Curse of the Freshman 15

Photo by Melissa Gerson

Photo by Melissa Gerson

By Danielle Marra

Every freshman has been warned of the dreaded Freshman 15 – the extra weight most incoming students tend to pack on during their first year at college. The weight gain can be attributed to many variables: parties, stress, or maybe it is just the first time in your life that you have not had your mother cook all your meals for you. Regardless of the cause, unless you regularly watch your diet, you may fall victim to the Freshman 15. There are plenty of ways to better adjust to college life and therefore avoid gaining the typical beer belly donned by most of campus.

According to Duke Medicine, a lack of parental guidance gives college freshman an opportunity to become overgrown children and live on junk food. It may not necessarily be the fault of the student that causes the seemingly inevitable weight gain but the student’s inability to be responsible for his or her own eating habits. Some incoming freshmen experience a lack of structure in their lifestyles for the very first time. Author and registered dietitian Elizabeth Somers, R.D., wrote, “It’s all in the planning. Nowhere does the saying, ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail,’ apply more than with weight management.” So, without being told when, what, or where to eat, those new to college have no plan to maintain their regular weight unless it is something they have focused on before.

Students here at Hofstra University are primarily eating food provided by Lackmann Associated Dining. To best appeal to their consumers on all levels, Lackmann offers an array of cuisines, including a variety of vegetarian and vegan options and, of course, desserts. With the display of pastries, cookies, ice cream and churros, the temptation to indulge is everywhere. The worst part is that even if you manage to escape Bits & Bytes without that Belgian waffle and ice cream, the food served daily in our cafeteria is not always good for you. Eating fried chicken in some form every other day is not good for your body. Adding a side of French fries to your dinner every night, while probably not the smartest idea, is available in every on-campus eatery.

It becomes much easier to maintain your weight once you understand that you are responsible for your own diet. As Duke Medicine says, one must set realistic nutritional goals for oneself every day. One way to do this is by tracking what you eat every day to be sure you are eating the proper foods.

NBC’s Your Total Health included an article titled “New Dietary Guidelines” by writer Lynn Grieger. Grieger wrote, “This year, the guidelines made headlines across the country because they call for big increases in the amounts of fruits and vegetables we eat and for at least 60 minutes of moderate exercise most days to avoid weight gain.” This nearly doubles the previously suggested five servings of fruits and vegetables each day to nine servings (4.5 cups). Grieger also outlines simple ways to abide by the new guidelines. Her first tip is to “plan for produce” by spending more of your grocery shopping in the produce section. Then she says to “Go for grains. All grains are no longer lumped into the same category.” The emphasis, according to Grieger, should be on “whole grains – those bread, cereal, cracker, rice and other grain products that are less processed and contain more of their natural nutrients.” The new guidelines recommend a minimum of three servings of whole grains every day. Lastly, Greiger says, “Skip the sugar.” The new guidelines have cast sugar in the role of “major bad guy,” according to Greiger. Put that soda back on the shelf and grab yourself a nice, ice-cold water instead. The new guideline suggests limiting one’s intake of sweets, sweetened drinks and other unnecessary sources of added sugar.

Diet is far from the only thing teens new to college need to worry about. In addition to desserts, being free of limitations also brings in another factor that contributes to weight gain: alcohol. Most students are unaware that liquor contains about 100 calories per shot glass. If you mix yourself a drink with anywhere from one to three shots of liquor and it takes you four to five drinks to reach inebriation, your total calorie intake for the night could reach 1500. More than half of the recommended daily calorie intake for people ranging from age 18-25 it does not even include the sugary mixers that a lot of people use in drinks.

All the partying you may do during your first year at school can not only cause weight gain and sleep deprivation, which affects your overall physical health, it can also stress you out. Adjusting to new classes with new people in an entirely new atmosphere can cause enough anxiety to affect a students’s stress levels. Going to college, especially for campus residents, comes with a responsibility most have not had to take on before. Getting homework out of the way earlier, rather than procrastinating and leaving a mound of work for the last minute, can only be beneficial.

Most know, however, that college students are going to experience late nights that may not be the result of procrastination. Sometimes the work load that comes with 15 or 18 credits worth of classes can be overwhelming. During this inevitability, it is important not to allow your need to complete schoolwork undermine your sense of health and welfare. Caffeine is not good for you in large portions, but sometimes a few cups of coffee to help you stay awake long enough to finish your homework is better than having a midnight meal in order to get that second wind. Your body is completely cognizant of when it is time for it to be awake and when it is due to rest. When it gets dark, your body recognizes the change of overall light and prepares certain body systems for sleep, including your digestive system. Even though your body may be awake enough to ingest a full meal, your digestive system is unprepared for any large intake. It’s more difficult for your body to digest, and thus sits in your stomach for more time than usual.

Despite all these factors working against students’ bodies, it is possible to avoid gaining weight in college altogether. CNN’s Elizabeth Somers, R.D., says it is mostly a matter of eating less. There is also the very important element of exercise. At Hofstra, students have a gym and all the equipment that comes with it completely free. It is simply a matter of taking advantage of the gym that is readily available and funded by tuition dollars by walking across campus two or three days a week for a workout. And for freshman living in the Netherlands complex, part of the workout is in walking to get there.

Of course, classes and homework must take priority at this point in our lives and so if one is deeply involved with extracurricular activities or perhaps is taking an exuberant amount of credits, getting to the gym regularly might be a problem. As with everyone, it is recommended that you primarily watch what you eat and choose foods wisely, but that does not mean you are exempt from exercise. If you cannot make time for the gym, there are plenty of quick and effective workouts that you can do right in your own dorm room.

Stretching, running in place, and simple abdomen exercises all can be done in your dormitory. Simply clear a space large enough for you on your floor. Keep in mind that beds do not work as well, as there is a lack of resistance and support for your body. Then set a reasonable goal for yourself. Do sit ups or stomach crunches from all directions. You can do pushups in this same fashion. Be sure to remember how effective walking is. You should take any opportunity you have to walk around campus, especially during the beginning and end of the school year when the weather is the most pleasant. Casually walking without exerting yourself for 20 minutes burns approximately 100 calories, which means walking can only do good. Keeping your body moving is a key element to keeping those extra pounds off, so whether you are getting food or heading to class, opt to walk.

If you treat your body well, it will only reward you and hopefully be a remedy for the curse of the freshman fifteen.

Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 3:45 am  Leave a Comment  

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