Many factors make gaining a few extra pounds (or more) an easy task during first year university. For starters, dining halls give students carte blanche to a variety of entrée and dessert choices, often served in hefty portions. And parents of kids living on campus aren't around to deter them from having French Fries or dessert with every meal.
Late night eating – snacking on sugary or salty foods to fuel study sessions or grabbing a slice of pizza after a beer party – is another problem. Alcohol calories also add up and promote extra munching.
For some, food is a way to cope with the stress of being away from home, making new friends, and adjusting to academic demands. Many first year students also find they have less time to exercise due to heavy course loads.
The good news: university weight gain is not inevitable.
Combat the freshman 15 (or 5) by preventing it in the first place
Establish an eating schedule
Get into a regular pattern of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner to help keep your blood sugar level stable, prevent hunger and curb cravings.
Choose healthy options
When eating at the dining hall or campus food court, assess your options and decide what you’ll eat before you get in line. Lower fat options include grilled or baked chicken or fish, veggie burgers, pita or wrap sandwiches, stir-fries with steamed rice, and pasta with tomato sauce.
Practice portion control
Just because the food is in front of you, and already paid for, doesn’t mean you need to eat it all. Make a trip to the salad bar, before you hit the hot food station. If you have pasta, skip the bread. Ask for a double portion of vegetables instead of high fat mashed potatoes or French fries.
Before you go back for seconds, gauge your hunger level. Eat until you feel comfortable, not stuffed. Keep in mind it takes 20 minutes for your brain to realize you’ve had enough to eat.
Make special requests
If you’re a vegetarian, request vegetarian protein foods be offered at meals such as soy beverages, legumes, veggie burgers and tofu. A steady fare of bagels, cheese pizza and meatless pasta will be low in protein and provide more carbohydrates than sedentary students needs.
Keep healthy snacks handy for a mid day energy boost and late night study sessions. God choices include yogurt, fresh fruit, nuts, part skim cheese strings, baby carrots and hummus, mini cans of tuna, low fat granola bars, snack size low fat microwave popcorn, and instant bean soups help fill you up without adding excessive calories.
To prevent mindlessly snacking while studying, put your snack in a bowl or on a plate. Don’t eat from the bag.
Limit liquid calories
Beverages like regular pop, fruit drinks, and fruit juice can pile on the calories without filling you up. Quench your thirst with water at meals or one glass of milk or soy milk.
When socializing with friends, have a plan to limit alcohol calories. To minimize alcohol’s appetite-enhancing effect, eat a meal or snack before you go out so you’re not tempted to overeat.
To burn calories and de-stress, aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate activity every day be it walking, working out at the campus gym, or playing intramural sports.
Get enough sleep
Late nights translate into increased hunger and excessive snacking. Plus, recent studies have linked getting adequate sleep – 7 or 8 hours per night – to maintaining a healthy weight. A lack of sleep has been shown to interfere with hormones that regulate appetite and fat storage.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.