The downside of dorm life

Now that I don’t live at home, I don’t eat healthy food or exercise.What should I do?

Girl cartoon with backpack full of food (photo credit: MCT)
Girl cartoon with backpack full of food
(photo credit: MCT)
I am a 20-year-old woman after military service, and a first-year university student living in the dorms. I drink a lot of coffee with sugar and cook on a hotplate. When I lived at home, I watched my weight and would exercise, but now I find myself eating a lot – and badly. I also haven’t had time to exercise since starting classes. Do you have any advice for someone in my situation?
M.A., Yeroham Sigal Frischman, head of the nutrition and diet unit at the Rabin Medical Center – Beilinson Campus, answers: Being a student is characterized by a number of problems that make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. No period in life is easy. When we don’t really want to watch our weight, we find all kinds of reasons not to do so. And when we have a lot of motivation to lose some weight, such as before getting married, we will surely find a way to succeed.
The main causes of weight gain when going away to study include long days away from home; having to cook for oneself or eating without parental supervision and help; buying cheap junk food in fast-food places; continuous pressure and stress; and fatigue from study; and the need to concentrate and remain alert.
First, organize yourself and your dorm room so that you have food in the refrigerator and in the cabinets that are good for you and not fattening. Don’t make decisions on what do eat when you’re already famished, and the fastest thing to eat is anything you can stuff into a pita. Include in your shopping list or what you bring from home a lot of fresh or frozen vegetables, as well as fruit. Buy whole-grain bread instead of white bread, which fills you up more and provides a lot of healthy fiber. Make easy vegetable soups, whole-grain rice, sweet potatoes and other nutritious foods. For snacks, take along yogurt (unsweetened if possible), dates, nuts, energy bars or sandwiches.
Never forget to eat breakfast. A whole-grain cereal such as granola without sugar, to which you add cinnamon and low-fat milk, is a good and fast choice to start the day. Eschewing a good breakfast means you will be hungry a few hours later, and gorge yourself with junk food. Take along a sandwich with cheese, tehina, avocado, hard-boiled egg or tuna. When you return to the dorm, try to prepare one daily hot meal that is satisfying and calming. Remember that if you eat a big meal, however, your concentration and energy will be reduced.
Many students stop exercising when they start their studies, even though aerobic activity activates the hormones and central nervous system and can promote concentration. It doesn’t have to be all at once, but it should reach a total of 200 minutes a week.
You should drink 10 to 12 glasses of water a day. Don’t fall into the trap fo drinking cola and other sugar-filled (or even diet) drinks through the day. Don’t drink too much coffee – the caffeine in it keeps you alert for only a short time. If you depend on caffeine to be alert, it is liable to raise your blood pressure and make you tense.
Try to eat six small meals a day. These can include whole-grain crackers, yogurt, white cheese, vegetables, fruit and an energy bar every three hours.
I never take an afternoon nap on a weekday. I eat dairy meals, including fish, during the week, and only on Shabbat do my family and I eat meat, poultry and various side dishes.
So I find that around 1 p.m. on Shabbat, we all fall asleep for a few hours, and it makes it difficult to fall asleep on Saturday night. Is there something in animal protein that causes people to fall asleep or go into a stupor? T.M., Nahariya Dr. Olga Raz, director of the nutrition and dietetics department at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center and head of nutrition sciences at Ariel University, replies: Apparently it is not really the meat and poultry that cause tiredness and sleepiness after eating, but the fact that on Shabbat, you eat heavy meals with carbohydrate side dishes such as rice and potatoes, first courses and maybe even sweet desserts. If you were to eat only meat, poultry and green vegetables, it’s reasonable that you would not feel so sleepy. This phenomenon is connected to the significant increase in insulin levels after a big meal that contains these things.
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