The rock wall at UCSB's Rec Cen

Long, blond hair glistening in the glare of a bright afternoon. Bronzed skin, taut, toned and on tantalizing display in skirts, shorts and shirts that seem to end before they begin. Bulging muscles, fighting their way out from underneath expertly-frayed shirt sleeves, and skillfully-sculpted stomachs coyly winking out from between bikini pieces. Men who belong on the covers of romance novels, and women with bodies straight out of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Such are the stereotypes associated with Santa Barbara’s student body, so to speak.

And, to an extent, they’re true. Many students at Santa Barbara are as conscious of their abs as they are of their academics. On any given day, the gym is packed with people running, lifting, swimming, rock climbing and a variety of other verbs, all in an attempt to make sure that all those six packs don’t show up on their stomachs – at least not in a bad way. Sure, not everyone at UCSB is interested in cardio and calories, many people here are content with their bodies just the way nature built them. But, for many Isla Vista residents, watching their weight is as much a way of life as anything else.

Growing up in Malibu, body consciousness is something that has manifested itself in many ways in my life, and it’s something that I’ve dealt with through and through during the almost twenty-two years of my existence. Suffice it to say that I have spent so much time in my life thinking about what goes into my mouth, what calories come out during a given workout and what effect all of that has on my waistline, that it was a blessing when I finally found a way to shut all that up for the past year.

Unfortunately, after ignoring those impulses for almost a full year of food-coma bliss with my former boyfriend, the results are starting to show up in the size of my jeans. And, after mentally surviving our recent breakup, I came to the conclusion that it was time to get my physical self in shape as well. Of course, balancing calorie counting with the beer-soaked schedule that comes with being a senior during spring quarter at UCSB is going to be tough.

But, I figure that after living through the extremes of under-eating and over-exercising and overeating and under-exercising, striking a balance between the two should be relatively simple. Besides, if I can get through breaking up with my boyfriend, I can certainly find a way to let the pizza and beer down easily. So far, here are a few things I’ve learned in my quest to conquer those cute little love-handles hanging over my favorite pair of jeans.

A basket full of healthy groceries costs twice as much as a cart full of the crappy stuff.

Swimming is totally worth the havoc it wreaks on my hair.

Beating a ball out on the Rec Center’s racquetball courts is a great workout, and a much better way to relieve rage than attacking obnoxious roommates, unsympathetic professors and pushy parents.

Nothing makes my arms burn – in the best possible way – quite like a little time spent scaling the simple side of the rock wall in the new Rec Cen building.

Mid-afternoon means I won’t get on any of the good machines at the gym. But, early morning or early evening is an excellent time to take advantage of nearly-empty equipment.

Margarita madness, without the carbs

The higher the proof of a given alcohol, the higher the calorie count. But, Baja Bob’s makes an incredible sugar-free series of mixers, many of which are available at Isla Vista’s Keg-n-Bottle. And, the Apple Martini mix is actually really good.

A 12-ounce bottle of Beck’s Light only has 64 calories. Amstel Light has 99 calories, and a pint of the good stuff is still worth watching what I eat the rest of the day.

Rum and Diet Coke though, while a good idea weight-wise, is never a good plan for me.

Woodstock’s and Giovanni’s both have salads that are perfectly palatable and save the seeming-torture of seeing your friends snack on pizza while you watch helplessly from the calorie-counting sidelines.

DejaVu has a chicken gyro that is just as satisfying as a juicy burger, and much less massive.

And I.V. Drip now stocks non-dairy treats from Strong Hearts Baking Company that can take the edge off your sweet tooth when wow-cow just won’t do it. With no refined sugar, no hydrogenated oils and spelt flour as the base for their baked treats, their 100 percent vegan, cruelty-free cupcakes, cookies, doughnuts and other desserts are decadent without destroying your diet.

I know the journey back into my skinny jeans is far from over. In fact, if there’s anything I’ve learned about lightening up in the past few weeks, it’s that all the old adages are true: There is no such thing as a quick fix, but finding ways to work watching your weight into your weekly routine really does produce results. Sure, it sounds like a cliche, straight out of the latest lame reality show about overweight men and women learning to love themselves through the sheer torture of slimming down on national television, but it seems to be working. I may not be ready for the swimsuit issue yet, but I did manage to make it all the way into a brand-new bathing suit in a smaller size this past weekend. And more importantly, when I walked out onto that pool deck pavement, I felt pretty damn hot. What better way is there to ring in spring?


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