Dietary and nutritional content reviewed by Jasmin Gorostiza, DT, DM, DSS, CFPP.️
The dreaded “Freshman 15”. You’ve probably heard of it in whispered tones or from a concerned aunt reminding you to beware, but did you know that it impacts almost 3 out of every 4 students? So what exactly is the Freshman 15?
The Freshman 15 is a common expression referring to the amount of weight, arbitrarily around 10-15 pounds, that a typical student gains during the first year in college.
The Freshman 15 is a common expression referring to the amount of weight, arbitrarily around 10-15 pounds, that a typical student gains during the first year in college. Although initially just one of those expressions that people came up with as a result of casual observation, numerous studies have shown that it really does exist.
In fact, studies have found that many students don’t eat well or exercise enough and that this problem continues after the Freshman year, leading to weight gain over the course of a student’s stay in college. Increased weight can lead to increased stress, poor health, decreased exercise and lowered levels of focus.
In fact, studies have found that many students don’t eat well or exercise enough and that this problem continues after the Freshman year, leading to weight gain over the course of a student’s stay in college.
It’s a problem that you probably do not want to have, so here are 10 simple tips that will help you stay healthier during your college career.
10. Eat Breakfast
Start every day right with a breakfast that will jumpstart your metabolism, help you feel full and allow you to focus throughout the day. Choose breakfast foods that are filling and high in nutrients, not sugar. Some of the best breakfast foods include berries, oatmeal, low-sugar yogurt, peanut butter and eggs. Avoid eating a lot of breads, potatoes or cereals that are typically high in carbs or sugars.
9. Walk Everywhere
You might notice that on-campus policies aren’t exactly friendly towards those who want to bring a car. Take advantage of this and try to walk as often as possible. A brisk pace to class allows you to get fresh air, move and even get to know more students on campus.
Walking for just 30 minutes a day has been shown to provide better heart health, reduce body fat and increase your endurance levels. That means a fast-paced 15 minute walk to class and back is going to be great for your daily health and a big help in keeping unwanted weight off.
8. Avoid Fast Food
This might be stating the obvious, but fast food is loaded with saturated fats, sugar and sodium. While there are 310 calories in a cup of macaroni and cheese and 380 calories in a Nissin Top Ramen noodles pack, there are 563 calories in a Big Mac from McDonald’s—and that doesn’t include a drink or side.
Fast food has been made with a high balance of salt and sugar that makes you want bigger portions than what you would normally consume. On top of the high calories, sugar and sodium, fast food is notoriously low in nutrition.
Instead, opt for eating in the cafeteria or purchasing your own foods from the grocery store so you have quick, healthy meal options the majority of the time. If you do have to eat out, try to choose grilled foods, cut down on the sauce and drink water instead of a soda or shake.
7. Know Your Cafeteria
Every cafeteria is different. Some serve different foods on different days, some get picked over at a certain point in the day and some have multiple food sites throughout campus. Get to know what your cafeteria offers and when their busiest times are.
You may find that certain days of the week it is better to pick up lunch from the café, while other days the food is better at the main dining hall. Leave comment cards if healthy options aren’t readily available and encourage your school to keep healthy solutions always available to students.
6. Lead with Healthy Choices
You don’t necessarily have to cut out every “unhealthy” food option. Sometimes, keeping yourself from every tempting food leads to feeling guilty when you eat something less than nutritious and tossing out your diet altogether.
Instead, focus on eating nutritious foods first. If you want pizza, eat a salad first. If you want soda or a glass of juice, drink a glass of water first. By eating and drinking better foods before the ones you crave, you will reduce the amount of non-nutritional food you eat.
Your mean parents forced you to eat dinner before dessert, right? In college, much eating habits can be curbed by a similar rule.
5. Plan Meals and Snacks
Schedule three meals into your day, along with planned snacks. Don’t wait until your stomach is empty to think about food—this leads to making faster food decisions based on convenience. Keep foods readily available that are appealing and nutritious.
Having a mini fridge in your dorm stocked with carrot sticks, celery, berries and low sugar yogurt will make it easier to grab something before a class or when working on homework. Peanut butter, granola, bananas, almonds and dried fruit are all great non-refrigerated snacks that are also easy to store and eat without a lot of preparation.
4. Join Active On-Campus Groups
Look for ways to stay active by joining fun or meaningful groups that will help keep you active. Intramurals are a great way to meet new friends and stay in shape with basketball, soccer, flag football, dodge ball, volleyball, ultimate Frisbee and more.
There are also a lot of clubs at most colleges and you might be able to find one that focuses on fitness or participates in a lot of charity walks/runs.
3. Drink More Water
Did you know that drinking water boosts your metabolism, cleanses your body and suppresses your appetite? Even a little dehydration can lead to a loss of energy, which can lead to poorer decisions for activity and nutrition.
The National Academics of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has determined that adequate fluid intake for men should be 15.5 cups and women is 11.5 cups. About 20% of that amount is likely to be consumed in your food. That means the average woman needs to drink an intentional 8-9 cups of water every day.
One way to motivate yourself to meet this goal is in keeping a reusable water bottle with you and marking the side for the amount you should aim to finish each hour.
2. Get Regular Sleep
You want to aim for a regular amount of good sleep each night to avoid weight gain. Studies have shown that less than 5 hours or more than 9 hours each night has been connected to weight gain. Experts have also pointed out that being tired will likely lead to eating comfort foods and avoiding exercise.
A lack of sleep will affect the hormone that makes you want to eat (ghrelin) and reduce the hormone that tells you when to stop (leptin). Sleep deprivation also slows your metabolism. Aim for 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep each night in order to maintain a healthy weight.
1. Have an Outlet for Stress
While college life is fun, the constant peer interactions, professor expectations, schedule-keeping, money questions, studying and assignments will probably take their toll. Stress leads to an increase in the hormone cortisol, which can make you feel hungrier and crave junk foods.
An Ohio State study found that stressed women burned less fat and that the difference was enough to increase weight gain by 11 pounds in a year’s time. Make sure you have a hobby or activity that allows you to have fun, relax and get your energy out in a non-stressful way.
Don’t stress over the weight—focus on living a healthy life filled with activity, good sleep and nutritional meals. You will enjoy college much more when you feel like the best version of yourself.