College is a time to accelerate academic performance, grow as an individual, and meet new people. Also, for some, gain that so-called "freshman 15."
Researchers examining whether or not the freshman 15 is real observed an average weight gain of 2.7 pounds. Freshman weight gain was also 5.5 times greater than that experienced by the general population.
But gaining weight is not a prerequisite. Learn how to avoid the freshman 15 or the anticipated weight gain with these practical tips.
How to Avoid College Weight Gain
1. Create a Game Plan
Heading to college is often the first time freshman breakaway from home. This opens the opportunity for more freedom in regard to food choices and other habits. It can likewise be a stressful, overwhelming time for some.
The stress can trigger the body to release cortisol, which is a hormone known to heighten cravings. Cortisol also stores fuel and energy as fat and slows down the metabolism.
Turning to food during bouts of stress is also known as "stress" or "emotional eating." Such bouts tend to be towards those so-called "comfort foods" laden in sugar and fat.
Emotions can be a factor for weight gain, though knowing how to handle them can help beat the freshman 15. So rather than negatively feeding into or avoiding stress, create a game plan to manage stress and lower its aggressiveness.
Ways to overcome stress include taking a study break to meditate, call a loved one, or take a 10-minute walk. There are also often counseling services available if stress and anxiety start impeding on daily functions and happiness.
2. Avoid the All-You-Can-Eat Mentality
Part of knowing how to avoid the freshman 15 is by learning how to navigate the dining hall. (Without always being tempted with all-you-can eat slices of pizza, French fries, and ice cream!)
Tips to successfully eat healthy in the cafeteria include:
• Loading up on veggies and lean proteins at the salad bar, and avoiding and limiting croutons, bacon, cheese, etc.
• Avoiding or limited foods that are fried and creamed.
• Choosing foods that are baked, steamed, poached, roasted, or broiled
• Filling at least half the plate with veggies and a quarter with a lean or plant-based protein. Also complement with a whole grain and healthy fat source.
• Practicing portion control when indulging in a treat.
• Asking questions politely to cafeteria staff when unsure on the food preparation.
3. Start the Day with Breakfast
Breakfast can be key for not only beating the freshman 15, but improving academic performance throughout college.
A protein-rich breakfast lessens and blunts hunger, reducing the risk of overeating on high-calorie snacks and meals later on. Eating breakfast can also heighten energy levels to kick start the morning and motivation to make healthy choices throughout the day.
Besides, eating breakfast can be key for not only beating the freshman 15, but improving academic performance throughout college.
Healthy breakfast options and combos include:
• 1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese with ½ cup of pineapple, peach, or pear chunks
• 2 eggs, 2 slices of turkey bacon, and 1 slice of whole grain toast
• 1 cup of cooked oatmeal, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, ¼ cup of blueberries, and 8-ounces of milk
• Protein shake with a piece of fruit
• 1 cup whole grain cereal with 8-ounces of milk and slice of fruit
4. Stock Up with Healthy Snacks
Instead of relying on chips amidst a snack attack, stock up with healthy snacks and keep them on hand. Convenient and grab-n-go snack options include:
• An apple with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
• Portioned containers of Greek yogurt
• A couple tablespoons of hummus with sliced veggies
• Rationed out ¼ cup of nuts into baggies or small containers
• Low-fat and low-sugar protein bars
• Beef jerky
5. Keep Hydrated with Water
Sustaining hydration is not only key for a healthy body, but is purposeful for beating the freshman 15.
First off, water is required to fuel metabolic pathways and even slight dehydration can slow down metabolism. What's more, thirst is often mistaken for hunger. So rather than heading for a snack first, drink a glass of water.
As a general rule of thumb, adult males need 3.7 liters of water per day, while adult women need 2.7 liters. Keeping a portable water bottle is one of the best tips to drink more water daily.
Drinking water before and with meals can also help naturally control serving and portion sizes.
6. Skip Empty Calories
While water is always the recommended hydration source, college can trigger the temptation of alcohol consumption. And though alcohol may be enjoyable in the moment, it can leave lasting impressions on weight related to its empty calories. Too much alcohol can also negatively impact health.
So if deciding to drink, be mindful of how much and what you choose to drink. Men are advised to two alcoholic servings daily, while women are limited to one. Serving sizes also include 12 ounces of regular or light beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of liquor. Also watch out for empty calories from mixers often laden in added sugars.
Also eat a balanced meal before a night out and alternate a glass of water between each beverage. Not only can this slow down the absorption of alcohol, but protects from dehydration alcohol is known to cause. It also lowers the risk of over-drinking.
7. Stay Active
Though schedules are often busy, it is important to not let physical activity take the backseat. Regular exercise helps maintain weight and, opportunely, there are numerous ways for college students to keep active.
Take advantage of the recreational center and intramural sport activities. Even beyond the more structured activities, stay active by walking or biking to class over taking the bus. Also take the steps whenever possible.
There are additional benefits of physical activity outside of weight loss and management. These include heart and bowel health, enhanced mood and energy levels, and improved sleep cycles. Exercise can also be useful for managing stress and growing social connections.
8. Prioritize Sleep
From late-night study sessions to weekend parties, sleep may be at the bottom of the priority list. However, sleep is essential for keeping the mind sharp and beating the freshman 15.
The National Sleep Foundation advises seven to nine hours of sleep each night for the general population. Achieving the recommendation helps to curb cravings, regulate hunger hormones, and boost energy to keep active throughout the day.
Make sleep a priority by staying consistent with sleep and wake times as much as possible. Limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption and creating a comfortable sleep environment may lead to a better night's rest. Also try to turn off all electronics and relax leading up to bedtime.
9. Consider a Meal Delivery Service
Especially if living in a dorm, there may be limitations in what you can and cannot prepare. While there are ways to cook healthy in a small space, meal delivery takes the guesswork out of a nutritious diet.
Meal delivery services ensure healthy eating for college students across the nation. In addition to providing nutritious and delicious meals, they cater to personal preferences and needs to meet individualized nutritional requirements.
Besides, there is more to college than constantly worrying about eating healthy!