The No-Nonsense Guide to Dieting in College, Made Easy Part 6: A Quick Rant + Summary

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By Ari Snaevarsson—Health and Wellness Columnist

If you have read this far into the series, I am aware I have delayed getting to the “good stuff” for quite a while, so I do apologize.  That being said, before we can move any further, I would like to capitalize on an extremely important theme of this series, and all of my dietary advice for that matter.  If there is one thing I can impart on everyone reading this, it is that labeling foods “good” or “bad” is an awful approach to dieting, for any goal.  This point will be consistently reinforced throughout the series, both explicitly and as an undertone to virtually every dietary guideline I give.

This is the problem with fad diets (Atkins, South Beach, Mediterranean, and paleo, to name a few); they ingrain the idea that in order to meet your body composition or health/fitness goals, you must only eat from a select list of foods.  When foods are dubbed “off-limits”, a dangerous mindset is given life; you are either on the diet or off the diet.

You may be “good” for a long while, but maybe one weekend you decide you want a blueberry muffin for breakfast.  Next thing you know, you are off the diet.  So why not let yourself splurge a little bit? What follows may be an all-out binge, feelings of guilt, determining dieting is too difficult and ultimately is not worth it, or all of the above.  Even if none of these scenarios take place, the fact that the dieter is led to believe they are doing something wrong by eating foods that are not “clean” is psychologically unhealthy and lacks any sort of scientific backing.

If I were to take a poll on campus about what people believe constitutes a proper diet, I would put my money on the word “clean” coming up early and often.  For anyone who uses this term, I challenge you to stop for a second and ask yourself what exactly makes a food “clean”.  Consider this: fruits are considered clean, yet are made up almost entirely of simple sugars; protein bars like Supreme are given this title as well, yet are literally just candy bars with added protein; pizza is considered junk food, yet is really nothing more than bread, tomato sauce, and cheese; bacon, too, is regarded as junk food because of its dietary fat content, yet in the context of a lower fat diet, it is hard to imagine this working to one’s detriment.

Certainly, obvious counterpoints can be made to each claim, but my intention in bringing this up is to help us begin to strip away the layers of sensationalism that plague this topic.  Calling foods “clean” or “dirty” is an inefficient way to go about dieting.  When it comes to changing one’s body composition through diet, the long and short of it is that you must inspire an energy imbalance; take in more calories than you burn to gain weight and take in less than you burn to lose weight.  Do not misunderstand this point; food quality plays into the efficacy of your diet as well, but A) It is not nearly as important as calorie or macronutrient intake, and B) What constitutes a “high quality food” is slightly more complex than the arbitrary definitions we so often hear.

We will revisit this topic in more depth in articles to come, but for now, understand that flexibility is the cornerstone of successful and sustainable dieting.  Before you start constructing your diet, it is critical that you take into account what is going to be practical for you personally.

Are you really set on the idea of going on a run and then getting breakfast each morning before your 8am, but you experience immense difficulty getting to bed at a reasonable time every night? Well then, maybe that is not such a realistic expectation.  It really does not matter how set on the idea of these early morning runs and breakfasts you are if it does not work for you.

This is yet another example of the shortcomings of fad diets; you are led to believe you must do so and so to achieve your goals.  If the Atkins diet is telling you to stay away from all carbohydrates and get most of your energy from fats, but you have an affinity for bread and live in a household where fatty foods are frowned upon, what good is that? The Atkins diet, like every fad diet, is not personalized for you and therefore is destined to fail.

I ask that you mentally dispose of the notion that dieting means staying away from any particular foods, or eating bland ones for that matter.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is either misinformed or trying to sell you something.

With that, this lengthy introduction to college dieting can be brought to a close.  The next article will explain the “health vs. body composition” dichotomy and then start off our instructional guide on how to actually go about constructing a successful diet that is personalized to you and your needs.  So, I will finish this section with a brief summary of all that we have gone over.

  • Virtually every student should be eating a healthy diet on campus (this need not, and should not, entail eating only bland foods and staying away from “junk food”).
  • There is no fathomable excuse for why you do not have time to focus on your diet.
  • Keep caffeine intake moderate (no more than 400mg a day for most individuals), get plenty of high quality sleep, choose meats and animal products raised and fed naturally to enhance Omega 3 fatty acid intake, try to stay away from trans fats, get a serving of fruit and veggies with every meal you can, bring a BPA-free bottle of water with you everywhere, and have some consistency in how/where/what you eat.
  • Keep some basic protein, carb, and fat sources (i.e. whey protein powder, oats, and natural peanut butter, respectively) around in your dorm as “insurance” for days you cannot get enough meals in.
  • Stop thinking of foods as “good” or “bad”; flexibility is the cornerstone of successful and sustainable dieting.


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