it. It was already ruined so I reverted back to old ways. That’s the wrong mentality to have.

I feel great. I look great. My energy is up, my confidence is up, and I don’t think I’ve been happier than I am now. It’s been a hell of a year and I’m excited to keep improving myself a striving towards new goals.

Goals for the next year (or things to continue working on):

-less added sugar
-moderate alcohol
-don’t get sick this winter!
-try: potatoes and avacado (this list will probably grow too)

I’m still pretty scrawny so I’d also like to keep up with my strength training and build a little muscle. I’d say I’m making good progress though. 🙂

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