The “Freshman 15” is a myth. According to the National Institutes of Health, the average weight gain is only 2.7 pounds and 15% of college freshman actually lose weight. Only 5% gain more than 15 pounds. While students may appear heavier at holiday times, by year-end many have adjusted to their newly gained independence.
What causes the average freshman to put on a few pounds? To begin with, they sleep less due to late nights studying and socializing, their access to unhealthy food offerings increases, along with their levels of stress and they sit more, exercising less! Here’s my best piece of advice to incoming freshman.
1. Get your rest. The hormones that regulate your appetite become out of sync when you are sleep deprived. Those that register hunger will increase and those that register fullness diminish. Recognizing this fact after a late night is an important to prevent unnecessary weight gain. When appetites go out of control, you are more apt to reach for convenience foods that are typically higher in calories, saturated fat and void of any nutritional benefit.
2. Limit fat. Your dorm breakfast buffet will boast options of doughnuts, pastries, high fat muffins, sausage and bacon every single morning. The aroma after late night studying will be tempting. Limit these to once per week. Instead, opt for hot or cold cereal, whole grain breads, eggs, low-fat Greek yogurt and whole, fresh fruits. Lunch and dinner options will regularly include pizza, burgers, fried foods and casseroles loaded with cheese or creamy sauces. Limit these to once per week. Instead opt for the deli, taco, stir fry and salad bars where you can indulge on the veggies and control the toppings. Broth-based soups, baked chicken, roast turkey and fish are always good options too. Desserts are available at every meal, including portable cookies and bars for study breaks. Limit these to once per day.
3. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Create a specific goal for yourself and stick to it. The Food Guide Pyramid recommends 3 servings of fruit daily. I recommend starting your day with ¾ cup, 100% fruit juice or mixing fruit in cereal or yogurt such as berries or bananas. If you grab a piece of fruit for a study break later in the day, you only have one more serving to fit in at lunch or dinner. Unfortunately, cooked vegetables are not known for their “5 Star” appeal at the dorm cafeteria. I encourage students to get 2.5 cups total per day from the salad bar, veggie sticks with low-fat dip or humus, and mixing them into stir fries, tacos and soups.
4. Get active. Gone are the days of phys ed classes and after school sports. Instead much of your time is spent in your seat, studying. Choose social activities that keep you active and limit the liquid calories! Spend time at the university gym regularly, walk the campus and use exercise as a study break. It is a fact that you will be able to recall new information better when you alternate study time with activities that get your heart, lungs and blood pumping.
5. Make healthy connections. Recognize that how you respond to lack of sleep, stress and organized exercise in the midst of expanded food offerings is habit-forming. How you respond to these new challenges sets the framework for your health in both the short and long-term. College life is a wonderful opportunity; make it an experience that rewards you both intellectually and in good health for many years to come.