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Q & A

Got a question about some aspect of mind-body-spirit fitness? Ask! It can be as earthly as "Can a heart monitor really enhance my workout?" (the short answer to that is yes) or as heady as, "Don't I need to sell all my worldly goods and go live on a mountain top to find enlightenment?" (the short answer here is no). Needless to say, we can't answer every question we receive, but we will take one every month and answer it here. If you've got a burning need to know about something, email us, and you may find your query featured next time around.

I'm an 18-year-old university student who has recently gained a lot of weight. I would like to lose about ten pounds over the next three to four months. Is 1400 calories a day a good level to be at? I have no time whatsoever to exercise (with the exception of going to the gym once a week), as my schedule is so demanding. I do walk to all my classes, so I guess you could say I walk for 40 minutes a day (at a casual pace), five days a week. I would really appreciate some advice.

(Article continued below.)

The "Freshman 15" is not a myth — it's quite common for college students to gain weight in the first year they go away to school. Lifestyle changes of any sort can have an effect on your weight, and this one's a biggie. Many students are living away from home for the first time, and as a result they fall prey to bad eating habits — eating pizza every night, dashing to the nearest fast food joint for a late night snack, etc. Even those who remain under their parents' roof find their schedules are so tight there is "no time whatsoever to exercise." After a few months of unhealthy meals and no exercise, it's no surprise that a student will put on a few pounds after a while. There are ways, however, to get the weight off. It just takes a bit of thought, and making an effort to change the way you do some things.

Instead of randomly assigning yourself a daily ration of calories, you should consider everything that contributed to your weight gain. What have been doing differently since you started at the university? How have your eating habits changed? Has your activity level dropped to such an extent that you'd gain weight even if you were eating the same way you were before school started? As you answer these questions, the reasons you gained the weight will become less vague and more specific. This is important because if you want to get that weight off, you must be specific in your approach. You need to pinpoint the habits that are causing you to gain weight so you can change them.

Losing weight is more than putting an end to bad eating habits — it's about replacing habits. You need to develop a different way of eating that will become as natural as the poor eating habits you've so recently established. If you're making late night fast food runs, for example, is it possible for you to keep healthy snacks like fruit or soynuts at your desk to eat while you're studying instead? You also need to be aware of trigger foods. Can you be happy eating just one slice of pizza, for example? If not, then perhaps you should skip eating pizza altogether except for very special occasions. If you're drinking sugar-filled sodas, replace them with lower-calorie beverages — that alone can save many people a couple hundred calories a day! Don't just eat less — eat smarter. Make sure that what you're putting in your mouth is good for your body (at least most of the time). By some strange coincidence, foods that are good for you generally have fewer calories and are more filling than foods full of refined carbs and sugar. The less you can eat of processed, highly refined foods, the better — they have little nutritional value and your body tends to get addicted to them if you eat them day in and day out. Luckily, you live in a time when it as easy to find healthy, lower calorie foods as it is to find junk food — you just need to make healthy foods part of your life. Once you have established better eating habits, you should already start shedding a few pounds. From there, it should only take some minor portion adjustments to keep losing.

As for the exercise, fit in what you can. Exercise builds endurance and gives you more energy - as a university student, you need both! We recently ran an article on how to exercise when you're in a time crunch — you may find some tips useful. Walk as much as possible, and do so at a brisk pace. If you go from 40 minutes of casual walking to classes to 30 minutes of brisk walking, you will actually burn a few more calories! On your weekly trip to the gym, consider making it a circuit training session so that you get both strength building and calorie burn. Remember that while you're exercising your mind over the next several years, you shouldn't neglect your body. The better you are able to function physically, the better you will do in school and in life.

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