College eating tips for avoiding the dreaded freshman 15

It’s easy to get fat your first year in college, but eating healthy and exercising regularly can help prevent the extra pounds.

08/03/2014 3:23 PM

08/03/2014 3:24 PM

There are a lot of things to look forward to in college but the “freshman 15” — meaning the number of pounds many first-year students put on — is not one of them.

With an unlimited meal plan, no parental oversight and the stress of studying, it’s typical for eating habits to go haywire in the freshman year of college.

Sheah Rarback, director of nutrition at the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, said college throws a rush of changes and responsibilities at students — including what goes into their stomachs.

“You have a lot of kids making more of their own food choices,” she said.

Some students, such as Kelly Mowery, 21, a student at University of Florida, choose to eat a granola bar for breakfast and a bag of pretzels for lunch. Others, like Monnica Morales, 23, who has completed her undergraduate work at UF, tried a ton of new restaurants in Gainesville and stress-binged on cookies.

Neither approach is the secret to a healthy freshman year.

The key to maintaining a healthy weight in college is not complicated but may prove difficult to execute for many students.

“Initially in college, you go and pig out,” Morales said, adding that in a college cafeteria it’s tempting to go back for seconds and thirds — often for treats with little nutritional content.

There was a small salad bar in her dorm cafeteria, Morales said, but mostly what she remembers are the pizza, pasta and burgers.

Defeating the “freshmen 15” doesn’t require a nutrition degree like Rarback’s. Basically, listen to what your mom has always told you about smart eating when you were pretending to listen to her.

• Instead of binging on bags of highly calorie junk, choose healthier fare in appropriate amounts. To help control portion size, Rarback said students should fill half a plate with fruits and vegetables, crowding out fattier and less nutritious options.
• Freshman should buy healthy snacks, like fruit and nuts, rather than chips and dip. In the middle of a late-night study session, they will be forced to reach for something more nutritious than Cheetos, Rarback said.
• Find the time to eat three nutritious meals a day, even cooking them yourself. Though students often complain that they lack time to eat right, that is no excuse for Rarback.

“People say they don’t have enough time to cook, yet everyone has found an extra two hours to be on the Internet,” she said.

• Keep a regular exercise routine. They key, Rarback said, is to pick an activity that is fun. Morales said she learned to love intramural sports. Rarback suggested trying a Zumba class.

And if students get caught in an unhealthy pattern, they should remember that it’s not too late to turn around.

As with many who learn from freshman year mistakes, Mowrey’s cereal bar and pretzels have transformed into Greek yogurt, veggies and rice — and Morales’s cookies have given way to trips to the gym.

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