“I wish I had her body.”
“I really need to lose 10 pounds.”
“Tell me honestly, is she skinnier than I am?”
These are only a handful of body-image related thoughts that almost every girl struggles with during her lifetime. It’s like the concept of ‘skinniness’ is some form of social currency that we’re trained to aspire to attain; when in reality, living a healthy lifestyle is what our primary concern should be. Slowly, this is starting to change, but we realized there are a lot of misconceptions among college women about how to lose weight the healthy way. We talked to experts and collegiettes alike to find out the four most common reasons why your attempts to eat clean aren’t going too well.
1. Your prescription medications are interfering with your weight
If you’ve been gaining weight or struggling to lose weight since starting a new prescription, you may want to reach out to your doctor to see if your prescription really is the culprit.
For example, when Megan Salavantis, a junior at Sienna college, was struggling with weight gain issues herself, it took some digging to figure out the problem wasn’t entirely in her control.
“It was only by doing some research that I found out my life-sustaining medication makes me put on weight” Megan says that her medication and her lifestyle choices combined were what made losing weight difficult, but not impossible.
If you’re currently taking prescription medications (or if you’ve recently started) and you can’t explain why you’re suddenly gaining weight or struggling to lose weight, reach out to your doctor with your concerns to figure out if that’s actually the case. Even if you do suspect that your meds are messing with your weight, make sure it’s your doctor who directs changes to your prescriptions—it’s never a good idea to change up or stop your medications without your doctor’s direction.
2. The ‘healthy’ foods you’re eating aren’t really healthy
Health fads, like subsisting off of green juices, subbing out real meals for protein bars, and choosing artificial sweeteners over natural sugars all sound like smart ways to eat clean, but they’re really not. According to Yevgeniya Libkhen, licensed dietician, nutritionist, and holistic health consultant, choosing these supposed ‘health’ foods often derails her clients’ attempts to eat clean and healthily.
In the case of our first example, ‘green’ juices, these beverages seem like the healthy and smart choice since they often list healthy green vegetables like kale and spinach on their ingredients list. But Yevgeniya was quick to clarify for us that in most cases, these beverages “are nothing more than a mega-dose of sugar”. According to her, this is because the fiber from these vegetables (which is filled with the nutrients that make them superfoods in the first place) is stripped during the juicing process, and many manufacturers sweeten each juice to make it taste better. She says that while a green juice is certainly a healthier alternative to downing a soda, it’s not the healthiest choice you can make. She explains that a smarter choice is making your own green smoothies at home with whole vegetables, that way you retain the fiber and nutrients of the vegetables while also making a cold and yummy snack.
Yevgeniya also gave us some insight on why protein bars and artificial sweeteners aren't the best choices for your clean-eating lifestyle.
According to her, unless you’re a high-performing athlete, you really don’t need to consume more than 15 grams of protein per meal—and many protein bars contain well over 20 grams of protein. She says the reason this isn’t a good thing is because consuming an excess of protein in a meal can create an imbalance in the nutrients you’re taking in, which can then cause your body to store those calories as fat, instead of quickly metabolizing them for energy.
Lastly, she says that artificial sweeteners are the biggest culprit of weight-loss sabotage because they’re actually way sweeter than natural sugar is. To put this in perspective, she explained to us that aspartame (found in brand name sweeteners like Truvia and Splenda) is 200 times sweeter than sugar, while natural sugar alternative Stevia is 40 times sweeter than sugar. She explained that consuming these sugar alternatives regularly can actually condition your brain to crave sweeter foods, which can seriously derail your healthy eating habits.
While health fads like these might seem easy and convenient in the moment, Yevgeniya says that nothing is better than sticking to the basic rule of thumb of making sure that at least half of every meal you eat is made up of vegetables. She says that eating more vegetables is ` (and will always be) the best way to make sure you’re getting the most vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are essential for you to be as healthy as possible.
3. You’re not eating enough
Glen Tobias, a Registered Dietician at Atlantic Sports Health and nutritionist for the New York Jets explains that he has seen many people set themselves up for failure by failing to consult a professional in favor of creating their own super restrictive diets that don’t provide the nutrition and energy they need.
“Our job is to make sure you are healthy, have energy and lose the fat you want to. The minute they deviate from these crazy diets they feel they have failed; this is not necessarily true. As long as you are doing better today than you did yesterday, is a win.” He says that an R.D. can help you create a reasonable diet plan and also help you stay strong mentally.
Sophia Walker, a junior at Bowdoin College, says that one dangerous fasting diet trend that has been popular with college students was detrimental to her efforts to lose weight and live healthier.
“I have a lot of friends that really like the ‘fast’ diet, and I've tried it out too. Basically the fast diet is that you ‘fast’ for 24 hours. You eat less than 500 calories on two days per week, and you can at whatever you want on the other days. Supposedly fasting will help you burn more calories, and prompt you to eat less.” Instead, the ‘fast’ caused her misery on her fasting days and caused her to overeat on non-fasting days.
While the 'average' recommended calorie intake for women can range from 1,200 calories to 2,400 calories based on many factors like your body composition and activity level, a good rule of thumb is: Instead of severely depriving your body of calories by going on a super restrictive diet (which is incredibly unsafe) try Yevgeniya’s advice of making sure at least half of each of your meals is made up of vegetables. She says that eating more vegetables can minimize those pesky blood-sugar spikes (read: hangry-ness) that makes you cranky and hungry for super carb-y and salty foods.
Related: 9 Healthy Road Trip Snacks
4. You’re not managing your stress well
Any college student knows that stress can and will derail your happiness, sanity and health. But did you know that it’s most likely the reason you’re struggling to lose weight?
According to nutritional biochemist Dr. Shawn Talbot, increased production of cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) is what’s responsible for those cravings for high calorie “comfort foods” when you’re stressed out. He adds that research studies have shown that even the thought of dieting can cause stress, and make your weight loss goals more difficult to attain. This is why it’s so much better to instead focus on eating clean all around rather than following a restrictive diet plan.
Dr. Talbot explains that you don’t have to cause yourself stress by overthinking your diet or restricting ‘all’ of a certain food from your diet. He also adds that by getting more sleep (a whole 8 hours as opposed to a meager 6), you can decrease your cortisol levels by 50 percent.
Imagine how much easier the rest of your life will be if you just focus on getting more sleep and being rested!
5. You’re too hard on yourself
By far the biggest obstruction to living healthier and losing extra weight is the simplest one to fix: the wrong mindset. According to Dr. Jennie Johnson, co-founder of Living for a Healthy Heart most people don’t understand it really only takes small changes to lay the foundation for a healthier diet.
“Rather than add an apple to their diet each day or change to a smaller plate the individual may make drastic changes that will be too difficult to maintain and far too often fail,” Dr. Johnson says.
In other words, you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) try to work out intensely every single day and subsist off of salads in an attempt to correct months or years of poor eating habits and no exercise. Starting with small changes, and working up to revamping your lifestyle over time, is really the way to go.
Sophia agrees, “I've lost 20 pounds over the last year by changing my mindset about food and exercise. I've also started power lifting this year, and it's helped me change my mindset from a place where I feel lazy and like a failure to a place where I feel incredibly cool and badass at the gym.”
Like Sophia, you should focus on what you get out of eating better and exercising more—like feeling strong, and being proud of the changes you’re making, instead of focusing on what you’re giving up.
Losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle is easier than you think! Now you know what obstacles you might encounter—and how to overcome them, once you start making those first steps.