I can’t believe it’s been 6 years (2190 some days) since I finished my undergraduate degree. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I truly began my ‘college life’ away from home. I spend 3 years in the dorm – had my fair share of freshman 15 (it’s actually sophomore 15 but oh well) but thanks to my degree in Nutrition, I graduated leaner, stronger, and healthier! College officially starts next week here and it’s a big transition if you are moving away for the first time. It could mean new environment, different sets of friends, finding a balance between your classes, work, social life, and of course your health and well-being. Freshman 15 is term used to refer to an arbitrary number (typically 15 lbs) of weight gained during a student’s freshman year. It could be due to number of things -: all-you-can-eat cafeteria food, excessive alcohol consumption, stress, decreased physical activity, or just lack of education/tool/resources on healthy living.
I went through “Freshman 15” as a combination of all the reasons mentioned above so I would like to share some “Tips to Avoid Freshman 15” if you are headed to college, or are currently dealing with Freshman 15. Additionally, I have complied helpful tips and resources from other Registered Dietitians to help you start your college journey on a healthier note!
Navigating the Dining Hall : College cafeteria opens up your options for all things food, both healthy and not-so-healthy. From all-you-can eat buffet, salad bar, to soft-serve ice cream machine, it is really easy to load up on calories without even realizing it. When I was in college, salad bar and grilled station (where almost everything was fried) were two healthyish choices. The hot food line didn’t serve much healthier options either but you have to make the best choices with available resources.Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN of Nutritioulicious says “the offerings in cafeterias and dining halls can be really overwhelming, so I recommend treating it like any other buffet. Walk through to see all the options before you start filling your plate and then choose one protein, one carb, 1-2 veggies, and a fruit. And always take an extra piece of whole fruit for late night study snacks”.
Build a better plate: Pile up 1/2 your plate with grilled, steamed, or baked vegetables and fruits. Reserve 1/4th of your plate for lean protein (not fried), and the remaining 1/4th for your carbohydrates. Pick whole grain options (100% whole wheat bread, buns, brown rice) when possible for the additional fiber which will help you keep full longer.
At the salad bar : It’s always a good idea to eat salad as a side or your meal, however be mindful with the dressings and additional toppings. Rather than creamy ranch, French, Thousand Island dressing – stick with vinaigrette-based dressings or drizzle your greens with olive oil + vinegar. When it comes to toppings, go easy on all things fried/crunchy such as bacon bits, wanton strips, croutons. Instead add nuts and seeds for added protein, fiber, & vitamins/minerals.
Dessert/sweetened drinks : With a buffet of desserts, soft-serve ice cream machine & unlimited fountain drinks – it is easy to go eat excessive amount of sugar in one sitting. Treat both dessert/sweetened drinks like sweet tea, soda as an occasional thing rather than everyday food. Eat your meal first before hitting the dessert bar. Fruits are refreshing, naturally sweet, and better dessert/snack option, so try to eat fruit at every meal. Stick with regular water (add lemon sliced if you don’t like it plain) instead of soda, sports drinks, sweet tea as they are loaded with sugar which adds up overtime.
Don’t skip breakfast : Eating breakfast was probably my biggest challenge (hello 8 am class Monday, Wednesday, Friday). Most cafeterias are stocked with oatmeal, cereal, breakfast line, or build your own omelet/breakfast sandwich, burritos type deal. It’s sweet if your schedule allows – make sure to eat a breakfast with whole grains, protein and/or healthy fat, and some fruit or vegetables. Otherwise, look into some grab n’ go type breakfast that you can prepare in advance such as overnight oats (mocha overnight oats, 2 minute microwave steel cut oats), chia pudding (golden milk , berry chia), yogurt parfait, fresh fruits, whole wheat toast with nut butter etc. Not eating breakfast in the morning means no energy in them morning, difficulty concentrating in the class, and it could also lead to overeating during lunch, which is no bueno.
Stock up your fridge : With your class schedule & assignments, eating regularly at the cafeteria may always not work out..or, you may need to fuel your late night study sessions with a 4th meal or snack. Instead of fast-food, I’d suggest stocking up your fridge with healthier options:
Most college dorms have a fridge and a microwave either in the room or communal kitchen. Additionally, based on your budget, you can look into buying few essentials such as blender (hello smoothies), can opener, cutting board, knife so you can do some prep some meals and snacks in your room. My friend Lindsay from The Lean Green Bean has a comprehensive post dedicated to “How to Eat Healthy in College” where she talks about different food groups, provides tips/inspirations/recipes!
Get your fitness on : Most colleges have a fitness center that is accessible to all students free of charge. Squeeze in at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week into your schedule, switching between cardio and resistance training. But if that doesn’t seem to work or you can’t motivate yourself to go to the gym consistently, how about enrolling in a fitness class for the semester? Fitness class will cost money but it will also keep you accountable to attend those (easy credit to pull up your GPA). You can also try free online workout videos or buy DVD so you can workout from the convenience of your dorm room.
Join your college’s intramural sports teams! A great way to make friends AND get some exercise! – Lauren Pendergast RDN, CDN“One thing that helped me as I attended college was to try and walk to places as much as I could. I also immediately found the gym on campus and the schedule of exercise classes. I made a plan to fit these into my class schedule and stuck to it.” – Kim Melton, RD www.nutritionproconsulting.com
Alcohol 101 : Sorry to break the news but alcohol has a lot of calories, mostly in the form of sugar!!! Obviously, it is best not to drink but in reality we all have parties to attend, drinking games to play, and who can resist Thursday’s ladies night right?
Sixteen to twenty-four oz cups of beer can sport 200-300 calories easily…drink 3-4 of these throughout a night and you’ve added 1000 calories to your day – Jill Castle, MS RDN Childhood Nutrition Expert from Jill Castle.
Please please please, do not skip your meals for drinking. Before indulging in any drinking-related activities – make sure to eat because alcohol gets absorbed lot quicker if you drink on an empty stomach.
Alcohol can cause dehydration, so for every beverage, drink a glass of water.
Choose your drinks wisely as not all drinks are created equal. It is not just the alcohol but factors such as added-ingredients in your mix, size of your drink, and how much you are drinking will a difference. For men, 2 drinks is recommended while ladies, you get 1. Here are Low Calorie Drinks recommended by Dietitians!!
Late night drinking could lead to fast-food run or pizza delivery, which are again source of added calories. So be mindful of unhealthy eats that happen when you drink.
Stress management : Stress is an inevitable part of our life and college won’t be any different. Things like lack of sleep, homesickness, lots of assignment, time management, or relationship crisis could happen which could throw off your regular eating habits and exercise routine. Also, during stress people generally tend to eat their emotions // skip meals // drink & smoke // not take good care of themselves which could all be a contributing factor to poor habits as well as weight gain. If you have a rough day or two, start right back where you left off instead of feeling guilty for missing a workout or eating extra scoop of ice cream – life happens!!! Also, surround yourself with supportive, positive group of people who can lift you up..and most importantly. find ways to channel your stress that does not involve eating or drinking such as movies, hiking, arts/crafts or whatever you enjoy doing!
The idea of Freshman 15 is widespread…and it may or may not happen to everyone. However, due to the combination of many factors, it could very well lead to weight gain. I steadily gained 10-15 pounds during my 1st year of college; I was aware of it but it didn’t hit me until someone made a comment about it. Being in a nutrition program, I was somewhat informed of my not-so healthy habits but I started to eat better and worked out consistently, which helped me not only lose weight but feel stronger, leaner, and healthier overall. This was also the time I started to develop healthy habits and truly understand the difference between healthy vs. skinny. It is NOT just about the number on the scale but rather a good balance between your emotional, mental, physical health and well-being.
Focus on healthy habits that feel good for you. Listen to what your body is craving and honor it, and stay away from diets or restrictive eating plans. Find movement that feels joyful and that you enjoy instead of forcing yourself to work out. Notice how you feel in your body instead of using the scale. – Lauren Fowler RDN / LaurenFowler.co
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