Students who are in their first year of college have to deal with stress that they likely have never experienced before – from homesickness to anxiety over challenging studies. This stress can lead to weight gain in many first-year students, which is often called the “Freshman 15.” Anyone who has ever experienced this condition knows it’s more than just an old-timey expression. It’s real.
According to Teens Health, “College offers many temptations. You’re on your own and free to eat what you want, when you want it. You can pile on the portions in the dining hall, eat dinners of french fries and ice cream and indulge in sugary and salty snacks to fuel late-night study sessions. In addition, you may not get as much exercise as you did in high school.
“College is also a time of change, and the stress of acclimating to school can trigger overeating. People sometimes eat in response to anxiety, homesickness, sadness or stress, and all of these can be part of adapting to being away at school.”
Why Worry About It?
If you’re like most students, worry about weight is one of the last things on your “to do” list. Meeting new people, going to football games, having independence, late nights and no parents are much more fun to contemplate. However, weight gain from the Freshman 15 can be hazardous to your health – both now and in the future.
This article notes that weight gain that pushes you above your body’s normal range carries health risks. “People who are overweight are more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, breathlessness and joint problems. Poor diet and exercise habits in college can start you on a path that later could lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes or obesity, and may increase your risk of developing certain cancers.” And here’s a scary newsflash: People who are overweight when they’re younger have a greater likelihood of being overweight as adults.
Fortunately, the Freshman 15 is not a “required course!” Here are three ways to avoid it.
#1 Eat Better
Let’s not kid ourselves. Nobody’s perfect, and a certain amount of empty-calorie junk food WILL be consumed by everyone. The trick for a newly independent college student is to keep this under control. Here are some ways to do that from KidsHealth.org.
- Avoid eating when stressed, while studying or while watching TV
- Eat slowly
- Eat at regular times, and try to not skip meals
- Keep between-meal and late-night snacking to a minimum
- Choose a mix of nutritious foods
- Pick lower-fat options when you can, such as low-fat milk instead of whole milk or light salad dressing instead of full-fat dressing
- Watch the size of your portions
- Resist going back for additional servings
- Steer clear of vending machines and fast food
- Keep healthy snacks, like fruit and vegetables, on hand in your room
- Replace empty-calorie soft drinks with water or skim milk
One strategy for getting more nutritious food is to order out for healthy food from your favorite restaurant. This is made easier with the MenuRunners App.
#2 Get Some Exercise
If you’ve grown up as a couch potato, the mean ‘ol Freshman 15 is coming to get you! However, you can fight back by getting some exercise each day.
Fitness experts suggest that you try to work 30 minutes of moderate exercise into your schedule each day (like walking, jogging, swimming or working out at the gym) and you’ll feel and see the results. For other options, check out biking or hiking trails or sign up for a martial arts class. Attending a class on a regular schedule can motivate some people to stick with their fitness goals.
Even if just thinking about organized exercise programs makes you want to gag, you can accomplish this need for physical activity by walking briskly across campus instead of taking the bus, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or cycling to class. It’s also a great idea to get up from your desk and stretch after long periods of study.
#3 Sleep More
College students (in fact, most people of all ages) don’t get enough sleep. It may seem counterintuitive, but studies have shown that this can cause weight gain. Sleep is also a great way to manage the stress that can prompt overeating. Make sleep a priority, and try to work in a regular seven or eight hours each night.
Here are some ways to sleep like a baby:
- Keep a regular sleeping schedule by going to bed and getting up at about the same time every day
- Don’t nap too much
- Avoid caffeine in the evening
- Avoid exercising, watching TV or listening to loud music before bed
Packing on the poundage does not have to be a rite of passage for college students. The Freshman 15 can be overcome by these simple suggestions. You’ll look better and, more importantly, you’ll feel better.