“My mother warned me about weight gain before I went off to college,” junior Erin Donegan said. “Whether it’s picking an apple over a bag of potato chips for a snack or walking to the sorority house instead of driving, she always told me that it’s the little choices that make a difference.”
Juggling 19 credit hours between two majors in addition to holding three leadership positions throughout different groups on campus, Donegan, 19, said she hardly has time to eat regularly or work out.
“I admit — I’ve never been to the Drake fitness center,” Donegan said. “My freshman year, professors always suggested that I go there to relieve stress, but my free time was spent otherwise. I was working on homework, practicing my instruments, completing leadership duties or attending sorority meetings.”
Due to her lack of inactivity and an inconsistent dining schedule, Donegan gained three to four pounds during her first year of college, which is in line with the national average.
“I knew I wasn’t always making the best decisions for my body, so I was surprised that I didn’t gain more,” Donegan said.
For many students, the transition from high school to college can be challenging. The new independence found in the college environment presents you with a plethora of choices that require continuous decision-making. You’re on a mission to find the right friends, the best Greek house on campus, the specific clubs to join and certainly, the most happening bars to venture into on the weekends. What many are unaware of is how each of these choices impact weight gain during the four or more years away at school.
The freshman 15: Truth or myth?
The freshman 15, a scary term for many college students, refers to the weight gain that many students experience during their first year of college. It first made its debut in a 1989 issue of “Seventeen” magazine. Since then, teen-geared articles, books and TV shows have many college students across the country fretting about the potential to put on extra pounds after that final drop off at the dorms.
“The media never really tells you what attributes to the weight gain, only that you’re going to gain it,” said Johanna Determann, assistant wellness director at Drake. “It has been around for so many years, but I don’t think that there’s any science behind it.”
And she’s right. According to charts produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young adults ages 18 to 19 gain between 2.5 to 3.5 pounds on average during their first year of college. While a select few may put on 15 or more unwanted pounds when they reach college, the majority does not.
“Fifteen is definitely not the average,” Determann said. “Yes, many are going to gain weight, but there is a variety in the number of pounds based on the individual’s lifestyle.”
Work a plan into your meal plan
“The all-you-can-eat buffet style cafeteria can be overwhelming for students,” said nutritionist Joan Murphy. “They aren’t used to making these decisions on what or when to eat because they’ve been so used to regimented meal times and only one option at home. They go crazy with the new choices and don’t realize how quickly it all adds up.”
The American Dietetic Association states that the best solution for avoiding college weight gain is to be aware of your daily caloric intake. When in line at the dining hall, stick to a set plan or checklist. Know what foods and drinks are best to consume and how much to consume. The American Dietetic Association also suggests that logging your meals, drinks, snacks and physical activity can help keep weight under control.
First Lady Michelle Obama has joined with the United States Department of Agriculture to promote her dietary icon, My Plate, in her “Let’s Move” campaign designed to decrease obesity in America. This icon, released last spring, replaced the USDA’s food pyramid created in 1992. My Plate is a simpler symbol of proper nutrition to which your plate should be broken down. This icon has thrown out the glucose and fats and instead focuses on four main food groups. Proteins and whole grains must be divided equally to fit one half of your plate, while the other half focuses on fruits and veggies, with more veggies than fruits. Adhering to these four quadrants will help you stay on track. A glass of milk is also recommended.
“Sometimes including each of these foods can be tricky,” Determann said. “That is why we must get creative and think outside the box.”
Be sure to explore before tossing seasoned French fries and that greasy slice of pizza on your tray. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a health institute in Ohio, two slices of Domino’s deep-dish pepperoni pizza or Pizza Hut’s meat lover’s pizza contains around 700 to 800 calories. If you were following a 1,600 calorie-diet and ate two slices of meat lover’s pizza, you would have already consumed 43 percent of your daily calorie needs and 65 percent of your fat allowance.
Take foods from different stations and incorporate a rainbow of colors into your meal. Different colors provide different nutrients. Look for foods that are roasted instead of cooked au gratin. Go for steamed instead of sautéed and broiled instead of breaded.
Get some ZZZ’s
Many students would sleep all day when presented with the opportunity, and surprisingly, there are a select few who do. For most, though, it’s difficult fitting sleep into busy schedules when class and study time takes up a huge chunk while the remaining is devoted to social or athletic commitments.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends at least 8 1/2 to nine hours of sleep per night for young adults. Irregular bedtimes allows for more time in the day to squeeze in late night snacking and meals eaten when students would otherwise be sleeping.
K.J. Burrington, a researcher for the Wisconsin Center for Dairy research at the University of Wisconsin, said that it’s much harder for young adults to burn off calories at night when they are sitting around snacking while studying or socializing.
“There’s no physical activity for these kids late in the evening,” she said.
Not only is it difficult to fight off calories without sleep, but it is also a challenge making it through your next day of classes when you’re running on five or fewer hours of sound snoozing.
“WebMD” Magazine states that many people attempt to lose weight by skipping breakfast, but the practice is more likely to cause weight gain than weight loss. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it recharges your body and your brain.
“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper,” Determann said.
Start out with a big meal. From the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, the energy needed throughout the day decreases as hours pass, so the amount of calories consumed decreases with lunch and dinner.
Consider breakfast as an investment. When you skip breakfast, your body is missing out on the energy it needs to carry out daily tasks efficiently, according to WebMD. Obtaining the energy and nutrients that breakfast gives you is much more valuable than those few extra minutes of sleep after hitting the snooze button on your alarm. Not only will skipping a meal lead to a decreased level of performance and concentration, but it also can cause overeating to occur at the next meal, Determann said. Other consequences detrimental to our health are as simple as the Caramel Mocha Latte or the Red Bull that students grab on the go.
Don’t drink your calories
Determann said that people tend to forget that calories exist in drinks.
“Students don’t keep track of the impact of beverages they drink like pop, juice, special coffee drinks and alcohol specifically,” Determann said. “They all matter.”
It’s college, so for many that means heavy drinking and partying. Going out to local clubs and bars plays a significant role in weight gain. These social scenes provide an atmosphere that promotes the intake of high calorie, alcoholic beverages like beer as well as sugary drinks like vodka lemonades that contain a large amount of empty calories and carbohydrates. When the party stops, usually in between the hours of 1 and 3 a.m., the consumption continues with food. Students stumble into the local pizza joint or McDonald’s.
“When you’re in the social setting, a lot of times you’re eating, too,” Murphy said. “A combination of the drinking and eating is what accumulates so many empty calories.”
The USDA recommends 200 calories used for fluids on a daily 2,000-calorie diet. The department said that a small amount of empty calories is OK, but most people consume far more than is healthy. The easiest solution is water, according to the USDA.
Move that body
“Grab a water bottle and a friend and head to the fitness center,” Determann said. “Girls tend to enjoy the group exercise classes such as Zumba or yoga while guys are more involved in intramurals.”
Increasing daily activity can make a difference no matter what the level.
“Little changes in daily activity can add up,” Burrington said. “Walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator.”
That might just be enough to keep weight down. Burrington said that college students still have high metabolisms. A small increase in physical activity would be beneficial.
“Unless you are really into working out, many find it hard to make time to consistently work out,” Murphy said. “They need to get back in the swing of things and make small changes to see results. They need to ask themselves if it’s important enough to them to make it happen.”
Telling a friend could be the push you need into a better lifestyle.
“When you’re really trying to make a lifestyle change, a close friend or family member will hold you accountable,” Determann said. “If they know you’re trying to make a change, they aren’t going to intentionally sabotage that. They will help you.” Determann recommends having work out buddies and study partners for encouragement and steady change.