Leaving home for the first time and living in a new environment can be overwhelming. After all, your freshman year of college is full of new sights, sounds, and a cafeteria stocked with seemingly endless choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and maybe even a few snacks in between.
And with those excess meal options may come the storied “freshman 15,” the extra pounds students are rumored to pack on during their first year away at college.
Tessa Wellmon, registered dietitian at the Center for Healthy Living at UPMC Hamot, said 25% of college students gain weight during their freshman year of college.
It may not be exactly 15 pounds, but Wellmon said it is typically about 5 percent of a student’s body weight.
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Reasons College Students Gain Weight
Students gain weight for a number of reasons, some of which include:
- Increase in calorie consumption
- Decrease in exercise
- High school athletes who spend less time competing and more time studying
- Consuming unbalanced meals
- Eating because of stress
So how do you avoid the infamous “freshman 15?” Whether you are an incoming college student or a few years in, these are just a few tips to maintain a healthy weight while at college.
RELATED: How Stress Affects Your Brain
Preventing the Freshman 15
Balance your meals
When perusing the cafeteria, avoid fried foods, as they have high fat and calories. Skip the pizza line and instead head for the salad bar. This does not mean you should always avoid fried foods and pizza altogether, but you should snack on them in moderation.
Portion control is another important factor to prevent the “freshman 15.” It can be difficult to resist the urge to fill and re-fill your plate in a cafeteria with unlimited options. Wellmon encourages students to eat a minimum of two fruits and three vegetables per day in addition to whole grains and lean proteins such as chicken and fish.
Eat breakfast everyday
As the cliché goes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially in the effort to prevent extra weight gain your freshman year in college.
Make sure breakfast selections include some form of protein, such as eggs or a protein shake. Weight gain is more common among people who skip breakfast, and eating protein in the morning will keep you fuller longer during the day.
Stock your dorm with healthy snacks
It may seem backward to eat more often to prevent weight gain, but it is important to eat every two to four hours a day.
Snacking prevents you from becoming overly hungry at mealtimes, which often leads to over-eating. This does not mean you should reach for the potato chips any time you feel pangs of hunger, however. Instead, stock healthy snacks, such as apples, carrots, yogurt cups, almonds, or string cheese.
Make time for exercise
Despite the temptation otherwise, make time in your busy schedule to get moving. Whether going for a run or hitting the gym, it is important to find time to get some exercise during the day. For more accountability, consider getting an exercise partner or joining an intramural sports team.
College is full of new and exciting experiences you don’t want to miss, but do not neglect your sleep schedule in the process. If you wake up feeling tired, you may be tempted to boost your energy with additional caffeine and sugar, which contribute to excess weight gain.
If you’re beginning to figure out life as a freshman or preparing to graduate in a few months, it is never too late to develop healthy habits at school. For more information about healthy eating and nutrition, check out UPMC’s Nutrition Services.
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.