The freshman 15: How to eat healthy in college

Before you get too stressed—did you know that the “freshman 15” is an undocumented claim? Reports show that first-year college students only gain an average of three to six pounds, not the alleged ten to fifteen pounds. However, most freshmen do find eating healthy in college a big challenge, especially when they’re faced with preparing their own food, eating at restaurants more often or choosing from an endless buffet in the cafeteria.

Is it just a myth?
According to the National Center of Biotechnology Information, “Forty-nine incoming freshmen at a small liberal arts college completed a study by filling out questionnaires and health data at the beginning and end of their 1st year on campus. The findings revealed no significant weight gain at the end of the year. The “Freshman 15” myth was found to play an important role in perpetuating negative attitudes toward weight. Freshmen who were concerned about gaining 15 pounds were more likely to think about their weight, have a poorer body image than others, and categorize themselves as being overweight.”

And according to Science Daily, in an article entitled “Freshman Fifteen Is a Myth, But Weight Gain Is Still a Problem,” “The average weight gain (in our study) was seven pounds, the result of eating approximately 112 excess calories per day. ‘We found that the first year of college is a period in which weight and fat gain may occur,” said Daniel Hoffman, one of the professors from the Department of Nutritional Sciences on the study team. “But, in the group we studied, the weight gain is less than 15 pounds and is not universal.’ However, three-quarters of the students who participated in the study did gain weight.”

Navigating the cafeteria
Most college freshmen are faced with a completely new landscape when it comes to meals and food preparation. You might opt for the dining halls at your universities, which generally means you have an allotted number of meals per week and can eat whenever and whatever you please. This can be tough for students who are used to portioned meals, and, odds are, they may end up eating more than they normally would.

One way to cut down on the amount and types of food you are eating is to try thinking about what you are hungry for before you enter the cafeteria. Are you in the mood for something warm? Crispy? Spicy? Creamy? Do you feel like a salad or are you in the mood for a taco? If you can tune in to your body’s needs beforehand, you won’t be overwhelmed by choices and won’t load your plate with a million other things that sound okay but aren’t very satisfying.

Another smart way to approach your new eating options is to ensure you’re making a stop for all three meals. No breakfast in the morning means a slowed metabolism and, likely, overeating in the afternoon. By keeping yourself satisfied throughout the day, you won’t be so tempted to polish off an entire pizza at dinner.

Snack time
Some health magazines try to discourage you from snacking, but science reveals that keeping your body’s energy levels up throughout the day means a higher metabolism and a healthier body weight—so snacking (when hungry) is definitely a good habit. The key is to fill your dorm room or pantry with tasty, filling snacks that won’t spike your blood sugar and make you crash 30 minutes later. Opt for fiber-packed granola bars, fruit and fruit leather, veggies and hummus, and whole-wheat crackers with your favorite spread. These things will keep in a mini-fridge and won’t spoil too quickly.

Working out
Exercise may be one of the most difficult commitments to keep at college. On top of studying, class, a part-time job, and your bustling social life, is it any surprise? If you’re realistic with yourself about how much time you have to exercise, it will be easier to meet your goals and stay active during the year. Most fitness experts will tell you to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, but if that’s not realistic, try hitting the gym twice a week for an hour. If you don’t have access to a gym, take walks around campus a few times a week. As long as you’re getting your heart rate up, you’re staying active and keeping yourself fit.

Catching some Zs
Getting enough sleep is another important element to maintaining a healthy body weight. Most college freshmen are usually sleep deprived from the overwhelming amount of coursework and social stimulation. If you can, cut back on social activities during the week and try to get the recommended eight hours of shuteye. Then, feel free to party it up on the weekends!

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