According to a recent study published by York University and Brock University, the “Freshman 15” – an expression that refers to the weight students gain during their first year – is all too real. The study reports the average Canadian female student gains about four pounds in their first year, while the average male gains eight pounds.
Putting on extra weight not only harms your physical health, it can lead to a number of mental health issues as well. To help students avoid these issues, we’re sharing 8 tips on how to avoid the dreaded Freshman 15. However, even if you’re not a student, you may find the advice below helpful in leading a healthy lifestyle!
Cook at home/seek out healthy foods
AKA don’t eat ramen every night!
The number one way to avoid the Freshman 15 is to put healthier food on your plate. Easier said than done, right? After all, you’re probably living away from home for the first time in your life and without your parents around, it’s all too easy to live on junk food.
The truth is eating healthy on a consistent basis is difficult for many people, not just students. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a great cook to eat well. Here are some general tips for incorporating good foods into your diet:
- Limit how much you eat out (your wallet and waistline will thank you)
- If you’re on a meal plan, seek out fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and other unprocessed foods.
- If you have a proper kitchen, learn some basic dishes and cook at home as often as you can.
Eating a healthy diet is something you’ll need to keep up for the rest of your life. By forming good habits now at a young age, you’ll set yourself up for success long after you graduate!
Hit the gym
While it’s possible to maintain or even lose weight through diet alone, exercise is still a very important part of a healthy lifestyle. Building muscle helps you burn more calories and has a number of other physical benefits, including improved bone density, heart health, and even brain function.
Of course, not everyone wants to be a gym rat and that’s okay. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and two sessions of strength training per week are enough to keep you healthy and happy.
If you’re struggling with how to incorporate exercise into your daily life, ThoughtCo. has a great list of tips. Additionally, if you’re not sure where to start in the gym, we highly recommend Muscle & Fitness’ excellent 4-Week Beginner’s Workout Program.
Watch your drinking
When one thinks of the Freshman 15, it’s hard not to immediately point to beer as the culprit. After all, drinking lots of alcohol is simply something that many students do. Unfortunately, all that alcohol leads to a lot of extra calories and they’ll go right to your waistline. As the aforementioned study notes, men in particular are more likely to eat too much fried food and drink too many beers during their first year of university.
Drinking and partying can be a lot of fun, but it’s important to pay attention to how much alcohol you’re consuming. Excessive drinking can lead to addiction and many unwanted pounds. Limiting your overall intake – or even opting for lower calorie options like vodka sodas – will help you avoid putting on too much weight.
Get enough sleep
Most students struggle with getting enough sleep and it’s easy to see why. Between attending classes, part-time jobs, studying, and having an active social life, getting a solid eight hours can feel next to impossible. Unfortunately, foregoing sleep over a long period of time can have some pretty nasty side effects. These include but aren’t limited to: memory loss, depression and of course, weight gain.
While simply drinking lots of water won’t help you maintain or lose weight on its own, it’s still an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Keeping your body hydrated helps your body process calories and not getting enough slows down your metabolism. It also helps you feel fuller and avoid overeating.
The difficulty comes in remembering to drink enough water. Luckily, there are a few tactics you can try if you’re having trouble:
- Bring a reusable water bottle with you to class
- Use an app like Daily Water to track your cups
- Drink a full glass before every meal (helps with metabolism!)
- Eat water-rich foods such as cucumber, zucchini, watermelon, and grapefruit
For more water drinking tips, check out this list over on self.com.
Practice moderation (but also eat slower)
There’s nothing wrong with eating a burger and beer every now and then, as long as they don’t become regular parts of your diet. If you’re going to indulge in some junk food, one thing you can do to avoid overeating is to simply slow down. As in, don’t scarf a bucket of fried chicken down in two minutes. Research has shown that people who eat slowly tend to weigh less.
Part of the reason is you’re more likely to consume fewer calories and more water if you take your time. This is also a good way to curb your appetite. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain and stomach to realize you’re full so if you’re taking your time, you’re less likely to go looking for more food right after your meal.
Don’t skip breakfast
When you’re running late for a morning class (which, trust us, is something we’re all too familiar with), it’s easy to skip eating breakfast. Unfortunately, this isn’t the best way to start your day and may even set you up for unwanted weight gain in the long run.
Eating a balanced breakfast has a number of benefits, including jumpstarting your metabolism, which helps burn more calories for the rest of the day. Of course, eating a bowl of sugary cereal everyday isn’t going to do your waistline any favours. Luckily, there’s no shortage of easy (and healthy!) breakfast options out there. Check out this list for some suggestions to get you started.
Consult your school’s health and wellness center
Let’s face it – managing your health can be difficult to do on your own. Fortunately, most schools have wellness centers set up to assist students with managing their physical and mental health. Here you’ll find services ranging from information pamphlets to dietitians and other trained professionals who can help you get a handle on your eating and fitness habits. Together, you can come up with an action plan to keep yourself healthy and happy.
Most services will be covered by your tuition fees or health insurance. That being said, it’s always best to check with staff first to make sure a service is covered.
For more information on living a healthy lifestyle, check out our tips on how to eat healthy on a student budget.