By: Rebecca Mason, RD
The long-touted “freshman 15” may be more of an exaggeration than fact, but studies have shown that nearly one in four college freshmen gain anywhere from 3 to 7 pounds during their first year of school. Those numbers may not seem as scary as a full-fledged 15 or more pounds, but the reality is that many of us do not lose the weight we gain year over year. Prevent yourself from becoming a weight gain statistic, and use these seven habits to keep you healthy during your college years, and beyond.
- Limit liquid calories.
Rather than grabbing high sugar/high calorie beverages such as specialty coffees, soda or energy drinks—focus on drinking water to stay hydrated and energized. You can add flavor to your water naturally with sliced cucumber, lemon, lime or even frozen fruit.
- Beware of late night munchies.
If you’re staying up late, you might be tempted to order a pizza with friends or grab chips and candy bars from the campus store or vending machine. First—ask yourself if you’re truly hungry, and if so, opt for a healthier snack like a handful of almonds and an apple or fresh veggies with a dab of hummus. If you’re not hungry when you check yourself, skip the snacks all together.
- Stay active.
Without sports and mandated gym class, we see that many college students engage in less physical activity than they used to in high school. Make it a mission to stay physically active on campus. Walking or biking to class is a great way to add fitness to your routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible and join intramural sports teams on campus or participate in group fitness classes.
- Get adequate sleep.
Not getting enough sleep can increase your appetite and lead to weight gain. Aim for at least six hours a night to prevent this negative impact on your health. Regardless of what your class schedule is, try to get into a regular sleep pattern so that you’re generally going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
- Manage your stress.
Moving away from home, juggling classes and coursework, and adapting to new surroundings—there are so many stressors associated with freshman year. Look for creative ways to cope such as exercise, yoga, reading or even meditation. Your school’s health services department is also a great resource to help you manage stress.
- Don’t skip breakfast.
Weight gain is more common among those who skip breakfast. When you skip meals, you’re also likely to eat more throughout the rest of the day and snack late at night. If you need something quick and convenient to kick off your day, try a high fiber bar and a piece of fruit.
- Scan the cafeteria for healthy options.
There’s usually a plethora of unhealthy food choices in the cafeteria. While it’s tempting to load up on options like pizza, burgers and chicken tenders, do your best to choose healthier meals. Many college cafeterias post nutrition information on the menu, but if not, load up on vegetables, fruits and lean proteins such as chicken and salmon. Even making small changes to your diet can help. Switching to whole grain breads and pastas, drinking fat-free instead of whole milk and reducing portion sizes can help limit food’s impact on your waistline. When snacking, focus on nutrition rich options that can fill you up with nutrients, not calories.
Following these seven healthy habits will have you feeling your best on campus during your first year, and all semesters that follow. Plus—making these changes part of your wellbeing routine now is a great start to living healthy well beyond your college years.
For more ideas to live healthier, Priority Health members can check the Wellbeing Hub to see which activities or programs are right for them based on their health plan. If you’re not a member, talk to your health insurance provider to see what programs they offer to support your health and wellbeing goals.
About the Author: Rebecca Mason, RD, is a registered dietitian and Health and Wellness Coordinator in the Wellness Department at Priority Health. She is passionate about helping families and individuals improve their health through nutrition education and nutritious food access. Rebecca is certified in adult weight management, and has a background in both clinical nutrition and wellness programming.