Beating the Freshman 15
USDA's Choose My Plate Campaign is a quick guide to eating more fiber-rich meals.
by Jennifer Spencer
Everyone knows about it, most have experienced it, and nobody wants it. It's universally dreaded and categorically denied. "That won't happen to me," they say, even as it stealthily, steadily approaches.
Enter the Freshman 15, the mythical weight gain many students experience when transitioning to college.
Though some new studies indicate that the severity weight may not be as bad as we have thought, Sodexo's registered dietitian Jeanne Molloy said she has seen many students struggle with the frustration of putting on a few extra pounds.
"Your parents are no longer providing the choices, nor is your mother looking over your shoulder as you eat," she said.
Molloy said she gives students five simple tips to help them avoid weight gain and to reboot their eating habits with more nutritious choices.
1. Eat regular meals. Molloy advises students to avoid skipping meals, and to consciously choose high-fiber foods at each meal. In addition to meeting the recommended daily goal for fiber intake, Molloy said choosing foods such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains will help students eat less at their next meal.
The fiber in such foods keeps your blood sugar even each day, and is a huge help for anyone trying to lose weight.
"If you maintain that fiber goal, your blood sugar is even. Now you're levelheaded. You can go into your next meal making good choices," she said.
2. Keep healthy snacks on hand. Eating on the go can cause weight gain at any age, but even in a dorm room, students can arm themselves with healthy snacks like dried fruit and nuts, whole grain bars, and fresh fruit. A small dorm fridge opens up possibilities like Greek yogurt, hummus, veggies, and cheese.
Molloy also recommends looking for sources of calcium at snack time to make the most of each calorie.
"Our student population are in the years of bone building," she said. "After about age 30, you can only protect bone strength, not build it."
3. Stay active. A change in activity levels is one of the primary reasons freshmen gain weight, Molloy said.
"When I speak to 30 freshmen, and ask how many were in sports in high school, 28 of them raise their hands. When I ask how many are in sports now, maybe there are three," she said.
Finding time to exercise while balancing the demands of a college career can be tough, but Fordham's head strength and conditioning coach Ted Perlak said the key is to put first things first.
"If you can't find time in the busy day to work out, try to do it before your day starts," Perlak said. "If you immediately jump start your metabolism with some sort of activity, you're definitely going to feel better through the day."
Perlak recommends finding 30 minutes four to five days a week for a combination of cardio and strength training. The important thing, he and Molloy said, is just to get started. "The research out now is that that half-hour recommendation per day can be broken into 10 minute intervals," Molloy said. "Just get out there."
4. Stay hydrated—with water. Sugary drinks only add to a student's calorie consumption and weight gain concerns, as well as spiking blood sugar and sapping energy.
Molloy recommends students choose water, as well as a couple calcium-rich choices like milk or fortified orange juice. Staying hydrated will help students eat only when they're truly hungry, as well as helping them focus better.
"If you're not getting enough water, you're just not going to have a lot of energy," she said.
5. Get enough sleep. Though perhaps one of the biggest challenges for students, sleeping less than six hours each night can affect hormone levels, which affect appetite levels and hunger cues, Molloy said.
She said recent research has indicated that six hours is a good goal—and more achievable than the standard eight.
"I rarely meet a freshman who has gone to bed before 1 a.m.," she said. "Aiming for six hours gets rid of some of that guilt around not hitting the eight-hour mark."
Fordham offers students free one-on-one nutritional counseling through Student Health Services. For more information, contact Jeanne Molloy, registered dietitian, at SodexoRD@fordham.edu, or call for an appointment, (718) 817-4160 (Rose Hill) or (212) 636-7160 (Lincoln Center).