Good morning friends! And Happy Victoria Day Monday to all of my Canadian readers! 🙂

I’m currently away on a fun little long-weekend shopping adventure which I’ll write all about tomorrow, but I didn’t want to leave you without a post this morning. Thus, I’ve decided to utilize the ever-so-handy WordPress auto-publish feature. See, I really do care about you! What would a Monday morning be without reading material from yours truly? I know, miserable, right? 😉

One of my readers sent me an email last week asking about how I managed to maintain my weight throughout university and avoid the dreaded Freshman 15 that I’m pretty sure every university student is warned about at some point or another. I know I have a few student readers (or soon-to-be university students come September), so I figured this would make a great post topic – even though it’s a few months early!

First, a little background…

In case you’re relatively new to my little corner of the blogosphere, I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and lived there for 13 years. In 2001, my dad’s company gave him the opportunity to move to the Middle East in order to take on a managerial sales role. Rather than flying back and forth, my whole family packed up and moved with him.

I lived there for 5 years, then moved back to Canada during the summer of 2006 to go to university. Instead of heading back to Edmonton, I found a new home in southwestern Ontario. Some of my extended family lived 3 hours away, but as I began my undergraduate career as an Honours Bachelor of Business Administration student, I didn’t know anyone at my university at all.

For some people, this might have been a little scary. It kind of was for me too, but having moved already to an unfamiliar area, I figured making friends couldn’t be any more difficult than it was when I moved abroad. The thing I was a little worried about however, was that famous ‘Freshman 15’.

Rewinding a little to my life in Edmonton, I was always a super-active kid. I swam competitively, and played basketball and soccer year round. When I moved to the Middle East, all of that changed. The opportunities for physical activity weren’t as great, and the facilities weren’t nearly as accessible. In Edmonton, I trained and ate like an athlete. When I moved, the training stopped but the eating habits didn’t. As you can imagine, things got really big, really fast! Well, everything except for my pants. They just got tighter and tighter!

When I was about 16, I decided I’d finally had enough. My weight had crept up from an initial 150lbs to 200, and even on my 5’10” frame, the changes were getting very noticeable. With the help of my mum, I found and joined a weight loss group in order to shed the pounds I’d gained. In the process, I learned about proper nutrition, and how to cook healthy meals for myself and my family. I also bumped up my level of physical activity by taking up running – a sport I didn’t really need anything for but my own two legs and a pair of shoes.

So what does this have to do with me going to university? Well, when it came time to move back to Canada, I was back to a healthy, happy weight. Part of me was excited because I knew that more healthy options were available in grocery stores and restaurants. I’d be able to buy brands I was familiar with, without having to pay the enormous import costs that were so common in Bahrain. North American grocery products actually have nutrition labels, because it’s the law. (This is not so much the case in the Middle East.) But the other part of me was a little scared. Just as I’m sure many of you who have lost a significant amount of weight will admit, there’s always that fear that someday it might all come back. But with my healthy eating habits already established, surely the Freshman 15 wasn’t inevitable, was it?

I can confidently say that no, it was not. I managed to get through my first year of university – and all three after that – without gaining those dreaded pounds that students are often warned about. So how did I do it? Well, let me share a few…

Top Tips for Healthy Living as a University Student

Focus on energizing your body with wholesome, good foods. Please, please, don’t try to survive on caffeine! I became a coffee drinker in university, but I never let myself have more than about 2 cups each day. One of my old roommates once made herself sick from drinking so many Monster energy drinks and Red Bulls – I don’t recommend them at all! Instead, aim to get your energy by eating a balanced diet of fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats.

Make wise choices in the dining hall. If you’re on a meal plan, figure out where the healthiest on-campus options are. For me, this ended up being the sandwich station and salad bar of my university’s dining hall.

Sure, the salad bar was probably the most expensive choice in the place. However, it had a lot of things like mixed greens, veggies, hard boiled eggs, tofu, sunflower seeds, and chickpeas that could be thrown together to make a healthy but filling meal. Dressings-wise, I’d mix balsamic vinegar with olive oil, which were also on the salad bar. When it came to sandwiches, I opted for whole grain bread, turkey or chicken breast, and tons of veggie toppings. (Oh, and they were toasted, because toasted is always better!) If I ordered hot foods, they were baked, steamed, or grilled, rather than fried or breaded.

Invest in a few key items. Since I lived in a dorm-style residence, I didn’t have the luxury of cooking my own meals each day. However, my building did have a couple of kitchens in it. No one really used them – well, except for me, and only when they looked reasonably clean. A cutting board and a good knife were two things that I used on a regular basis to chop up fresh veggies and fruit. I’d do this at the beginning of the week, then store resealable bags of carrots, celery, or whatever else I’d purchased from the nearest grocery store in my bedroom’s mini-fridge. I would take them with me when I went to study, just in case a snack craving hit.

Keep healthy snacks on hand. If the nearest grocery store isn’t that near at all, it helps to have a few non-perishable snacks on hand. Mine included whole wheat crackers, cereal, peanut butter, canned tuna, granola bars, oats, canned soups, dried fruit, and popcorn (it’s a whole grain, after all!) Whole pieces of fruit (think apples, oranges, bananas) are great to have too because they’re portable and don’t really need to be kept refrigerated.

Find like-minded friends. One of the best choices I made in my first year was to join my university’s varsity cross country team. Not only did I get to keep progressing with my running, but I also met a ton of friends who had the same values and interests as me. As varsity athletes, everyone had to make sure they ate well in order to perform well. We also trained (hard!) together, five times a week, which meant we were all getting great workouts. For someone brand-new to the area, it was comforting to find friends who had so much in common.

My nemesis: Hill sprints!

Don’t worry if running isn’t your thing. It doesn’t have to be a varsity sport that you get involved in. Simply finding groups of people – such as intramural teams, or even other students that are interested in some sort of physical activity – can help you to stay active and avoid weight gain.

So tell me…

  • Are you currently a university student? How do you maintain a healthy lifestyle while at school, or, if you struggle with this, what do you find most difficult?
  • What were your eating habits like in university/college, and how does that compare to how you eat now?