By Yara Al Wazir
One of my biggest fears when I moved out to live on my own was the dreaded ‘Freshmen Fifteen’. Rumour has it that the freshmen fifteen is as common as the Fresher’s Flu that takes over students’ bodies in the UK at the end of Fresher’s week – it’s a phenomenon that’s extremely hard to avoid. The Freshmen Fifteen encompasses fifteen pounds worth of fat and junk food that make their way to your body.
In Kuwait, weight gain is of the norm. With fast food places around every corner, you think we’d be experts at maintaining our weight: I’ll be the first to admit that my body in Kuwait was nowhere near what it should have been, considering my age and background. However, nothing shocked my system as much as my determination to break the rule of The Freshmen Fifteen. In my determination, I ended up losing a good twenty pounds in my freshman year – something much needed! However, my weight did fluctuate for the first few weeks, but time taught me how to keep it under control.
Don’t depend on University cafeterias, but use their nutritional information
They say desperate times lead to desperate measures – I was desperate one too many times. It was a hard lesson, but I learned that the food served at university cafeterias is likely to be grimy, greasy, and not nutritious at all. If you’re in the UK, you’re bound to be served starchy, carb-filled potatoes with every meal, it’s truly shocking how potatoes can be served is so many forms.
Legally speaking, if you’re sold food any where in the USA or Europe, the vendor is meant to provide you with the full nutritional information about your dish. Most universities have links to this online; if I know I’m on campus for a long day and that there’s no way of avoiding campus food, I’ll check the nutritional information and make sure what I go for will both fill me up and be healthy.
Cook in a group
Cooking for one person is hard, and cooking every day is even harder. Try to team up with your flatmates, housemates, or roommates and alternate cooking duties. This is also a great way to absorb the various food cultures from around the world, and to experience new types of food that you never knew existed.
I will admit, however, that as a vegetarian, I struggle with cooking in a crowd; even though I can make a meat-version of my dish, people tend to assume that vegetarians can just push the meat aside when they eat. So, before striking a deal to alternate cooking days with someone, make sure you’re on the same page with your eating habits. If you’re not, strike several deals. Sure, it’ll be hard to keep up at that point, but who cares when someone else is cooking meals for you half the time?
The great outdoors
My favorite excuse for not getting enough exercise in Kuwait was the weather – not like all our gyms weren’t indoor and air-conditioned. Nevertheless, I blamed my fat childhood on the weather. Once you’re aboard, you can truly embrace the great outdoors and utilise them for exercise; from cycling, to walking, or even hiking – the opportunities are endless and again, they’re a great way of getting to know the city that you’re in. Nothing quite beats getting lost.
Take up a sport
This has got to be, by far, one of the greatest ways to meet people. Recreational sports are incredible. Not only do they help you stay fit, but they also help you develop great communication and teamwork skills, which are vital when you move into the workforce. Admittedly, showing up to try-outs or practice alone without knowing anyone is intimidating at first, but if you never try, then you’ll never know.
Personally, I took up running and football. It didn’t take long before it became part of my every day life. I now run at least 20 kilometres a week, and play three or four football tournaments a year.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that weight fluctuations are inevitable, especially when you’re making such a big change. Don’t fall into the whirlwind of obsessing, or of completely letting yourself loose – food, like university, is a balancing act. A little bit of everything makes for a happy and healthy mind set.
Yara Al Wazir is an activist and student currently based in the UK – her monthly column reflects on her experience of moving away from the familiarity and comfort of Kuwait, to the UK in pursuit of a university degree. She can be reached via Twitter on @YaraWazir.