If you’re setting out for college soon or already in the midst of your college education, then chances are, you’ve already heard about the so-called Freshman 15. It’s a reference to the amount of weight many students gain in their first year of college, often attributed to a lack of supervision, a bottomless supply of food in the dining hall and maybe a bit too much revelry on the weekends. Lots of new college students consider this weight gain simply inevitable. They abandon their routine when they move into the dorm.
But if you’re committed to your health, it’s totally possible to avoid the Freshman 15. You might just have to take the path less traveled in order to do so. If you’re not interested in putting on these extra pounds as a university newbie, then follow a few simple tips.
Back Away From the Beer Can
With a party every weekend — or, rather, multiple parties all week long — it’s incredibly easy to drink your calories. Even if you don’t down beers or mixed drinks, a college campus is a minefield of other high-calorie sips, such as soda and sugary coffee beverages.
Resolve to drink mostly water and only indulge in soda, juice or an adult beverage as the occasional treat. This way, you'll have more calories to put toward your meals — and that fuel is essential in keeping you healthy under academic stress.
Catch Some Zzz’s
If you have a paper due in the morning, and you've barely typed a sentence, you're going to be tempted to pull an all-nighter. Don't. It's crucial that you stay on top of your schedule so that you can get enough sleep. Believe it or not, the number of hours you sleep each night can directly affect not only your metabolism but also your cravings for junk food. Make sure that you snooze for at least six hours each night — even if it means turning in an assignment late. Your waistline will thank you for it.
Take Advantage of a Free Gym
When you leave the comfort of a college campus, you’ll be expected to pay for your gym membership. As long as you’re a student, take full advantage of the perks that come with it. Head to the gym on a regular basis — at least three or four times a week — to offset any freshman year weight gain.
Not a big gym rat? Go for a run outside, join an intramural sports team or find another way to get active. That way, even if you overdo it on snacks, you’ll have the safety net of a calorie-burning workout.
Don’t Skip Breakfast
Maybe, as a high school student, you got into the habit of skipping breakfast. A few extra precious minutes of sleep seemed more important. But now that you’re officially an adult, it’s time to start taking ownership of your health, including the way you eat.
Breakfast is essential in getting your body ready for the day. It signals your metabolism to start working for the day and burning calories. Don’t skip it and overeat at lunch. Head to the cafe and have a healthy breakfast like fruit and yogurt or a veggie omelet.
Play It Cool in the Dining Hall
Speaking of the dining hall, while it’s your main source of nourishing food, it’s also where you can do a lot of damage. Since most colleges allow you to make unlimited visits to the hot food line, it’s easy to indulge in excess calories. Avoid falling into this trap — instead, go into each meal with a plan. Look at the menu ahead of time and select a healthy dish, or hit the salad bar before you do anything else. If you fill up on greens and veggies, you’ll be less likely to binge on treats from the dessert station.
Focus on Body Composition, Not Just Weight
The Freshman 15 obviously refers to a specific weight, but it’s not all about pounds. Your health depends more on what those pounds contain than the weight itself. If you gain 15 pounds of fat, that’s obviously going to be detrimental to your health, whereas packing on 15 pounds of muscle is a positive change. So focus on body composition — i.e., fat versus muscle mass — when you’re assessing how you’re doing with your freshman-year health journey. Eat lots of fruits, veggies and lean protein to stay strong.
With these tips for staying healthy in your toolbox, the only thing you’ll gain as a freshman is knowledge. Just make sure that you exercise on a regular basis, don’t go too hard on the weekends and start at the salad bar when you go to the dining hall. You might leave freshman year even fitter than you came into it!