Everyone hears about the freshman 15. What usually follows is laughing at the unlikelihood of it happening to them and the idea that people can gain 15 pounds of fat in nine months of school.
But, this weight doesn’t all come at once. It’s a slow process after many meals at dining halls and McDonald’s, nights of heavy drinking, and multiple all-nighters.
You add a couple of pounds here and there, but nothing too noticeable during sweatshirt season in the winter. So you don’t change anything.
But then, you’re in a state of disbelief as you go home for summer with an extra fifteen pounds of unwanted weight.
How does this happen? Well, college gives students incredible freedom. A significant portion of this freedom involves their eating and activity choices. No longer can they rely on eating homemade food and the required training in high school sports for a healthy diet and physical activity.
That’s why getting off to a good start in college—where it’s your decision on what you eat and do—can make all the difference in maintaining a healthy lifestyle for decades after school. And, you most definitely don’t want to be that person at your high school reunion that no one recognizes because you got fat in college.
There’s many different tips out there, but these are my favorites that have kept me in shape—and actually have played a part in me gaining 25 pounds of muscle over four years in college. I’m not a nutritionist, but these worked for me.
Know Your Weight Going In
It’s a great idea to weigh-in the first week of freshman year and take a picture for future reference. Doing this gives you a baseline of where you’re at and what 15 extra pounds of fat would mean for your total weight. (Just that thought can be motivating enough.)
Then, try to weigh-in every week to see where you stand. This will give you feedback on whether you need to adjust your habits.
Eat 5 Times A Day
(Brian here in July 2016, and after more research I believe intermittent fasting is better for you than eating 5 times a day.)
This tip is more suited for guys: You will help yourself if you can eat three small- to medium-size meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as two small snacks. Snacking between breakfast and lunch, and then lunch and dinner with some fruits or vegetables is ideal. Smaller portions are easier to digest and if you have a plan, then you won’t just eat when you’re bored.
Dining halls are so dangerous because of their common buffet menu, where anything goes. By eating smaller sizes, but more times, you avoid this downfall.
If you can accomplish this in a daily routine, your body will trust that food is coming and won’t store fat. If you eat two or three huge meals, then the opposite happens, and your body stores the fat for energy.
As the night progresses, your stomach starts to shut down and prepare for sleep, so it doesn’t break down the food as well. This point leads me to my next two tips: limit late-night study binges and avoid drunk eating.
Limit Late-Night Study Binges
First of all, try as hard as you can to prepare ahead of time and don’t pull an all-nighter. All-nighters can damage your academic success and health.
In the times that you do need to stay up later than normal, get a small candy bar, bag of chips, or drink. When you’re stressed about a test, eating healthy is going to be last on your mind. So, if you can make a conscious decision to get smaller servings, you will have protected against severe late-night eating.
Avoid Drunk Eating
Besides the negative effects of alcohol, it becomes a larger concern when drunk late-night eating is a regular occurrence.
Before you start drinking, leave your money and credit cards at home. Your stomach and wallet will be grateful.
Drinking water helps your body digest food, power muscles, refrain from sodas, improve skin complexion, and many other benefits.
Buy a water bottle to refill while at class, work, gym, or your dorm. The more convenient it is to drink water, the more you will.
Keep Only Healthy Food In Your Dorm
You can cheat and eat unhealthy food occasionally at the dining hall or restaurants, but if you establish your dorm as a healthy zone, then you’ll be forced to eat nutritional foods when you otherwise would cave.
Many of my friends brought back fruit from the dining hall, which is frowned upon, but healthy. So I approve!
Go To The Gym
Although your diet is more important than working out when trying to stay fit, going to the recreational center provides many advantages. Working out gives you more energy to make (healthy) decisions. It will also provide more motivation to eat well because going to the gym is hard, and there’s not really a point if you’re going to pig out with unhealthy food the rest of the day.
Working out three times a week is a good start to avoid gaining the freshman 15. I try to go to the gym five times a week. I’ve found that it helps my focus throughout the day, and also studies show that working out helps you sleep.
If you have no interest in going to the gym, start going once a week. Then you can build it up to two times a week and so on. You will naturally be more comfortable, the more you do it.
There are a lot of factors that go into your weight, but the most of these on the list you can control, the better you will look and feel. Set good habits in college, and you will lay the foundation for a healthy life.
I also wrote a related post titled Easy Healthy Meals For College Students that works as a nice follow-up article to this piece.
Please comment below with your best tip or general thoughts to stay healthy.