For many students, this fall is the beginning of a new era. With so many things to adjust to—course schedules, roommates, budgets, etc.—students might neglect to consider one thing: eating. Most students won’t forget to eat, but what many students might forget is how to eat nutritiously.
Does the freshman 15 ring a bell? Because of this, you should take some time to formulate a plan or at least implement some good habits now so something as simple as eating will be the least of your problems come the start of freshman year.
What is the freshman 15?
The freshman 15 is a phrase for the common pattern of students gaining a few pounds (an average of 15) in their first year of college. Now, gaining 15 pounds isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But a change in weight, especially a rapid change, can have negative consequences when it’s spurred by a negative cause.
How can you avoid the freshman 15?
With the right advice and instruction, avoiding the freshman 15 doesn’t have to be hard. The greatest advice you can get about this topic is from either a nutritionist or college life expert. Luckily, I had the privilege to interview the ideal advisor: Dr. Liset Leal Vasquez, the director of the Coordinated Program in Dietetics (CPD) for the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Texas at San Antonio, who has almost 25 years of experience in the nutrition field.
Dr. Vasquez believes the freshman 15 is caused by “the transition from high school to college,” which “can promote changes in eating patterns and behaviors,” she says. “Students who live away from home often find themselves in a new environment that may be difficult to navigate at first. They also may struggle to adjust to a new routine in college, which can lead to stress, skipping meals, eating empty-calorie foods, and drinking sugary beverages. College students may also not know how to cook, which can lead to eating more processed or fast food.”
The first piece of advice you can take away from Dr. Vasquez’s reasoning behind the freshman 15 is how the gargantuan adjustment from high school to college affects your health. Although her situation was unique, as a she was studying Nutrition and Dietetics, even Dr. Vasquez couldn’t avoid obstacles with healthy eating in college.
“During my freshman year, there were several stressors that periodically disrupted my personal health plan,” she says. “A few included adjusting to a new university in a new city, managing a part-time job, and trying to make time to study.”
Another takeaway is cooking. Students leaving home after high school often realize they lack basic life skills—cooking being one of them. Dr. Vasquez avoided the freshman 15 thanks not only to her “understanding of nutrition, [which] may [have been] more in-depth than that of non-nutrition students,” but also due to her love of cooking, which was a way to “stay on track most of the time.”
When asked for strategies on how students can avoid the freshman 15 and stay healthy in college, Dr. Vasquez’s recommended:
- Eating a healthy breakfast: This will fuel your brain so you can focus during class lectures.
- Not skipping meals: This usually leads to overeating at the next meal.
- Drinking water: It will help you stay hydrated and avoid sugary beverages.
- Incorporating three servings of dairy per day: Calcium is good for bone health.
- Learning how to cook: Specifically, learning to cook a variety of healthy dishes.
- Eating fruits and vegetables: At least half your plate at each meal should be fruits and veggies.
- Eating whole foods: Choose 100% whole grains.
- Not eating too late: Pass on the late-night pizza parties and fast food.
- Getting some physical activity: Exercise is great to maintain health and relieve stress!
Dr. Vasquez’s final piece of advice? Remember that “every day is a new day and a learning opportunity to do better for our health.”
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