“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
(Kevin’s Note: This is a guest post I had last week on Caveman College. Check them out when you get a chance. This is good advice for college students about to return to school or anyone trying to create healthier habits.)
College is a place to improve your skills, grow as a person, mature into an adult, and train for a career. It’s also a place to get distracted, party, stay up late, and create or strengthen unhealthy eating and exercise habits. I was a good student, I graduated. I even got a Master’s degree, but there was much about life I didn’t learn in college that cost me 10 years of good health. Hopefully, I can convince some of you current college students to learn from my mistakes. This could be like an online course (which didn’t exist when I was in college, but that’s dating myself). Call it, Learn from an Idiot 101.
College is the first place most people are free to make their own decisions. I did not understand how CRITICAL this was to my future success. Maybe I’m the exception (doubtful as I’ve seen from the examples of my friends and co-workers), but most college age kids are well…stupid. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. They say, “youth is wasted on the young”. That is true. And, at this critical age, 18-22, you are creating habits and making decisions that will impact the rest of your life. I was way too flippant about this. I remember when I decided to be a teacher, the main factor for me was that it only took a year to get a masters degree. This is a terrible reason to choose a profession, and it affected the next DECADE of my life. But, that is for another post. However, the concept is the same. The habits that I established during this age (even though unintentionally established) impacted the next decade of my life as well.
Now this is not to say that I set out to create horrible habits and eat my way to over 300 pounds. But, the fact that I paid little to no attention to my health habits is what got me in trouble. My general strategy for eating had always been, if I wanted to eat it, and it tasted good, I ate it. Now, this is how most Americans eat. Even when they try to eat healthy, they have a salad and douse it in ranch dressing. Also, I went to college in an age before information was easily available about eating Primally (like this website). I followed conventional wisdom, and didn’t understand how harmful grains were to my system, and how they halted any attempts I made to lose weight. Fortunately, guys like Max and Josh are sounding the Primal horn and letting people know that they have been taught bad information by the government and the schools about health and nutrition.
Throughout my college career, I felt like I was attending Grains University. The crazy thing is, that almost every college kid is attending the same place, and because grains are a cheap source of food to make people feel full, that isn’t about to change anytime soon. Grains are everywhere. When you are a freshman, eating at the various cafeterias, you are going to get some kind of grain with every meal (pastas, breaded chicken, mashed potatoes and fries, etc). If you go to a larger university, you have the added luxury of having fast food places right on campus (Panda Express and McDonald’s for example). Again, loaded with grains. And, everywhere you eat usually has unlimited amounts of soda you can drink. All of this leads to massive weight gain. Plus, I haven’t even mentioned the alcohol. Most college kids, if they decide to party, drink excessive amounts of beer (almost all grains). This is no wonder the “freshman fifteen” has become so commonplace. Just the unlimited soda alone is enough to help you gain that weight. And then, you move out on your own and start “cooking” for yourself, which is often times even worse. Top Ramen, macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs are common staples in the college diet.
Besides the dietary pitfalls of college, there are also the environmental and social distractions that can cause one to establish some unhealthy habits as well. College kids stay up late, and sleep in late. College kids procrastinate and then disregard sleep to finish important assignments all while drinking Red Bull and stressing out. Irregular sleep patterns and too much stress mess with your hormones, which leads to weight gain.
Now again, if there is one lesson I can impart from the mistakes I have made, it’s this: The things you do in college, and the choices you make become your habits. This cannot be emphasized enough. They say, “You form your habits, and then your habits form you.” The habits you will carry around for your adult life are strengthened, if not created while you are in college. If you take that one idea out of this post, you already will be ahead of 90% of the people your age. Here are some tips I wish I had of known and applied to my life when I was in college.
1. Get on and stay on a regular sleep schedule. This may be the most difficult thing to do, which is why I mention it first. However, if you are rested and have good energy, it will be much easier to establish the other healthy habits. Set a bed time, and more importantly set a time to get up. This will take TREMENDOUS discipline at first. Your friends will make fun of you, your roommate will piss you off when he comes in late and wakes you up, but this is critical. Not only does it help you regulate your hormones, but getting up early helps you be more productive. If you are up by 8am during the week, and most others aren’t getting up until 10am, you just gained 10 hours/week on them. Once this is a habit, it won’t be a big deal, just like any other healthy habit the initial part will take a lot of energy. But, creating this one habit sets you up for future success.
2. Limit your alcohol consumption. This is tough I know, but all of that alcohol is just empty calories. And, on top of that it’s mostly grains which will wreak havoc on your blood sugar and store more of it as fat. Bad news. And, when you drink, for some reason you tend to eat bad food. I remember many of my friends making Taco Bell runs after a night of partying. Not a good combination for living a healthy lifestyle. If you want to drink, save it for your cheat day. Even then, you may have to adjust depending on your weight.
3. Set a workout schedule and find a reliable workout partner. It took me until I was 34 to figure this out. But, it is critical. Figure out what your weekly workout schedule is going to be and then find someone who is willing to do it with you. Selecting your workout partner is critical. Most of the time it’s probably not going to be a close friend. If it is, awesome. But, the primary characteristic you’re looking for is someone who is going to show up and be committed. It is much easier to stick to a workout schedule if you know someone else is counting on you to show up. That’s why your partner is so important. Because, it is also easier to skip workouts if your partner is trying to convince you that it’s a better idea to stay up late or sleep in. Make this a priority. It has to be on your daily schedule. Nothing crazy, 30-60 minutes of activity a day should be enough.
4. Avoid grains six days a week. If you make this commitment, again the first few weeks will be tough. All of the food services on campus or around campus are trying to make money. So, they find the cheapest source of food and feed it to you. Rice with your meat in Asian food, pasta with your meatballs, potatoes with your fried chicken, and fries with your burgers. However, I would venture to say every meal can be made primal. Some meals may be more difficult than others, but again, if you want something bad enough, you will figure out a way to make it happen. Just like with the other habits, if you make this decision and commitment ahead of time, it will make it easier to follow through on. If you wait until you’re hungry and in line to eat before you decide, chances are you’re going to struggle. Make a commitment, and then figure out how to make it manageable.
Again, most college kids will read this and conclude it’s too hard. But, some won’t. And this post is directed at you. If you build those healthy habits now, you will save yourself a lot of pain, health problems, and improve your quality of life. That is an extremely fair trade for disciplining yourself now. I wish someone had of told me this stuff when I was in college. Heck, they probably did and I just wasn’t listening. I was an average college kid just not paying attention to my habits. Don’t be average!