It’s the beginning of September and that means back to school! Starting university can be an extremely exciting but stressful time. You may be worrying about getting along with your new roommates, finding your classes, and managing a heavy course load. Amongst these typical stressors is the dreaded “Freshman 15”, an arbitrary amount of weight that university students are thought to gain during their freshman year. I myself was not too concerned about this entering university, as I was the type who could eat whatever I wanted without gaining weight. However, I quickly learned that my lifestyle during first year had a huge impact on my weight, energy, and overall health.
While adjusting to this new chapter in your life, your health should always remain a priority. The good news: it is very possible to eat healthy and stay active while in school, which are key for maintaining weight, and improving energy, sleep, concentration, and immunity.
Eat breakfast! They don’t call it the most important meal of the day for nothing! Eating breakfast will help you concentrate during early morning classes, fuel your day, and prevent you from overeating at lunchtime. Try a peanut butter & banana sandwich, hard-boiled eggs & fruit salad, or yogurt & granola, all of which are easy to take on-the-go.
Best options in the cafeteria: Residence food isn’t always appealing, and it can be hard to resist the pizza, fries, and other “not-so-good-for-you” options (I ate a few too many mozzarella sticks from my rez caf), but it is important to think about choosing nutritious items at each meal.
- Include 3/4 Canada’s Food Guide food groups at each meal.
- Be mindful of adequate portion sizes. For example, meat, chicken, fish, and bread should be the palm of your hand; rice, pasta, and vegetables are ½ of a fist. Balance your plate with a ¼ plate protein, ¼ plate starch, and ½ plate vegetables.
- Choose items that are baked, broiled, steamed, grilled, or roasted. Limit items that are buttered, creamed, fried, and cheesy.
- Make informed decisions by reading nutrition information posted in the cafeteria or online.
- Beverages can contribute a lot of empty calories. Stick to water, skim milk, and herbal tea.
- Establish an eating routine that works around your schedule, allowing you to eat every 3-4 hours.
Snack smart! See my blog post on Healthy Snacking! A mini-fridge in your dorm room is worth the investment to keep wholesome, unprocessed foods.
Make time for physical activity: Staying active will help maintain weight, improve energy, and relieve stress.
- Take advantage of the campus gym, where membership is usually part of your tuition or offered at a discounted rate.
- Treat the gym as a mandatory class that cannot be skipped. Etch “gym” onto your class schedule a few times a week.
- Grab your floormates and follow a YouTube exercise video in your dorm’s common area.
- Walk or bike to school instead of taking the bus, if possible.
- Study while exercising on a stationary bike.
- Join an intramural sports team (I played soccer, basketball and dodgeball, none of which I was skilled at!)
Alcohol: With all the social events, no parental supervision, and easy access to alcohol, there is an excuse to drink almost every night of the week on campus. Besides the high calorie content of alcoholic drinks, the post-bar snacking, disrupted sleep routine, hungover greasy breakfasts, and altered metabolism can wreck havoc on your weight. Alcohol in moderation means 1 drink per day for women, and 2 drinks per day for men. Try light beers, vodka sodas, and alternate between alcoholic drinks and water.
Budget wisely! With tuition, textbooks, and accommodation being mandatory expenses, spending money on food may be compromised. The result: a diet consisting of cheaper, energy-dense packaged foods.
- Keep various piggy banks allocated to specific expenses, including food. If one bank gets depleted, money from the eating budget cannot be used for other expenses.
- All prices are listed in the cafeteria so you can compare the prices of equally nutritious foods.
- If buying food from an external grocery store, take advantage of coupons, promotions, sales, bulk buying, generic brands, and price matching.
- Cut costs and calories by avoiding unnecessary purchases such as caloric beverages, extra cheese, supersizing, and candy. (But guac for 2$ extra is totally worth it).
Talk to a Registered Dietitian. Did you know that many campuses have dietitian services on site?! Dietitians can provide you with tips and education required to make healthy food choices so that you can reach your full academic potential! In addition, you can use your student benefits to help cover the cost of private practice dietitians in the surrounding area.
Being a victim of the Freshman 15 is not inevitable, and these solutions can help prevent undesirable weight gain from occurring. This term could gain a new positive meaning: “I tried 15 new healthy foods”, “I ran 15 extra minutes on the treadmill”, or “I made 15 new friends.”
To all students starting a new school year, good luck, study hard, have fun, and stay healthy!!
(This pic is of my roommate and I showing our school spirit at Western Homecoming, 2012)