How to Avoid the Freshman 15

by
Educational Consultant, Research Psychologist, and Writer

Most students gain weight when they are in college. Some research points to a natural growth spurt that happens during those years, and others say the pizza-gorging, soda-guzzling, sedentary affinities of the college freshman is to blame. Maybe it's a little of both.

At any rate, this weight gain can affect you in negative ways while you are in school and in later life. It’s better not to gain it in the first place.

Start by getting enough sleep. First of all, if you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be in peak form when you are supposed to be paying attention in class. What’s worse, lack of sleep affects hormones that control appetite. You will be hungrier and have a harder time feeling full. In short, if you don’t get enough sleep, your body will make up for it by encouraging you to eat more. That is so unfair!

So how do you avoid the extra poundage? One way is to eat sensibly. (We know, “duh.”) Avoid foods that are too sugary, salty, or fatty. Eat foods that are nutritious and have a mix of protein and complex carbohydrates. A good example is a breakfast of fruit, cereal, and yogurt.

A second step is trying to avoid food when you don’t need it. Lots of people eat when they are bored or are watching television, especially late at night. (Wasting your precious college years watching television is another subject entirely!) Instead of reaching for a snack, go for a 15-minute walk. Maybe you can get a podcast of something you are supposed to be studying and listen while you walk. Better yet, go to sleep. The sleep will do you good in many ways, including letting you get up early enough to make that first class in the morning.

Keep sensible snacks around, like fruit, cereal, and almonds. Most of our bad eating habits are learned behaviors, and we can unlearn them.

Portion control at meals is probably the most overlooked diet strategy. Most food is good for you in one way or another. Just don’t eat too much of it. Again, eating too much is a learned behavior. Exercise your free will and just say “enough” when you are eating. Food is fuel, and you should eat enough to keep you operating at a 100% without overloading the engine.

Here’s another reason why you should eat moderately. If you do, and you are managing your weight well, you can enjoy a treat now and then without feeling guilty. This will be especially valuable when you are home and want to share in family events. You don’t have Mom and Dad to force-feed you healthy meals anymore; you are responsible for fueling your body healthfully and efficiently.

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