It’s your freshman year of college. You’re completely on your own with no parents giving you a curfew, telling you when to do your homework or telling you what you can and can’t eat.
Sounds great right? Well, it may sound like fun and games until you come back for Thanksgiving break and you’re stuffed more than the turkey on your dining table.
Everyone has heard about the freshman 15, however, a study done by New York University shows that the average college freshman only gains seven pounds during their first year away from home. Still, weight gain is something to look out for, especially in the US.
According to the Center for Disease Control, about one-third of the US population is considered obese. Some people are born with an obesity gene, which further increases the risk of health problems. Long-term obesity can lead to increased risks of certain types of cancers, heart problems and type-2 diabetes.
With college comes new opportunities, independence and freedom of choice, including what you choose to eat in the dining hall. Believe it or not, staying fit is possible in college despite what you are offered for “fine dining.” It just takes a strategic plan and motivation.
1. Stay hydrated
Water is the best beverage to have on any given day. It keeps you hydrated, keeps your body temperatures normal and most importantly, keeps your stomach satisfied. Bringing a bottle of water wherever you go is a great way to resist the urge to constantly snack and gain all of those unneeded calories.
2. Portion is prime
I get it. you’re probably stress eating because you have to study for that big exam, or you and your friends are hanging out on a Friday night and you want to order an extra large pizza with extra toppings, or you want to sample everything at the dining hall because, why not?
Temptation is everywhere on campus and it is very hard to control, but regulating your portion sizes for all meals is very important when it comes to maintaining your health. Choosemyplate.gov is a great website to explain how you should regulate your portions based on your gender, body size and body type.
3. Keep a regular exercise schedule
You may think, “I have no time to work out because of all of my extracurriculars, class schedule and social life. I am just too fatigued and stressed out by the end of the day to go to the gym.”
While you may feel exhausted from the workload college throws at you, exercise is one of the best ways to maintain your focus, improve your memory and decrease the likelihood of obesity and even depression. Exercise releases endorphins, a group of hormones that are related to feelings of happiness. Creating an exercise schedule and fitting it into your daily routine is an important part of staying healthy and mentally focused.
4. Moderate your alcohol consumption
When you’re on a college campus, it can be difficult to avoid alcohol consumption. While it is okay to drink in moderation at a party or in your home when you’re of age, alcohol can cause kidney and liver damage and can slow down the development of your young and growing brain if consumed in excess. Alcohol also provides your body with a lot of visceral fat, the stuff that makes your stomach all nice and round, due to the amount of calories that most alcoholic beverages contain.
5. Find healthy options in the dining hall
Believe it or not, you can eat right in your college dining hall. While you may be surrounded by tempting items like cheeseburgers, fries, pizza and all you can eat ice cream, there are healthy options you can find within the confines of your school’s cafeteria.
The salad bar has plenty to choose from when it comes to healthy options – just make sure you moderate the amount of dressing you put on your salad. There is also usually a stir-fry bar and some vegetarian options.
6. Eat out in moderation
We all know there isn’t a whole lot to do in most college towns, except go out to eat and go to the bars, and restaurants don’t always have the healthiest options. Going out to eat with your friends on a Friday night is completely okay, just don’t make it a habit of going out to McDonald’s everyday. Dining out is also very expensive and we all know how little money college students have.
7. Get involved in intramural sports
If exercising by yourself is not your thing, you can always go out and do intramural sports with your friends. Your school probably offers a wide variety of different sports to choose from such as basketball, volleyball, flag football and even badminton. Not only is it a great way to stay fit and take away some of the stress from school work, but it also helps create relationships with others by playing non-competitive sports.
8. Get enough sleep
While for the most part we have talked about how to consume food in moderation and exercise regularly, a good sleep schedule really helps when it comes to staying fit. According to a study done at Brigham Young University, chronic sleep deprivation can cause weight gain by affecting the way we store carbohydrates and altering hormones that regulate our appetite.
Trying to get up and go to sleep at the same times everyday can help improve sleep, memory and focus. You should also try staying away from electronics right before bed because submerging yourself in front of a blue screen decreases the levels of melatonin in your brain, which helps your body go to sleep and stay asleep.
9. Create a colorful plate when you go to eat (and no, candy does not count)
You have probably heard your parents say, or even your old school lunch ladies say make sure your plate is colorful. While you probably think that they’re doing this just to be obnoxious, they’re not wrong. What they mean by having a colorful plate is that you should make sure to include all of the food groups in your everyday meals because you are getting all of the antioxidants, protein and fiber you need to stay in shape.
10. Avoid drinks that are high in caffeine.
Not everyone is a morning person; they need their burst of energy to make it through the day. That’s why a lot of college students drink coffee. While it contains high levels of caffeine which gives you energy, coffee, or any other kind of caffeinated beverage, is not the best way to stay motivated all day. Caffeine is a stimulant, which wears off after a certain amount of time and can leave you feeling even more tired than you did in the morning. Eat foods with lots of protein, such as a piece of toast with some peanut butter. If you still need just a little caffeine buzz, green tea is a much healthier option than coffee. It contains less caffeine and provides antioxidants such as flavonoids, a plant derived compound.