A student who struggled with weight issues tells how to find a healthy weight and learn to love yourself and your body.
By Shelley Leeman, junior, University of Wisconsin–Madison
When I started at college, I was so excited to experience all my school had to offer, but at the sme time I was worried about being accepted. I wanted to be attractive, and like many students, I found myself comparing how I looked with those around me.
I’ve found that this is a common problem not only among my women friends, but also with male students. Daniel, a junior at The Ohio State University in Columbus, says, “We act like we don’t care, but we all want to be built.” This attitude can lead to excessive weight loss, over-exercising, and even taking weight-loss and muscle-building supplements, which can be very dangerous.
My obsession with body image caused me to have an eating disorder, but from the experience I was able to learn what it means to find the weight that is right for me. And no matter what your situation, you can do the same.
Obsessed With Weight Loss
Growing up, I always felt I was in shape and at a healthy weight, but before I started college, I decided to lose a few pounds. When I started to actually see some weight loss, I became obsessed with losing more and not gaining back the weight I had lost. Maintaining my weight terrified me, while losing weight comforted me.
By winter break of my freshman year, I had lost about 30 pounds, leaving me significantly underweight according to the Body Mass Index (BMI) scale. I thought I’d be gaining weight in college, but instead my fear of putting on pounds caused me to lose too much and develop anorexia.
Fortunately, I had so much support from my family and friends that I was able to realize I had a problem and got help from professionals. I went to an intensive outpatient program that taught me how to properly nourish myself and allowed me to meet with a nutritionist and talk with other people who were battling eating disorders. After this program, I felt so motivated that I was able to gain the weight back, and eat in a way to maintain a healthy weight.
Nobody wants to be too thin or too fat, but we all have different body types and sizes, so you have to keep that in mind when you consider what’s a healthy weight for you. Some health and exercise experts divide body types into three categories: ectomorphs are tall and thin, mesomorphs are muscular and shorter, endomorphs carry more fat and their bodies resist losing weight.
According to a study from the University of Michigan, weight may not be the most reliable method to measure health. Based on data from 5,440 adults, the study found that half of those considered overweight for their height were actually metabolically fit. This means that it is very possible to be “heavier” while still being healthy.
“Weight concerns should always be put into perspective,” says Marcy Braun, a registered dietitian at University of Wisconsin–Madison. “If you are striving too hard to achieve a certain body and it is not a good place given your own type of body, then it comes with a cost.”
Accepting my weight has given me greater self-esteem and allowed me to focus more on all of the other amazing aspects of my life, such as my friends and my college classes and activities.
Understand the Lean BMI Scale
If you are concerned about your weight and want to figure out if you are in a healthy range for your body type, try using a system such as the Lean BMI scale. Using this approach, you not only consider factors such as height and frame size, but also how much of your weight is fat. In general, you can’t always evaluate what’s healthy based on weight and height alone. Use discretion and common sense when interpreting the LBMI results.
Develop a Healthy Eating Plan
Nearly half of all college students in a recent Student Health 101 survey reported that they find it difficult or very difficult to maintain a healthy weight. Some try to follow a dieting plan, but even these can be unhealthy. They may not provide proper nutrients, and according to UCLA research looking at more than 30 studies on dieting, two-thirds of those who lost weight on a diet regained the weight.
Some believe that dieting can cause unhealthy eating behaviors, and Braun says that “unstable eating causes unstable weight” and that not missing meals is key to avoiding overeating later on.
On the other hand, if you are underweight, you should examine your intake because you may be missing key nutrients to your health, such as vitamin B12, which has been shown to help maintain a healthy brain.
Instead of going on a “diet,” consider following more healthy eating practices:
• Add more fruits and vegetables to your daily food intake.
• Decrease unhealthy fats and sugars.
• Eat only when you’re hungry.
• Drink more water.
• Eat lean proteins.
Pay a Visit to a Nutritionist
If you are spending a lot of time thinking about your weight or food choices or are underweight or overweight, I strongly recommend seeing a nutritionist. Some campus health services have nutritionists on staff, so why not take advantage of them? Meeting with a nutritionist can really help you get a better idea of how much you should eat and what kinds of foods will maximize your health.
Eating healthy doesn’t mean never eating foods you love. If you eat those foods in moderation, you can still maintain the weight that makes you feel good. “I eat healthy most of the time, but I still let myself eat desserts and other foods I love that may not be healthy so I don’t feel deprived,” says Maddy, a junior at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
After my experience, I know that maintaining a good weight is possible. I usually eat three well-balanced meals a day with a couple snacks depending on my hunger. I rarely am hungry, but yet I still maintain a good weight. In general, diets and other fads are never the smart way to go and usually are not sustainable. Eating well-balanced meals with regular exercise is definitely possible in college, and I promise you’ll still have plenty of time for fun!