(Aug. 2013) As college students start this new school year, many are looking for ways to avoid the dreaded “freshman 15” weight gain. It can be a challenge to some young students when faced for the first time with a daily array of healthy and not-so-healthy food choices. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that college students, and everyone, know their daily calorie needs and try to create a healthy eating plan that incorporates a few basic healthy eating goals.
More than 60% of adults in the US are either overweight or obese and the most significant weight changes occur in the 18-29 year old age group. A study by Washington University in St. Louis on college students’ weight gain showed that body weight increased in 70% of the 290 students studied between the beginning of their freshman year and the end of their sophomore year.
So what’s a few extra pounds? Obesity can lead to health complications such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Less than 1% of U.S. adults meet the definition for ideal healthy diet. To successfully manage weight, the AHA encourages people to learn about healthier food choices and know how many calories to eat daily. The AHA offers a free online BMI/personal calorie tool at http://bit.ly/BMIcalorietool .
Eat more fruits and vegetables
The USDA’s MyPlate.gov says an ideal meal plate is one that is half-filled with fruits and vegetables. However, all-you-can-eat dining facilities can tempt even the most well-intentioned, health conscious student.
“In the dining halls, look at everything that is being offered and make a good choice based on that,” says Pat Salzer, registered dietician and former member of the American Heart Association advisory board in Utica. “Evaluate all of your choices. Focus on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meat. Make sure you’re getting all the nutrition you will need for what you’re expecting your mind and body to do.”
Experts suggest that students choose whole-grain foods that are filling, slow to digest and nutrient-rich. When it comes to proteins, nutritionists suggest choosing lean proteins like fish, turkey, chicken and beans.
Salzer says it is possible to enjoy some treats, as long as you do it carefully. “There is going to be a lot of temptation at school. You can have it all, but just not today. It comes down to moderation. It’s not about depriving yourself, because that can backfire, but practicing the mantra of moderation and balance,” she says.
Think about your meals
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for everyone, but Salzer says it is especially important for college students. “A high protein meal in particular will really help set the tone of the day. You’ve gone all night without eating, so breakfast is a really good way to start the day since you’ll be busy in classes. You will need that energy to put you on the right path for your new college career.”
Food can also become a way to deal with stress for some students. “College is a time of so many changes,” says Salzer, “between independence from parents, new surroundings, and new demands. Find other ways to deal with stress, like physical activity, instead of comfort food.”
Choose beverages wisely
Unlimited soda fountains and access to alcoholic beverages as students become of drinking age are additional sources of calories and weight gain.
Nutritionists say alcohol provides almost no nutritional value, just empty calories. Drinking two sodas per day can add up to a lot of unwanted pounds yearly. Nutritionists recommend drinking water, unsweetened flavored waters, whole fruit juices with no added sugar, low-fat or skim milk and limiting soda to special occasions.
For more information about weight management, visit www.heart.org/weightmanagement.