What happens in that first semester at college to cause the well know “Freshman 15” weight gain phenomenon?
The answer is found in the radical changes these young people are subjected to as they start their college life.
First Time Away From Home.
Without parental guidance, freshmen are confronted with the need to make their own decisions on a daily basis.
This new freedom comes with a variety of temptations. One of these is the choice of foods at meal time, snacks, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages.
Therefore, they inadvertently make food choices that result in weight gain. It may seem logical after the fact that a freshman would put on weight simply as the result of their new, freer lifestyle.
These young people are most likely unaware that they are going to gain weight. None of them, male of female, want to see themselves get fat.
Let’s look at some other changes suddenly imposed on college freshmen.
Reduced Physical Activity
The college experience does not have the required physical activity these young people had in high school. Physical education several times a week is no longer required.
However, many college campuses are very large so that the buildings where a student’s classes are held may require considerable walking between classes.
Cramming Late At Night
Another challenge is the increased workload required at the college level which causes many, if not most students to put in late hours studying.
To stay awake, and maintain their energy level, they turn to snacking on junk food, which results in weight gain.
Temptations At The Cafeteria
During normal meals, freshmen face a greater variety of food choices at the cafeteria than they had at home. Parents are no longer there to provide healthy meals for these young people.
At the cafeteria, they face many tempting dishes that are hard to resist. These dishes contain considerable fat, sugar and other calorie rich ingredients.
Worse yet, these young college students are so overwhelmed with all the sudden changes in their lives that treating themselves to a special dish, or desert must feel like a well deserved break from all the turmoil in their lives.
Most college students gain closer to 5 pounds in their freshman year, but continue to gain weight every year till they graduate.
Future Health Problems
Health care providers are especially concerned by weight problems in college students because of the longterm implications as these people age.
The bad eating habits picked up during 4 years at college are likely to be carried on till later years, resulting in serious health issues. These health issues include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, arthritis and related joint problems.
On the positive side, if they decide to do something about their excess weight right after graduating from college, they will have the advantage of youth. With higher metabolism, their weight issues will be much easier to overcome than if they wait till they are older.
Physical Activity After Graduation
Young professionals often get involved in sports activities and exercise classes. This makes it much easier, and faster to return to a healthy weight.
With these activities, they develop a new, healthier lifestyle that not only helps them keep their weight in check, but also provides a healthy way to release job related stress.
In addition to the health problems mentioned above, college age adults are still at a stage where their bodies are building bone mass and bone density.
So it’s important for them to include food items that are rich in calcium like dairy products. Exercise such as running and weight training will also contribute to building bone mass.
Smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages during college age can reduce the amount of bone mass that would normally be developed at that age.
Preventive Health Measures
If college bound students are made aware of the “Freshman 15” phenomenon, they will have a better chance to avoid it, or at least minimize the extent of weight gain.
They should also be encouraged to work on weight loss soon, by reminding them that it will be relatively easy to take off weight at a young age. They have the fast metabolism of youth on their side.
Researchers found in a recent study that freshmen gained 4-12 pounds in a 12 week period.
Surprisingly, these students were consuming 175 extra calories per day. Therefore, they simply needed to make a modest adjustment in food or beverage consumption to bring their weight back inline.
Avoid Crash Diets
People who have a modest amount of weight they want to reduce are often tempted to go on a crash or fad diet. If they do, they will find that they will quickly gain all the weight back again.
The answer is making a gradual, but permanent adjustment in eating habits, to achieve natural weight loss till they reach the desired healthy weight.
Basic Tips To Lose Weight
College bound young people need to learn the benefits of regular meals 3 time per day, and opting for healthy snacks in between meals. They should also be prepared for the late night snack while cramming.
The early college days eating problems are made worse by college cafeterias offering all you can eat meal plans.
While it’s good to encourage young people to eat sufficiently, it can be a problem with the temptation to over indulge in deserts and other calorie rich food.
The answer, once again, is to educate college bound people about the benefits of a balanced diet, emphasizing salads and vegetables as much as possible. There is little danger that they will over eat on raw vegetables and fruit.
The idea is to remind these young people of the benefits of healthy foods in a balanced diet, avoiding excess fat, and excess carbohydrates. They should be encouraged to eat enough so they don’t feel they have to deprive themselves of food.
They also need to be aware of their beverage choices, especially when they have to stay up late studying. Avoid soft drinks, and eat a healthy snack if they get hungry late at night.
The best way to avoid junk food at night is to not to bring it into the room in the first place.
Stock up on healthy snacks instead, be conscious of food choices and they will avoid the “Freshman 15” and build good eating habits in the balance.