When I was about one week into my freshman year of college, I remember thinking that I had finally discovered the way to a Jessica Biel body. If I had a diet soda for breakfast, a salad bar lunch, a few scoops of peanut butter for protein during the day, and then only drank on the weekends, I would be seeing washboard abs in NO time.
Six months and 40 pounds later, I was was staring at my muffin top and wondering what had gone wrong.
I had fallen into that trap to which so many students succumb: I had gone crazy for low-fat, no-sugar processed foods that promised to keep me slim and instead made me look somewhat like Violet Beauregarde from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” If only I knew these 5 secret foods that were making me fat:
1. Diet Soda Breakfast. A no-calorie way to keep you full all the way through your morning classes – it sounds too good to be true! That’s because it is. Sure there are no calories, but there are TONS of chemicals in there that some studies say more likely to gain weight. Also, the carbonation will make you feel incredibly bloated. Furthermore, since you had a zero calorie breakfast, you will probably be more likely to “treat yourself” to a mid-morning snack – if it’s carrot sticks and hummus, that’s fine, but let’s be honest…we all know you are going to get a gigantic cinnamon roll. Diet sodas are fine as the occasional treat or late night study session fuel, but it would behoove you to nix it as your breakfast.
2. Fat-Free, Sugar-Free Frozen Desserts. Don’t even lie. You are probably eating that fake sugar, whipped air, frozen “confection” as you read this. And, if you are like I was, you are making it your lunch. This is one of the worst things you can do for yourself – you are filling your body with so many chemicals and fake substances that your metabolism will go crazy. You might feel okay now, but chances are that when you finally let yourself have one chicken finger, your body will freak out and hold onto those calories like it’s Meryl Streep in “Sophie’s Choice.” Additionally, there is a big chance that you are loading on the gummi bears, brownie bites and hot fudge as toppings to your yogurt, resulting in way more sugar and calories than if you had just eaten a turkey burger. Like the diet soda, this is okay as a treat, but don’t make it a meal replacement.
3. Salad Bars. We all know the dangers of salad bars – you don’t load on the creamy dressings, bacon bits or croutons, so you think you are safe. But sometimes young collegiates subscribe to the Cancel Out Theory. This theory states that one plate of lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes cancels out a slice of deep dish pizza with sausage and onions, accompanied by a draft beer. Just because you are eating something healthy and full of fiber doesn’t mean you now have a calorie deficit which you can fill with whatever trans-fats strike your fancy. If you put a few shreds of whole fat cheese and some rare steak on your salad, it might fulfill your fats craving without any sodium or complex carb overload. Additionally, be careful of putting too many cruciferous veggies like cabbage, cauliflower or broccoli on your salad – they can make you bloated and gassy. SO not attractive at movie night in your dorm.
4. Weekend Drinks. Just because you only drink two nights out of the week does not mean that you are going to avoid weight gain. If you are anything like…um…girls I knew (not myself of course), you will start drinking Friday night and not end till early Sunday morning. In those hours, you will have consumed multiple sugary drinks, creamy concoctions, fruity libations and enough chips, dip, English muffin pizzas and pints of ice cream to feed a small nation. This “take no prisoners” approach to the weekend is a great way to wake up Monday morning feeling like you have a pile of lead in your stomach and an entire Irish dance team jigging away in your head. Much better that you allow yourself one cocktail or glass of wine when you feel like it during the week. If you have class the next day, you are far less likely to get carried away and max out your credit card on mudslides and loaded potato skins. Everything in moderation – if you drink a moderate amount of alcohol daily, it is better than drinking a huge amount once a week. Like I said, I acquired this information from girls I know: I never actually experienced it myself…
5. Peanut Butter. Repeat after me: “A jar is not a serving size. A jar is not a serving size.” Do NOT dig a spoon in there and think that you can handle stopping. Ever. You CAN’T. Something about the creamy, nutty, salty-sweet combo of peanuts and honey sends endorphins to the brain and makes it impossible to stop eating. Follow this advice and measure your portions. And spread it on something – a celery stick, a graham cracker, a pretzel, anything at all. You might think that you are saving calories and carbs by eating the peanut butter au natural, but you are really just giving yourself another reason to dig back into that jar with your spoon or fingers. Peanut butter is a great source of protein and healthy fat, but too much of a good thing is just too much. Measuring is your friend here, and the more you measure your portions, the less you will have to measure yourself for new pants.
Sarah Spigelman is a graduate of the University of Arizona. These days, she lives in NYC, where she writes the food blog Fritos and Foie Gras and is living proof that you can still eat pizza at 2 am, even after you graduate.