College meal plans that offer almost unlimited access to food and lots of calorie-dense choices are one of the reasons college freshmen gain weight.
Carrie Lawrence, a registered dietitian at Terrebonne General Medical Center, didn't gain the freshman 15 when she went to college. She credits her nutrition classes and involvement in sports (track and cheerleading) for helping her keep off the weight. But most college freshmen don't have the knowledge or level of activity Lawrence did.
"When kids are at home, the parents shop and cook, and in college, it's all on you," Lawrence says. "It's a big transition and a big learning process."
Lawrence says studies cite an average weight gain of seven to 15 pounds for college freshmen, and the weight gain can't be chalked up to slowing metabolisms or the "filling out" that comes with getting older.
"When you're 17 or 18, you have a great metabolism," Lawrence says. "That has nothing to do with [the freshmen 15]."
Culprits include meal plans with unlimited access to cafeterias, many of which serve fast food, late-night snacking and high-calorie drinks like beer and iced mochas. A lack of sleep also can lead to poor food choices, and students who were athletic in high school may become less active if they aren't playing sports in college.
"On a collegiate level, it's a lot harder to be involved in sports, so many students aren't as active as they used to be," Lawrence says. "The solution is to stay active. Even if you aren't involved in competitive sports any more, you can get involved with intramural activities."
Lawrence recommends students work out with friends by taking exercise classes or jogging together. "When you have a friend, you're a lot more likely to do it instead of having to push yourself to do it alone," she says. She also recommends students be aware of what they're eating and follow a few healthy guidelines. Her tips for healthy eating are below.
Seven ways to avoid the freshman 15
By Carrie Lawrence, registered dietitian
1. Use the gym. Tuition pays for many things, among them a membership to your campus gym. Exercise reduces stress and is an opportunity to socialize. Aim for 30 minutes of cardio a day.
2. Eat snacks or "mini-meals" every three or four hours to help avoid binge eating. Carry snacks to eat between classes, like prepackaged nuts, dried fruit, yogurt, cheese sticks and granola bars.
3. Eat by the clock. Avoid skipping breakfast (which is actually the meal when students should eat the most) and resist late-night munchies (eating after 10 p.m. is directly associated with weight gain).
4. Know stress eating is real. College is a stressful time. Be aware of feelings, and instead of eating for comfort, try being around positive people, exercising and avoiding procrastination. Student health centers offer counseling if the stress becomes too much to handle alone.
5. Beware of the cafeteria.Steer clear of buffets that often are loaded with simple carbohydrates, high-calorie meats, sauces, salad dressings and desserts. A healthy plate should comprise fruits, lean meat or fish, vegetables and whole grains.
6. Buy nonperishable healthy foods like mixed nuts, dried fruit and protein bars in bulk at discount retailers. Grocery shopping and packing lunches save money and calories.
7. Be aware that excessive alcohol consumption causes weight gain. Alcoholic beverages are full of empty calories, and drinking can encourage late-night snacking. Avoid drinking in excess, and when you do drink, balance alcohol with plenty of water to prevent bloating, curb hunger and assist digestion.