The next step in your life is ahead of you. Starting college, whether near home or away, can be a very overwhelming time. You may be overcome with stress, but also with excitement and happiness. Big changes are coming. But, that doesn’t mean big, negative health changes need to come. Typically speaking, the “freshman 15” is the dreaded unintentional weight gain when starting your first year. But what can we do to avoid this?
For many, an all-you-can-eat buffet atmosphere may be a new experience. Don’t take this setting as a challenge, as in, truly eat all you can. Instead, see it as a challenge to stick to or create your healthy habits. First, make sure you take a good look around at all of the options and stations available. Become familiar with your surroundings. Second, try filling your plate with half fruits and veggies, a quarter protein, and a quarter healthy carbohydrates. This is a useful rule of thumb as it gives a clear picture of what our plate should look like. Choose lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, fish, tofu or beans and complex carbohydrates with added fiber so you stay full for longer—think whole grains. Still hungry? Have another helping of fruits or vegetables or go for seconds at the salad station. Have dressings and sauces on the side so you are in control.
Liquid calories still count, and most of the time, they are empty calories. Try swapping your sugary beverages with water. Aside from cutting calories and sugar, this will also help you to reach your hydration goal of at least eight cups a day.
Exercise is key in maintaining your overall health, so look for new activities to get your heart rate up. Try checking out the gyms available or finding an accountability friend and setting time aside to work out. Since budgets can be a factor, remember that exercise doesn’t have to come at a cost. Many colleges and universities even have free intramural sports—or start your own. Explore your new surroundings or walk to class instead of taking the bus.
Look for helpful resources
Of course, this article provides you with the very basics of healthy eating as a college student. But there is much more to it. Many colleges and universities offer free, or low-cost resources. Look at the Health Services department and scope out if there is a Registered Dietitian available. It can help to have someone guide you through this new step in your life.
All in all, college should be some of the best years of your life. Enjoy them but don’t forget about self-love. The ‘freshman fifteen’ doesn’t have to mean what we think it means. We can redefine the definition. Try 15 new and healthy food items you’ve never had before. Try to run or walk for an extra 15 minutes. Or try to wait at least 15-20 minutes before grabbing a second plate to give your body time to digest.
The main point is, take care of yourself and your body, after all it is the only one you’ll get.
Rayna Herskowitz, RD, CDN, is a Clinical Registered Dietitian at a local hospital where she focuses on oncology nutrition.