New year, new me: A guide to health

Photo of man working out
Photo of man working out

After gaining back weight I had lost, I felt my hard work had been for nothing. I managed to get back on track and here’s how I did it.

I remember being home for the holidays after my awful first semester in college and stepping on the scale. I’d gained back 15 pounds after successfully losing about 30 the year before. Certain pieces of clothes I loved didn’t fit anymore. I felt defeated and I felt that all my hard work had been for nothing. But it was in that moment that I realized: weight loss doesn’t equal fitness.

Good lifestyle habits play the biggest role in getting healthy. By that spring, I managed to slim down again. And since then, I’ve learned a lot about fitness and nutrition like meal prep and the best exercises for me.

Two years later, I’m still not where I want to be fitness-wise, but I’ve kept the extra pounds off and feel much better. No secret food, diet or exercise alone will get you a sculpted body, but using these tips together can help you find the workout routine and diet that works for your mind and body.

Tip 1: Have a workout routine that includes strength-training, HIIT and cardio

Building lean muscle mass is key to building a strong body and burning excess body fat. Unlike fat muscle is metabolically active so it boosts metabolism even at rest, making weight loss more sustainable. “If you can change your body composition by building muscle then you’re burning a lot more at rest per pound of muscle that you gain,” says Debora Sloan, a registered dietitian and trainer who runs her own private practice in Westboro, Healthy Solutions.

High intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a great workout option for students who are short on time. Unlike traditional cardio, HIIT involves working really hard for short periods then taking a break and repeating those exercises.

Matt Chartier, fitness manager of the Canadian Strength Institute in Westboro, explains that while cardio is necessary in all types of training the amount of cardio an individual should do comes down to their personal goals. “If your goal is to stand on a [bodybuilding] stage and look great, I don’t suggest doing 5k and 10k runs and stuff like that,” says Chartier. “But if your goal is to be generally active and fit then absolutely, mix in some running, mix in some sled work, mix in some functional and mix in some long distance.”

Tip 2: Do meal prep, but know there’s more than one way to do it

When most people think of meal prep, they probably think of what the internet’s told them: preparing every meal or snack for the week on Sunday. Thankfully there are more ways to do meal prep than cooking a week’s worth of meals on a weekend. Because who wants to eat a week-old sandwich come Friday anyway?

Sloan always encourages her clients to focus on preparing the nutritious components of meals for the week instead of focusing on preparing the whole meal itself. This makes it easier to grab those components and make quick meals or snacks from those instead. For a balanced meal or snack, make sure you have at least one complete protein source, healthy fat source, carb source and some fruits and vegetables.

Living in college dorms also impacts a student’s space and motivation to meal prep. But for Eric D’Costa, an accounting student at the University of Ottawa, living in residence is the best time for students to establish healthy habits. Because he grew up in a military family that emphasized healthy eating and plenty of physical activity from a young age, D’Costa wasn’t worried about his first year in uOttawa’s Thompson residence.

His advice? Bring your own fridge for storage. “If they brought their own fridge they could just plug it into their rooms and they don’t have to use the communal one,” he says.

Tip 3: Pay attention to liquid calories, especially with coffee

Students love coffee, it’s no secret. While coffee alone isn’t bad what you add to your coffee, how much you drink a day and whether it’s being used in place of food or water can make it unhealthy. Sloan and Chartier both recommend eliminating sugar from your coffee.

“If you’re drinking coffee, don’t put sugar in your coffee for energy because it’s not going to give you energy you’re going to crash,” says Chartier. “It’s just going to store as fat.”

Damian Ha, a mobile application design and development student at Algonquin College, is an avid healthy eater who follows a ketogenic diet, meaning low carbs and a high fat intake for energy. He suggests putting coconut oil in coffee instead because the healthy fats will stave off hunger and give you sustained energy throughout the day.

Double-double sippers can start to wean themselves off the sweet stuff by adding only one cream and one sugar to their coffee instead. Once the taste buds adjust, try going without one or the other in coffee. Other alternatives Sloan recommends are plain green tea, lattes, flavoured water or sparkling water with lemon.

Tip 4: Take the pressure off yourself, be patient – and do not give up

If you’ve been stuck in a fitness or nutrition rut for a long time and it’s affecting your quality of life don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you currently exercise at a commercial gym for example, ask a trainer on the gym floor to spot for you and check your form if you need it. Or see a registered dietitian if you need help with nutrition, many insurance providers cover their services.

Specialized gyms in Ottawa can help too. For example, the Canadian Strength Institute offers great training options for those of all income levels.

What’s important to remember is that no matter where you want to go in life, you will get there.

You have your whole life to become a powerlifter, a marathon runner, a nutrition expert or whatever your heart desires. In the meantime, find ways to make healthy eating and exercise fun because the more fun you add the easier it will be to stick to that lifestyle.


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