Beginning one’s college journey is nothing short of exciting. Freedom from parental rule, greater class choices, parties, new friends — what more could a 17-year-old want? College life, especially to incoming freshmen, appears picture perfect. However, the journey does not come without hardships. Classes are hard and often lead to increased stress — especially for students new to college. Endless hours in the library on top of a full schedule and trying to make new friends can really pile up and leave students overwhelmed and with little to no sleep, with the “freshman 15” looming in the background.
All this added stress and sleep loss increases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body, which can lead to several health risks including weight gain. Additionally, swapping home cooked meals for whatever students can find within their school’s dining options might not lead to a very healthy, balanced diet.
Add potential partying and alcohol consumption, and students have found the equation for the dreaded freshman 15. Here are some tried and true tips on how to avoid (or lose) those added pounds that easily fit into students’ lives.
Fun Ways to Move Outside the Gym
Believe it or not, exercise is possible without putting on workout gear and heading to the gym. When the initial effort is made on getting rid of the freshman 15, simple can be best. Movement can really make a difference from sitting all day at a desk and occasionally walking to and from classes. For example, I like to dance around my room while I brush my teeth. Yes, I really did say that, and no, I’m not crazy.
With a roommate, this option might be a bit awkward, but it also has the possibility of becoming a fun roommate bonding time. Seriously, don’t knock it until you try it — it’s fun. Aside from the benefits of additional activity, taking the time to dance and be silly can help relieve stress, not only further aiding potential weight control, but also benefiting students’ mental health as well.
Studying does not equal stationary. Just because students are studying for hours on end does not mean they can’t move around a little bit. Instead, study breaks can be taken about once every hour, and instead of spending that time scrolling through Instagram, students might want to consider taking a lap around the library or even just standing and stretching for a few minutes.
Trust me, not only is it better for one’s body to get some extra movement into the day, but it is also a great way to clear the mind and reset before jumping back into the books.
Walk instead of biking or use other transportation options. Biking (or even bussing depending on one’s campus) can be a great, efficient way to go to and from classes, meetings and any other obligations students might have throughout the day. However, although biking is technically exercise, it is easier and more efficient than walking the same distance. So, students who bike are cutting down on the time exercising on their way to class.
If students are concerned about potentially gaining the freshman 15, they might want to consider allowing for extra time to walk everywhere instead of using other, more efficient options. Not only is walking a great way to get added exercise into one’s day, but it is also a great time to disconnect from technology and clear the mind of any stressors.
Make Time for Meals
Waking up for breakfast and scheduling in lunch or dinner might be helpful when it comes to avoiding the freshman 15. Personally, I know that when I skip a meal — especially breakfast — I am ravenous for any food I can conveniently find, which usually means something loaded in sugar from the vending machine or campus convenience store. As soon as I stopped going to these unhealthy “snacks” in place of having proper meals, I saw some of that weight I had gained disappear.
To help keep me on track with my meals, I found it helpful to plan a meal with friends. Whether it be an early breakfast, a quick lunch or dinner, making plans to hold me accountable at mealtimes kept me full on proper food and away from snacking on junk food throughout the day. These mealtimes also had the added benefit of spending more time with friends and having nice breaks throughout the day from schoolwork and class.
For students lacking in meal swipes, consider using them more effectively by stocking up on healthy options from the campus food store. For example, some of my go-to options is plain instant oatmeal packs, bananas and peanut butter. At least on my campus, I can get a few breakfasts out of one meal swipe or a few food dollars, which is a much better deal than using the same amount of campus currency on one meal.
Find Gym Buddies
When students find time to go to the gym, they should not fear going alone or dread missing out on time with friends. Instead, they should opt to make plans with one or two friends with whom to go to the gym (or on a walk or run). This way, students not only get some exercise, but they also get to bond with new friends at the same time.
Gym buddies are also beneficial because they hold students accountable. I know that when I make plans to go to the gym with my friends, I am way less likely to back out than if I were planning on going alone.
College is hard. Diet and exercise are hard. It is important to remember that no one is perfect, and no one needs to be perfect. Some people seem to magically do it all: good grades, friends, rigid diet and exercise and so on. However, this “ideal” lifestyle is not realistic. Instead, students should consider the easy tips given above.
That troublesome freshman 15 everybody secretly worries about doesn’t have to be a major concern. Sometimes, exercising three hours a day is not the only way to avoid weight gain or lose those extra pounds; rather, it is simple life changes that make all the difference.
At the end of the day, don’t sweat it if your first year at school is overwhelming and difficult to handle. Eventually, everything gets better, and a healthy lifestyle becomes an easier, more plausible option. At the end of the day, the freshman 15 doesn’t seem as daunting anymore, does it?