Weight gain is one of the biggest complaints among nursing students, aside from the constant feeling of overwhelm. Many students struggle with weight issues during college. Why is that?
A combination of very little exercise, long hours of studying, a constant, elevated stress level, and a minimal amount of sleep can alter or slow the body’s metabolism, leading to increased and quicker weight gain.
If you want to know what causes you to gain weight in nursing school and what you can do about it, keep reading!
Reasons for Weight Gain in Nursing School
One reason why students gain weight during nursing school is the sedentary lifestyle. This might seem like an easy fix. However, if we look closely at the average class time and expected study time per week, that doesn’t leave much time for anything else but studying.
Most programs have class time at least three to five times per week for at least four to six hours a day. Each credit hour spent in class is supposed to be followed up by a minimum of three hours of studying at home. Class time, together with study time, can quickly accumulate to the number of hours of a full-time job; that’s a lot of time spent sitting in one place.
In addition to the lack of movement due to the necessary study time and lecture time, it is tough to find time to exercise. It isn’t easy to find the time to work out and have the energy to do so. Considering that most nursing students work full-time while going to nursing school and take care of family and children, it almost seems impossible to make time and have the energy to work out. Over time, this ultimately leads to weight gain.
Loss of sleep
Another reason for gaining weight in nursing school is sleep deprivation. To get all assignments done on time and study for upcoming exams, and prepare for lecture the next day, it is sometimes necessary to stay up past bedtime……way past bedtime. Staying up for long hours and not getting enough sleep for a prolonged time can slow down your metabolism and make it not function properly. According to Mayo Clinic, sleep deprivation triggers hormones responsible for feeling hungry and, therefore, making you eat more.
Trying to juggle nursing school, your job, and your family can be very stressful, especially for a prolonged period. An article by Harvard Medical School says that stress causes the release of hormones that initiate more frequent eating, especially foods high in carbohydrates and fat, to relieve the stress.
As mentioned above, stressful situations make us crave food high in sugar and fat. Mostly that leads to unhealthy food choices that might satisfy us for the moment but don’t contain nutrients to nurture our brain cells. In nursing school, everything has to be quick, preparing meals included. Unfortunately, most quick meals and snacks are not healthy but processed. So it makes it easier for us to grab an already made snack rather than taking the time preparing a healthy snack that contains less sugar and fat.
The actual obstacle is to figure out a way to eat healthy without a long preparation time of meals and snacks. Here are a few tips to stay fit and healthy during nursing school.
How You Can Avoid Gaining Weight in Nursing School
You won’t be able to eliminate all of these contributing factors all of the time. Start implementing one or two of these tips and go from there.
Tips for a more balanced diet:
- Meal prep: prepare your food and snacks ahead of time. Take a specific time of the day and organize all your lunches and snacks for the next day.
- Cut vegetables and fruit, so they are ready to eat. Doing so always helps to eat a healthy snack and not be tempted to choose a faster, more convenient option when hungry.
- Limit eating out. Admittedly, it seems far more convenient at times to buy lunch and dinner. However, it is far less expensive and healthier to cook at home. Schedule certain times of the week and prepare meals for the whole week. It does take up some time, but it is much more healthy and cheaper in the end.
- Have staples at home such as oatmeal, cereal, and lots of fruits and vegetables. Buying the same things over and over can get old, but it can be a weight off your shoulders, not having to think about what you are going to eat for every single meal each day.
- Have healthy snack options for on-the-go. Here are a few examples:
Cheese and crackers
Two hard-boiled eggs
Cottage cheese and any fruit
Carrots and ranch dressing
Tips for integrating more exercise
- Schedule your workout time and commit to it. Write your workout sessions into your calendar, along with your assignments and class time. This method will make you more likely actually to work out because you hold yourself accountable.
- Gradually increase your time of working out. You can start with small workout sessions and increase the time more each time. Or you can split up your workout throughout the whole day. Use your work out sessions as breaks from studying. You can do small ten minute workouts several times a day. Either way you choose, if it is one long workout or several short ones, you move more than you have before.
- Make use of opportunities to integrate more physical activity into your day. Take the stairs whenever you get a chance, take frequent walks around the campus, stretch a lot. This might seem small, but it can make a big difference, especially if you spend a long day in class.
Tips on getting more sleep
- Try to establish a routine in which you don’t study until the last minute before bed. It is important to think about something else but school before bed. Try to come up with a routine that would signals to you that it is time to wind down. Whether that is a hot cup of tea in the evening or a short meditation routine, be consistent with it, and your body will get used to that routine.
- Everyone needs a certain amount of hours of sleep to function. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average person between the ages of 18 and 64 need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Keep that in mind, especially when an exam is coming up in the next few days. This is just a suggestion. Of course, you will know best how many hours of sleep you will need to function best. Try to stick to that rule. It wouldn’t help you if you studied all that information for a test to find that you are not able to focus and apply the learned information because you can hardly keep your eyes open.
- Try to disconnect from your phone as much as possible. Some people turn off their phones before they go to bed or don’t take it in the bedroom at all. Many people use their phones for their alarm clock. In that case, you can use the “do not disturb” function overnight to keep from getting irrelevant alerts while sleeping.
Tips to relieve stress
The hardest part about nursing school is that it is not only about passing nursing school and make good grades. It is about taking care of family, finances, a job, and other responsibilities. What causes stress is the thought of not being able to cope with all of it simultaneously.
- To help with that, you can map it all out in one calendar to keep track of everything at the same time. Knowing what is going to be ahead of you and being able to prepare accordingly will be a lifesaver.
- Emotional support from family, friends, and even classmates can make a big difference. Just knowing that you are not alone in this stressful situation might make you feel more at ease. Bonding with classmates and knowing that they are going through the same pains as you do will make you feel better and less stressed.
There are so many free tools out there you can use to help you stay on track with nutrition and exercise. Here are some suggestions.
- Pinterest: This platform has thousands of recipes and can give countless ideas of healthy snacks and meals
- Youtube: if you don’t have the money for a gym membership, just type in a 15 or 30-minute workout, and there you go!
- lifesum app: this is a weight loss app. It works like other calorie counter apps, and it is free.
These tools seem very obvious, but that is supposed to show you how easy it can be to access healthy recipes and an exercise plan. Don’t overthink it!