Becoming a student can significantly affect your lifestyle in more ways than one. You have probably heard of the “freshman 15.” This term refers to the legendary 15 pounds that first-year university students often gain due to the change in environment and, consequently, in eating habits. For many distance students, whether first-year or not, the “freshman 15” remains a constantly looming threat. This is due largely to the presence of the kitchen in the student’s primary place of study — the home.
For many individuals (myself included) the problem with working near the kitchen is its mere presence. It becomes an enormous distraction, even when my intentions are the best. I know that if I feel bored, don’t want to tackle a particular project, or have mentally stalled on a problem, I will subconsciously seek out excuses to put it off. The “I’m hungry” excuse can get overused and can spiral into a significant time-waster, as well as waist-widener.
One extreme option would be to install locks on the fridge, pantry, and any cupboard that stores food, giving the key to a friend or spouse. However, such a radical approach is completely unnecessary! There are many ways to combat the habit of reaching for food as a distraction, or at least to reduce its effect on your waistline. Most of the following practices have helped me in my own struggles:
“¢ Beat the urge to snack by sipping water instead. Frequently, we eat because we mistake thirst for hunger. Experts recommend that we drink 64 ounces of water per day. Since so few of us come even close to meeting this ideal, it is not surprising that our bodies are constantly thirsty. When you feel the desire to snack, try drinking a glass of water. Even better, keep a water bottle with you at your desk. If you don’t need to go into the kitchen to get a drink, there’s less temptation to grab a bite at the same time.
“¢ Count to twenty. Then ask yourself whether you are truly hungry or just searching for a distraction. If you are searching for a distraction, and you have been studying for some time, get up and walk around to clear your head without reaching for a snack.
“¢ Keep a food journal. The embarrassment of having to write down every single thing you put in your mouth can be a source of motivation to cut back. Plus, it often serves as an incredible eye-opener. Frequently, we have no idea how quickly all the little mouthfuls add up. As an added motivation, make your journal available to someone (e.g., a friend, significant other, or study buddy) to improve your accountability.
“¢ Avoid using food as a reward for reaching study goals. A couple chapters of a good book, a bubble bath, movie, a walk, or even a shopping spree can be an equally, if not more, motivating reward for a job completed.
“¢ Schedule in break time. Studying constantly without the occasional rest period can make you feel like a zombie, which definitely interferes with learning. If you typically read and outline a chapter in a certain period of time, plan on taking a 5 or 10-minute break afterwards. Walk around, clear your head or drink some water. If the weather is decent, a breath of fresh air can do wonders to de-clutter your mind. If you feel refreshed, there is less chance you will be increasingly drawn to unhealthy snacks
“¢ Taking trips to the pantry or refrigerator need not always lead to later guilt. By making certain preparations, you can ensure that even if you must snack, the effect will be less detrimental.
“¢ If you can, avoid stocking the fridge or cupboard with unhealthy snacks. I know that whenever I have convenience snacks in the cupboard, I will turn to them first. It is a lot easier to resist temptation when the temptation isn’t there to begin with.
“¢ Prepare healthy snacks such as carrot and celery sticks, apple slices (pour a little lemon or orange juice on them to keep them from going brown), or healthy trail mix. Make sure you measure out portions ahead of time. Continually dipping into an open bag can wreak havoc over time, even if the food is healthier.
“¢ Try splitting your regular meals into several smaller meals and eat more often. Frequently, I will set out my lunch on a plate, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it. Throughout the afternoon, I can snack on it without eating any more than I would have eaten had I eaten at the traditional mealtime.
“¢ Post a sign (or this article) on the fridge or pantry. It might sound embarrassing, but it does serve as a last checkpoint if you find yourself in the kitchen despite your good intentions. Instead of making a negative “keep out” notice, try a more positive alternative — a motivational quotation or picture.
Using even one or two of these practices may make an enormous difference in keeping the “freshman 15” at bay. Even better, they may keep the kitchen from luring you away from your studies. Best of all, you might develop good eating habits that will help you long after you’ve graduated.