Updated: August 11, 2020
By: Rebecca Mason, RDN
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. Invest in a water bottle to carry with you around campus so that you’re staying hydrated throughout the day. You can even add flavor to your water naturally with sliced cucumber, lemon, lime or even frozen fruit.
- Beware of late night munchies.
During late nights of studying and spending time with friends, you might be tempted to order a pizza or grab chips and candy bars from the campus store or vending machine. Late night snacks are often a fun social activity or study break for many college students, but it’s important to make sure you don’t develop unhealthy eating patterns. 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 someone suggests a snack run, skip the snacks all together and just join friends for the experience.
- 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. Between classes, extracurricular activities and making new friends, it can often feel like there is no time to exercise. Make it a mission to stay physically active on campus. Walking or biking to class and opting for stairs instead of the elevator is a great way to add fitness to your routine. Due to COVID-19, visiting your campus gym will likely not be an option so you’ll need to look for alternative ways to get moving. Try getting a group of friends to go for a walk around campus each evening, finding a running partner, or attending outdoor 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. It is normal to feel homesick, stressed, and even lonely during your first few months at school. Look for creative ways to cope such as exercise, reading, or meditation, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it. Your school’s health services department is a great resource to help you manage stress and access mental health resources.
- 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, RDN, is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and product specialist 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.