Freshman year in college almost always means gaining weight, and the “Freshman 15” has become the standard marker for the 10-20 pounds—or more—often gained that first year of college. With a variety of root causes, college weight gain can often lead to further weight gain down the line. Besides being a problem further in college, such weight gain can often begin a trajectory that can last well beyond college.
In college, being overweight also affects energy levels, which can in turn affect academic performance, according to the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. So how can those struck by the near-inevitable weight gain of freshman year take off that extra weight—and keep it off?
One of the easiest ways to gain weight is in the college cafeteria. Often stocked with what appear to be limitless supplies of high-calorie comfort food, the cafeteria becomes a place where massive calorie intake begins, as well as the usual association of food with academic breaks. That cafeteria is almost always where college weight problems start. Making healthier choices and eating less, as well as using available cafeteria menus for planning healthy eating in advance, are all important ways to place a source of unlimited empty calories in check.
Avoiding Alcohol and Junk Food
It’s a little known fact that a lowly beer can have as many as 150-200 calories. And unfortunately, as college is well known for drinking parties, few consider what five beers add to a day’s diet. Social drinking can add as much as a full meal’s worth of empty calories to a day’s consumption. A few days of drinking socially a week will take a massive toll on the body in a very short period of time, potentially adding the dreaded “beer belly,” and alcohol is burned by the liver instead of fat, according to WebMD. Adding in the inevitable presence of junk food at typical parties with alcohol and it’s easy to see why this part of the “collegiate lifestyle” is another calorie trap.
Stress is inevitably a part of college, and this is especially true early on, with both academic expectations and adaptation to college life being immediate and sudden stressors. Stress is a huge factor in weight gain, because it increases your appetite (i.e. comfort food), affects your will power and reduces your body’s ability to break down fat, according to Melanie Greenberg as part of the “The Mindful Self-Express” series on Psychology Today.
Keeping a Proper Sleep Schedule
Another aspect of college life that often leads to weight gain, as well as longer-term poor sleeping habits, is the common lack of a decent sleep schedule. Lack of proper sleep causes the body to burn calories erratically, inadvertently causing it to hold onto calories it should be burning off. In short, making sure that the body is properly rested is another part of making sure that the body is burning calories optimally.
Metabolism will inevitably slow down with age, but the actual effect of that slowdown is largely due to the percentage of lean muscle in relation to total body weight, say the professionals at Pro Sports Club. Taking advantage of exercise that maintains and strengthens lean body tissue, such as Pilates, is a way to not only get rid of that Freshman 15, but also insure proper weight maintenance for years to come.