Healthy choices key in fighting ‘freshman 15’

When setting foot in Eickhoff Hall for meals, it’s easy to be tempted by foods with great taste but plenty of calories. In the mood for pizza, nachos and steak with a side of macaroni and cheese? Students can certainly indulge without any verbal reproaches from parents. No one follows diners through the maze of lines and food trays, inspecting food choices.

With this in mind, it’s not difficult to see why many freshmen, when given the opportunity to design their own meals each day, struggle with weight gain and sluggish metabolisms.

The dreaded “freshman 15” plagues many freshmen, but don’t go out and buy that bigger pair of jeans just yet.

Nicholas Ratamess, assistant professor of health and exercise science, said weight gain occurs among 50 percent of freshman college students, with a multitude of factors to blame.

“Stress (both academic and personal), the lifestyle changes of living in dormitories and having irregularly scheduled meals, and a lack of sleep and exercise all contribute to weight gain among freshmen,” Ratamess said.

However, the idea of the “freshman 15” can be substantially exaggerated in the minds of many students.

According to Ratamess, studies have shown most freshmen who gain weight during their first year at college only gain between three and 10 pounds over the course of both semesters. Luckily, there are healthy ways to avoid becoming engulfed in the wave of weight gain. But be aware of unhealthy ways of dieting that should be avoided even more fervently than the “freshman 15.”

Many students consider “crash dieting” and sudden, significant calorie reductions in their daily diets as suitable means of losing or keeping off the pounds. For many students, this means cutting out entire meals – the most popular being breakfast.

However, this only “slows down the metabolism, which allows your body to store fat more easily,” Ratamess said.

Instead, students should plan their meals in a healthier manner by eating proportionally. This doesn’t mean cutting tacos from a diet forever, but students should reduce the number they eat from three to two, or two to one.

Eating “on the go” can be dangerous in terms of weight gain, because most students automatically choose foods like granola bars or pop-tarts with large amounts of simple sugars.

It is recommended students eat smaller meals more often throughout the course of the day and also include more foods with complex carbohydrates, like pasta, bread and potatoes in their diets.

These types of food actually quicken the metabolism and allow calories to burn off instead of being stored as fat.

Students should also be aware of advertisments for diet pills. Contrary to what television commericials say, there isn’t a magic pill to instantly trim weight off your body

Ratamess emphasizes “15-20 minutes of daily exercise increases the speed of an individual’s metabolism and is perhaps the most important aspect of maintaining a healthy body.”

Some students, when faced with great amounts of stress, turn to food in order to cope with their difficulties. As a result, they eat when their bodies do not require additional energy, making it easy for excess calories to be stored as fat.

Ratamess recommends dealing with stressful situations by means of light exercise, like taking a jog around the campus, which will provide students with healthier bodies and more active metabolisms.

Essentially, the recipe college students need to follow to maintain healthy lifestyles – and in effect prevent weight gain – is quite simple: Eat healthy, balanced meals that contain few simple sugars, always try to get between seven and eight hours of sleep a night and exercise for 15 to 20 minutes per day.

And of course, don’t forget to eat a nutritious breakfast every day, no matter how early your first class is.