Healthy Habits to Avoid the Freshman 15

    The freshman 15, we’ve all heard the term, and we’ve all felt the pressures to not succumb to it. So then why do college students so frequently put on weight? It’s a combination of generous meal plans, binge drinking, heavy snacking, more stress and less physical activity. Any adult following that lifestyle would gain weight, too.

    In high school, most students throw themselves into sports or other extracurricular activities in an effort to make friends or simply because their parents forced them too. The freedom that college affords also affords you the ability to simply not care.

    A few things to remember: this weight gain is not inevitable and weight gain in your late teens and early 20s is linked to obesity later in life. So the college years are a vital time for you to learn healthy habits and stress management techniques and ensure that negative pattern don’t settle in for adulthood.

Stick to a schedule // Your regular high school schedule most likely meant eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, probably at similar times, so sudden change at college can affect how you’re processing foods. Not eating regular meals can slow down metabolism which leads to weight gain. Scheduling meals into your day will help curb cravings for junk food. Even if your day is busy, you sleep through a meal or you work nights, you can still plan a healthy meal every five or six hours and eat a snack in between.

Snack smart // Gorging all day on processed foods or snacks you grab on-the-go is not the same as a meal schedule. Instead of munching on chips between classes or stocking your dorm room with ramen noodles and microwaveable dinners, chose more nutrient rich foods: fruit, nuts, hummus packs, Greek yogurt, veggies and trail mix. Most dorm rooms come equipped with a mini fridge, this will allow you to keep fresh, unprocessed foods on hand.

Meal choices // Your meal plan gives you access to an unlimited variety of food; from salad bars and make your own sandwich stations to ice cream bars and pizza. It’s designed to make the transition from home easier but it can backfire if you choose burgers and pizza more often than a veggie stir-fry.

A guideline is to fill your plate halfway with vegetables, a quarter with grains (preferably whole) and the remaining quarter with protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, chicken, or eggs. If dinner is pizza, add salad on the side. Practice the 80:20 rule. If you make healthier choices 80 percent of the time, you can leave the 20 percent for less-than-healthy options such as fries or ice cream.

Limit alcohol consumption // With less parental supervision and easy access to alcohol, you have ample opportunity to drink at college and too often it leads binge drinking. Besides the well-known safety and legal issues, those drinks have calories. Sure, one bottle of beer has just 150 calories, but five? That’s 750 calories, the equivalent of eating an extra meal. It’s called a beer belly for a reason.

   Slow your intake by mixing in a water when drinking alcohol, and choose lower-calorie drinks such as light beer or spiked seltzers. It isn’t just alcoholic beverages that can lead to weight gain; soda, juice and sugary coffee drinks also add calories to your diet and inches to your waistline. Try to delete soda from your diet altogether and drink coffee black or with milk and sweeteners. You’ll thank yourself later.

Stay active // The transition to college is difficult. You may eat in response to anxiety or stress but a better way to deal with those overwhelming feelings is a good workout. Check out the school’s fitness center; you paid for it, you may as well use it. If you played sports in high school but quit in college, that change in lack of activity can pack on pounds. Even if you aren’t participating in competitive sports, you can still use fitness to meet new people or hang out with friends. Not every hang out has to involve alcohol and junk food. Recreational sports teams or fitness classes can help you socialize while you control stress and curb weight gain.

If you have any nutrition questions, get in touch with the school’s dietitians, they most likely offer free counseling for students. Staying in shape while transitioning into a new chapter of your life can be difficult but by keeping these small tips in mind, you will be better equipped to curb the freshman 15!