Tips to Maintain a Healthy Weight in College
“The freshman fifteen” live large in college lore. The expression refers to the fifteen pounds most freshman women pack-on during their first semester, because they are eating “dorm food” and supplementing with small mountains of fast food and snacks. Exacerbating the problem, freshman women are more sedentary than their older classmates, because they enjoy the luxury of having no obligations except school. The Fresh 15 are not inevitable. Although it may seem difficult, demanding and daunting as keeping a 4-oh! grade average, you can maintain healthy weight in college. Four simple guidelines lay the foundation for college health:
Eat regular meals.
If you wait until you feel hungry, you will eat whatever is available, and you will eat too much. Most nutritionists now agree you should eat five small meals throughout the day, making sure you have plenty of protein at each meal and minimizing your carbohydrates and fats. Remember, though, your brain needs nourishment for thinking and producing, so some complex carbohydrates—the ones you find in whole grain cereals and muffins—sustain your intellectual performance. Try not to depend on energy drinks and coffee to supply energy you ought to be getting from healthy food and regular metabolism.
No fast food.
How many fast food vendors have conveniently located their services for easy access from campus? Of course, they made it easy for you to junk-out whenever you want something quick, easy, and tasty. Studies indicate that average college students eat fast food at least once each day, and fast food, excessively fatty and loaded with carbohydrates, remains the prime contributor to “the freshman fifteen”–even more than starchy institutional foods from the dining halls. Add in all kinds of fatty, sugary snacks during long study sessions and you have all the ingredients for serious weight-gain. Protect yourself against temptation and compulsion. Keep lots of fruit and other healthy snack foods within arms’ reach while you’re in class and studying.
Studies repeatedly have shown that students who exercise daily, almost religiously, get better grades and have fewer emotional problems than sedentary students. In other words, research confirms common sense. Exercise contributes not only to physical health and stamina but also to self-esteem and self-efficacy. You can get back into your skinny jeans. College campuses are especially well-suited for regular walking or jogging, and no other exercise burns more calories or better oxygenates your system than an hour walk. Of course, you do have that big, beautiful, exquisitely equipped recreation center right there on campus.
Late in 2011, the American Medical Association released an authoritative, alarming study indicating that between two-thirds and three-fourths of all Americans are chronically dehydrated, most to the point where they no longer recognize signs of thirst, often mistaking thirst for hunger. Physicians suggest you should try, at least, to follow the “8 by 8 Rule,” drinking eight eight-ounce glasses of water each day; they note the 8 by 8 actually falls a little short of your genuine requirements, but they assume you make-up the difference in juices and other beverages. Caution: Coffee and diet soda are diuretics, contributing to your dehydration rather than relieving it. If you must drink lots of caffeinated beverages, add water accordingly.
“Healthy” remains the operative word.
Up to ten percent of college women develop eating disorders as a result of stress and self-consciousness. Among women in dormitories and sorority houses, bulimia strangely may become contagious, because the smartest, prettiest, most popular girls seem especially susceptible to it. If bulimia works for Barbie, it must be okay for everybody else, girls mistakenly conclude. If you are developing an eating disorder, get help right away, because anorexia and bulimia very quickly weaken your immune system, making you vulnerable to every germ floating around campus.
Do you remember the song from Sunset Boulevard, “No one cares how you look when you’re a writer”? While you’re caught-up in midterms and finals, your appearance represents the least of your worries. No one really cares how you look as long as you know the right answers. Your health, however, takes-on extra significance during those times of peak stress. Therefore, take time to establish healthy eating and exercise habits while you’re not stressed, and maintain your healthy habits when times get tough. Just to make sure you stay with your health regime, enlist a couple friends to share your plan. When all the peer pressure supports health and wellness, everybody prospers.
Jennifer Clark is an accountant working toward an mba online degree in her spare time.