Did you know that almost 50% of college males and 30% of college females are overweight? 10% of all college students are considered obese. Alarming, isn’t it? We all know that obesity is an epidemic in America, but what are we doing to fight obesity in our own lives?
Chicago College Life (CCL) would like to introduce you to Sara*, a nineteen year old Psychology major from UIC. Sara battled obesity during her early teens, and recently reached her goal weight after continually motivating herself and staying dedicated to changing her lifestyle. Sara sat down with CCL to share her weight loss story and tips about how to maintain a healthy lifestyle while in college.
*name has been changed.
Chicago College Life: Can you describe your life and how you viewed yourself before your weight loss?
Sara: I’m not one of those people that you see on infomercials for weight loss products, who explain they had an absolutely terrible, lonely life when they were heavier. I was happy. I had a great family life, lots of friends and a boyfriend. The one thing that I didn’t like about myself was my lack of self-confidence. Yes, I think it’s normal for any teenager to have some self-confidence issues, but I think being overweight amplified my low self-confidence. It would take me such a long time to get ready for school in the morning. I would try on outfit after outfit and make sure my hair and makeup were perfect before I would leave my house. Then, I focused too much on the outward beauty and didn’t realize how beautiful of a person I was overall- overweight or not.
CCL: What made you decide to change your lifestyle?
Sara: Health problems run in my family. Heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke– you name the problem, we have it. Funny how all those problems are amplified by being over-weight, right? Well, when I was sixteen, my family faced two major health scares. My grandmother died suddenly of a stroke that was brought mainly by diabetes. Later that same year, my family doctor told me I had slightly high blood pressure for my age. Being young, you think that you are invincible. I didn’t want to believe that I was unhealthy and putting my life in danger. But I had to ask myself, do I want to continue living this unhealthy lifestyle that I’m living with little exercise and too much junk food and end up developing the same health problems as my family members? I decided that I wanted to make a change for the better and put myself at a lower risk for developing all those health problems.
CCL: What was the first step you took?
Sara: I wanted results really fast. No-carb diets were a huge fad at that time, so I jumped on that bandwagon. My “diet” lasted about 2 days until I couldn’t resist the urge to eat bread. Sad, I know! But, I now know that you can’t just switch your lifestyle instantly. It takes a lot of hard work and diligence in order to live healthy, especially with all the temptations that we have in our daily lives! [Since I was] disappointed in my first attempt to lose weight, I [asked] my mom about how she thought I should lose weight.
CCL: What did your mom suggest?
Sara: My mom and I talked about my grandmother and her health problems. [I mentioned my fear] that I would become unhealthy like her when I got older, since I already had high blood pressure. My mom suggested Weight Watchers because some of her friends had been doing really well at losing weight with the program. So I tried it out. It had to be better than the no-carb ridiculousness I had tried to put myself through!
CCL: Did it work?
Sara: Yes it did, but let me tell you it wasn’t easy. Adding physical activity to my life was brutal! I fought it at first. I started walking and jogging outside, and even tried to find some sport that we played in gym class to get more interested in [physical activity], but it just wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until we had our gym curriculum changed the following semester of high school that I discovered yoga!
I fell in love with it! I did keep walking and jogging since Weight Watchers called for some form of cardio. The second part that sucked was being the only sixteen year old more focused on trying to figure out how many point my food was worth, when I was out to dinner with my friends, rather than having a good time. I tried to hide the fact that I was on Weight Watchers because it felt like such a weird thing for a sixteen year old to do. However, I found that once I told my close friends what I was doing, they totally supported me.
CCL: How long did it take you to get to your healthy weight?
Sara: 3 years. I had to completely re-focus and change my eating and working out habits. It was tough, but now I can’t imagine living how I did before.
CCL: Did moving away from home have any effect on your weight loss?
Sara: Yes, definitely. People aren’t lying when they tell you to watch out for the “freshman 15.” I didn’t gain 15 pounds- it was more around five or six. But let me tell you, being 5’1”, any weight I gain shows! I thought I would be okay if I wasn’t so strict with my daily points, but the all-you-can-eat plan in the cafeteria caused me to backtrack.
I had to learn to control myself more, and maintain the lifestyle that I worked so hard for. On a positive note, moving to campus gave me free access to the UIC gym! I loved having the options of working out on a bike, treadmill or elliptical! It made it easier to switch up my workouts, and not get bored with a routine.
CCL: Do you have any advice for other college students on how to stay healthy?
Sara: Be mindful of what you eat, but don’t punish yourself for eating some junk food. We all need to have french fries or that slice of pizza from time to time! Make sure you eat some fruits and vegetables everyday! Also, be aware of calories that you are drinking! Alcohol is loaded with calories and so are coffee and smoothie drinks. Also, get some exercise! Walking to class doesn’t count. Try some of the cool classes that the rec[reation] center offers like yoga, step or my favorite- spinning. I just found out that there are classes you can take for academic credit like aerobic conditioning, military fitness and weight lifting. You choose the lifestyle you want. Make small choices to keep yourself healthy.
Each college campus provides resources to their students to help them make healthy choices for their overall well-being. Check out the Healthy Eating Tips from Loyola’s Wellness Center website. Also, UIC and DePaul both have walking clubs that students and employees can join! Don’t forget to stop by the gym and look at what free, drop- in group classes are available, and bring a friend to help mix up your workout routine! Living a healthy lifestyle is important for all college students! Make a few healthy choices each day, and remember to make your overall well-being a priority!