Like some of the college students heading home this summer, I too gained the “Freshman 15” while in school.
To find out what current students think about those 15 pounds you gain your first year, I headed out to the University of Washington to chat with current students. There were a few skeptics, while other students had experienced the Freshman 15 for themselves. Most students cited the abundance of unhealthy food options, lack of time to exercise and the absence of mom and dad’s grocery shopping as the biggest challenges when it comes to being healthy in school.
SLIDE SHOW: How to survive the 'Freshman 15'
After navigating these collegiate pitfalls myself, and losing the Freshman 15 during my time as an undergrad, I took what I learned and wrote “Fighting the Freshman Fifteen: How To Lose Weight In College - Or Better Yet, Never Put It On” to act as a guide for how to stay healthy in school. Here are my top five tips for fighting the Freshman 15.
1. Learn how to grocery shop, navigate on campus buffet lines and make affordable, healthy choices
At home mom and dad were in charge of grocery shopping and dictating your daily menu, but once you start college, that work is up to you. For a successful grocery shopping trip, map the store and stick to the outside isles. Here you’ll find healthy options like fresh produce and lean proteins, whereas the inside isles tend to house more processed and sugar laden foods. To keep the cost down, and to make keeping fruits and veggies more practical in a small apartment or dorm, buy frozen produce instead or visit a farmers markets, which often feature more affordable prices.
If you live and eat on campus, you’ll need to navigate the buffet line. Here are few tips: Watch your portion sizes. I like to use my plate as a guide and fill half with fruits and veggies (if that’s just not feasible, aim for at least one serving a fruits and veggies with every meal), then a quarter of the plate with a lean protein, then the final quarter with complex carbohydrates. Look for healthy preparations like baked, grilled and roasted instead of fried or sautéed. Choose baked potatoes instead of mashed potatoes or French fries, and vinaigrettes instead of creamy salad dressings.
2. Find exercise you enjoy and a workout buddy to keep you motivated
Between the all day study sessions and lack of a high school coaches barking orders to run laps, the freshman fifteen can sneak up on you due to plain old inactivity. After all, you have plenty of freedom, and it’s your choice to exercise or not. Therefore, to help you get in a workout, find something you actually like to do.
Joining an on campus fitness class or intramural sports team will hardwire the workout into your schedule. Plus, if you’re new to working out, classes provide both an introduction and instruction to exercise. You might also find working out in a class environment to be less intimidating than navigating a big weight room alone.
Another way to ease any “gym-timidation” is to find a workout buddy. In fact, working your with a friend is one of the best ways to reach your fitness goals, since you can keep each other accountable, support each other and let’s be honest, everything is more fun when you do it with a friend.
3. Join on-campus healthy living student groups
Your college campus is actually a wealth of resources when it comes to healthy living options. Along with on campus fitness centers and intramural sports teams, the University of Washington, for example, features student run groups like running clubs, climbing clubs, Cross Fit clubs and the on-campus UW Farm, which grows and sells fresh produce.
Not only will joining an on-campus group like these come in handy if you want to learn more about how to buy fresh produce, practice yoga, or sign up for local road races, but it will also help you build a support system of like minded students.
4. Practice moderation
With a smorgasbord of food options available and without parents around to say you can’t have ice cream for dinner, it can be easy to overeat in college. Instead of depriving yourself, practice moderation instead. Dessert and pizza are fine, just don’t eat them every night. If you have a high calorie meal that’s ok; just add some extra gym time or pick healthier meals the rest of the week.
Keep in mind that you don’t want to go too far in a restrictive direction either. Focus on eating enough calories and include balanced meals with as many nutrient dense foods as possible. So try to pick lean proteins like chicken, fish, egg whites and black beans along with fruits and vegetables and complex carbohydrates. If you want to throw a cookie in there for dessert, don’t stress too much about it - just don’t eat the whole box.
5. Manage your stress
Speaking of stress, starting college means living on your own for the first time, and being away from friends and family. Plus, you might be living in a new city or state and your routine is completely different. This can add up to a very stressful situation.
Instead of using food to soothe your anxiety or boredom, when you feel like stress eating, ask yourself if you’re actually hungry. If the answer is no, do something else like calling your family or heading outside for a walk. Also, try to establish a new healthy living routine as soon as possible so it’s built into your new schedule. Sign up for fitness classes or find time each day to take a jog. Understating your feelings and reactions to stressful situations can empower you to make healthier choices.
Whether you are in or out of college, anytime you have a big life change like a new job or moving, it can affect your diet and exercise routine. A few simple steps like making the most of grocery shopping trips, finding a workout buddy and practicing moderation will help you start, and keep, your healthy lifestyle.
Caitlin Murphy's book: Fighting the Fifteen 15