As college freshmen head off to the dorms for the first time and make the transition from Mom's kitchen to campus dining halls, weight gain is common. It's often called the "freshman 15." But putting on 15 pounds doesn't have to happen, according to Rebecca Myrowitz, a nutritionist with the Greater Baltimore Medical Center's Comprehensive Obesity Management Program.
Question: What is the "freshman 15" and what are the most common causes?
Answer: The "freshman 15" is when college freshman are away from home for the first time and may gain an average of 15 pounds over the year. The most common reason for this weight increase is a lifestyle change. At home, typically students ate what their parents prepared or what was available. At college, there are parties with highly caloric beverages, late-night cram sessions usually involving snacks or fast food, and lack of exercise. Additionally, there are many choices in the dining hall — not all of them healthy.
Q: What can you do to avoid weight gain in college?
A: Keep in mind, the dining hall has many options: There is more than just pizza, french fries and burgers. Usually dining halls have a salad bar, yogurt, dry cereal, fresh fruit, omelets, soup, etc. Watch your portions with food and caloric drinks. Sodas and juices will not fill you up but add to your calorie intake for the day. Remember, just because the policy may be all-you-can-eat does not mean eat, eat and then eat some more. Also, try to get some exercise and an appropriate amount of sleep. Some campuses have programs to promote health such as an eight-week weight-loss challenge. One other thing to look into is if you have a campus dietitian — he/she may be able to offer you some tips specific to your needs.
Q: What can you do if you are up late studying for an exam and are hungry?
A: First, make sure you are actually hungry. Sometimes, when stressed or distracted, we can eat a lot more than we realize or need. If you have determined you are hungry, then it is important to eat something, but what you eat is also important. It is easy to get some ice cream or go to the vending machine for a candy bar or Pop-Tarts, but those foods will not satisfy your late-night cravings. Some snacks to keep on hand are microwave popcorn — there are 100-calorie packs, which gives you quite a nice amount and you do not have to worry about finishing the whole bag yourself. Some other things you may include are string cheese, pudding, Jello, fruit, cottage cheese, yogurt, carrots or a small handful of nuts.
Q: How can you incorporate more exercise?
A: Most campuses have a gym that is usually heavily subsidized, if not free. If the gym is not for you, there are plenty of other options. Intramurals offer an opportunity to excel at a sport without having to be on the school team. You could additionally do things you may enjoy, such as dancing, walking, biking or swimming. Your school may require a physical education class; even if not required, you may consider trying something new such as horseback riding or scuba diving.
Q: What if weight has been an issue for you and diets just do not seem to work? Are there other options at your age?
A: Yes, if weight has always been a struggle and you have attempted multiple diets with little or no success, weight-loss surgery may be an option for you. Of course, you should talk with your doctor about this, but a college student may be a good candidate for weight-loss surgery if their body mass index is 40 or higher (approximately 100 pounds overweight). Weight-loss surgery also helps improve/resolve other weight-related conditions like sleep apnea, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, osteoarthritis and cardiac disease.
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