Most of us have heard about the phenomena of the “freshman 15,” a phrase given to the weight gain that accompanies the first year of college. As we listen to stories of late-night study sessions fueled by snacks and our favorite sugary drinks, we think it’s absolutely all true. Unexpected weight gain is also attributed to stress and lack of sleep— sound familiar?
While research found that weight gain was common, the average wasn’t as high at 15 pounds. And, junk food wasn’t all to blame. The real culprits are daily habits. The first year of college is our first real taste of adulthood. We start managing our own time, making our own health care decisions, and setting the foundations of our lifestyles. These habits are less likely to show their consequences in college but will appear later in our lives through obesity, heart disease and other health conditions. The key is establishing these 4 healthy habits now:
Snack smart and stock up.
When we’re tired our body craves food high in sugar, salt and fat. Keep healthy alternatives within close reach during those late night study sessions. Head to the grocery store to stock your pantry with nuts, fruit, veggies or snackable cheese. The healthiest snacks offer fiber, protein or both. With a packed pantry within easy reach, you’ll be less likely to order delivery or To Go. It’s also important to choose snacks that transport easy. Having an apple or bag of trail mix will help keep you away from the vending machines during the day.
Don’t drink your calories.
Specialty coffees, soft drinks, fruit drinks and alcohol (if you’re over 21, of course) are all sources of empty calories; calories that have little to no nutritional value. These culprits contain mostly added sugars that can lead to weight gain. Make sure you’re hydrating with water first. Choose fresh fruit smoothies over fruit drinks. If you’re looking for an energy boost, try unsweetened coffee or tea and add sweeteners to your taste. You’ll find that what you add is usually less than what’s included in something pre-sweetened.
Stick to a routine.
Widely overlooked, timing meals properly is a key component in preventing weight gain. Think that you’re doing everything right— exercise, proportions, nutrition, but still not seeing the loss you’re looking for? You might have to change your timing. For many of us, dinner is the biggest meal of the day but also timed when we’re least active. Reorganize your eating habits to include a larger breakfast full of long-lasting energy foods like eggs, whole grains and fiber-packed fruits. No time in the morning? Pack those healthy snacks and graze until lunch. Lunch should be a meal full of lean proteins and veggies. Try your best to eat at the same time every day.
Stop thinking of exercise as the grueling routines we all had to do in high school gym class. You should strive to spend at least 3 days a week on an activity that increases your heart rate above resting. No more running or weight lifting if you don’t want to. Augusta offers plenty of gym-free activities; kayaking, biking, disc golf, and hiking trails are all excellent recreational activities that also burn tons of calories.
“If you like the gym setting, the Augusta University Wellness Center offers a full-service fitness center, with group fitness classes like spinning, yoga, Barre, and Zumba,” says Patsy Davis, associate director of campus recreation at Augusta University and a certified health coach. “If you’re more into team sports, join an Augusta University Intramural Sports team by visiting www.imleagues.com and signing in with your Jag ID.”
Plus, there’s an added bonus to exercise. “Students who stay active by participating in group fitness or competitive sports activities have higher G.P.A.’s than those who do not“ she adds. Remember, the best exercise is the one you’ll do. Tap a friend to be your work out buddy or teammate and hold each other accountable. You’ll be too busy having fun to notice that you’re exercising.