College can be fun. It can be exciting, experimental, and life changing. But when it comes to that unlimited meal plan and the buffet at the caf, college can also be a little toxic, at least when it comes to nutrition. The “Freshman 15” is definitely a real thing, but for me the “Senior 16” was even realer. I left college overweight and out of shape, and did what all girls do when they want to lose some weight: I went on a diet. I thought restricting my meals to salads and my snacks to carrot sticks and water would surely help me shed that extra layer around my stomach.
Boy, was I wrong.
If you think about it, from the start, the whole idea of a diet is flawed. It’s temporary and restrictive, so really, we shouldn’t be surprised when we get fed up and binge eat a whole pizza at 1 a.m. On the surface, we all go on diets to get healthy and feel better. But what would really help us to get healthy and feel better is a lifestyle change, a permanent, sustainable and enjoyable plan that we can follow and feel good about.
For most of my life, I associated eating healthy and working out with one thing: losing weight. And while losing weight can be a great feeling, it’s not always great to focus on it as the only goal. Last summer, after approximately one million failed diets and one too many Taco Bell runs, I changed my life for the better. I decided to set fitness goals to conquer instead of relying on the scale to provide me with happiness. It started small; “run one mile without stopping” and then later “complete a 5k.” I found myself caring so much about these tangible, achievable goals that I naturally started eating a little better to help myself accomplish them. I realized that while chips and queso were good, finishing a three mile run was better, and eating healthier meals was helping me get there.
Without a diet to obsess over and overly strict rules that were made to be broken, I was seeing results, both physically and mentally, for the first time. I was losing weight, getting in shape, and actually having fun – something I could never say about dieting. Dumping the diet was the best thing I ever did and after getting healthy for good, I can say with certainty that I’ll never go back.
If you’re looking to get healthy once and for all, remember: there’s no “right” way to do it, but there is definitely a wrong way. Don’t obsess over food too much; if you slip up and eat a donut instead of an apple once in a while, everything will be ok. After all, being healthy is about balance in all areas of your life, including eating. Don’t do exercises you hate. Not much of a runner? No problem! Try biking, swimming, or a kickboxing class at your local gym. Hate cardio? Jump headfirst into yoga. There’s a way to stay fit for everyone, and it’s important you find yours so you don’t burn out and go back to that couch-potato lifestyle. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is for your health, not just so you can squeeze into that spring break bikini. Choose a way of living that you enjoy and you’ll never want to give it up.
Ten months, a couple of 5ks, and a half marathon later, I have learned that exercise should be fun and self-motivating and that eating healthy is just a tool we should use to feel happy and healthy all-year round. If the Freshman 15 or the College Cafeteria Curse has come knocking on your door, making your pants tight and leaving you feeling tired and out of breath, don’t worry. There’s a way to send them packing for good without dieting and hating your life. Getting healthy is possible and, if you do it right, actually pretty fun.