Believe it or not, the college lifestyle is not an instant sentence to gain 15 pounds. In fact, the average weight gain during the first year is only 2.7 pounds, and men are more likely to gain weight than women, according to the American Journal of College Health.
If you make healthy decisions and prepare for what’s ahead, avoiding the Freshman 15 during your first year away from home is not as hard you think.
Limit Fattening Cafeteria Foods
Pizza, cinnamon rolls, French fries, doughnuts, soda and any other fatty foods that are found in a college dining hall offer nothing but energy swings and weight challenges. Try to avoid indulging in these junk foods more than once or twice per week.
Think of your plate as a grid rather than a bottomless trough to pile in food. Half of your plate should be vegetables and salad, one quarter should be a small fist-size portion of protein, and the last quarter can be, ideally, whole-grain carbs. Additionally, drink plenty of water daily.
Be Cautious of Alcohol
Despite the fact that most college students are under the age of 21, Freshman15.com points to alcohol as one of the top five reasons new students gain weight. When you consider calorie counts and the volume of alcohol consumed, as well as the poor food choices that are often made as a result of intoxication, it’s clear to see how weight gain can happen.
The beer has 150 calories, distilled spirits (80 proof) have about 100 calories per ounce, and cocktails can have upward of 500 calories. An average 5-foot-6, 130-pound female student needs 1,650 calories daily to maintain her weight. A slightly larger male needs 2,000 calories. If you’re pulling late nights, eating regularly throughout the day and drinking in excess, the pounds can pile on fast.
Don’t get sucked into what some call “drunkorexia,” either, where you restrict calories during the day so you can party at night. This can be dangerous for your stomach and dietary needs.
Snack Smarter and Fresher
Resist the temptation to indulge in packaged snacks that lack nutrients such as potato chips, cheese puffs, Twinkies, Pop-Tarts and more. There’s a reason food such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are staples of the American diet: They are simple and filling.
A classic PB&J (or peanut butter and banana with honey) on whole-wheat bread has craving-curbing protein, healthy fats and slow-digesting carbs that help dampen blood sugar spikes. Other great snacks include plain yogurt with fruit, oatmeal, fruits, whole-grain cereals, rice cakes, low-fat cottage cheese and low-fat cheese wrapped in deli meat. If needed, get a mini-fridge to keep healthy staples like these handy.
Exercise with Your Friends or Pick up a New Sport
Working out is better when you’re with friends and can encourage each other. Research shows it’s easier to exercise and eat better if your friends are doing the same things. On the contrary, the reverse is also true.
Be the master of your own health and invite your friends to work out and eat good food together so you can all build healthy habits. If it’s your first year on campus and you haven’t met many people yet, try joining an intramural sports team, as this can be a great opportunity to meet new friends.
Or Exercise on Your Own
Sometimes, you just can’t wait for other people, and with a newfound freedom to do whatever they please, college students may find it hard to commit to regular exercise and physical activity. This may mean you need to go to the athletic center or bike around campus by yourself and exercise solo several times a week. If your friends aren’t willing to tag along, set up a workout schedule each week and hold yourself accountable.
Prepare for Stress
Stress can create a domino effect on your energy levels. Whether it’s your drinking, eating or sleeping habits, stress can negatively affect your lifestyle. In the first year of college, you may find yourself more stressed than you’ve ever been before, so be prepared.
When stress hits, talk about your issues with your friends or speak to your parents. If needed, find a college counselor or an old mentor you can trust and talk with regularly. The less stress you encounter on a daily basis, the less likely you’ll be to develop poor health habits. Plus, your mind will be clearer and your grades may be higher as a result.