If you’ve ever been to a college or have even read about going to college then you have probably heard of the famed “freshman fifteen” a college myth that has existed since your parents were in college (although in the past it has been known as the “freshman five” or “freshman ten”.) Sure, there are articles and even books that talk about the “freshman fifteen”, but if your looking for just some basic information and tips on how to avoid it then here’s my rundown.
The “freshman fifteen” is the theory that while in your first year of college students will gain fifteen pounds because of the increased calorie intake and decreased exercise levels. Now while the “freshman fifteen” is (for the most part) a myth it does contain some truth.
MYTH: Everybody gains weight their first year, it’s just a part of the “college experience”.
FACT: It’s true that many college students will gain some weight during their first year in college (although studies have differed on the exact average, the range seems to be from 4 – 8 lbs.) That is not the case for everyone. In fact, there have been stories of some people who have used the freedom and opportunities of college to lose some extra pounds. With the right diet and exercise you can maintain your current weight (and even lose some of those extra pounds you were hoping to get rid of.)
MYTH: Only lazy, couch potatoes who don’t play sports will gain weight during school.
FACT: It’s possible for any student to gain weight while in college. Many students who were very athletic in high school but could not continue to be in college will find their favorite pair of “sexy jeans” fitting a little too tight and begin testing the limits of a relaxed waist band and this may only be because of the decreased activity levels.
MYTH: You can lose up to fifty pounds on the “beer and pizza” diet!
FACT: Actually that’s not a myth, I have pictures as proof if you want to see…. Hopefully, you can tell I was just kidding but don’t be surprised if you hear tons of fad diets that involve stages of complex math and eating just vegetable broth and weak tea.
So now that you have an idea of what the “freshman fifteen” is and isn’t, the question is “How do I prevent it?”
1. Make a plan and allow yourself to fail.
The best offense is a good defense. If you go to school with a plan of how you want to eat and keep active then you are more likely to stick with it. When you think about your plan make sure to include time for breakfast, lunch, dinner and plenty of sleep (while you sleep you create a hormone called leptin which regulates fullness.) If you make your plan so rigid and unforgiving that you don’t allow yourself some room to fail once in a while then you will ultimately give up on it. Allow yourself to be rewarded for your hard work when you stick to your plan and try not to be too hard on yourself if you stumble and fall once in a while. With the stress of a new environment and a tight schedule even the best of plans are bound to be tested.
2. If you have a meal plan then use it!
If your living at school with room and board then that means you have some form of a meal plan with the college’s cafeteria. Why go out and spend money you probably can’t afford to lose on fatty, unhealthy fast food when you have meals included in your room and board? Now I’m not gonna lie, there’s plenty of stuff in that cafeteria that’s not anywhere close to healthy (burger and fries anyone?) but there’s always at least a few healthy choices (usually a salad bar and sandwich/wrap making section.) Just try to load up on the fresh fruits and veggies, drink plenty of water and remember the magic words “portion control”.
3. Go easy on the booze and drugs.
While it’s not wise, a lot of people feel that college is the time to drink and do drugs while their bodies are still young enough to handle it. Just keep in mind that besides packing on the extra pounds, excessive drinking and drug use will wreak havoc on your vital organs and most likely create some huge academic problems.
4. Get Active!
One of the main causes for the “freshman fifteen” syndrome is because when a lot of students start college they put exercise and fitness on the back burner and weight gain follows. Exercise is a great way to keep your spirits high, clear your mind and helps to manage stress. One problem that students have is finding a sport or activity that is right for them. But fear not, one way or another there is a way for every student to be active whiling juggling a busy academic and social schedule.
For those who love sports and group activities — Every college has some sort of athletic department and so there will be sports activities available. With all the sports that are played today you are likely to find a sport and a team for you. Many colleges will offer teams in different divisions for students with different athletic skill levels (so for those of us who aren’t going into the big leagues can still have fun too.)
For those who love to workout alone or aren’t into sports — For every institution of higher learning that has an athletic department will also have a gym. Most will have at least your basics: free weights, a stretching room (maybe for yoga or pilates) and a plethora of machines just waiting for students and faculty to use them. Most schools will allows free (or largely discounted) memberships for their students, faculty and even family members of the faculty. The plus about going to the gym at your school is that it is likely to have more “student friendly” hours which allow you to come and go as you please and plenty of help/tips from the staff or fellow students.
For those who hate to play sports, go to the gym or workout in general — You might the type of person who doesn’t feel like setting out time every day/week for planned exercise. Or you could have an irrational fear of the gym and hate the idea of team sports. Probably some deep seeded trauma from your childhood? But who am I to judge. The best suggestions I could give is for you is to walk, run, bike or skate (if allowed) to anywhere you want to get around campus. With all the hiking back and forth from class to class, the dorms or anywhere else you need to go, burning calories shouldn’t be a problem.
5. Don’t skip meals or try any other crazy diet ideas.
Everyone knows that being in college means your going to have a busy schedule with plenty of late night studying (or other activities) so some people will forget to eat breakfast or skip a meal. Just don’t do it. It’s a fact that skipping meals (especially breakfast) causes your metabolism to slow down and stops you from using the nutrients from your food effectively. College is also not a time to try crazy dieting ideas (skipping meals, taking pills, binging and purging, not eating at all etc.) If your having serious problems maintaining a healthy weight or have a negative self-image you should first consult a medical professional before trying any kind of change of diet or exercise. For some people the pressure of the college environment seems to be the perfect catalyst to develop certain psychological and medical conditions that can affect more then just your weight.
6. And finally… Try to prepare for the unexpected.
The joy of being in college is in all of those really late nights you will have to pull to finish term papers, the really early classes that are always on the opposite side of the campus and the countless number of hours you will be stuck in the library doing research. Chances are that eating right will probably be the last thing on your mind in situations like that. So its best thing to do is to be prepared for the unexpected by having a small but health snack and bottle of water with you when your on the go and be sure to take time out to eat.
Keep in mind that this information isn’t meant to replace the instructions of your primary care provider or dietitian but only some common sense tips to try to help you stay healthy. If your looking for more advanced information on nutrition and how to eat sensibly I would suggest you start your search by reading some reviews for nutrition books from Amazon and looking at your local/campus library.