Fries in a basket with ketchup

Fries with that? by klynslis via Creative Commons

One of my proudest health related moments came during my second year of college.

When I first moved into Jester my freshman year, I, like many others, went through that culture shock of immediate freedom.  I could order pizza whenever I wanted!  Sleeping in was no longer considered a bad thing (everyone was doing it)!  And thanks to my dining plan in the dorm, food was constantly available as long as I could find a merchant that would accept the card.

But I was already in bad shape. When I walked across the stage at my school graduation, I weighed 210 pounds, and not much of that was what I would call “muscle.”  Diabetes runs in the family on my dad’s side, and high blood pressure on my mom’s.  I came to the realization that something needed to change, and quick.  So I started being more structured with my meals. I hired one of the personal trainers in training at the Gregory Gym (conveniently located across the street) to get me started, and once that ended I kept going.  To make a long story short, I ended up getting down to 150 lbs by the beginning of my second UT fall, became a lot happier with myself, and felt a lot more secure about my future.

It is safe to say that almost all of us could do for a little more respect for our bodies, but when you are taking that leap of faith into the “real” world of a college student, sometimes that is one of the last things on your mind.  And even if you do decide to take control, where do you even begin?  Who can you talk to?

Brandy Shih’s job, as Dietitian for the University of Texas’ Department of Housing & Food Service, is to do just that.  I spoke with her to ask about common concerns and sources of confusion for beginners, and to find out just what it is that pushes so many students to succumb to the “Freshman 15.”

Austin Appetite: Many people have heard the advice that you are supposed to get 2000 calories in a day, but is that true, and where does it come from?

Brandy Shih: Basically, the nutrition fact label says that the daily intake is roughly 2000 calories, but that is really not the best. Everybody is different. When I do calculations for figuring out how many calories you need, I need to take in account your age, your weight, your height, your activity and everything, so that is a little bit better of a ballpark number. Just saying 2000 calories, that’s just really general. Looking at my consulations I do with the students here, it basically ranges from 1500 calories up to maybe even 2800 calories, depending on how active the person is.

If someone recognizes they are having issues with being over or under nourished, what are some of the things that you would recommend for them to rectify that?

[With students I advise] I always go through the different food groups and what recommendations of how many servings they need of each one. So, how many servings of the green group, how many servings of fruits and vegetables, and the dairy, and the proteins. I just kind of go from there, and having those amount of servings generally add up to the amount of calories they should have.

If there were three things you wish everyone was more aware of (in particular, the student population), what would they be?

1. Portion control. I always tell people about portion control. People go way overboard all the time. They don’t realize what an actual “portion” is. If you go Romano’s Macaroni Grill you are going to get a plate of pasta that is probably like 4-5 servings. There is no reason why we need to be eating all of that in one sitting.

2. Having a variety. Variety is such a huge and broad term, but it really is [important]. I mean, one of my good friends, he just eats fast food every single day, and basically it is a burger, fries and a drink. And it is like, there is a lot more foods out there that can meet your needs that are tasty. So having a variety of food is always good and something I suggest to students. Maybe at home they only had a set amount of things they were exposed to, but there are so many types of foods out there you may like. You should always try new things.

3. Physical activity. I get a lot of people in here that want to lose weight, but they kind of don’t want to go move. It is a pretty big part. You know, studies have shown you can diet [and get results], but it is not going to do as much good as doing diet and exercise, changing your lifestyle. So that’s what I tell students, it is not a diet, it is basically a behavior change, that you are going to eat these foods, and then incorporate the healthier physical activity by getting out there and moving. We lead such sedentary lives, and you have to get out and move at some point! People kind of forget that they need to do that.

In your opinion, what is the biggest problem you see students having?

When I go upstairs to eat during my lunch time, I see a lot of food, piles on people’s plate, and I’m just impressed with how much they are eating. I know that they are moving around a lot, they are active and things like that, but sometimes it is such a huge amount I can’t help thinking if they keep that habit up, and never slow down, it’s just going to get bad. I think part of the issue is a lot of people don’t know how to eat healthy now, and you are setting in your habits now, so once you get out into the “real world” with office work and doing things on your own and are not having mom and dad to help you cook foods, you are not going to incorporate those physical activities in order to have a healthy life. Keeping up the healthier behaviors throughout the college years and into the 20s, it makes it a lot easier later.

Do you have any resources you would recommend to anyone who wants to get serious about monitoring their own nutrition?

Lance Armstrong has a website called The Daily Plate, and you can put in what you eat during the day, what you exercise during the day, and you can enter your height, your weight, and if you want to lose weight or maintain or gain muscle, those kinds of things, and it will help you see what you need to do. For example, you have your breakfast, you had this many calories, and then maybe during the day, you went to run for 30 minutes, so it will now say you have a negative amount of this because you only had this much to eat. So it kind of helps the person track down what exactly they are doing. That’s what I tell people; if you keep a food journal, it helps you keep track of things, because you have to write down everything. You can’t just skip the part where you ate a piece of candy or [drank the] soda, you have to write everything down. It is just keeping log and seeing the calories in verus the calories out, and seeing where exercise comes into play.

There is even MyPyramid.gov, that’s where the food guide pyramid is, and they also have their own program where you can track different foods. It shows you what servings you should have, so that is also a great resource to have.

Brandy Shih is available to talk by appointment to all students living in on-campus through the Division of Housing & Food Services. Her contact information (along with more helpful advice from Nutrition Services) can be found here.

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