HELP…I’m Getting Fat in Vet School!

The “freshman fifteen” – a term we dread when we start college and most of us work hard to prevent that dreaded weight gain. When we start vet school it doesn’t even occur to us that there might be a similar phenomenon at play, but it seems that incoming vet students are struggling to maintain their weight and prevent gaining some unwanted pounds. While I have seen the rare person who has actually managed to lose weight in vet school, for the most part, people are battling weight gain tooth and nail.

So why is this, you may wonder? I have my theories:

  • Change in Lifestyle – Vet students tend to lead very active lives. We’re always active, on our feet and on the move—that is, in many ways, why a career in veterinary medicine is appealing to us. So what happens when you take active people and place them in classrooms for 8 hours per day? You know it – weight gain! It’s impossible to deny that that sort of change will have an effect on your physique.
  • Stress – Just about everyone I know in vet school feels stressed. Vet school is an excellent source of stress in the lives of vet students. When students are stressed because of difficult classes and looming exams that stress is bound to show effects in the person’s eating and exercise habits.
  • Stress Eating – When time is limited and stress is high, many people turn to comfort food – food that is not necessarily healthy but that is convenient. Students hit up the drive-thru on the way home instead of cooking at home or preparing a more sensible meal. Aside from the fast food convenience, students often turn to junk food and candy at times of stress – things that they can simply “munch” on as they study. Most of these foods are not providing the nutrients your body needs to function properly and be in optimal working condition as would be preferable before an exam. What’s worse is that they are simply loaded with calories and do not provide us with that full feeling that a good, healthy meal does, so we exceed our caloric needs without even feeling full or satisfied. And as we all know, excess calorie intake leads to weight gain.
  • Decreased Exercise – Oftentimes when we’re stressed about an exam the last thing that’s on our mind is heading to the gym. At a time of high stress and limited time, exercise is often viewed as a waste of time as it will not help you prepare for your exam. Though it may take you away from your studies, exercise is probably one of the better things you can do for yourself and your mind in preparing for an exam, especially when you’re stressed. Exercise can increase your ability to focus and is also a great form of stress relief!

So what can you do to help prevent yourself from gaining weight in vet school?

  • Find ways to keep active outside of the classroom. Take the stairs, park in a distant parking spot, and generally do whatever you can to embrace the active lifestyle that you love.
  • Don’t stress! That’s easier said than done for most people, so if you’re someone who tends to stress, be sure to engage yourself in activities that help you to relieve stress on a daily basis. Whether it’s a little yoga at home in the morning or before bed, a job, walk with the dog, an afternoon nap, or something else, figure out what works for you and make sure you make it a habit!
  • Set yourself up for success by recognizing when the stress is going to be highest in the coming week and be sure to cook a healthy meal ahead of time that you can eat later in the week either by saving leftovers in the fridge or freezing individual servings in the freezer. If you are someone who likes to “munch” then be sure to have healthier munchy snacks around such as carrots, celery, or even pretzels.
  • Get to the gym (or wherever you exercise)especially when you’re stressed. Take time out to get your mind off of things and engage your body in an activity that requires a totally different mental process.
  • Get some friends involved. This is important if your ability to self-motivate is low. You may think you’re the only one concerned about your weight but chances are most of the people in your class are worried too. Just mention something to them and you might be surprised by how badly they have been wanting to say something but felt as if they were the only ones struggling. You can help each other by providing ideas for healthy eating, become each other’s exercise buddies and help keep each other motivated!

Good luck and remember: weight gain is avoidable in vet school!