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How to Avoid the Freshman 15

For people between the ages of 5 and 23, going back to school is a standard — and sometimes unsettling — part of life. We’ve put together easy recipes and food tips to help make the entire experience way more appetizing.

Freshman year is an exciting time — new friends, new classes new experiences. One new experience you’re probably not eager to have is the dreaded Freshman 15. I’m going to guide you through some of the pitfalls that can lead to weight gain your freshman year (or really any time during college) and how to avoid it.

Pitfall 1: You’re up all night
When you were living at home, chances are you had a somewhat regular sleep schedule. But when left to your own devices, you might find yourself sleeping way less as you get used to late-night partying and study sessions and early morning classes. When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to put on weight, thanks to a chain reaction involving stress hormones (plus you have less energy for exercise — more on that in a minute).
Solution: Ideally aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

Pitfall 2: You’re drinking a lot
Legality aside, many freshmen start drinking, and they drink way more than the recommended cap of one drink a day for women, two for men. Not only is drinking excessive amounts of alcohol bad for your liver, brain and other organs, it’s also a driving factor in weight gain. Think about it: A single 12-oz. beer clocks in at about 150 calories (which means a pint is 200). Have two and you’re already drinking the caloric equivalent of a peanut butter sandwich. And don’t even think about replacing food with alcohol (drinkorexia). It’s seriously bad for your health.
Solution: Be smart about alcohol and don’t binge drink.

Pitfall 3: You’re skipping breakfast
You’re busy, you’re tired — I get it. But skipping breakfast is a mistake. Breakfast helps get your metabolism going and is also a good opportunity to get some fruit and calcium into your day. People who eat breakfast tend to be leaner than those who skip it.
Solution: Make breakfast a part of your daily routine, even if it’s just grabbing a banana or yogurt from your minifridge as you head out the door in the morning.

Pitfall 4: Late-night munchies lure you
Staying up late can take a second toll on your weight when you add in an extra meal. While it might seem like you “need” food every few hours when you’re awake, that can really be a problem if you’re awake from 8pm[mhc1]  to 4am. Soon you’re eating more than you really need — and putting on the pounds.
Solution: You can take one of two approaches here. One, you can just institute a “no eating after 10pm” rule and nix late-night meals and snacks. Two, if you are going to indulge in, say, pizza, stick to a slice and factor that into your meals and snacks for the whole day (so you’re not getting an extra 250 calories on top of a full day’s worth of meals and snacks).

Pitfall 5: You’re not staying active
Maybe you played team sports in high school or maybe you walked to school. Whatever you did then, chances are your routine is different now that you’re in college. If you’re eating and drinking more and exercising less, you’re going to gain weight.

Solution: Find new ways to be active. Join an intramural team, hit the gym, take some Barre classes or try yoga. Take up running. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something you enjoy and that helps bust some stress.

Pitfall 6: You’re not eating balanced meals
Yup, you’re on your own and making more of your own choices. So make smart ones when it comes to food. Make sure you get some fruit and/or vegetables and lean protein on your plate at most meals and snacks. Both of these things fill you up on fewer calories, so you’ll stay satisfied and you may end up eating less overall.
Solution: Learn the basics of nutrition, and loosely plan your day of eating around things like eating 3 cups of veggies and 2 cups of fruit, getting in two to three servings of low-fat dairy (which gives you a dose of calcium and doubles as a lean protein), choosing whole grains over refined, and getting some healthy fats (nuts, olive oil, avocado) and lean protein (eggs, chicken, lean beef, fish, tofu) into your daily diet.

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