You’ve gone through orientation, signed up for classes, decorated your dorm room and are enjoying your first year of freedom from your parents as a freshman in college. Next thing you know you are packing up and heading home for the summer as your first year has flown by. You gained knowledge, friends…….and 15 pounds?!
This is a very common scenario for new college students. The excitement of being away from home, dining hall food, late night snacks and the freedom to eat whatever you want can lead to many people putting on weight through their first, and sometimes second, year. Another common cause of gaining weight your first year is the lack of exercise most college students get. For many, high school was structured with classes lined up all day, specific eating times, and possibly sports after school. Now you are in college with more time on your hands and more freedom than you know what to do with. This can be overwhelming for many freshmen and lack of a structure means lack of a focus on health.
Here are the most common causes of college weight gain:
*Eating unhealthy cafeteria food
*Lack of exercise
*Excessive consumption of alcohol
*Eating late at night
*Keeping unhealthy snacks on hand in the dorm room
So, what can you do to avoid the dreaded freshman 15?
First off, exercise on a regular basis. Exercise is your best prevention against weight gain. Most colleges have gyms that are “free” to students so put them to use. After all the cost is generally included in your tuition so you are paying for it anyway. Sign up to take some classes at the rec center, who knows you might find a new workout you enjoy or meet some new workout buddies.
Second, try to choose healthier options when eating and snacking. The dining hall can sometimes be a hard place for your will power. After all you could have a dinner consisting of ice cream and french fries. However, keep fried foods, casseroles, pizza, and desserts to a minimum. Make these occasional treats and choose salads (avoid high calorie toppings and dressings), veggies, lean meats and whole grains on a more regular basis. Many dorm rooms have the option of a small refrigerator. Buy healthy options, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grain cereal, and low-sodium soups for meals and snacks and keep them on hand so you are not tempted with unhealthy cookies or chips when studying.
Third, limit your consumption of alcohol. I know this can sometimes be hard to do in college, but massive amounts of alcohol on weekends can lead to weight gain. Remember, most drinks contain 100-200 calories per drink!
Fourth, keep eating late at night to a once in a blue moon sort of thing. Many college students consume most of their daily calories between the hours of 10pm and 2am. And what is the food of choice? That’s right…pizza. Late night food options are usually minimal, which leaves the typical college student consuming mass quantities of pizza due to it’s convenience and affordability. If you are up studying late and hunger sets in, choose nuts or fruit for a healthier snack that will fill you up and give your brain a boost.
Lastly, make sure to drink enough water. High calorie coffee drinks, sodas and juices can be a cause to weight gain as well. They are empty calories and loaded with unnecessary sugar. Aim to drink 8 glasses of water a day to keep your body hydrated and working properly. You’ll feel energized and won’t have to worry about crashing later in the day from consuming high sugar beverages.
Eating healthy in college can be more of a challenge, but with discipline it can be done and your waistline will thank you later. I’ve listed a few guidelines and suggestions for getting through breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks guilt-free.
Avoid high fat breakfast sandwiches or sugary French toast. Instead choose whole grain cereals with low-fat milk, fruit, low-fat yogurt, whole wheat toast, or egg whites. If your cafeteria doesn’t offer egg whites, ask the cooks and see if it could be an option. If they get kids requesting them, they might make them part of the menu.
Try to avoid pizza, pasta, cheeseburgers, and fried foods. Make these only an occasional treat. Instead choose options such as salads (choose light dressings and avoid high calorie toppings such as bacon, croutons, and cheese), vegetarian options, grilled chicken, turkey sandwiches on whole wheat bread (skip the mayo), or broth-based soups (cream soups have a ton of calories and fat).
Dinner is similar to lunch when choosing foods. Try to avoid high fat options such as pizza, burgers, fried foods and casseroles. Choose whole wheat pasta, soup, rice, baked potatoes, vegetables, salads, or grilled chicken. Scan your options in the cafeteria before you jump in a line for food. Knowing what’s available will help in making wise decisions and you’ll have a game plan going in.
Keep snacks on hand that are nutritious so you won’t be tempted by vending machines or your roommate’s bag of chips. Items such as fruit, nuts, whole grain cereal, raw veggies w/low-fat dip, nutrition bars (my choice for best ones here) and even whole grain crackers with natural peanut butter or hummus are good options for snacking.