For many college freshmen, living on campus is the first taste of independence. With independence, important decisions arise, such as when and how to choose healthy foods. Many college students are warned about gaining the “Freshman 15”.
According to KidsHealth.org, students gain an average of 3 – 10 pounds their freshman and sophomore years. The weight gain can be caused by the unhealthy eating habits students develop, such as consuming large portions, late-night snacking, overeating, choosing unhealthy foods and failing to exercise. Developing good eating habits from day one can help prevent the “Freshman 15” and set college students up for healthy futures.
Here’s how to stay healthy at college:
Create a healthy eating plan.
Do this before going to school. This way, you are aware of what food you should eat and how much. Stephanie Wells, a registered dietitian at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge Ill., recommends the Healthy Plate Model because of its ease and effectiveness.
“Visualize a plate with approximately equal parts of a lean protein, whole grain carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables,” she says. “If a college student follows this model for three meals a day, they are guaranteed balanced nutrition. This model provides plenty of fiber, which helps prevent overeating.”
Choose healthy snacks.
There will be times when the cafeteria is closed, you’re in your dorm room and are looking for a quick, easy snack. It’s tempting to choose junk food like chips and candy, but these items should not be your first option. Instead, keep your door room stocked with nutrient-dense foods that are low in calories like fruits and vegetables. Healthy snacks don’t have to be boring! Spice them up with dips like hummus or your favorite nut butter.
According to Wells, nut butter is very nutrient-dense and goes well with fruits and vegetables. Add a little on the side, and you have a tasty snack!
Find healthy options at the dining hall.
College cafeterias can be overwhelming – there are so many options to choose from. Students tend to pick foods that look most appealing and can be eaten on the go, even if these aren’t the healthiest. Although these foods might satisfy cravings and your taste buds, analyzing your options to ensure you’re selecting the tastiest and most nutritious foods is the best way to go
“Make an effort to seek out the healthy options such as the salad bar. When in doubt, make sure half of your plate has fruits and vegetables,” says Wells.
Get a good night’s rest.
Wells says many college students don’t realize the importance of sleep. Often, students are so worried about completing a project, finishing an essay or studying for an exam that they sacrifice much-needed shuteye to get it all done; but that lack of sleep causes many issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insufficient sleep may cause college students to be “sluggish during the day, have trouble participating in class and making decisions.” When college students are tired, they’re more likely to gravitate towards foods that aren’t as nutritious and can cause weight gains, such as soda and microwaveable meals, says Wells. Good rest is a necessity in college, and students should aim to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
Staying active is important, especially in college when students are learning how to manage their schedules, stay organized and find time to sweat. After a stressful day of classes, it’s not surprising that all college students want to do is come home and relax in front of the TV. While there’s a time for rest, it’s also important to keep your body moving to release stress and stay healthy.
“Everyone should strive for at least 60 minutes a day of physical activity,” says Wells.
Your physical activity does not have to be extreme; you don’t have to run five miles every day. For example, you can fit in physical activity by walking to all your classes a few days a week instead of taking the bus all the time.