The Freshman 15 is every fresh-from-high-school girl’s nightmare, but at the same time it doesn’t seem like it could ever happen to you. I remember it well. I thought I had relatively good food habits and that all of the walking on campus and the occasional trip to the gym would be more than enough to maintain my weight. Yeah, right, 18-year-old Terra.
I didn’t weigh myself often, but I do know I gained at least 15 lbs and it took YEARS for me to get my weight back under control. In fact, it took an entire lifestyle change and new-found love for exercise (which has inspired me to strive to be my healthiest self as opposed to my skinniest, which is the most important thing to remember here).
But my path does not need to be yours. You can absolutely prevent the Freshman 15 when you go to college and keep it at bay for the rest of your college years.
You’re in Charge Now…
But don’t act like an unsupervised 2-year-old in a candy store. This is something more freshman fall victim to. Suddenly you get to decide what’s for dinner, but you live in a dorm and can’t really cook. So you go with frozen meals, quick snacks, and cafeteria food. How you approach this crucial. You can’t grab pizza for dinner every night and not expect to gain weight. You can’t live off of sugary and salty snacks. And you really can’t visit the ice cream machine at the caf for each meal. Trust me, I learned that last one the hard way.
When you’re eating in the caf, go to the salad bar first. Even if you don’t eat a salad, you can find some raw, unruined veggies to accompany the main part of your meal. The main part of your meal, by the way, should not be six slices of pepperoni pizza. One slice every now and then is fine, but you need to keep things in perspective. That goes for all of the delicious and unhealthy foods, like spaghetti and hot dogs.
Remember the Purpose of Food
Vegetables aren’t as exciting, I know, but you really need them. It’s not just about weight. It’s about keeping your body healthy by providing the nutrients it needs to function properly during those long study sessions. College can be extremely stressful at times, and comfort food is going to be oh-so-tempting. Indulging in comfort foods every day though will leave you tired, potentially bloated, and a little bit heavier than you entered college being. The best way to handle that stress is by fueling your body properly and by getting some real exercise.
Walking to Class Does Not = a Workout
Parking far away and walking to class is good for you, but it’s not enough. You probably aren’t playing all of those sports you did in high school anymore, which is a huge adjustment for your body. Suddenly it’s not getting the same amount of activity, but still has the same appetite. That’s a recipe for weight gain. You’re already paying for access to the university gym, so there’s no reason to not use it. You don’t have to run like a hamster on a wheel or lift weights like a body builder; just 30 minutes of moderate cardio a few days a week and some form of strength training on the other days is all you need to fight off those pounds.
Try out the classes offered in the gym. You might just fall in love with yoga, zumba, pilates, or some other class. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to process and cope with stress (and nothing’s more stressful than adjusting to the college life). Got a week full of tests and papers? Squeeze in some gym time and you’ll feel much more capable of remembering everything.
Choose Your Source of Caffeine Carefully
It’s college. Long nights spent studying are unavoidable. However, multiple trips to Starbucks means a ton of additional calories. Instead of the sugary pick-me-ups, go with regular coffee and sugar-free additions. You don’t have to drink black coffee if you don’t like it, but choose skim or soy milk, and either ask for the sugar-free flavors or choose to add sugar on your own so you can control the amount.
And don’t forget that tea is also a great way to get a caffeine boost with way, way, way less calories, carbs, and sugar. Green tea, black tea— they have some caffeine in them and will leave you feeling more hydrated than coffee will.
Another pitfall of many college students, especially freshman, is proper hydration. You’ve heard it before I’m sure, but I’ll say it anyway: Many times our stomach confuses thirst with hunger. So instead of eating each time your stomach throws a hissy fit out of the blue, drink a large glass of water. When your body is dehydrated, it holds onto all of the water it can get, which means you keep excess water weight.
Carry a water bottle with you to classes and extracurricular activities and keep it filled. This will help you stay clear of any unnecessary sodas, sports drinks, and energy drinks, keep you hydrated, and also up your concentration in class. Have you ever tried to focus on what your teacher is saying when you’re thirsty? It’s not easy, and college professors aren’t big fans of letting students leave for the water fountain halfway through the lecture. You’ll want that water bottle.
College is many things. A time for new friends, self-creation, adventure, and learning. It’s also an important time for your body. This is when you have to learn to implement healthy habits so you can have a sound and healthy body in the years to come. It’ll only be harder to change your habits in the later years of college if you’ve let the Freshman 15 get comfortable on your body. It’s best to be proactive now.