During my first year of college, I gained the dreaded “Freshman Fifteen”. And I knew why: I ate some of the cheapest food available, mostly to save money. The cheapest food is often the worst for your health.
I lost the extra college weight fortunately, but unfortunately that wasn’t my last experience with undesirable weight gain. I ran into what I call the “Freshman Teacher Fifteen”—it was actually only five pounds, but it looked like 15! The Freshman Teacher Fifteen is a natural consequence of too many days stressed, frazzled, and hurried in your classroom.
I consider it “natural” because so many teachers (me included) tend to eat when stressed. The pleasure of food boosts our serotonin levels, easing high levels of cortisol (a common stress hormone). So we teachers eat—after school, during plan time, and at meetings. Before you know it, our clothes are tighter and we decide to wear them anyway. Gradually, that five can become 15, then 50. And we accept that we’re now a size larger. It seems natural to call it “natural.”
Does my experience sound familiar?
So here’s the question: are you okay with that?
If you’re not comfortable with the idea (or the reality) of the Freshman Teacher Fifteen, there is a way out. I wasn’t OK with that. So I experimented, researched, and, finally learned to combat that all-too-common weight gain. So here are my best 3 ways to fight it:
- When you feel the urge, divert. If you can’t wait to get home so you can stand at the kitchen counter and eat a whole package of Oreos or a bag of chips, divert your intentions. Your body is tired and needs something. This is the time to trick your brain. Drink a big glass of water. Then have a nice cup of tea. If you still feel like eating, go ahead. But you’re 90% less likely to eat anywhere near as much as you would before.
What if you’re going to a meeting where you know they’ll have a bowl of candy? Take a healthy alternative, like a chocolate protein bar. By the end of the meeting, you’ll feel proud of your willpower.
- Take 50, not 500. Goldfish was my favorite “go to” snacking food at the end of a tough day. I noticed on the label that I could have around 50 goldfish and it equaled 130 calories. That’s chump change compared to a whole bag! So I would count out those 50—which looks and feels like a lot—and enjoy every last one of them. By the time, I finished, I no longer felt like inhaling the 500 in the bag.
Whatever your favorite snack food may be, find out the serving size and eat only that amount. Forcing yourself to slow down allows you to enjoy the food more, and you’ve satisfied your craving. It’s a win-win.
- Breathe and take Omega 3. A couple of years ago, my commute was 30 minutes each way. I began listening to books on tape. That’s when I discovered a great book called “Spontaneous Happiness” by Andrew Weil, MD.. In it, Weil recommends meditation to decrease stress. He also recommends taking Omega 3. I’ve been taking the supplement—along with Vitamin D and Magnesium—and I can feel a major difference. The combination has either increased my serotonin —the happy hormone—or decreased my cortisol. Either way, I have less desire to eat a whole bag of snack food!
Controlling the urge to eat when you feel tired or stressed is not at all easy. And any change you make in your daily practice requires effort—not suffering—but effort. But remember this above anything else: you’ve proven again and again that you have what it takes. After all, you’re a teacher. You can do anything.