While young bodies seem to have a miraculous ability to keep pounds off, the lifestyle choices you make as a young adult can set you up for a healthier life later.
On Tuesdays, I answer questions about nutrition in NYU's student newspaper, the Washington Square News. Today's is about youthful immortality.
Question: Many students have expressed that, being so young, they can eat whatever they want and stay thin. What kind of implications does the type of food we eat have on our body weight? If a student is thin but eats bad foods, are there still detrimental effects? Additionally, at what age does what you eat tend to have the biggest effect on you?
Answer: It's not only youth that keeps college students trim. It's the lifestyle: running to classes, late nights studying or partying, irregular meals, eating on the run. Once students get past the hurdle of the "freshman 15″ -- the weight gain that comes from unlimited access to meal plans -- most do not gain weight in college.
It's what happens afterward that counts. Even the most interesting jobs can require long hours in front of a computer or chained to a desk. Eating out of boredom becomes routine and, once middle age hits, it's all over. The metabolic rate drops with age, and you can't eat the same way you used to without putting on pounds.
The college years are a great time to start behaving in ways that will promote lifetime health. If you smoke cigarettes, stop while you can. Don't binge drink. Practice safe sex.
As for diet, eat your veggies. Whenever you can, eat real foods, shop at farmers' markets and learn to cook. Cooking is a skill that will bring you -- and your family and friends -- great pleasure throughout life. If you cook, you will always have the most delicious and healthiest of diets at your fingertips.
You don't know how? Try an Internet search for "free cooking lessons online." Mark Bittman's Minimalist videos, for example, make things simple with results that can be spectacular.
Do the best you can to eat well now, and think of it as easy life insurance.
This post originally appeared on Food Politics, an Atlantic partner site.
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