First of all, if you’re headed off to college, CONGRATULATIONS to you on this very important milestone. You worked hard to get here, now prepare to have the time of your life! I know I enjoyed my years in college. I learned lots and made great (the greatest!) friends.
And like most impetuous, invincible young teens, I pretty much thought that “Freshman 15” was something that happened to other people.
Of course, I distinctly remember a few events during freshman year that proved otherwise. One, stepping on the gym scale with some girlfriends, and we all looked positively confused that the scale moved that much in a measly four months (maybe less); two, returning home from my first semester and the clothes I left behind not fitting; and three, people commenting to me on my apparently awe-inducing weight gain.
Having never paid attention to that kind of thing (weight) to begin with, I couldn’t tell you how much of a gain it was exactly, but it was enough for me to realize I probably had “one too many.”
Late night mindless eating and the buffet style eating at every single meal at the cafeteria were probably my downfall, but everyone’s different. Moving less was another big one. Without structured athletics I was far less active. More time buried on the couch with books, eating calzones, discovering all the glutinous American baked goods (I wasn’t raised here), and raiding my roomate’s chocolate stash. And then there’s the drinking. I’m not saying I did that, but you know, lots of other people did. Ahem.
This doesn’t have to happen though, and in hindsight, if I was more aware of my habits I could have easily avoided the weight gain. Here are some tips that I hope will help you (or your college aged teen) as she/he heads off into the (almost) real world.
1. Limit drinking alcohol. You’re underage and everyone’s doing it. That’s problem #1, right? What’s worse is that they will be mixing in all kinds of other stuff. It’s a calorie bomb. If you’re going to drink, go ask mom or dad what they think of that idea.
2. Wear jeans at least half the time- the kind you wear at the beginning of the year. Why? I made the mistake of wearing sweats and baggy college gear, and was floored when the jeans I left at my parents’ place no longer fit after my first semester. Jeans are less forgiving than sweats, which is what lots of college kids wear. No need to use a scale for checking your weight (there’s probably no room in your dorm room anyhow), and your clothes can be a good, objective tool.
3. Walk to ALL your classes. Going from structured athletic activities to none at all for me was a shock to the system. Walking is great exercise, most likely you’ll bump into friends on your way to class, and it’s a good way to bond with your peers, too.
4. For the parents too! Emphasize to your child that food and exercise = self care and stress relief, versus reward (food) and punishment (gym time). Eat to nourish the body and mind, move (sweat!) to relieve some stress. If you study with friends, break with friends too! Catch up on gossip on your walks around the library or lab. Kids! Remember, food is fun and it’s also fuel for your study sessions. Eat or drink too much nasty stuff and you might feel it the next day. Eat lots of fruits and veggies and see if that helps you feel better.
5. Join a recreational team on campus with friends or take some fun fitness classes with them. Your college will have an incredible gym, and an incredible network of young athletes right there on campus. Looking back at the gym we had on my college campus, I wish I knew back then what I was doing, because the equipment was top-notch. We also had some terrific electives in weight lifting (and I’m sure lots of other fitness classes which I didn’t pay attention to but they were there!). Absolutely take advantage of all the resources that are at your disposal.
6. In my day, there were no FitBits and activity monitors. Get one, and aim to move at least 10,000 steps a day. Walking to class and taking frequent study breaks will go a long way towards meeting that. Ask the parents or their friends to get that for your graduation gift.
7. Learn some basic cooking. No seriously. I was so glad I spent hours watching what my mother did in the kitchen and asked her for recipes. If you have any time in the summer to take a cooking class, do so. Or just watch what your parents do in the kitchen. Eat out less, cook more at home. My dorm had a kitchen (although small) on every floor. Find yours. Look into getting “steamables” for veggies from the grocery store, or simple stuff you can stick in the oven (already seasoned chicken), or cook on the stovetop (pre-seasoned kabobs), or microwave.
8. Stock up on simple, easy, and tasty snacks. You might want to fill the fridge with easy snacks like Greek yogurt, string cheese, and lots of fruits with good shelf life (apples, grapes, oranges). “Magic pop” and fat free popcorn for mindless munchies, if you must.
9. Stay away from “all you can eat” buffets and opt for the A La Carte Meal plans, if they are offered to you. Cafeterias on campus might not be the best choice, if you’re a mindless eater. (I was, I assure you!) I was having far too much fun catching up with friends, shoveling food in my mouth, and not paying attention. Being on an A La Carte food meal plan rather than an all-you-can-eat plan is best.
10. Parents! If you’re in charge of finances: give your child a food budget! This will encourage them to grocery shop as much as possible. Eating out is very expensive. Drinking out, more so.
11. Get your sleep! More hours up at night means more hours up snacking mindlessly. GO TO BED.
12. Portion control snacks are your friend. I really don’t expect teenagers to figure out how to use a kitchen scale. But, common snacks (Goldfish, Fig Newtons, etc) now come in convenient portion control packets. We’re talking 100 delicious calories of yummy goodness you don’t have to think about. Most people still stop when the bag is finished (the individual bag!), and not the box.
13. Have some protein at every meal- mix up protein powder in your shaker cup with ice and water, or buy containers of greek yogurt, string cheese, pouches of tuna if that’s doable, veggie burgers, chopped up and cooked rotisserie chicken, eggs, even good ol’ chocolate milk. Protein will go a long, long way to keep you full, powered up, and satisfied between your meals and hectic schedule.
14. Back in my day, there were no calorie tracking apps. Use myfitnesspal or a similar app to track food intake. If you are eating too many calories to support your activity level, you’ll probably gain weight.
15. Make mistakes and learn from them. This is part of growing up. I forgot to mention that I lost all the “Freshman 15” in one summer. I quickly learned that I was doing some downright silly behavior, but it was easily remedied by cutting out/reducing non-nutritious food, eating more fruits and veggies, eating more at home (thanks Mom!) and moving more (hello, gym!).
Part of the passage to adulthood is making mistakes, learning, and growing. College is going to be the best time of your life. Who knows? Your weight might stay stable and worrying about the freshman 15 won’t help. Using common sense will go a long way. It’s not a big deal if you gain weight as you adjust to a new life. Change is a necessary part of life.
By all means, make mistakes. But don’t keep making the same ones. Learn from them. Or at least, learn from mine 🙂
And congratulations, grad!