Boy, do I wish I knew then what I know now. I exercise on a daily basis because I understand and am living with the benefits of daily exercise. But, exercise isn’t the only thing that will help you avoid the freshman 15. You can’t outrun a bad diet.
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What is the Freshman 15?
The term “freshman 15” is a phrase used to describe the amount of weight many students gain during their first year of college. Does everyone gain 15 pounds? No. But enough students over time have gained a noticeable amount of weight in the first year, so the saying has been around a long time.
And maybe that’s a good thing. Now you’re aware it could happen to you. My goal is to help prevent that from happening to you if that’s your desire.
How Can I Avoid Gaining Weight In College?
I wish I would have read this while I was in college. I didn’t gain the Freshman 15, I gained the Freshman 40. Yes, it happens. No, I’m not proud.
But the silver lining is that I have gained a lot of knowledge about diet & exercise after that experience.
This is what I have learned about how you can avoid the Freshman 15. I am not a medical profession and this is NOT medical advice; I am simply telling you about the things I wish I did when I was in college.
1. Walk/Bike to Class
Unless your campus is enormous and you are unable to get to your next class on time without taking the bus, burn those calories without even thinking about it!
When I was in college, I remember it being faster to walk. When it was raining or super cold, everyone rode the bus. It took forever to get anywhere.
2. Remember Alcohol is Empty Calories
I can hear you groaning, but it’s true. They call them beer bellies for a reason.
3. Get in 30 Minutes of Exercise a Day
The majority of university campuses will have at least one gym for students to use. Many community colleges do as well. This is usually “free” to students. I put that in quotes because it isn’t actually free – you pay for it with your student activities fee. Since you’re already paying for the opportunity to use the gym, get your money’s worth.
Exercising 3-5 times a week is what the experts typically recommend. My recommendation is 30 minutes a day. And get outside when you can. Nothing beats fresh air. You don’t need to be (nor should you) be couped up in buildings all day long.
It all comes down to time management and whether or not your priority list includes your overall health. An added bonus to exercising regularly is that you will ultimately end up with more energy.
4. Participate in Intramurals
If you don’t know what intramurals are, they are sports where you can compete against your fellow classmates. These sports are not limited to traditional sports like soccer, basketball, etc. Best Colleges provides a list of the best colleges for intramural sports.
If you’re doing this for exercise, though, I’d probably avoid things like e-sports and battleship…
5. Eat More Fiber (Fruits & Vegetables)
Do I really need to explain why you should do this? Ok, I will.
Healthline does a pretty good job of explaining what fiber is, so if you want more details, feel free to go there (after you’re done reading this post, of course).
In summary, fiber is good for you on multiple levels. Here is a summary from Healthline on the benefits:
- Feeds friendly gut bacteria
- Helps control blood sugar levels
- Helps prevent constipation
- Reduces cholesterol
- Reduces the risk for gastrointestinal cancers
- Helps promote healthy weight (bingo!)
The reason fiber-rich foods help promote a healthy weight is that most are fruits & vegetables, which are lower in calories. I recommend loading up on veggies first due to the sugar content in fruits. Excess sugar in your bloodstream will ultimately lead to weight gain. (I go into more detail in #10.) Don’t avoid fruits – but eat them in moderation.
6. Eat More Protein
Protein will help keep you feeling fuller for longer periods of time. It also helps stabilize your blood sugar levels.
7. Remember Healthy Snacking to Avoid Binging
This is also in relation to blood sugar levels as much as it is calories in general. Here’s a cycle:
- You haven’t eaten since 7:30am and now it’s 2:30pm. You’re ravenous.
- You get back to your dorm room or apartment and binge on pizza, spaghetti, cheeseburgers, whatever. Maybe you stopped at a fast food place before going home.
- You eat fast, not giving your food time to reach your stomach in order to signal to your brain that you’ve eaten enough.
- You overeat. Not only do you overeat, but you’re also most likely nomming on things that are loaded with carbohydrates (because who doesn’t love carbs?).
- Your blood sugar spikes, which makes you tired.
- You eat something high in carbs or drink something sugary to wake you up because you need to study for an exam.
- Your blood sugar spikes, which makes you tired.
- You eat something high in carbs… you get the idea.
So, carry around a small snack or two with you so you can avoid binging later.
What snacks are healthy?
You may be wondering what types of healthy snacks you can carry around with you. Here’s a short list. Healthline has come up with a pretty good list, too. And don’t forget those fruits & veggies (fiber!)!
- Beef Jerky
- Apple with peanut butter (individual packs can be purchased here – ad)
8. Drink More Water
It’s common to confuse hunger with dehydration/thirst. If your stomach is grumbling, drink a glass of water. Then, wait 20 minutes before you grab that bag of chips you have your eye on. Chances are, you will be satisfied and may make better food choices. That’s the goal, anyway.
9. Get Enough Sleep
You know when you’re pulling an all-nighter and you reach for a pop or a bag of chips? Maybe a donut or french fries? I mean, it’s usually not a plate full of veggies with a steak or chicken breast, is it? (If it is, I’m not sure why you’re reading this. lol)
As the day progresses, our willpower declines.
And consider this – sleep deprivation has been found to be associated with hunger.
Set a bedtime and stick to it. Aim for at least eight hours a night. (This will probably call for better study habits so that you aren’t cramming for a test the night before…)
10. Avoid Stress
I’d be telling lies if I said avoiding stress was easy. Especially in your first year of college. At the very least, you need to learn how to manage it. See your school’s counselor if you need help with that.
But can stress really cause weight gain? Yes!
Unless you’re an emotional eater, stress is not something you will typically think about in regards to adding on weight. When you’re in college, there’s a certain amount of stress that becomes your baseline, but it ramps up when you get behind in your work, have lost your work/school balance, end a relationship, etc.
I’ll try to keep this as simple as possible.
Stress triggers cortisol in the body. Cortisol increases insulin levels. When insulin levels rise, blood sugar drops. When blood sugar drops, you crave sugary/fatty foods. More stress = more cortisol = increased cravings = excess weight.
11. Eat More Mindfully
Studies have shown that it takes up to 20 minutes for your stomach to send a signal to your brain that it’s full. If you’re breathing in your food, barely giving yourself time to chew, chances are you will overeat.
Plus, if you’re eating in front of the TV or on the go, you aren’t really paying attention to how much you’re consuming. Being more mindful about what you’re putting in your mouth will go a long way in helping to prevent you from overeating.
12. Visit with a Dietician
After I had gained those 40 lbs, I decided to see my university’s dietician. She gave me a crash course on carbs, protein, and fat. She also showed me how to read nutrition labels, which has been invaluable to me.
Check to see if your institution has a dietician you can speak with. It will be well worth it and you will gain nutritional knowledge you can use for the rest of your life.
13. Actually Read Nutrition Labels
If you’ve visited with a dietician or spoken with your doctor about nutrition labels, put your newfound knowledge into practice. ‘
Nowadays, most university dining halls will have nutrition labels either online or at the serving station. Make sure you understand them and take advantage of them. Your jeans will thank me.
14. Avoid Drinking Calories for an Energy Boost
Back to drinking empty calories. We love our pop for many reasons. It helps with the sugar fix and wakes us up a little due to the caffeination.
But what about (black) coffee or tea (black, not sweetened!)? They have caffeine, but they won’t spike your blood sugar and put you in that vicious cycle I wrote about earlier.
Personally, I love black tea. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover my love for it until after college…
15. Eat Less at Dinner When You Go Out
Sometimes in college, we feel pressured to socialize with our friends. A lot of times that socialization revolves around food. I’m not going to tell you to never go out with your friends. That would be ludicrous. What I am suggesting is that you limit yourself to a certain number of times per month, or always eat half of what is on your plate and save the rest for leftovers.
I knew someone in college who had gained a significant amount of weight. He went out to eat ALL THE TIME. So, when he started to get serious about his weight, he stopped eating everything on his plate. First, he left just one bite on the plate… then the next time, he left two bites, then three, etc. It worked for him!
So, there you have it. My 15 easy ways to avoid the freshman 15.
Don’t try to start incorporating all of these into your daily life at the same time. That’s like saying you’ll run a marathon when you can’t even jog a mile yet. Work your way up to it, and develop new habits to achieve success.
Have you found other ways to maintain your weight? Leave a comment and let me know!