Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Op-Ed: Miss Fit – The frustrations of sustaining a healthy lifestyle on a college campus

I am not a physiology or nutrition expert, nor am I an “athlete.”  I would like to begin with this disclaimer to dispel any notion that I am attempting to market myself as such. I am simply your average twenty-something female who developed a passion for health and a penchant for clean eating.  My adventures in the fitness world have been hindered by obstacles ranging from my own ignorance to misinformation, from prejudices to dining hall inflexibilities and from social pressures to the strains of college life.  I emerge from these roadblocks at a high level of personal physical condition with the expectation of continuing to improve my health and athleticism. As I become conscious of the extreme importance of fitness in sustaining a happy and (somewhat) sane college life I’m compelled to share a few insights that may be useful to my non-athlete peers seeking fitness information. This week’s tidbit is:  Common roadblocks to achieving fitness goals in the college setting.

1. Apathy

Exercise and diet did not feature prominently in my thoughts during the high school/college transition. I’m sure there were some fitness aficionados among the throngs of freshmen, but those of us not on a Stanford sports roster likely had little concern with healthy dining options and navigating athletic facilities. We were busy being bombarded with hundreds of new faces, classes, a cappella groups, parties and profound late-night bonding sessions. Who in her right mind leaps out of bed for a jaunt around campus loop before that 9 a.m. Spanish class after a Wednesday night spent chugging wine and gorging on delicious cheeses?

2. Time (lack of time, that is)

Nowadays, I begin every day with a run and end each day with a weight-lifting session. Oftentimes when my workout program comes up in conversation, I receive the reaction: “I wish I had the time to work out like you do.” I hate to burst the bubble, but the time to work out doesn’t just “happen.” I am no less busy with academics, extracurricular shenanigans and social engagements than your typical Stanford girl. You have to create the time to exercise and find a way to shove it into your tight schedule. This is difficult — not impossible.

3. Negative Stereotypes

These stereotypes come in many flavors. Nobody wants to be known as the “gym rat” who gazes admiringly at his biceps in the Arrillaga mirrors. Everyone always has a snide laugh at “rollerblade woman” who glides to class to get extra cardio in. I have personally become known in Stern dining as the weird “chicken-girl,” because I always request that the chef grill plain, un-marinated chicken for me (I don’t want oil and sugar). There are detractors quick to label consistent exercise as “compulsive” and conscious eating as “restrictive.” Of course disordered eating and distorted body image are serious issues and quite prevalent at Stanford. However, being labeled as a “compulsive over-exerciser” merely because I’m not a Stanford-sanctioned athlete is disturbing and ridiculous.

4. Ignorance (and inability to set goals)

This was one of my most significant roadblocks after I overcame the apathy factor and decided to get in shape. There is a vast world of misinformation and a burdensome quantity of good information too. Navigating the sea of fad diets, trendy workout programs, blogs, supplements, protein powders, personal trainers and stylish, overpriced spandex can be daunting and discouraging. It has taken years of floundering to locate what I consider reliable sources of information about exercise and nutrition. On a related note, a common challenge to reaching health goals is defining those goals in the first place. Do you want to excel in a particular area? Become a better runner, cyclist, etc.? Do you want to gain muscle? Lose fat? Tone? Without setting realistic and well-defined goals, it will be impossible to sort out the good information from the bad.

5. Misconceptions and overgeneralizations

This is an enormous category, and I mention it here for the purpose of dispelling some of the most common health/fitness misconceptions. A) Fit does not mean skinny. Getting into shape does not necessarily mean losing weight. I have spent the past six months attempting to gain five pounds of lean muscle, and it was much more physically demanding than periods of my life when I’ve attempted to lose weight. B) Crash diets do not work. Rather, they are not sustainable. Maybe you can drop ten pounds with the latest fad on the market, but you’ll gain that and more when you stop. Making a healthy diet a lifestyle choice is the only realistic way to achieve a strong, fit homeostasis. C) Achieving fitness goals requires a plan and a strategy. It is unbelievably frustrating to watch the people in the gym who wander randomly from machine to machine, pumping out a few ineffectual reps and leave thinking they’ve achieved something. Don’t be afraid to ask for information and instruction! There are plenty of resources, especially at the Stanford gyms. If you’re going to take the time to go to the gym, make sure you’re not wasting it.

 

Erica Morgan ’11

 

Erica will be sharing these insights in a sequence of three columns. Look for the next column with suggestions for overcoming common roadblocks and tips for navigating the dining halls and college gyms! Email her at emorgan1@stanford.edu.

  • Robin Thomas

    Thanks for writing this, Erica. Not many things make my heart hurt like one of my perfectly healthy-looking female friends refusing perfectly good food because she’s “too fat.” The only difference not eating will make in your life is that you’ll feel sickly, lethargic, and will be prone to binge-eating, which will make you feel even worse.

  • 2012

    Regarding point 4., it would be helpful if you could point to specific ‘trustworthy’ sites, blogs, and other resources. Thanks!

    I’d add another point – 6. Passing judgment on others. It is incredibly frustrating to be judged (be it actually judged or perceived to be judged). To have someone looking at you/your elliptical calories/time elapsed/miles run is rude and disconcerting – mind your own business and stop looking at my machine! Women do this to women all the time and it is obnoxious. Why can’t we just support each other?

    Looking forward to your next columns!

  • @2012

    Bodybuilding.com is decent although there’s a lot of misinformation on there. I personally prefer rxmuscle.com’s training videos. Each video follows a different pro or amateur figure, fitness, bikini or bodybuilding competitor as they go through their workout for a particular body part, and new ones are added all the time. You can learn a lot just from watching those videos.

  • Erica Morgan

    I’ll absolutely post links to some of my favorite blogs and websites. I was planning on organizing them and sticking them in later columns, but I’ll make sure to post the links here.

    bodybuilding.com is great for lifting technique info, but can be very hit or miss, especially on the nutrition front.

    Thanks for the feedback. Good call on the judgement factor! People need to be supportive or mind their own business. There is no room for negative energy when it comes to your body and your health.