College offers many delicious temptations. You are finally on your own and free to eat what you want, when you want it, and NO ONE is there to tell you no or shove more liver and peas onto your plate. You can pile on the portions in the dining hall, eat dinners of all the junk food (pizza, burgers, French fries and ice cream), and indulge in sugary and salty snacks to fuel late-night study sessions. In addition, you may not get as much exercise as you did in high school, and staying out late with friends (including 3 am social dining) have led to horrible eating habits and, well, a few gained pounds.
Recent studies find that some first-year students are indeed likely to gain weight — but it might not be the full freshman 15 and it may not all happen during freshman year. That might sound like good news, but it’s not. Doctors are concerned that students who gradually put on pounds are establishing a pattern of weight gain that could spell trouble if it continues.
Studies show that students on average gain 3 to 10 pounds during their first 2 years of college. Most of this weight gain occurs during the first semester of freshman year. College is also a time of change, and the stress of acclimating to school can trigger overeating. People sometimes eat in response to anxiety, homesickness, sadness, or stress, and all of these can be part of adapting to being away at school.
Here is a little about weight gain and why it carries with it dangerous health risks:
-People who are overweight are more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, breathlessness, and joint problems.
-Poor diet and exercise habits in college can start you on a path that could later lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or obesity, and may increase your risk for developing certain cancers.
Even without weight gain, unhealthy food choices will not give students the balance of nutrients they need to keep up with the demands of college. Notice how energy lags and how concentration and memory suffer when you stay out all night and eat horribly, or are often sick because your immune system is weak. Studies have found that students in general (not only the ones that are partying or staying up way too late) get fewer than the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
So what can be done?
It may be tempting to go for the easy fix, like skipping meals or trying the latest fad diet. But these approaches are short lived and will not work to keep weight off in the long run. It’s best to make small adjustments to your diet that you know you can stick with.
Good habits like a nutritious balanced diet, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep can do more than keep the pounds off. These key habits can also help you and your friends stay healthy and avoid problems down the line. Adopting some simple practices can have a big impact today and years from now.
- Avoid eating when stressed, while studying, or while watching TV.
- Eat slowly, eat at regular times, and try not to skip meals.
- Keep between-meal and late-night snacking to a minimum.
- Choose a mix of nutritious foods. Mostly fresh and green. Organic whenever possible.
- Select lower-fat options when you can, such as low-fat milk instead of whole milk or light salad dressing instead of full-fat dressing.
- Portion control! Avoid going back too many times to the buffet for additional servings.
- Steer clear of vending machines by keeping healthy snacks like fruit and vegetables in your backpack or on hand in your room.
- Replace empty-calorie soft drinks, sports drinks or energy drinks with water, skim or almond milk.
- Have a positive attitude toward food. If you find yourself fixating on food, weight, or feeling guilty about what you eat, talk to your health care provider or ask someone at the student health center for advice.
- Watch your alcohol consumption. Not only can excess drinking lead to health problems, but beer and alcohol are high in calories and can cause weight gain.
- Smoking- although cigarettes may suppress the appetite, smoking can make exercise and even normal activity such as walking across campus or climbing stairs more difficult (not to mention causing heart and lung problems and increasing your risk of cancer).
- Move your body and exercise! Researchers found that students who exercised at least 3 days a week were more likely to report better physical health, as well as greater happiness, than those who did not exercise. They were also more likely to report using their time productively. If 30 minutes of exercise is too taxing or uninviting for you in a gymnasium, walking briskly across campus instead of taking the bus, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or cycling to class is just as good.
- Get enough sleep. Recent studies have linked getting enough sleep to maintaining a healthy weight. Sleep is also a great way to manage the stress that can prompt overeating. So make sleep a priority, and try to work in a regular 7 or 8 hours each night.
Resources: cnn.com, fitsugar.com, calorielab.com, kidshealth.org