How I Lost Weight in College

One of the most common narratives of a student’s first year at college is the “Freshman 15.” But for me, I experienced the “Freshman Negative 20.”

In other words, during my first year as a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I lost 20 lbs. To offer specific numbers, I started the academic year weighing around 135 lbs – my heaviest weight to date – and now, at the close of my first year of college, I weigh around 115 lbs.

I didn’t expect to lose this much weight (or any weight, for that matter) during college. In fact, I thought college Roselyn was going to live up to the frequently echoed narrative of the “Freshman 15” and gain even more weight.

In retrospect, however, I didn’t really try to lose weight. With the amount of walking I did on campus every day, as well as the healthier food options available on campus compared to what I was scarfing down at home, weight loss just happened naturally.

If you’re curious about my weight loss journey in college, here’s how I lost 20 lbs my first year at Cal Poly:

  1. Like I mentioned earlier, I eat so much healthier on campus than I did back home.
    Don’t get me wrong: I love my parents, but growing up in a Filipinx household equated to consuming white rice with every single meal. Though white rice itself isn’t “junk food” per se, the foods I would eat with rice were heavy and fatty. I didn’t keep track of how much salt and sugar were in these dishes, and I didn’t care.
    In college, it’s an entirely different ballpark. I stopped eating as much white rice – which was, as a Filipina girl, very difficult to adjust to – and swapped it with healthier alternatives, like whole wheat bread or whole grain pasta.
    I also ate significantly smaller portions in college. While at home, my parents would stuff my plate to the brim with meat, eggs, bacon, Spam, rice, and other staple fare associated with a Filipinx household. At Cal Poly, I would stop eating when I felt full and stick to smaller meals throughout the day, convenient for an on-the-go student like me.
    Furthermore, I stopped drinking soda and other fizzy drinks and mainly stuck to water, Yerba Mate (aka the nectar of the gods), coffee, tea, and occasionally a glass of chocolate milk after an arduous workout at the Recreation Center.
    If these tips seem like incredibly subtle changes to my diet, it’s because they were. Initially, it was a challenge to acclimate to a “less rice and ulam” lifestyle, but over the course of my first year in college, I learned to adapt according to what foods were available to me at 805 Kitchen, The Avenue, and other dining venues on campus. It took about two quarters for me to figure out which places on campus provided healthy and delicious meals and snacks, as well as which dining locations to avoid.
  2. Living on campus = walking, walking, walking.
    During Week of Welcome (WOW) – the first seven days of college during which first-year and transfer students are introduced to the university and the San Luis Obispo vicinity as a whole – I recall a few WOW Leaders joking together about the reality of “Cal Poly calves,” which they said would develop after months of walking the hills and slopes that constitute Cal Poly’s beautiful, yet spacious campus.
    Despite my doubts, they were absolutely correct. According to my iPhone’s Health app, in the month of April alone, I walked an average of 5 miles per day. This included walking from my dorm to my classes, from my classes to on-campus dining halls, from the dining halls to the library… you get the gist.
    All the calories I burned from walking each day along sloping terrains, steep inclines, and “baby” hills indubitably led to my losing weight. It was as if I went on a hike every day just to get to class. While I recognize this is not the only physical means by which I lost weight, walking all those miles definitely added up throughout the passing of the months.
  3. I started exercising at the gym more frequently.
    One of Cal Poly’s best features is its Recreation Center, a two-story edifice teeming with weights, racks, equipment, multiple swimming pools, studios for workout classes, an indoor track, and basketball courts. I would go to “the Rec,” as most students call it, about four to five times per week. With the encouragement and assistance of my friends, I was able to cultivate the motivation to break a sweat at biweekly PlyoJam classes and develop a workout plan that kept me on track to reach my fitness goals.
    While the Rec became my salve during the most hectic times of the quarter, it wasn’t always like this. At the peak of my depression and suicide ideation, I couldn’t even muster the willpower to get out of bed in the mornings. I was mentally unable to. It was a challenge for me just to brush my teeth and shower every day. My mental health was not at its peak, therefore neither was my physical health. I felt lethargic and mopey constantly. During this time, the idea of even walking to the Rec anguished me. I slept in bed all day and night, lacking all resolution to exercise.
    It wasn’t until I got back on antidepressants and went to therapy every week that I felt remotely driven to head to the gym. This is when I learned that once I felt well mentally, I could do as I pleased to improve my physical health; that is, my mental health took precedence over my physical wellbeing.
  4. I accepted the long process.
    It wasn’t until two months into my freshman year of college that I realized I was losing a noticeable amount of weight. Upon learning this, I waited a few more months to see if it was a result of my dietary changes in college. When I came back home for winter break, my parents told me I looked as if I had lost weight while at Cal Poly. Though it was not a mindful, intentional weight loss process, I was thrilled to know that it was apparent to my folks back home that I looked healthier and happier.
    That’s when it donned on me: Weight loss is not an overnight, simple task. It’s a huge undertaking marked by determination and abundant with roadblocks. If there’s anything my weight loss journey taught me, it’s to be patient and to reward myself along the way when I’ve reached little victories (without overindulging, of course). It’s been no easy affair, but the results have been worth it.

Here are a few progress photos to give you some reference:

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The picture on the left was me in June 2018, and the picture on the right was me in May 2019.

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The image on the left was me during summer 2018; the one on the right was me April 2019.

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The photo on the left was me in May 2018, and the image on the right was me in early June 2019.

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