We all know it when it strikes. Our clothes get a little tighter, we start to walk a little slower, and we’re eating a little more ice cream than we probably should. Those extra pounds around the waist make us cringe as we try to put on our favorite pair of jeans, and we eventually end up turning to our sweatpants and hoodies for consolation. The “Freshman 15” is a term used for weight gain among college students, particularly during their first semester. Although the term implies that students gain fifteen pounds during their first semester, statistics from the health journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism show that on average students only gain about two to five pounds. However, if this stress and trend of weight gain continues throughout a person’s college years, there could be a large weight gain over a four-year period of time.
The Journal of American College and Health says that about 50% of students gain weight during their college years. Thanks to late-night study habits, binge eating while cramming for an exam, and the sugary drinks that we consume to keep ourselves awake, the Freshman 15 weight gain is a serious problem for college students. The five tips below will help you get back into shape and decrease the chances of weight gain during these pivotal college years.
1. Swap out the sugary drinks
Pop, energy drinks, and sweet coffee drinks can all contribute to the Freshman 15 by adding excess calories with little to no nutritional value. Almost all the calories from these drinks come from sugar, which if stored in the body turns into fat and can lead to weight gain.
Water will always be the best alternative to any of these drinks. However, if you still need a little energy or flavor boost, try drinking tea. Tea still has that caffeine boost you need, but it has zero calories and much more nutrients. If you need your coffee fix, try light or “skinny” versions of your favorite drinks. They contain less sugar and less calories but still all the delicious coffee flavor you love. Regular coffee with a small amount of cream or milk is another good alternative to sugary coffee beverages.
2. Snack healthy
If you know that a long study session is inevitable, prepare healthy snacks to keep you fueled and focused. Aim to include a good source of carbohydrates with a good source of protein. Some examples include an apple with one tablespoon of peanut butter, a quarter cup of nuts with a quarter cup of dried fruit, or vegetables with one to two tablespoons of hummus.
Planning the timing of your snack(s) is another way to stay healthy. Having a set time to take a break will help you stay focused on your work and can help reduce mindless eating. It is easy to get carried away with portion sizes when snacks are constantly available during your study period, and this may contribute to the Freshman 15.
3. Exercise (even if you don’t have much time)
Regular exercise can help with weight maintenance and contributes to overall health. Some of the benefits of exercise include increasing muscle and bone strength, improving heart health, and boosting energy. Even if your study schedule makes it difficult to get to the gym, make sure you are taking breaks whenever you have been sitting for long periods of time. Try taking a walking break, doing a couple pushups or sit-ups in your room, or adding a few jumping jacks into your study breaks. These small bouts of activity can reenergize you and refocus your study efforts while helping you maintain a healthy lifestyle mindset.
4. Be mindful of portions
Just because the cafeteria offers you hundreds of food options does not mean you have to eat every single one. One possible reason students gain the Freshman 15 is because there are some all-you-can-eat options in the cafeterias, where many dormitory students eat regularly. Try using a smaller plate, sticking to one serving, and including vegetables or fruit with every meal. Understand and know the feeling of being full and stop eating there. If you think you still feel hungry after eating your meal, wait fifteen minutes before going for seconds, and don’t try to push yourself to eat more just because something is tasty. Know your limits and follow them.
5. Have fun and play!
Go out and join an intramural sports club, join a dance team, start an ultimate Frisbee game, or go swimming at the gym! Do something active each day that you love to do. Working out and eating healthy can be hard, but when you add activities that you love, the whole process can be a lot more enjoyable.
The Freshman 15 is a serious problem, and weight gain is something many students will face. You can avoid the Freshman 15 by getting plugged into your campus’s resources. If you’re a Wayne State student struggling with how to manage a healthy diet during your time at school, you have free resources available to you right here on campus. Visit the Campus Health Center and make an appointment to learn more about managing your weight and fueling your body with the right foods.