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The Dreaded Freshman 15: How to Avoid Gaining Weight in College

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You’ve probably heard of the dreaded “Freshman 15”. It’s true that many college students gain weight their first year of college. Studies show that the average weight gain is only 3-10 pounds, occurring over the first two years of college. Most of the weight gain occurs during the first semester of freshman year.

There are some very valid reasons for this weight gain. College offers numerous temptations. You are free to eat what you want when you want it. You can eat french fries and ice cream every night of the week, if you want. You may get less exercise than you did before starting college. College is a time for change and these changes can be stressful. Some people eat in response to this stress or other bad feelings they may be having.

Some weight gain is normal. If your weight gain is significant, it carries health risks. If you are overweight, you are more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, breathing problems, and joint problems. If you are an overweight young adult, it’s likely you will remain overweight. There are things you can do now to prevent gaining weight. Take a look at your eating and exercise habits and make adjustments. Adopting a few simple practices can have a big impact.

  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Drinking can cause weight gain. There is no fat in alcohol, but it does contain calories. A regular beer contains about 150 calories. A typical shot contains 100 calories. You can add many more calories when the shot is combined with soda or fruit juice to create a mixed drink.
  • Get enough exercise. You can include exercise in your daily schedule by doing a few simple things such as walking briskly across campus instead of riding the bus or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. You will have numerous opportunities to participate in intra-mural sports – flag football, rugby, lacrosse, etc. Most campuses have recreational facilities (some of them top-of-the-line) that are free for students to use. Consider taking a physical education class for credit – attending a class on a regular basis can motivate you to stick to your goals.
  • Listen to your body. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to receive the message from your stomach that you are full. If you eat quickly, you may overeat before your body knows it’s full. Students often have hectic and irregular schedules and are not able to sit down to eat. Make an effort to sit down occasionally with friends to share a meal. Making meals a social activity can force you to slow down. Keep in mind that people tend to eat 30 to 50 percent more when they are eating in groups. Bright lights and noise can make you eat more, too, so pay attention to where you are eating in the cafeteria.
  • Get enough sleep. When we sleep, our bodies rest and regenerate so we are clear-headed when we awake. If you are deprived of sleep, certain hormones can get out of balance. If we don’t get enough restorative sleep, ghrelin (a hormone that causes weight gain) levels go up, causing weight gain and leptin (a hormone that decreases appetite) levels go down, causing increased hunger.
  • Develop a sound approach to eating. Pay attention to what you are putting on your plate. Some cafeterias offer an all-you-can-eat menu. The more variety people are offered, the more they tend to eat. Choose to fill up on fruits and vegetables and choose whole grain breads, cereals, and pasta. Try to eat things that are grilled or steamed rather than fried. Watch portion size. Keep healthy snacks in your room instead of eating snacks from the vending machines.
  • Watch your beverage intake. Be mindful of the calories in sodas, coffees, and fruit juices. Water is fat-free, calorie-free, filling, and costs nothing. Try drinking a glass of water before each meal to curb overeating. You are better off eating a piece of fruit rather than fruit juice. Add some skim or 1% milk for additional calcium.

Strive for moderation in all of your food choices. The occasional pig-out will occur and that’s ok. If you practice portion control and make healthy choices most of the time, no food has to be off-limits. If you fixate on food or your weight or feel guilty about eating, it may be a good idea to talk to someone. The counseling or health center on campus can provide you with information about nutrition and eating disorders.

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