By: Madeleine St. Marie

I called up my best friend up the other day with a complaint.

I told her that I was freaking out because I found myself at school, in the library, reading through an assigned article, and was falling asleep. At 3 pm. Sitting straight up. It wasn’t a weighty tome or a boring article that I had little to no interest in reading; this was an article that I found interesting and engaging but incredibly difficult to keep my eyes focused on.

This was disturbing to me not only because such behavior was going to seriously screw up my GPA but because it was just another factoid in the laundry list of complaints I was compiling over the past couple of weeks: not sleeping well, inability to concentrate, extremely tired at random hours of the day, and crashing after any hard workout.

“This can’t happen,” I told her. “I don’t know what to do and I’m starting to panic.”

The first question she asked me took me by surprise: “What did you eat today?”

Huh? Well, I guess I had a whole-wheat waffle and an apple for breakfast, water, and a grilled cheese sandwich and cup of lentil soup for lunch (My body, in an effort to make graduate school near impossible, had decided it could no longer tolerate caffeine so my daily gallon of coffee was no longer part of my diet).

“When was lunch?”

That was right before Latin, at about 11:15 am. I looked down at the clock on my dashboard. It was now 3:30.

“You’re probably not eating enough.”

What? Are you serious?

She was serious. As it turns out, I wasn’t eating enough throughout the day. But if caloric intake is less than caloric output, didn’t that mean I was on the right track? Wasn’t I supposed to lose weight, get in shape, finally fit into size 6 jeans?

Well, sort of. As it turns out, and I’m sure this will come as bit of a shock, the body needs nutrients to run. Virtually all of these nutrients are obtained through your diet. While I was making good choices – whole grains, fruit, protein – I wasn’t eating often enough to keep my body going during the day. To make matters worse, when I finally did get home, I was eating a ton to make up for the caloric starvation I had put myself through earlier, practically negating my lowered intake.

Cutting calories to a ridiculous degree will eventually lead to weight loss. But it won’t teach you a healthy and sustainable way to achieve long-term success. For me, that’s the real goal. I want to avoid health-related illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. I want to feel great and look even better. The fact of the matter is that to accomplish these things, I need to exercise hard and eat well.

The first step, as you might imagine, is breakfast. Think of it this way: you haven’t eaten in 6-8 hours, and as I mentioned above, your body needs nutrients to operate. This makes breakfast the most important meal you’ll have all day. It’s necessary, and a cup of coffee doesn’t count. Oatmeal is a great option, as is a piece of whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and banana. However you choose to take it is up to you, but don’t skimp.

Healthy snacks help to keep you going in between meals. A handful of almonds along with an apple, a granola bar, even some slices of turkey breast with a handful of carrots all present great options. I happen to love frozen grapes, because it somehow satisfies my ice cream urge at a fraction of the caloric cost. But the trick is to eat something that will satisfy you and not leave you hungry again in 20 minutes. Otherwise you’re back at square one.

I know they’ve gotten a lot of flack lately, but carbohydrates are not your enemy. Really. Perhaps they can be blamed for being so delicious, but you shouldn’t avoid them completely. They’re important because they allow your brain to continue functioning. So eat some carbs in moderation. You need them but you don’t need ALL of them. If pasta or other go-to sources of carbohydrates are something that you simply cannot have just some of, turn to fruit. Fruit contains carbohydrates and can provide a way to get the carbs you need without tempting you into caloric oblivion.

It’s also super important to eat after a workout. This might seem counter-intuitive: you just worked out, you’re sweaty, and you totally made up for that bear claw you had for breakfast. Surprise! You still need something after your workout. Protein shakes help your body recover from the workout and they come in all sorts of delicious flavors. I prefer chocolate. You can mix it with water and chug it really quickly, or mix it with milk. The milk has more calories, obviously, but it has the benefit of tasting great and adding some calcium, too. Add in a banana for the potassium, and boom: post-work out snack.

And don’t worry, ladies: like weight training, protein shakes will not make you bulk up like the second coming of the Hulk. I promise.

Much gratitude and love to my BFF/life coach/nutritionist Kaitlyn W. who made this possible.