Freshman 15 preventable by healthy eating

Most students have heard of the issue of weight gain in college that is commonly known as “Freshman 15.”

This weight gain is not predetermined and can be avoided in part by making healthier life choices, according to school nurse Karen Smith.

“The ‘Freshman 15’ references an average weight gain in the first year of college. While there is some truth in this, it is important to note that it does not happen to every student and it is not only the freshman year when weight is impacted but it is perhaps the most noticed,” Smith said. “There are several factors that can play a role including late night eating, poor food choices, increased alcohol use and a change in activity levels. Hormonal changes can also play a role in weight gain as metabolism slows a bit.”

One of the common reasons given for college weight gain is a slowing down of metabolism. Nutritional Fitness teacher Michele VanShelt explains what this really means.

“When they [say] metabolism slows down they mean [that] physical activity slows down because you have to study more, you stay up later at night which tends to mess up the body. What happens is [students] do not understand that they have to adjust their diets because they are not burning like they were because of lack of physical activity. If [students] adjust their diet to match their level of physical activity then they will not put on that weight,” VanShelt said.

There are many ways to offset weight gain, one of which is exercising more, according to Health teacher Rebecca Haris.

“[Students should be] utilizing the free gym membership [offered by most schools]. Every university has exercise facilities and they are almost always free to students with a valid student ID. Another helpful tip is making sure you eat during normal meal times. Since students are within walking distance to food, pretty much all day, keeping track of how much you eat and at what times you eat will decrease the amount of excessive calories that are eaten,” Harris said.

A common piece of advice VanShelt gives to students looking to be healthier is to make their own food.

“[Students should be practicing] time management and [should be] making food ahead of time so that it is there in the refrigerator or in the freezer when it is necessary so they can go get it and heat it up in the microwave or just get it out of the refrigerator to eat it. Then it is ready for them, because that is the reason [students] are going to restaurant or fast foods because the food is already prepared for them,” VanShelt said. “So it is that planning ahead and preparation and fast food and restaurant food is expensive. It is usually low quality and they are usually paying a lot more per ounce for a lower quality protein.”

For students who will be relying upon meal plans, there are still healthy options available.

“Colleges are required to have healthy alternatives but they are not required to make students choose them. When students are aware of the foods they eat and include a variety of foods into their diet, they will have the healthiest body,” Harris said. “Something that is common for college freshman is getting sick easily because students do not get a variety of nutrients and they are interactive with so many new people. They tend to fall into a routine of grilled cheese and Top Ramen which does not give the body everything it needs to fight off sickness. Trying new things and not being so quick to settle for the cup noodle will help students’ eating habits.”

Harris elaborates upon how to stay healthy while on a meal plan.

“Students should adamantly monitor their eating habits and try to include more of these natural, healthy alternatives, especially if they are on a meal plan that includes ‘dining dollars’ to be used in the cafeteria or other food stores around campus. If students are not on a meal plan, buying seasonal foods on sale is a great way to save money and incorporate healthy foods,” Harris said.

Some foods provide more nutritional value than others, according to Smith.

“Stick with fruits, veggies and lean proteins. Make carbs only a small part of your diet and limit soda. Convenience foods can be tempting but they often have preservatives and unneeded calories. Snacks such as carrots, nuts or string cheese can be healthy and convenient,” Smith said.

Exercise can aid a good diet in maintaining and even burning weight, Harris explains how to create work out routines.

“There are many different exercises a college student can perform and receive health benefits. It is most important for all people exercising to get variety in their exercise routine – participating in cardio activities, as well as muscular strength, endurance and flexibility exercises. It is helpful to have a workout partner who holds you accountable and provides motivation,” Harris said.

For students looking to improve their diets, websites such as the Food Network can provide healthy and easy recipes.

“One of the best website out there is the Food Network. They have a recipe for everything and [the website] is all free. They can just put in a search for chicken or spinach salad and it is amazing the recipes that come up and it is absolutely free. And they are easy to make and healthy. They give you the choleric count and the sodium count [for the recipes],” VanShelt said. “I wish that more students learned how to make their own foods because even here, I see a lot of processed foods and packaged foods which are not as healthy for you as real foods, real vegetables and even raw fruits even though they are filled with sugar but they are still better than drinking fruit juice.”