Understand the Causes and How to avoid it!
The “freshman 15” is the term given to the 15+ pounds that many new college students gain when they move away from home and start living the “dorm life!”
Let’s discuss how this “freshman 15” happens and look at some easy, practical ways to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
If we’re too late and you’ve already experienced college weight gain, then you’ll learn easy steps you can take to get off the extra weight! Don’t be discouraged or disappointed as gaining this extra weight when you first leave home is very common–so much so that they gave it a name!
What Causes the Freshman 15?
There are many reasons why college students gain weight when they leave home for the first time. Many have never experienced this level of freedom before.
- Stress Let’s face it, as fun as college can be, it’s also a very stressful time. The pressure is on to excel in every way and many people turn to food when stressed.
- Late-Night Eating Dorms don’t shut down in the evenings and many college students stay up late into the night studying or stressing over the need to study. It’s easy to add on another several hours of munching late in the evening. As if that weren’t bad enough, the available food choices at that hour aren’t going to provide many necessary nutrients. Snack foods and soft drinks are not your body’s friends!
- Cafeteria Food Most colleges have hopped on the bandwagon by now and are offering healthier choices on their buffets, but let’s face it, a buffet is still a buffet. It’s hard to turn down mac-n-cheese and dessert if it’s readily available. It’s almost like being on a cruise…
- Fast-food Fast-food restaurants love college towns! They tend to be open late and are easy to get to. Fast food and the “freshman 15” go hand in hand!
- Drinking Many college students experiment with serious drinking for the first time when they leave home and move into a dorm. Talk about empty calories! They can really add up fast!
- Emotional Eating Dealing with feelings of homesickness, leaving friends behind, having to make new friends, academic challenges, self-reliance, etc. can be overwhelming! Food can be very comforting!
- Lack of Exercise Even if you exercised regularly before going off to college, it’s easy to find other things to do with that extra time. Many students don’t carve out time for regular exercise and this is the leading cause for the “freshman 15.”
Easy Ways to Avoid the Freshman 15
- Create a schedule for your meals. To avoid the “freshman 15”, eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a schedule instead of when the mood hits. Obviously, your schedule can be flexible since your classes will be at different times on different days, but create a plan that works for you.
- Never skip breakfast. It’s very tempting to sleep in until the last possible moment, but breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day. It actually jump-starts your metabolism for the day! If walking over to the cafeteria every morning for a nutritious breakfast is not realistic, then keep healthy breakfast items in your dorm room for mornings when you’re in a hurry. This could include instant oatmeal, protein bars, a peanut butter sandwich, dried fruit, or yogurt.
- Make healthy choices in the cafeteria. You know what it means to eat healthy instead of eating foods that aren’t providing necessary nutrition for your body. Make the wise, healthy choice most of the time if you want to avoid the “freshman 15.” On the way to the cafeteria, plan in your mind how the meal is going to play out and stick to that plan. There’s no problem if you want to occasionally splurge but those meals need to be rare.
- Keep some healthy food options available in your room. Sure, you’re going to occasionally want to snack in your room, but be hyper-aware of how much you’re eating and keep healthier snacks close at hand. Pay attention to the nutrition fact label on the back of the package before purchasing. Make sure that you’re getting plenty of fiber. Portion out your snacks instead of sitting with the bag. Portion control is huge when it comes to weight loss or even weight maintenance. Some healthier options might include: Fiber One bars, Kashi TLC bars, Gnu fiber bars, boxes of raisins, almonds, dried fruit, 94% fat-free popcorn, baby carrots, sweet prunes, string cheese, Laughing Cow cheese wedges, whole-grain crackers, whole-grain pretzels, and dark chocolate. Eating too much of even healthier snacks can pack on the pounds so be careful! Consider keeping a weight loss journal to help you stay aware of the amount of food you’re consuming each day.
- Distinguish between hunger and boredom or stress. Learn to pay attention to your stomach and recognize if you’re actually hungry, thirsty, bored, or stressed. Take a minute to think about this before reaching for food. Drinking a glass of water can often satisfy you for the moment. If true hunger isn’t the problem talk to a friend, call home, or find another activity besides eating. Students who eat for emotional reasons can often find relief by using relaxation techniques, journaling, or exercise.
- Schedule regular workouts. Anything you do is going to burn more calories than sitting around, so look for ways to be active. Find a workout buddy and walk around the track or the campus. Go to the college gym and use their equipment. Treadmills and exercise bikes can provide very effective workouts. Most colleges have pools and swimming laps is one of the best full-body workouts there is! Do these target exercises in your dorm room. Get college credit and work out at the same time by signing up for a class in yoga, tennis, racquetball, or some other fun activity! Use an exercise log sheet to keep track of your physical activity. This can be a very motivating tool.
- Limit sodas, even diet. Regular sodas, diet sodas, and other sweet drinks offer no nutritional value to your body. There is even quite a bit of research indicating that artificial sweeteners may be detrimental to your weight loss. If giving them up completely is not an option, then severely limit the number that you drink. Make water your main source of hydration! Limit caffeine to two drinks per day. Try drinking skim milk with your meals. Recent research shows that people who get enough calcium in their diets lose weight easier than those who don’t.
- Don’t eat for at least 2-3 hours before bedtime. Eating late makes it more difficult for you to sleep well and it doesn’t give you time to burn off your excess calories before becoming completely sedentary.
- Get plenty of restful sleep. Weight gain can often be traced back to too little sleep. Sleep deprivation should not be taken lightly. It can be responsible for many health problems. Avoid caffeine after mid-afternoon so that it won’t interfere with your sleep.
- Stay motivated. Take time each day to remind yourself why it’s important to lead a healthy lifestyle. Motivational Ideas where you can and do things to keep it in the forefront of your mind. Post- motivational sayings or “mantras” around your dorm room. Post pictures that inspires you. Keep a favorite pair of jeans readily available to try on often.
So avoid the dreaded “freshman 15” by following these simple steps. Utilizing various weight loss tips can help you maintain your normal level of fitness or even help you make important improvements!