Just about everyone has heard about the dreaded “Freshman 15” – the phenomenon that sees many students gain anywhere from three to fifteen pounds. Why does it happen and how can we help prevent it? Let’s take a look.
What Causes Freshman Year Weight Gain?
Heading off to college is a time of great change where the habits you’ve had since childhood are turned upside down. Food and eating habits are especially up in the air with no one to look over your shoulder and tell you what to do
It can mean the freedom to eat more for some – a chance to have foods they weren’t allowed to have before like sugary cereals or extra ice cream whenever one wants. So in addition to poor choices, there is also a lack of portion control.
For others eating more can be about anxiety or homesickness – adding extra food to their feel better about uncertain, new situations. Or, simply just not being mindful of what they are eating and when.
All of these reasons can contribute to the weight slowly adding up.
How Do You Beat the Weight Gain?
Knowledge is a powerful tool. Before your teen heads off to college why not sit down and discuss with them what can happen when their food patterns suddenly change after all these years. Here are some tips to pass along:
Don’t skip meals. Just like with any other healthy eating plan, having consistent, healthy meals is important. If you skip meals your body starts to store what it does get as fat to prevent what it thinks is “starvation.”
Remember portion control. In the school cafeteria you’ll see literally dozens of choices for your meals. Remember that just because it is in front of you doesn’t mean you have to eat it all or try everything. You have the power over what you put on your plate or whether you go back for seconds. Or if a friend orders pizza, you can enjoy some but recognize when you feel full and stop, or give yourself a cue of eating just one slice.
Remember what eating healthy means. As we’ve said you’ll have literally dozens of choices in front of you. When you were at home likely some meal choices were made for you, now it’s up to you. Make sure the majority of your plate is made up of healthy vegetables and fruits, with room for your protein and some wholegrains. Your fatty deserts or starchy items should really be just samples or small tastes to keep your healthy eating on track.
Have healthy snacks and avoid the vending machines. Most likely you’ll have a dorm fridge – make sure you fill that with healthy snacks to rely on when you are hungry. Make sure you have fruits, or low fat cheese and crackers to rely on. Avoid your dorm’s vending machine that will be packed with candy, chips and soda.
Avoid fast foods. Meals from places like McDonalds or KFC are cheap and tasty but before you know it the calories from one meal can add up to most of your daily recommendation for calorie intake. To help visualize just how many calories are in our fast food favorites – and in vending machines too for that matter CalorieKing has created a special app called Create-A-Meal that enables you to experiment with different fast food meal combinations to help you stay calorie aware. You can download it here: Create-A-Meal
Watch what you drink. Remember those sodas you find everywhere on campus are high in sugar and empty calories. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water or diet soda when you are thirsty. If you are old enough to partake of alcohol, limit your drinking. Alcohol is a calorie dense, low nutrient addition to your diet and can lead to added pounds; remember that it also loosens inhibitions and the willpower you had to stop eating at one slice of pizza could go right out the door!
Don’t forget to exercise! Keep moving so that you are burning off some of the extra calories you may be taking in. Try to find a workout buddy who shares interest of some of your activities or if you are just starting out, take the stairs when you can and walk the campus when you can.
When Should I Worry?
Change is a difficult thing – and moving out and going to college ranks up there as one of the most stressful changes you can make. Give yourself time to adjust to a healthy routine.
If however you are not feeling well in any way or something doesn’t feel normal about your body or health routine, you should visit your student health center right away to seek advice. Additionally, if you find yourself fixated on your weight to the point it is interrupting your daily life or you are depressed about your habits, don’t hesitate to seek help from the student health center. That’s why they’re there – to help you stay healthy and happy as you start out on this next phase of your life!