Attention Freshman!

23 January 2012

This September, thousands of first year students, "aka freshmen", will hit university and college campuses all across the country. As many students anticipate the year to come, one thing that crosses the minds of countless students is "how can I avoid the infamous first-year weight gain?"

For many students, university is the first time in one's life when they live away from home. Freedom can seem exciting and it doesn't take long to realize that you can eat whatever and whenever you want.

Did You Know?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that obesity more than doubled among 18- to 29-year-olds between 1991 and 2001, from 7% to 14.8%. The good news is that first year weight gain is NOT inevitable! All you need is some basic knowledge of nutrition along with a willingness to make an effort to stay healthy and active. Read on below to learn some great tips to make your first year a success.

What kind of food to expect in university

The first and most obvious reason for first year weight gain is simply the types of food choices students make. Without parents there to either prepare meals or to encourage good food choices, students frequently choose fast foods that are packed with calories and with little or no nutritional value. That's not to say that it's not wrong to eat French fries and greasy pizza sometimes, but it's the variety and moderation that's key!

Each university has tons of healthy food options available. For example, there are made-to-order sandwich stations, fruit carts, salad bars and whole-wheat pasta dinner options to name a few. If you are unsure what makes up a healthy meal, take a look at Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating or talk with an on-campus dietitian or physician.

Beware of over-eating!

Stress from university life can be a major snacking trigger for students. Making sure you do activities to lower your stress like playing an intramural sport or chatting with a friend can really help you ward off those munchies. Increased school work can also cause many freshmen to cut back on sleep. When the body is deprived of sleep, the level of the stress hormone leptin decreases, leading to increased appetite and over-eating.

Even munching on foods while studying can lead to over-eating. This is because your mind is concentrating more on what you are reading instead of the quantity and the quality of the foods you are consuming. So when you're hungry during a long study session, try eating a fruit or vegetable and actually sit down and take a break away from the books to refresh your mind before hitting the books again.

Last, but certainly not least, alcohol, beer and pop are loaded with calories and are a major cause of first year weight gain. So beware and make sure to drink in moderation or not at all.

Did You Know?
The American Dietetics Association recommends eating small portions of healthy snacks every three to four hours. Whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese, low-fat yogurt and fruit, whole-grain cereal and low-fat milk and apple slices are good options. Eating snacks with both carbohydrates and protein helps the body stay fueled. Keep active!

A major change in the transition into first year lifestyle is the decrease in physical activity. Despite many students feeling like there's not enough time to exercise, it's important to fit it into your schedule — you only need an average of 45 minutes of moderate exercise 3-4 times a week. Not only will being active burn off any extra calories that you are consuming, it will also stimulate your mind and body so that the homework you do later will be more productive.

Did You Know?
Increasing participation in physical activity can decrease a student's study time. In fact, academic performance has been shown to be maintained as level of physical activity increases[AC1]. Some final tips as a current university student

Always be aware of what foods you are eating, how much you are consuming, where you are eating and why. If it fits in your schedule and is of interest, enroll in an intro nutrition course. Also, don't skip meals or decide to go on crash diets. These will only tamper with your metabolism and will actually lead to weight gain in the long run.

Finally, don't make drastic changes to what you currently eat, instead try simple substitutions. For example, instead of a bag of potato chips, choose a crisp apple or instead of a soda, try drinking 1% milk. Similarly, always make sure to keep hydrated by consuming enough water daily!

It is great that you are making the decision to further your education, but you also want to use this time in your life to practice healthy lifestyle habits that are maintainable for the rest of your life.

Learn More!

Benefits & Research

Canada's Food Guide

Fighting the "Freshman 15"

"Freshman 15" a Myth, U of G Profs Find

Sleep More, Eat Less

Andrea is going into fourth year at the University of Guelph in Applied Human Nutrition. In first year, she admits she probably gained between 3 and 5 pounds and was always tempted by vending machines for Doritos or a chocolate bar.

For many students, university is the first time in one's life when they live away from home. Freedom can seem exciting and it doesn't take long to realize that you can eat whatever and whenever you want.


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