August means that the start of the new college semester is among us. Whether you are leaving for your first year of school or are already a year or two into your college career, weight management can be difficult while you are in college. Several major changes happen during the first few years of school—you’re no longer living at home or with your parents, you have to navigate dining hall food, and you’re in the process of making new friends. Late nights studying, going out with friends, and enjoying the typical college food indulgences (e.g., insomnia cookies, late night pizza, the list goes on and on…) can make the “Freshman 15” come on quicker than expected.
Here are a few key tips to keep you healthy and active while at school and ditch the “Freshman 15.”
Maximize your NEAT
Sitting in your dorm watching movies or scrolling through social media can lead to excessive sedentary behaviors throughout the week. Try to get moving on campus and maximize your NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), which is basically the energy that you expend for all activities besides sleeping, eating, and exercising. NEAT encompasses activities that you already do, like walking to class or even washing the dishes. Simple tasks like parking your car a bit farther away or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can help maximize your NEAT. If you are moving more throughout the day, you are more likely to achieve your health and wellness goals. Try to challenge yourself to get moving throughout the semester and experience all that college has to offer.
Most college campuses now have refillable water bottle stations to help promote hydration for students. Purchase a reusable water bottle that you love, and keep refilling it throughout the day. Every single cell in your body needs water to function, and water is an especially important weight management tool to help you avoiding mistaking thirst for hunger.
Commit to a fitness routine
With a set schedule of classes, the semester is the perfect time to get settled into a fitness routine. Gyms on college campuses are always offering affordable memberships for students, and many college gyms have awesome fitness classes. No form of exercise is perfect—the truly perfect workout is the one you enjoy and will stick to. Try a few fitness classes and see what works best for your body and schedule. Grab a friend and make a habit of going to the gym at least three times a week if you want to see actual results! You can even join an intramural league if you hate the gym and sports are more your thing. Whatever you choose, commit to a fitness routine and get moving.
Don’t neglect rest
During college, sleep may be the last thing on your mind. Important final papers and difficult exams take priority, and the pressure to do well can leave you pulling all-nighters or just staying up very late during the week. Couple that with going out with friends on the weekends, and you have seven days of little to no sleep. But many of us don’t realize that sleep is truly like nutrition for our brain. We need that time to reset and let our body recover. Not getting enough sleep can lead to poor decision making, decreased impulse control, and spikes in cortisol, which is the stress hormone. When you are tired, you’re more likely to reach for sugary beverages or junk food for a burst of energy. Quality sleep is important for keeping your brain sharp and metabolism speedy. Shut off screens at least 30 minutes before you want to fall asleep, and try to commit to going to bed at a decent time to give your body the rest it needs.
Navigate the dining hall
Many dining halls offer buffet-style eating, which can be overwhelming and lead to excessive portions. Before you put anything on your plate, survey all of your options and decide what looks best. Try to fill at least half of your plate with vegetables, a quarter of your plate with lean protein such as chicken or fish, and leave the last quarter of your plate for healthy carbs like brown rice or sweet potato. If the mac and cheese looks delicious or you are dying for a slice of lasagna, it’s okay to eat these things in moderation. Just sub out the quarter portion of carbs on your plate for whatever “fun food” you are craving. You can still mindfully indulge while maintaining a healthy, balanced meal.
Talk to a campus nutritionist
Some schools actually hire a dietitian or nutritionist to help students during the year. If you are looking for a structured meal plan or more guidance, inquire with your school’s health and wellness center and see if they offer any complimentary nutrition services. Even meeting with a dietitian just once can be extremely valuable and help you manage your health for years to come.
Incorporating some of these simple tips can make a huge difference when it comes to your health and wellness. Try your best to stay active and healthy while at school, and remember to always eat mindfully. Wishing you a happy and healthy semester.
Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, CSO, CDN, CPT, is a Clinical Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer. She also provides private nutrition counseling at her office in Great Neck. Visit www.stefhealthtips.com for more information or call 516-216-9909 to schedule an appointment.