Dubbed "the freshman fifteen," the often-feared weight gain that many college freshmen experience during their first year away from home is common, yet absolutely preventable. Those pesky fifteen pounds that seem to creep up during that first year of school can happen to anyone, even those who have never struggled with their weight. You can credit typical distractions such as extra-curricular activities, busy schedules, chaotic sleep patterns, all-night study sessions, dining out with friends, and unlimited food at those university buffets. Couple those factors with a giant pile of stress and you've got a recipe for weight gain.
If you're away from home attending college, you may have noticed your eating habits have changed. You no longer have a parent grocery shopping or preparing food for you, and it's harder to stay on track with healthy eating. But it's not too late to avoid the dreaded freshman fifteen. Here are some easy tips for even the busiest of college students:
1. Always Eat Breakfast
Studies have shown that people who eat breakfast actually weigh less, likely because they're not famished later on in the day when it's harder to make smart choices. Be sure to include some lean protein and fiber--both will keep you satisfied longer so that you're not running to the vending machines between classes.
2. Pack Snacks
Often the reason students gain weight is because they're so busy and aren't prepared with a healthy snack or meal option when hunger strikes. Arm yourself with a slew of well-balanced snack options to hold you over between meals. Some portable options include whole fruit, beef jerky, light string cheese, high-fiber granola bars, 100-calorie packs of nuts, or a bag of 100-calorie popcorn you can easily microwave on campus. In your room, stash packs of instant oatmeal, microwavable soups, whole-grain crackers, peanut butter, and pouches of tuna for quick, low-fuss meals.
If you're lucky enough to have a mini-fridge in your dorm, pack it full of nutritious snacks, including yogurt (regular or Greek, just choose those with less sugar), fresh produce (think of produce that doesn't require much cutting--baby carrots, grapes, etc.), low-fat cottage cheese, low-fat cheese, or unsweetened applesauce packs.
3. Smart Campus Dining
There are numerous eateries strategically located throughout college campuses, usually offering high-calorie, fatty fare, but you do have smart options. Scope out all of your choices before making a decision. Look for lean proteins (grilled chicken or fish, hard-boiled egg whites, beans), colorful veggies (avoid those with heavy cheese or cream sauces), fresh fruit, low-fat dairy (yogurt, cottage cheese), and calorie-free beverages. Steer clear of giant sodas and iced or frozen coffees.
Seek out a salad bar and then load up on veggies topped with lean protein, like turkey slices, grilled chicken breast, or beans. Be careful with salad dressings and other high-calorie toppings (cheese, croutons, bacon). Choose a light salad dressing and have it on the side rather than drowning your salad with it.
4. Get Moving
Additionally, make it a point to continue to exercise regularly. Walking is good exercise, but you'll probably still need to log some sweat-sessions several times a week. The great thing about attending college is that most of them have fantastic gyms and exercise facilities, often filled with the latest and greatest equipment. Many offer classes at no charge to students. Zumba, anyone?
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.