In 2016, I asked my friend Alicia to write about what it was like to be a college kid trying to be fit, and trying to figure out what health meant for her. She wrote three posts.
Her first post in her own series talked about her past and how she got to where she was. She discussed her own eating disorder, but that she didn’t even recognize the behavior as a problem. She mentions that even though she had been diagnosed, recovery had been brushed off by professionals and it was left up to her and her parents to determine the next steps without guidance.
Her second post talked about preparing for her junior year. Getting ready for the semester and how she was planning for it. She made some suggestions for others based on what worked for her.
In her third post, Alicia talked about mental health and school work and the transition of her boyfriend moving out of the state to head to graduate school while she was still in her undergraduate career. She talked about how even though she planned for the semester, she still found herself making new plans.
She says she’s not a great writer, but when we talk all I can think of is how her perspective is important, even when the conversation is all over the place. During a recent conversation I asked her to think about writing again. She’s a senior now and almost done with school. In the past year, the meaning of health has changed for her. Her thoughts about her career after school have changed. The way she talks about herself has changed.
Below is her fourth post.
I’m a busy person.
I am one of those people who cannot sit still, I have to keep myself busy, whether it is homework, lifting, cooking or working. I grew up in a family of workers. My mom works two jobs and my dad owns a business and works three part-time jobs. I currently work three jobs and am a full-time undergraduate student. As you can see, I often barely have time to breathe. My mindset typically as a student is to do homework, go to work, get a workout in and strive to do the best that I can do.
When it comes time for a break from school, it is hard for me to deal with it. I do pick up more hours at my jobs, but I often come home and feel like I’m not being productive because I don’t have school work to do.
With having a month off of school for winter break, I found myself actually bored (I was shocked myself). Realizing that I had so much time to do whatever I wanted was honestly very hard for me to grasp. I am a planner. I like to plan my days because it helps me not to feel rushed throughout the day especially if it is busy. When I looked at my days and saw that I only had to work a 5 hour shift and nothing else, it was shocking. I never have time to myself, I don’t give myself even 10 minutes sometimes to sit down and reflect on the day, even though that is something that I like to do.
Shifting my mindset to not being busy is often very hard for me. I don’t go out much, I am very introverted, and that is one of the reasons that I work and stay busy with school work. While I was on my winter break I would stay home typically with my dog #DogMomLife. I was able to give myself time to go to the gym because I had more than an hour. I didn’t have to worry about having to rush through a workout.
I had a week to myself where I worked a very little amount of hours and got to spend time with my boyfriend who was in from Connecticut. For once, we got to enjoy time together and again, not feel rushed. There were days we got to spend the whole day together, not everyday because my work schedule, but it was still more than we’re used to.
Classes have just started and the realization that this is my last semester of my undergraduate career has finally set in and I’m having to shift my mindset again.
My mindset goes back to school comes first. I have to get back to being busy, to planning my days out in my planner, and trying not to be overwhelmed. However, this semester – by planning my days out, I’ll make sure that I have at least a half hour to myself where I can go to the gym or just meditate.
Having a different mindset is not a bad thing, it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Changing mindset to fit your current life can spark your motivation, push you forward and help you reassess the direction you want to take.
I’ve talked about Alicia before. She’s younger than me. She’s a junior in college and I’m 27. Without social media our paths would have never crossed. Without peanut butter we would’ve never started talking. Without talking we would’ve never seen past the social media posts and learned that we are more alike than we could’ve ever imagined. At the beginning of the summer, Alicia was struggling with mental health and I suggested she use resources on her college campus. I had used these resources as a student and at my last job, I knew students who had also used them. After many conversations and her sharing her experience, I bit the bullet myself and went back to therapy in July as well.
We push each other in positive ways and this semester Alicia has had to be an advocate for herself, especially when she was being pushed to the aside when seeking help for her anxiety. Her story isn’t very unique, but it’s a perspective that people brush aside.
Her story dabbles in her own blogging series I’ve let her write here and the It’s Your Turn Series. I think it fits both perfectly. So her post makes the IYT Series a perfect dozen, just cupcakes and doughnuts and sugar cookies.
Being a student and trying to juggling life is not easy, being a student is not easy in general. These past couple of weeks have honestly been the most difficult time I’ve ever had in my school career, between the mental breakdowns, anxiety attacks and all of the stress of the school work. Actually, I might be able to say that this has been the most difficult semester that I have had while in college. It’s at that point in the semester where there is only 2 weeks until Thanksgiving and every professor is trying to get all of the last tests, quizzes and assignments in before the week break. After Thanksgiving there is only one week left of the semester. Obviously there has been a lot of stuff going on in my life in general, my boyfriend moved out of state, I moved out of my parents house, officially decided on a major (even though I am still doubting it), applied for internships, and picked up another job – as you can see life has been crazy.
As I have said in previous posts in this series, I suffer from severe anxiety, trying to juggle life and school is not easy, but my anxiety skyrockets during school. The moment I get to school I feel anxious and as classes go on it begins to hit its peak. I can’t even count the amount of times that I came home and had a mental breakdown because of all of the homework and studying I had to for the following day. Even the slightest bit of work makes me anxious because I want everything done right and I want to do well. Tests make me anxious, I can honestly say that I have not gotten above an 80% on a test yet this semester. When I go into a test I blank, when I say I blank on everything I studied i mean sometimes I just sit there and stare at the test for a while before it actually comes to me. During tests I suffer from the physical symptoms of anxiety too, I mainly get the chest and muscle pains/ cramps, there are times I get muscle twitches or eye twitches too.
This is what I’ve been working on this semester to help me balance my mental health and school work as well as life in general because we know that gets in the way too.
- Being brave and seeking help, if you find yourself struggling with anxiety or depression or some type of mental illness don’t be afraid to get help. Most schools have a well-being center with free counseling, take advantage of it, it will help in the long run.
I started seeing a counselor on campus this year and while they are busy, they want to help. Recently, I followed my counselor to her own private practice off campus so I have access to more flexible hours. This is helpful for my situation since I not only go to school full-time, but I work part-time off campus at a retail job.
- Learning to take study breaks, if you find yourself studying for hours at a time take a break, you can’t just sit there and study all day, you do need to take a break, go for a run or go to the gym or even just sit outside for a few minutes. Anything will help you just need to give yourself a moment to relax.
This is something that I’ve truly had to come terms with. Sometimes, studying for extended periods of time makes me question or doubt my knowledge of the course. Taking a break to walk across campus or get a cup of coffee has allowed me to clear my head and come back with new perspective.
- Deciding to cut down on caffeine, trust me, I know I am a college student and most college student survive on coffee, but if you become anxious sometimes caffeine makes it worse. I am not saying to cut out caffeine completely just cut back
I still get my latte every now and then, but I’ve noticed that for me at least, cutting back has given me a clear head and taken away some of the jitters. It’s not a perfect science, but I’ve been drinking more tea (decaf) and water to fill in the void that was once a higher coffee consumption.
Finding balance between mental health and school work is not always easy. Not all people understand it either. It’s important to find balance because without it you, might not succeed in school. If you are a college student, tuition is expensive and you don’t want to waste that money or time to not be successful. GPA does not always matter, sometimes you need a break from school work, especially if you’ve been studying for days. I actually have a professor who allows you to take “mental days off” if needed. Mentally you need a break, taking on too much at once may not actually be effective in the long run and may hurt you. Talk to your faculty about this, they understand more than you know. Don’t be ashamed to get help, you have to understand that it will get better, but remember that you have to do something to make it better. Going to therapy is one of the greatest things I have done, trust me at first I was a little on the edge about going, but it ended up working out very well and I really enjoy going. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and know that you are not the only one who is going through this, there are plenty of other people who are going through the same thing.
Trying to juggle being a college student, having a job, and living a healthy lifestyle comes with so many challenges. I am going into my junior year at Duquesne University as a Finance major. I will admit I do have it a little easier because I do commute to campus daily, I don’t live there so I have the option of not having to eat at the dining hall. Here’s a few tips of how I juggle everything myself:
Start planning a few weeks in advance
I like to look at my schedule and create an excel document of my work and class schedule or at least write it out in my planner so I know when I’ll have time to eat meals or go to the gym or do homework. My classes start on August 22nd and I have already been looking at my schedule and planning everything around it. I know it may change as you start getting into the first few weeks of classes but at least you will have an idea before you start and know that it is and will be possible to handle.
Use a planner
I know a lot of time universities will hand out a student planner during the first week of classes, use it. It makes life a lot simpler when you can write down all the due dates for assignment and dates for tests and quizzes. You can also use it to keep track of workouts and meals. I know there are a lot of apps that are being used for it now also which is also very convenient. I personally like to write everything out rather than keep it in my phone because I just feel like it’s a lot more helpful for me to see it written and it’ll actually motivate me to get things accomplished.
Meal Planning/ Prep
Meal planning and meal prep makes life so much simpler when it’s one less thing you have to worry about during the day. I like to make chicken or ground turkey on sundays and then steam some veggies and rice or sweet potatoes and have enough at least for lunch. Sometimes I also just buy bread or wraps so I can make a sandwich for lunch to switch things up. I always keep protein/ granola bars in my bookbag for a quick snack throughout the day because sometimes I am there later than expected and did not pack enough meals.
I know eating healthy on a college student budget is often hard but the easiest thing to do is shop the sales and be smart about the choices that you make. Make sure what you buy is reasonable, don’t just look at one store, look at the different store that are most convenient to you, some may have better deals than others. I like to shop at Aldi’s, which is an off-brand grocery store, their products are just as good as name-brand items that you would find in a grocery store such as Giant Eagle or Shop N’ Save.
Also, if you have access to a wholesale membership like Costco or Sam’s Club, they often have good deals on meat or you can buy large bags of frozen vegetables that just need steamed. Some colleges may even offer a discount on warehouse club memberships, don’t be afraid to ask around, normally if you have questions about discounts and different things like that I would start by going to the Office of Student Life or something similar, they could direct you where to go. If you do not live on campus like I do, six pack bags or fitmark bags make it easy to carry meals around, especially if you are going to be on campus all day. Most schools do have microwaves somewhere in a dining hall or even in different dining locations throughout campus, don’t be afraid to ask a dining hall worker where it is if you can’t find it.
If you live on campus, I know you don’t have many options to bring your own food and cook your own food. If you live in a basic dorm, you probably have space for a mini fridge and a microwave. To make sure you get your fruits and veggies in you can always purchase veggies and then buy a microwavable steamer, these help a lot. You can put raw or frozen veggies in there and just microwave it. Cooking any type of protein is also not easy in a normal dorm, my advice for this is if you decide to go to the cafeteria get a togo container and take some simple grilled chicken. I know at the cafeteria in my school they do have simple grilled chicken sandwiches that I normally get and I just don’t eat the bun (you can eat the bun if you need carbs) and I always take a side of veggies. If you are on the go you can always pick up a piece of fruit from the dining hall and save it for a snack later.
If you do have access to a communal kitchen that includes a stove or an oven utilize it. You can buy your own food and cook it there. You could buy your meat such as chicken or ground turkey and cook it all at once and then just split it up for different meals in storage containers so you can take along with you to the dining hall to eat with friends. Storage containers are very convenient, you can find them pretty cheap online or at the grocery store, don’t throw them away after one use, just clean them and reuse them.
Don’t get discouraged
If you have an assignment due or a group project, don’t get discouraged if you have to miss a workout, it’s one workout, it’s not going to kill you if you miss it. I will be the first to admit, I am a person who gets very frustrated if I have to miss a workout or if I have a bad meal. Getting passed that is sometimes difficult, I’ve seen myself at the gym late in the evening around 9 PM when I am tired and don’t want to be there. If you’ve had a long tiring day it’s not worth trying to force yourself, it’ll become a chore and your workout will actually suffer. If you know you have a test or an assignment due date coming up plan ahead, plan time that you are going to need to study, instead of studying the night before try to study for a few days and if you don’t feel comfortable that you are going to do well once you hit the night before then take extra time to study and that may mean an unplanned rest day. If you end up taking an unplanned rest day, remember, tomorrow is a new day and one day is not going to kill you!
Free food: take it or leave it
During the first week there are many opportunities for free food and it’s not always the best – at least at my school they offer many ways to connect socially over food. I’ve experienced events with pizza, chicken tenders, nachos, or even ice cream. Sometimes the offers are hard to pass up and you decide you are going to take it. That’s completely reasonable, just remember: don’t over do it. You can take one piece of pizza or 1 or 2 chicken tenders and it’s not going to kill you. You also don’t need to feel the pressure to take more than that just because those around you are taking seconds or even thirds. If you are tracking macros, some of these things are easy to track you may just have to fix your day around it. Just be mindful of your choices and just make sure you don’t overdo it. College is a time to live and have fun, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have healthy goals at the same time.
Partake in activities with friends
Don’t limit your time with your friends because you don’t want to miss a workout or you are afraid you are going to eat something bad. If you go out to dinner just make mindful choices. No matter how you’re counting or tracking your meals, you can always look online to see if the restaurant has their nutritional information online. If not, Cristina has posted other ways to help estimate your macros for restaurant dishes. If you decide to go out one night and decide to drink you can calculate macros for drinks or have just one.
You don’t want to limit yourself, but you also need set priorities. Class comes before the gym because you are a student first. Mental health is just as important as eating well and working out. You need to enjoy life outside of classes, school work, and your healthy lifestyle. Balance is hard and may not always seem possible, but it’s not something that is completely unattainable – it just takes some work, nothing is ever actually easy. Don’t be scared to give it a try, sometimes it’s a lot easier than you expect.
I’ve been writing for a while, before this blog there was another blog. This is my outlet. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine – who I actually met through Instagram asked me about blogging. She said she thought she wanted to share her journey with health, fitness, eating disorders and the endless quest of finding balance. She also said she wasn’t sure if this was something could always invest in, really what it came down to – is there always something she felt she wanted to voice. I told her if wanted to guest to write a series she was welcome to. Alicia is in college and her journey started before she arrived on campus. My journey – my true start date was after college. Her perspective is unique and different than mine and I hope it may resonate with those of you who are around her age or may have experienced some of the things she discusses in her posts at that age even if it was decades ago. We’re calling the series: The Life of a Fit College Student.
Please keep in mind she is sharing her story for educational purposes; while she went through drafts of her post this is her “brain dumping” her thoughts onto the screen. After you’ve read her post, if you want to connect with Alicia you can do so via Instagram with the link below or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject: Life of a Fit College Student.
A lot of people may not know me, but I am Alicia (@_alicia_h on Instagram), a 20 year old college student. I was born, raised and still live in Pittsburgh. I am very passionate about health and fitness. Like most fitness junkies, I wasn’t always passionate about my health and fitness like I am today, but everyone has to start somewhere and I started back in my junior year of High School circa 2012.
I played volleyball my freshman and sophomore years, but I decided to quit in my junior year. I then joined the brand new LA Fitness in the South Side with my best friend. We would go there for two hours alternating between the cardio machines and weights. There were days we would walk on the treadmill with max incline for 45 mins, yes I know, I was crazy. We never bothered to ask anyone what we should and shouldn’t be doing because we were young and wanted to do this ourselves. I was around 5’4 and 180 pounds at the age of 16. I wasn’t comfortable in my body and I was at the age where I wanted to try to look my best. I had learned about basic weight lifting while I was playing volleyball such as squats, bench, and shoulder press, but we also did a lot of machines, so I stuck with the machines on light weights, did A LOT of cardio, and abs. My goal was to lose weight and to get abs. I had learned that our gym had different classes and one of them was Zumba, so I decided to give it a try. For the next year or two I would go to 1-3 times a week. I actually even bought the Zumba game for the Wii. By the end of 2012 I had lost probably around 15 pounds. I never started keeping track until I really started seeing results a year or two down the line.
My goal for 2013 was to obviously get skinny and get abs.
Within the first two weeks of 2013, I had lost my grandma, who was also my best friend, my support, my encouragement. She had told me that I needed to cut back on eating and get outside a little more since I had decided to quit volleyball. After she had passed, I had a goal: I was to lose weight and become a better person, a person who pushed herself to do her best in everything she encountered. I knew that would be what she wanted. At that point I had taken a month or so off from the gym, but I was going to start going consistently.
The Beginning of Weight Training
A family friend had offered to help teach me different things in the gym. This is where I really began to start weight lifting; he showed me the basics, we would warm up and do 10-15 minutes of cardio and then we would do 4-5 exercises with weights and that was it. We would do this five days a week. I also started doing Pilates once a week and I still did Zumba once or twice a week. By the time senior year rolled around I was around 150 pounds, I still never kept much track of the actual number, but I noticed many changes. I had to wear a uniform to school and my shirt and pants were pretty baggy on me; I didn’t care at that point so I just continued to wear them.
My family friend who had started teaching me about weightlifting had moved and I began working out by myself. I finally felt comfortable enough where I thought I was able to start doing it on my own, but I never started lifting really heavy. I would stick with lighter weights and move up when I felt comfortable, I mainly stuck with machines and occasionally I would do free weights. I also ended up running my first 5K, it was the Pittsburgh Marathon 5K where I raised money to support the Western PA Humane Society. My goal was to jog at least the first mile and then walk the rest because I really did not think I was able to run the whole thing, but I proved myself wrong and ran it with a time around 37 minutes. I know 37 minutes is typically a long time for a 5K but I didn’t train specifically for this race. I had no intention of actually caring about my time, I was doing this to support a charity. I was only doing some lifting and occasionally running on the treadmill or riding the stationary bike. I remember one of my high school teachers pulled me a side during one of the last days of school and told me how he thought I was doing great and he could really tell that I changed not only physically, but mentally, in a good way.
By the time graduation came I weighed around 140 pounds. My meals during the end of my Senior year were pretty much all the same:
- Breakfast: Special K Cereal or a Fiber one bar
- Lunch: Turkey sandwich on the sandwich thin breads or Tabbouli and Pita Bread with a side of a raw vegetable and an apple.
- Snack: granola bar or vegetables
- Dinner: A can of Soup or whatever my mom made
- Dessert: If I ever had dessert it was probably a cookie or huge bowl of ice cream
Getting Ready for College
The summer before I headed to college I got really serious about lifting and wanted to look my best or at least try to when I began college. I had gained some confidence already but I still wasn’t quite happy with my body. My best friend at the time would occasionally go to the gym with me because she wanted to lose weight before college also. I was very consistent, she was not; I went to the gym every day after working with my dad. There were mornings where I would get up and go to yoga and then go back later for lifting or sometimes I would go in the morning and lift and then go back in the afternoon to do cardio. I also started attending cycling classes every Saturday morning to challenge myself. I really did enjoy the group exercise classes that were offered, I attended a Hip Hop class once a week that was extremely challenging, but so much fun.
I started eating really clean and I would drink protein or buy protein bars from Aldis, yes, the off-brand grocery store. I stepped into GNC one day to try out their protein bars and I found Power Crunch bars, GNC brand bars, and the Gourmet Cheesecake bars. I started eating those after I worked out. I was in really good shape and continued to be in really good shape, I even purchased the class to get certified as a Personal Trainer (I still have not finished the class). People started telling me how I started looking good and the change was really noticeable and I began to really like the idea of people telling me that so I continued to do what I was doing. I was eating really clean throughout the day, but I noticed myself starting to binge eat at night. Some days I would eat a big bowl of ice cream or multiple cookies. I never worried about it because I thought, “Oh, I’m working out so much it doesn’t even matter if I eat this.”
When I started my freshman year of college I weighed between 130 and 135 pounds, that was my lowest weight since who knows when. I was still very consistent and eating very clean and I continued the routine I had for the summer, I would still go to the gym and I’d pack my own lunches and snacks for throughout the day. I really watched what I ate. I often wouldn’t want to do stuff because I continued to restrict myself.
The No-So-Great Turn
The anxiety began to set in because I put so much pressure on myself to be what I thought was extremely healthy and I also was just starting out college, I commuted from my parent’s house so it was a little stressful to get used to. In addition to this, I had started my first actual job. At this point I didn’t even want to attend college, to me it felt forced. I was constantly getting tired and not wanting to work out and just not wanting to do anything (the effects of eating under approximately 1100 calories a day). I was not myself and my family began to notice; they finally took me to see a primary care physician and I was diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa. I was not making myself vomit, but I was essentially over exercising and then restricting myself too. The doctor had not prescribed any therapy or anything, all I do remember him telling me was, “you can eat whatever without worrying about gaining weight.” Don’t get me wrong he is a great physician, but when it came to this type of situation he was not helpful at all. I weighed 125 pounds. Looking back I still didn’t believe that I actually had an eating disorder, but in reality I did. Most people don’t want to hear it, but there are so many people out there that have an undiagnosed eating disorder.
After being told that I had an eating disorder, I promised my parents that I would turn around, I realized that I didn’t want to live that way either. I wanted to be my normal self and not dread the workouts because I was tired and didn’t feel like doing anything. I started eating more, I still ate cleanly, but I didn’t restrict myself so much. I began to get my energy back and go to gym and not dread it. I actually had started lifting heavy, I started tracking my progress weekly, not my body weight, but the weights being lifted. I began to not worry about the number on the scale. I fell in love all over again with lifting and I truly enjoyed it! I met my now boyfriend, Evan, while he started losing weight and we pushed each other to be our best in and out of the gym. It is great to have someone who loves lifting almost as much as I do. I showed him new things that I enjoyed and we started training consistently together. My max squat was at 235 pounds, it has gone down a lot due to a tailbone injury and my hips being out of alignment and my max deadlift was 205 pounds. That’s something that shows health just as much if not more than a number on the scale.
Today, I continue to be on my journey, my goal is to get stronger and build more muscle. I do suffer from anxiety that sometimes interferes with my goals. I have recently started therapy to help overcome anxiety and to have someone I can open up to with the way I am feeling about everything. Sometimes I feel like I am on this journey alone and lose hope but I know that I have many people who do encourage and support me. I do have off days and currently I am eating what I feel like, it but I’m not overdoing it and trying to be mindful. I want to get my maxes back up to where they were. I had to relearn to squat so I could now actually do a full squat to parallel. I am slowly but surely getting back to the shape that I want to be in. I am not doing it for anyone, but myself because I want to feel great, be healthy and be fit.