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How To Avoid The Freshman 15

Building Healthy Habits for Now and the Future

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Updated March 19, 2012

How To Avoid The Freshman 15
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The first year of college brings many new adjustments and stresses, from more challenging classes to new social demands and responsibilities. Unfortunately, many incoming freshmen find themselves dealing with the need to watch their weight -- often for the first time in their lives. In fact, it's so common for incoming freshmen to gain weight in their first year of college, that college weight gain has become a well-known phenomenon referred to as the "freshman 15." While there are many causes of the freshman 15, there are also several things you can do to combat the weight gain that often comes with the first year of college, as well as subsequent years. Now is the time to begin adopting healthy habits for long-term health, and here are some important ways to maintain a healthy weight and avoid the dreaded ‘freshman 15’.

Effective Stress Management
My top recommendation is to find healthy stress management strategies. This is for two reasons. First, stress can contribute to weight gain by influencing not only your body but health-influencing behavior. Second, many stress management strategies, such as walking, yoga and meditation, can also contribute to weight loss or overall health. It’s a double-win! For more on developing a stress management routine that works for you, see these stress relievers for busy people, or use the stress reliever personality test to find the best stress relievers for you.

Make An Eating Plan
If you're a college freshman, you may find yourself faced with making more food-related decisions than you have ever had before, including what to eat, when to eat, and how much. If you make the wrong choices here, the pounds can accumulate quickly. Seeing this, it’s important to have a simple, healthy eating plan so that you don’t fall into unhealthy habits. Consider eating several small, healthy meals rather than a few big ones. Keep lots of apples and other fresh fruit on hand; fruit is a convenient snack, and it’s obviously good for you. If you learn a few tricks, you can have good nutrition without sacrificing convenience. Read this article for more on healthy eating for busy people.

Use A Plate
Believe it or not, some experts say that using a plate or a bowl instead of eating snacks right out of a box or bag can help keep you from over-snacking. If you think about it, it makes sense: putting your chips in a bowl helps you control portion size and gives you a moment to think if this is really what you want to be eating. (Really -- how many times have you finished off a whole bag without realizing you were eating that much?)

Stop Emotional Eating
There are a lot of emotional ups and downs the first year of college. Even for the lucky ones who are sure they’re in the right major and have already established a group of friends with whom they’re comfortable, college life usually comes with many changes and challenges. Sometimes ‘comfort food’ goes a long way in helping people deal with the stress of these changes. But if emotional eating becomes a habitual coping strategy, the pounds start to accumulate. To avoid this, actively look for ways to effectively cope with the emotional stress you’re dealing with, like journaling about your feelings (and brainstorming solutions), or getting some added exercise to blow off steam. (Check out this section for more on emotional eating.)

No Eating Two Hours Before Bed
While late-night studying and partying can make you hungry, it’s important to avoid eating big meals in the two or three hours before you go to sleep. When you eat a big meal late at night, you don’t allow your body time to burn off the calories, and they end up being stored as excess weight. If you’re too hungry to sleep, opt for a small, healthy snack like a glass of milk or a banana.

Find A Workout Buddy
Exercise can play a pivotal role in keeping the freshman 15 at bay, and having an exercise buddy can be an effective way to ensure that you keep up with your workouts. For one thing, you’ll be less likely to cancel on a workout partner than you would be to just skip a workout when you’re tired and nobody’s waiting for you. Also, meeting a classmate for a walk can double as a study session if you bring flash cards or discuss materiel before an exam, providing an added incentive for keeping your commitment to your workouts.

Work Exercise Into Your Routine
If you find yourself too busy to meet a friend for a formal workout, you can still fit exercise into your regular schedule. Since research shows that 30 minutes of exercise broken up over three ten-minute sessions is as beneficial as one 30-minute session, you may find it convenient to sprinkle smaller workouts into your schedule. (For tips on fitting exercise into a busy schedule, see this article on exercise for busy people.)

Special Note On Caffeine
It’s well-known that many students use caffeine to stay up late to study, or to stay focused with little sleep. While there are some benefits to caffeine, even greater benefits come with quality sleep. Consuming too much caffeine can interfere with that. That’s why it’s a good idea to limit your caffeine intake to the equivalent of about two cups of coffee per day or less, and avoid caffeine altogether after around 2:00 pm. While this doesn’t directly contribute to the freshman 15, it does indirectly: being unable to sleep can increase your chances of late-night snacking. Also, sleep deprivation can raise your cortisol levels, which can contribute to weight gain in other ways.

Remember, combating the freshman 15 can be an opportunity to develop lifestyle habits that can promote lasting health and wellness. Follow these suggestions, and you’re ahead of the game. Learn more about stress and stress management with these ongoing stress management resources.

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