Weight gain: how to develop healthy habits for your body and mind?
Weight fluctuation can happen at any point in someone’s life. But, I was heavily impacted by my weight gain during my years at university so I believe that sharing my experience within the academic context is very important. Weight gain was one of the biggest factors which negatively impacted my mental health while at university. This is a serious topic and I would like nothing more but to start a conversation about this topic by telling my story and offering some insights.
Now let’s get to it!
I have put on a lot of weight during my 4 years at university. As far as regrets go weight gain is at the top of my list. Before going to university, I was content with my body and lived an incredibly active lifestyle. I went to the gym or played basketball for at least 5 days a week.
Putting on weight isn’t uncommon at university. Researchers at Auburn University found that a whopping 70% of students packed on an average of 12, and up to 37 pounds by graduation. The degree to which this happened to me is probably worse than most. At one point I was 20 kilos (about 45 pounds) heavier than when I started uni.
The gradual realization of what was happening chipped away at my self-esteem to the point that I couldn’t stand to look at myself in a mirror. Being in pictures and whenever I spoke to someone, I became incredibly self-conscious of my looks. Some of these problems have yet to be fully dealt with.
So how did this happen and what have I learned for it?
Old habits don’t always work when something else changes
Before I went to university my levels of independence were pretty high. I have always cooked my own food. I knew my way around a kitchen and the supermarket. At home, I ate a lot of home-cooked food and I ate because I was hungry.
In my first year at uni when my activity levels were still pretty high, I was fine. I played basketball and went to the gym. But after the first year as my studies got harder, I began to exercise less and less because I couldn’t find time to do it. Procrastinating on schoolwork didn’t leave me any time for extracurricular activities and the stress of studies made me too tired to work out.
Stress pushed my eating cravings higher while I was getting less exercise. The vicious cycle of eating and sitting ruined how I looked and felt.
The emergence of new self-destructive habits
To make matters worse I picked up new less effective habits as well. Before my second year of university, I would never comfort eat. Now, I had a different schedule every semester and being constantly on the go made me reach for food all the time. What I reach for most were the fast options. My healthy diet of home-cooked meals was turned on its head. Cooking at home felt impossible as I didn’t feel I had the time for it. Instead of eating rice, meats, vegetables, and pasta, I would now buy sugary and salty snacks at the supermarket.
From occasional treat to a diet that crippled me
A treat here and there wouldn’t hurt. They make for great rewards to keep one motivated. For me though, year on year this habit of eating junk got worse. Before I realized I was being powered by doughnuts, cookies, garlic bread, noodles, and £3 meal deals. My diet went from a relatively healthy balance of proteins, carbs, fats, and micronutrients to pure processed food. The types of foods I lived off were those that every dietician would tell you to avoid because they are calorically dense and void of nutrients.
The diet I was on shortens your lifespan. I felt lethargic and I thought I needed to keep eating sugary things to get the energy to keep going. The weight kept coming on, drastically. I was getting low in mood and growing bigger.
My dark moment
After 2 years of putting on weight, my self-esteem hit rock bottom. As a kid in Brazil, I was seriously overweight and I was constantly bullied for it. I moved schools 5 times (for a variety of reasons) but the bullying always followed. I felt worthless as a child and harbored a lot of hatred for other people and myself.
When I moved to the UK at the age of 13, I’d become far more active. My excess weight melted thanks to
- new nutrition habits,
- increased activity levels.
Now, in my 20s I felt that I had regressed. All of those feelings of worthlessness and self-hatred reemerged.
- Seeing myself in the mirror was painful and I would choose not to look.
- Being photographed with friends and family was a no-go zone. I avoided pictures like the plague.
- Feeling constantly conscious of my large size affected my interactions with others.
- As I hated what I had become and how I felt about myself, I was falling into depression without knowing it.
My breakthrough: making a decision and sticking to it!
In my final year, as I began to see the end of uni on the horizon. I made a decision. I would not let uni end this way! At the start of 2019, I weighed 110kg, and I was heartbroken. All of my frustrations as a student coping with uni life had come out in eating food that made me feel worthless. I resolved to change this! And this time, I would stick to my promise because I began to see who I was followed directly from my actions.
I desired to be a fit, healthy-looking, positive, confident young man. I needed to show up for myself better! Since then, I have been able to lose ¾ of the weight and more keeps coming off. I feel lighter and I am happier than I have been in a long time.
So how did I succeed?
It all starts with the mind but it does not end there!
It would be dishonest to tell you I did not try to stop eating as I watched myself get rounder. I did try. And, I failed so many goddamn times, I no longer believed I had the willpower to do it. But at the bottom of hopelessness and helplessness dwells that one more try! So I kept trying and each time I adopted a new approach. Where previously I was relying on willpower alone, now I set up specific goals and created specific eating plans for each day.
I started by buying a scale and making a commitment to weigh myself every Monday, first thing in the morning. Getting on the scale was terrifying. Facing the extra weight I did not want was heartbreaking. I could feel that disappointment steal my self-respect. But, as I showed up to note where I was on the scale each Monday, I was now claiming it back.
Knowing your situation and setting goals feels empowering.
I set myself the goal of losing 1 kg every week. After researching everything that I could about nutrition, my plan was to eat roughly 2000 calories a day. I’d eat a bit more when I went out with friends and a bit less on other days. The caloric limit also meant that I had to lay off the processed foods and go back to how it was before, eating home-cooked food. My final goal is to ultimately reach 80 kg and I am currently at 92 kg. As I write this, I have just gone past the halfway point, having lost 16 kilos.
My information came mainly from YouTube. I spent a lot of time listening to the best bodybuilders on the platform, including OmarIsuf, Vitruvian Physique, Jeff Nippard, Athlean-X, Obese to Beast and AlphaDestiny. Those guys are life changers in my eyes and they know what they are talking about.
When you start to move towards your goals a lot more changes…
As my nutrition changed and the weight began coming off, my confidence began to return. With each week I noticed myself growing in my resolve. Compliments about how I looked began to come in after a couple of months which helped too. Yet the most important thing for me each week was seeing that number on the scale go down through my consistent effort to keep to my new habit. Of course, not much happened in the first 2 weeks that anyone else would notice on the outside. This was the toughest bit of time in my change process. During the first 14 days, I was full of doubt. I saw a small movement at the end of week 1 but I honestly did not believe it. It could be a fluke I thought. But after 2 weeks and then the 3rd and 4th week of consistent improvement, my belief in myself and my process grew.
We are always a ‘work in progress’
I still do not look the way that I want to. There is more distance to go. But that’s okay. What’s different is that now I know that I can get there. I have:
- the knowledge of what works for me and why,
- the willpower to do it,
- a process I can follow.
I still feel insecure at times, but I know that I can look the way I want to if I stick to my good habits. And, it’s more than just my looks that are changing for the better! As my body becomes healthy and fit, so does my mind. I feel optimistic and I love the person I am becoming.
If you can recognize yourself in my story here are three pieces of advice:
- Don’t ignore things that cause you pain. Mental or emotional suffering is just as bad as physical pain.
- Ensure you’re coping mechanisms are not making things worse.
- Find help and keep trying!
It’s important to face the key problems head-on. Had I taken a bit more time to reflect on what was happening things would never get so bad. If I sat down to plan better eating options earlier in uni, I would have saved myself a great deal of suffering, disappointment, and self-paralysis. Not paying attention made a large part of my university experience miserable and self-inflicted.
A tool that can help: 14 Day Habit Builder
It can help you develop your personal success formula for how you can:
- start to exercise to lose weight or get fit,
- put in a regular hour of study time,
- improve skills like writing or coding,
- give yourself daily allocated time for your favorite extracurricular activity that’s currently being squeezed out of your life.
The most critical change is figuring out how to keep going!
The 14 Day Habit Builder helps you start and most importantly sustain your resolve.
If you do stop, the tool helps you see why what you tried did not work in your situation giving you important clues to how you need to tweak things to do better. It helps you move from a quitter to an improver. That is big progress!
While only you can do the actual work, an effective, easy to use tool will help you get results faster.
Losing 2 kilos in the first 2 weeks felt like a fluke but without powering through those 14 days I could not keep going. What we all need to succeed is consistent action. The 14 Day Habit Builder Challenge helps you keep showing up!
Sign up today and help yourself become who you want to be.
You can access other blogs in this series here. Prepare for more practical, very honest and down to earth insights. Feel free to share this blog with people who may need to read it. You can also leave me a comment on MTC social media channels using #MTCBlogNik.