Your mom always told you “Eat your vegetables!” What percentages of freshmen college students follow that advice? It is a shockingly low 29%.
Have you heard the phrase, “the Freshman Fifteen?” well, you will soon be hearing this phrase bantered about as it is going to be the title of a new MTV “reality” show. The number fifteen is a bit inflated, however, as a recent study shows that the average weight gain for female college freshmen is about seven pounds.
Gaining seven pounds is not that big of a deal. But it really is, when you consider that this small weight gain is accompanied by a decrease in muscle mass, increased alcohol consumption and a decrease in the amount of healthy foods that are consumed. Instead, foods high in fat and sugar are consumed, so much so that 71% of freshmen do not meet the federal dietary recommendation for fruit and vegetable consumption.
Another study claims that one-third of incoming freshmen are overweight to begin with. In the age group of 18 to 29 years the prevalence of obesity is growing fastest than among any other age group. Experts say that setting up patterns for a lifetime of good health need to start during this critical time.
Here’s what the experts recommend. First, it is important to structure your eating habits as much as possible. Even though you’re college class schedule may not afford you the luxury of a regular routine, it is important to be sure that you eat three meals and two snacks every day.
Secondly, overcome the all-you-can-eat mentality in the college dining room. One way to do this is to use the 1-2-3 green plate plan. First, fill half your plate with green items such as a tossed salad or cooked vegetables. Then help yourself to a small piece of grilled chicken or beef or fish. The remaining one fourth of your plate should contain a whole-grain, such as brown rice or a piece of whole wheat bread. If that doesn’t fill you up, takes seconds on the salad. Let your dessert be fruit of any kind, and help yourself to an extra couple pieces of fresh fruit to take back to your dorm room for late-night snacking.
Thirdly, be strong in the face of peer pressure. When your favorite study group decides to go to the pizza parlor after a long study session, you have two choices. Join in and limit your portions, eat more salad than pizza and eat the salad first. Or skip the trip to the pizza joint altogether. Just because your friends are eating a lot of junk food, doesn’t mean you have to join them.
Fourthly, limit your liquid calories. This is one of the main reasons people gain weight during their freshman year of college, especially when that liquid is alcohol. Not only is alcohol high in calories, it impairs people’s judgment when it comes to making healthy food choices. After all, what are most students likely to consume, beer and peanuts or beer and an apple?
Fifthly, don’t let cramming sidetrack your healthy eating plans. First thing to try when you’re attempting to stay awake and remain focused for a long period of time late at night is chewing gum. Choose the sugar-free variety. If you feel true hunger and have the munchies, and it’s one of those times when you just don’t feel like eating a piece of fruit, choose a single-serving packet of your favorite chips or other crunchy munchy. Studies have shown that most people finish whatever portion they take.
Sixthly, declare your dorm room a “No Junk Food Zone.” While you won’t be able to keep an entirely stocked kitchen in your dorm, if you are serious about staying healthy then you will keep yogurt, fruits and low-fat high-fiber granola bars on hand.
Seventhly, if there’s room in your schedule take a course on healthy eating. One study reports that adding a science-based nutrition course is an effective method for prevention of weight gain. If that is not possible, seek out on-campus resources for nutritional advice, such as an on-site nutritionist.
Eighthly, weigh yourself often. Weekly weigh-in’s are good indicators of healthy maintenance. Once a month it is recommended that you take body measurements. Remember that the number on the scale can be deceptive, because muscle mass weighs more than flab. You and your friend could both weigh the same, but whoever has the greater muscle mass is the healthier one.
Ninthly, make full use of your campus exercise facilities. There is probably more there than you think, including rock climbing, yoga, weight maintenance clubs and more. You can make friends there with students who have similar healthy goals.
If you look at these nine suggestions you’ll notice that each one of them requires self-control. Nobody will be able to follow all nine every day, as we are all imperfect human beings. But if you set your mind to it you can follow most of these principles most of the time and hang onto or improve the healthy condition you are in when you enter college.