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Student Health Tips: How to Avoid the Freshman 15

Pursuing post-secondary education abroad is an exciting time of freedom and discovery. However, if you’re not careful, you’ll quickly find an alarming number staring back at you when you step on the scale.

According to a recent study published by York University and Brock University, the “Freshman 15”—an expression that refers to students’ weight gain during their first year—is all too real. The study reports that the average Canadian female student gains four pounds in their first year, while the average male gains eight pounds.

Putting on extra weight not only harms your physical health but can also lead to several mental health issues as well. To help students avoid these issues, we’re sharing eight tips on avoiding the dreaded Freshman 15. However, even if you’re not a student, you may find the advice below helpful in leading a healthy lifestyle!

A bowl of vegetables.

Courtesy of Gov.UK.

Cook at Home/Seek Out Healthy Foods

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 that eating healthy consistently 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 nutritious 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 full-service 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!

A photo of Western University's gym.

Courtesy of Western University.

Hit the Gym

While it’s possible to maintain or lose weight through diet alone, exercise is still a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. Building muscle helps you burn more calories and has many other physical benefits, including improved bone density, heart health, and 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 strength-training sessions per week are enough to keep you healthy and happy.

If you’re struggling to incorporate exercise into your daily life, ThoughtCo. has a great list of tips. Additionally, if you’re unsure where to start in the gym, we highly recommend Muscle & Fitness’s excellent Complete 4-Week Beginner’s Workout Program.

A photo of alcoholic beverages.

Courtesy of Gov.UK.

Watch Your Drinking

When one thinks of the Freshman 15, it’s hard not to point to beer as the culprit. Unfortunately, too much alcohol leads to many extra calories, and they’ll go right to your waistline. As the study mentioned above notes, men, in particular, are more likely to overeat 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 essential 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 opting for lower-calorie options like vodka sodas will help you avoid putting on weight.

A photo of an alarm clock.

Courtesy of the US Department of Homeland Security.

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 sometimes be difficult. 

Unfortunately, foregoing sleep over a long period can have some pretty nasty side effects. These include, but aren’t limited to, memory loss, depression, and, of course, weight gain.

As part of a healthy lifestyle, it’s recommended that students get six to eight hours of sleep per night. Are you looking for tips on how to get more sleep? Check out this list!

A photo of water being poured into a glass.

Courtesy of Gov.UK.

Stay Hydrated

While simply drinking lots of water won’t help you maintain or lose weight, it’s still an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Keeping your body hydrated helps it process calories, and not drinking enough slows down your metabolism. It also enables you to 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.

A photo of a person eating food.

Courtesy of Gov.UK.

Practice Moderation (But Also Eat Slower)

There’s nothing wrong with ordering a burger and beer 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. This means not scarfing down a bucket of fried chicken 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 an excellent 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.

A photo of breakfast food on a table.

Courtesy of the Government of Canada.

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 several benefits, including jumpstarting your metabolism, which helps burn more calories for the rest of the day. Of course, eating a bowl of sugary cereal every day 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.

A photo of a student with a counsellor.

Courtesy of Vancouver Community College.

Consult Your School’s Health and Wellness Centre

Let’s face it, managing your health can be challenging to do on your own. Fortunately, most schools have wellness centres 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.

Your tuition fees or health insurance will cover most services. But don’t hold us to that; it’s always best to check with staff first to ensure a service is covered.

For more information on living a healthy lifestyle, check out our tips on eating healthy on a student budget.

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