Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: The College Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss

Q&A Wednesday: The College Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Aw, man… gotta love cafeteria food.

Q: I am a college student with a college student budget. I am getting married next year and I want to be fierce! Not only that I wanna be healthy and keep the weight off. I wanna eat healthy but heck it’s cheaper to eat unhealthy food than it is to eat healthy food. I need a guide or some kind of help picking the right things but using the budget I have. HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

First and foremost, I’ll be looking forward to my invite in the mail. [insert serious face]


College, for me, was where I gained the most weight. I had free reign over what I ate, how much of it I ate and with one swipe of my card, I had access to whatever the hell I wanted. Because my parents pretty much controlled what food I had access to and just how much of it I could get a hold of… it wasn’t a lesson I learned on my own, and I suffered for it. Big time.

Gaining weight at a rate of 20lbs a year was pretty rough, but I didn’t leave myself much choice. I was always indulging. Always overeating. I never practiced control and, because all my pants were elastic around the top and not “regular,” I never really noticed how much weight I was putting on. Actually, I remember having “the perfect jeans” as a freshman and, by the end of freshman year I realized they no longer fit. I simply attributed it to them shrinking in the wash too much, and went on my merry way. Delusional.

I made the decision to stop eating red meat and pork as a junior in high school and experienced a bit of weight loss, but I wasn’t aware enough to realize that just because you restrict yourself in one way… doesn’t mean you won’t overindulge in another. In other words, cutting out forms of meat wouldn’t protect me from overdoing it on the refined and processed foods. My best friend – a vegetarian, and also a size 4 – and I would eat every single day together… and I never noticed how much smaller her portion sizes were than mine. Again.. just not aware.

I was a hustler, too – I was steady braiding hair in order to keep some food in my fridge. I couldn’t buy much with $50, so I was always going for the cheap food – the top ramen, the capri suns, the kool-aid bursts, anything microwaveable – in an effort to stretch my measly lil’ $50. Because I had no self-control, I would slaughter that stuff – all of it – within a week. “Well, it’s all got to go sometime.. might as well be right now.” Clearly, I wasn’t thinking.

The caf was… well, ugh. The caf was hit or miss. Some days they’d go all out with the dishes and sides… other days, it was “all fried everything” and you couldn’t escape it. If we were lucky, there was batter out to make waffles… but you couldn’t bank on it. Sure, there’s a salad bar, but that just isn’t as fun as the every day chicken and rice.

I hope you can see why I’m detailing my experiences with food and college… learn from my mistakes.

With college, there’s this weird time-space continuum where, before you know it, a month has blitzed by and you’re kinda pissed about it. The reality is, you’re so wrapped up in school and your social life that you don’t notice how time is moving so quickly around you. Not only that, but for many of us, living off-campus is an unwanted struggle (sure, you might desire the privacy, but it’s not always worth it) and living in the dorms means you likely have limited fridge space and no kitchen. Having said that… in the instances where I might feel inclined to tell you to spend a little time in the kitchen… we’re going to have to, instead, commit a cardinal sin: buy foods that come in wrappers. [insert loud groan]

If you have a fridge? Use it. I’m serious. Use your fridge for a snack spot, and all of your snacks should require refrigeration. Think of those carrot, celery, or whatever else type snack packs. Not the ones with the creamy ranch-like substance in them, but the kind that come in the large container. Get a bag of celery, some peanut butter… and pow. A nice snack.

If your school was anything like mine, you’ll have access to some-place-where-you-can-get-non-cafeteria-food. That may be a fast food joint, or (like my HBCU) they may get together and fry up some chicken, throw some sauce on it, and sell it to you at a ridiculous price. No ordering out. Whatever it is… avoid it.  That really leads up to my next point.

When it comes to food, college living is much like real world living… but with much less money. Your take on food should be the same – limit the fried, limit the creamy, limit the dough-ey stuff… especially if you can’t verify it’s origin – but you’ll really want to be careful since your activity levels won’t be consistent. Your sugar intake should be limited as much as possible, but – again – that’s no different from real life. It does mean you’re gonna have to leave the capri suns and heaven knows what else alone.

I have a few more, but every college is different… so I think it’d be more fun to leave this one up to Team BGG2WL (for now!) I got a few awesome responses via twitter… so I’m positive they have more great suggestions than I do. Let’s hear it, y’all! Any snack suggestions? Ways to keep it fit in college? Whadya got?

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Rita September 15, 2010 - 10:27 AM

On that college/grad student budget I adapted the plan of smart shopping. Lol, instead of getting a $1 doulbe chz burger or whopper junior, let me stop @ publix/kroger and pick up a piece of fresh fruit (2 nectarines $1) and its the time and money equivalent of eating from the drive thru and I’m no longer hungry.

arieswym September 15, 2010 - 11:07 AM

On the fitness/recreation tip, take advantage of all the resources of your school’s recreation center. Mine had all types of classes, aerobics, dance, yoga, etc. Do what interests you to keep yourself moving. Also, you may be able to get a personal trainer at a really reduced rate. They were usually grad students interning at the rec center but they got the job done. Lastly, look into any other rec center benefits, for example my gym offered $10 30-min massages which were great for reducing stress.

Dalia Kinsey September 15, 2010 - 3:18 PM

I totally agree with arieswym. You might be surprised to find a ton of resources at your rec center that you have been paying for all along but not taking advantage of. In addition to classes you might find reduced rate personal training and nutritional counseling. On site nutritional counseling can be a cool idea because the advice they offer will be specific to your area (shopping locals etc)and will consider standard student budget issues.
I hear a lot of people talking about it being cheaper to eat junk than eat well but I don’t believe anything gets cheaper than beans. Dry beans are all but free and they are super filling and nutrient rich. Try adding more beans to your diet.

cindylu September 17, 2010 - 11:00 PM

I’d advise to check if the dining halls post menus and nutritional information. They make note which meals are vegetarian, vegan or contain something you might be allergic to. If you’re tracking calories, this is a good option.

The tough thing with a lot of dining halls is the buffet style layout. You really need to work on portion control. If you learn it in college where you can have seconds of anything, it’ll be a lot easier when you’re in your own kitchen and cooking your own food.

Aisha September 19, 2010 - 9:37 AM

Here are some tips I used to make it through and I lost weight. These are just ideas that might work for others.

1. Avoid the shuttle bus. Walk as much as is safely possible in your school surroundings.
2. The cafeteria meals rotate. So find out which items are in support of your journey and stick to those. In my mind the menu I narrowed down the menu.
3. Stock oatmeal, tuna and healthy yet cheap items in your dorm room.
4. Find an exercise buddy and go to the free rec center. I’d take the dance classes.
5. Study at the library because you can’t take food in there. So it stopped me from snacking late.

I wasn’t so concious of these things when I did them but I lost weight the first two year of college and managed to maintain it for several years afterword. I was concerned with looks at the time but I it kept me healthy.

misscmb July 28, 2011 - 1:35 AM

Great Tips!
study at the library to avoid snacking?! awesome tip!!!
snacking while studying is my downfall! i would somehow manage to eat through a whole box of cereal a day!

Jenny September 19, 2010 - 4:50 PM

When I lived in France for a semester, the temptation to go raid the local bakery every day was very strong. It was really cheap and made the most amazing buttery, flaky pastries. I went overboard more than once and it did not help when my boyfriend kept showing up with even more treats! The only way to avoid bloating up was to take some responsibility. I decided that if I was buying sweets and desserts, I would share them with my friends, I walked every chance I got and I replaced lattes with black coffee. Another great tip is to avoid beer. Opt for wine or spirits (in moderation, of course!) and chase drinks with with plain ol’ water.

There’s no point in being too strict with yourself. You can work in the treats so long as you make some smart choices.

asada December 18, 2010 - 5:29 PM

you college story is mine to the T!!

Add the stress of failing grades and you have a recipe for disaster. In High School, I had exersize videos and free- weight plus gym classes. I was more aware of my weight in High School than in college and I approached 300 lbs when I came home. Almost another person (my age) of weight gain.

I am back home now and slowly losing alot of the weight. I have about 80 lbs to go but I am getting it together. I love this website. Thanks so much.

There was a period of time when I WAS losing weight in college, I started going to those spin/workout classes available on campus. I would suggest any college student purchase thier own free weights and keep video workouts in their dorm room. Try to minimize change as much as possible to any workout. As for the cafeteria, Stick with one desert per day ONLY with dinner. Hot or Cold Cereal for breakfast. Soup and Salad with Bread when you can. No pizza or burgers, make a sandwich instead. Drink water or Milk ( or seltzer water and lemon).

The way I could keep the weight off was to separate from the university enviornment and be back home where I could only eat what I cooked and had ALOT of coaxing from concerned realtives.

asada December 18, 2010 - 5:33 PM

forgive my spelling, it’s 3am ! 🙁

MissJoy January 1, 2012 - 12:17 AM

I feel your pain! However, I decided to live in the apartments this year which gives me access to a full kitchen. I canceled my meal plan (because all I was eating was pizza, burgers, and other junk) and took that money to devote to buying groceries. I never shopped at places like Trader Joe’s before, but it’s actually not that expensive. I also recently decided to cut out meat. Yes, I went vegetarian cold turkey (pun intended) 🙂 ! The strange thing is I don’t even miss the meat. I thought I’d be craving it, but the thought of consuming it no longer appeals to me. I’m still baffled at this as I sit here and type…I decided to do this to save money on meat. Also, with the tips I’ve learned about refined processed foods here on this blog, I now buy more fresh ingredients, cook a WHOLE lot more, and learn healthier alternatives that taste just as good and are actually filling and nutritional.

I’m also taking advantage of the gyms and exercise classes. I walk more instead of taking the bus and as far as being stressed about life or grades: I see a therapist. I don’t like to brag (yes I do), but I am so proud of the steps I’ve taken this year to better my health overall.

The only thing I have yet to address is returning home and being around friends and family. This isn’t the first time I’ve attempted to change my lifestyle and diet. It’s so easy here because my college town is big on bike riding, walking, and healthy living. We have many options for healthy food such as a farmer’s market and restaurants that cater to healthy living. Yet, when I get home all of that is undermined–like it’s a joke. If my family and friends choose to consume meat, that’s fine because it’s a choice. I’m not one to beat someone over the head with my personal choices. But I am laughed at and ridiculed because I want to live a healthier life. Why do people do that…I’ll never know. Is it because it’s easier to do wrong when someone else is doing wrong with them? Eh…we’ll see how it goes when I visit.

Erin August 1, 2013 - 4:18 PM

I understand the family part. it’s like since my brothers aren’t overweight nor my dad and now my mom has surgery and is no longer overweight, im on my own now. we’ll be it all day and eat fast food three times. it’s either way now or wait nine hours till we get home and all I had for breakfast for was cereal. Im sure I can lose this weight really at school. My biggest problem was denial and bread lol

Yaayaa December 6, 2013 - 8:47 PM

I have not entered college yet. However, I can really relate to the point you made about feeling like your family does not respect your decision in eating healthier. I feel that way sometimes with my Mom, and I don’t speak to other relatives often but they are extremely unhealthy and are not educated about health at all. My Grandmother on my Moms side has diabetes, and my Dad has diabetes. So apparently, you catch my drift. I am prone to diabetes, and I never really thought of it the way I do now. I am so confident and proud to say that I have been junk-food free the past week (after thanksgiving I officially started), not consuming any foods or beverages with ingredients I can’t read or pronounce. I rarely eat although some may say it is “unhealthy”, I disagree. I don’t “starve” myself but eat when I’m hungry, and when I do eat I eat sparingly according to what my stomach can tolerate and can properly digest. I lost up to about 15-17 ibs. last summer, but I consumed things that, although they helped me to lose weight, were not the healthiest. But, that’s not the case now. I weighed 161 ibs. and am now 151 pounds. All that weight was lost easily and stress-free, just by being aware and conscious of what I was eating and drinking and how much. Again, it can be very difficult with no one to relate to or share ideas with. My relatives have a lot of health related diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. It’s sad…

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