The Freshman 15 – fact or fiction? While many studies show that the average weight gain is closer to seven pounds – less for males – there is still a high prevalence that college freshmen will gain weight in an unhealthy way. A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that college students gained 7.8 pounds on average during their freshman year. More than 30% gained 10 pounds or more, and 20% gained the typical Freshman 15 or more.
So whether or not you gain the Freshman 15 or the Freshman 5, there are simple ways to lose that unhealthy weight and maintain a healthier lifestyle, despite the hectic lifestyle of a college kid.
Not too long ago (cough!) I was a freshman living in the dorms at a college in New Orleans. The temptations were many and more than a handful of my floormates succumbed and gained the dreaded Freshman 15 (or 20) even though our campus was extremely walkable and none of us had cars. The reasons are many. Who can resist the mac and cheese bar or the $2 drink specials? This is not a situation that is isolated at one college, one region – it is a widespread problem that can be addressed with a multitude of simple solutions.
There is no need to go on a crash diet, spend hours in the gym or go to extremes to lose weight in college. In fact, those quick fixes are unhealthy and I have seen people lose a few pounds in a week just to pack it back on because those extreme habits are not sustainable for long-term health. Just making small lifestyle changes will go a long way and, hopefully, you will carry those healthy habits with you beyond graduation.
Why College Freshmen Gain Weight
First, let’s explore why college freshmen are so prone to weight gain. Once we drill down and understand why we are gaining weight, it will become easier to combat the problem. Going to school in New Orleans, I know that part of the contribution to my weight gain was alcohol consumption – in a city like that, everything is celebrated with alcohol. Births, deaths, Fridays, you name it. For other college students, the reason behind their weight gain might be different, but the bottom line is finding the problem and fixing it sooner rather than later.
- Convenience. Let’s be honest – college kids are lazy. They could think of a million things they would rather be doing than contemplating healthy food choices. So they grab whatever is convenient from the cafeteria or fast food place on campus and don’t give it a second thought. One thing we’ll explore a little later is making healthy foods more convenient and accessible so making the right choice is easier.
- Stress. The life of a college kid is stressful. For the first time, they are out on their own, making tough decisions, trying to keep up with schoolwork. Facing pressures and temptations that were a lot easier to face when you had mom and dad’s curfew to blame. Stress can lead to unhealthy habits like poor sleeping, poor eating choices or not eating at all.
- Lack of Knowledge. I had a friend in college (not kidding!) that didn’t know how to read food labels but knows how to buy essay cheap. Most kids just don’t get the education they need about healthy fats, portion control, caloric intake, etc. So when they are faced with food choices, they won’t recognize that they are scooping too much on their plate or choosing a side that is too high in calories.
- Lack of Money. We all know college kids are usually broke as a joke. But, being healthy can be inexpensive if you plan well and make the right choices. A bag of pretzels is probably the same cost as a bag of chips, but they are a much healthier choice.
- Unhealthy Habits. Just in general, college freshmen typically don’t get enough sleep and make horrible food choices. A good night’s sleep is essential to keep the body functioning at its optimum level so it can keep up the metabolism necessary to help you lose weight. Poor eating habits, whether out of convenience or habit, are definitely the main contributing factor to the Freshman 15 so making simple swaps will go a long way in making your body healthy.
- Alcohol Consumption. Besides contributing to poor sleeping and eating habits (late-night pizza anyone?) alcohol is just plain empty calories. Generally, beer and wine are about 100 calories a serving, while mixed drinks are much higher – as much as 500 for a margarita. With the way I have seen college kids drink, it is probably feasible to gain the Freshman 15 solely in alcohol.
Here are a few easy lifestyle changes that help you lose weight and/or maintain a healthy weight while you are in college. If you are a college student, education yourself about nutrition, calories and exercise is probably the best thing you could do for yourself. Make healthy eating a habit, but don’t worry about what other people think when you change your tune – no one is going to make fun of you for pulling a bag of pretzels from your bag. They probably won’t even notice when you drink a full glass of water before you start on your dinner. You don’t even have to tell anyone about your healthy change if you don’t want to, but I always find that it is easier to do a plan like this in a group – at least in a pair – to keep motivated!
No matter what time you roll out of bed, you need to eat breakfast in order to maintain or lose weight. Even if you groggily grab a breakfast bar on your way out the door, it is essential to start revving up your metabolism for the day. You won’t find a weight loss plan that recommends you skipping breakfast to save the calories – in fact, it is just the opposite. Most of them recommend about 300 – 400 calories in the morning so grab a piece of fruit and a bagel and you are good to go. Make sure you eat within an hour of waking up so if you have an early morning class, eat on the way, not afterward.
Carry around a water bottle with you at all times. Keeping constantly hydrated is a key to weight loss, whether you are in college or not. Since your body is made up of 60% to 70% water so it is essential for all your body functions. Drinking lots of water flushing all of the bad stuff (aka toxins) out of your body and restore it after unhealthy food and drink choices. Another trick is to drink a full glass of water before and after your meals. This will make sure that your stomach tells your brain you are full in plenty of time, not just when you have stuffed yourself into a coma.
Stock Healthy Snacks
Depending on the accommodations in your dorm, you can stock a ton of healthy snacks. If you don’t have a fridge, you can certainly keep pretzels, whole grain crackers or popcorn for easy snacks. If you have a fridge (lucky you!!) then veggies and hummus or granola and yogurt both make wonderful choices. You can even keep healthy desserts like Jello cups or Fudgsicles that are delicious, but won’t break the calorie bank.
Get Some Sleep
When we sleep, our body has time to restore itself and repair from all the work it does during the day. Without the proper amount – eight hours for most people – then you will be out of whack for the next day. Being sleepy not only creates havoc in our bodies, but inevitably, you will start making bad food decisions or blow off exercising if you are groggy and crabby after a late night.
There’s no doubt about it – you will not lose the Freshman 15 sitting on your butt. Get moving! Whether you take the stairs up to your 8th floor dorm room or walk to your classes instead of drive, take every opportunity to get your rear in gear. Check out your campus fitness center for classes. My girlfriends and I took a hip hop dancing class that was so fun, we couldn’t wait to go each week. My abs got a killer workout just from laughing so hard. The gym at my small college offered swimming, kickboxing, Pilates, yoga – all kinds of classes! Get a group together and make it a fun activity instead of a weight loss necessity.
Eat the Rainbow
Grab a plate and load it up with foods of all different colors. The different shades in fruits and vegetables indicate all the wonderful vitamins, minerals and antioxidants they contain so be sure to mix it up with every meal. A salad is a great option for eating the rainbow, just be sure to avoid fat traps like croutons, full-fat cheese and creamy dressings.
Stick to a Schedule
Try to stick as close as you can to a regular schedule. Eating and working out at similar times during the week and the weekend helps your body adjust to your healthy lifestyle. It also keeps you in line so you won’t have the opportunity to blow off a workout because other, more fun invitations keep coming up. Planning your meals as much as you can during the week, especially if you have a particularly busy schedule, ensures that you have enough healthy options to get you through the week.