Student life can be stressful even in the best of times. And it has become almost axiomatic that student life comes with substantial weight gain in the first few semesters of college.
Causes of the infamous freshman 15 are manifold, and keeping those pounds off may prove tricky.
Self-awareness is key. Understanding the circumstances contributing to the problem will help you devise effective methods to deal with it.
That’s why in this Custom-writing.org article we’ll look at some of the major causes of collegiate weight gain and suggest some adaptive strategies.
We’ve got tips for time-effective exercises, brain foods, and healthy eating on a student budget, as well as some general advice on how to take care of your body as you make your way through college, one party or all-nighter at a time.
What causes weight gain in college?
The three major contributors to student weight gain are reduced activity; extra calorie intake in the form of college staples like pizza, pasta, soda, and 3 am street food; and increased levels of stress.
- Separation from the comforts of home
For a lot of students, college is their first foray into independent living.
Even commuter students are likely to be away from home more than they used to be in high school.
This in turn causes all sorts of potential problems, and being able to identify them is the first step towards dealing with the negative results.
To counteract this disconnection from your usual routine, make active attempts to keep a regular schedule for meals, and include familiar homemade foods whenever you can.
If you are a commuter student, try packing at least a partial lunch from home or your dormitory refrigerator.
This way you are not completely dependent on food trucks, fast food places, and the college cafeteria.
The key is for you to have more control over some portion of your lunch, or rather, your overall daily intake of calories.
You can moderate both the amount and the calorie content of the food you eat.
A homemade sandwich or portion of curry on rice or sesame noodles is almost certainly going to be less caloric than a giant double serving of cheese-steak sandwich.
Instead of buying chips or cookies, opt to include healthy choices like fresh and dried fruit, seeds, nuts, and raw veggies.
- Stress eating
Being separated from family and friends, while being plunged into an entirely new environment, might take quite an emotional toll on you.
This can translate into outright homesickness for some and a nagging, vague sense that something’s missing for others.
For some people, the feeling that something is missing can generate a hunger that no amount of food will satisfy.
This kind of emotional eating can sabotage even the most disciplined dieters.
Emotional eating is a pernicious issue and may require professional help to resolve over the long run.
However, simply being conscious of the possibility is a good start.
Whenever you feel the urge to eat, ask yourself what other emotions you may be feeling.
Are you feeling lonely, angry, hurt, frustrated, or anxious at the same time that you’re longing for that candy bar from the vending machine?
These are but a few of the emotional states that the brain can interpret as hunger.
If after a moment of self-examination you can identify an emotion other than hunger, then you should definitely take a time-out.
Alternatively, address the underlying painful feeling itself:
Cry, if you must. Yell, hit a pillow, or use some inappropriate language in a private place rather than downing a chocolate brownie.
- No time for exercise
Unlike high schools, colleges generally do not mandate physical activity for students.
There are exceptions, of course. Columbia University, for example, requires that their graduates be able to swim, but this is rather unusual.
The lack of required physical activity means that the caloric consumption that might have kept you in metabolic balance in high school is inappropriate in college.
And unless you cut way back on your intake, weight gain becomes inevitable.
For non-athletes, exercising in college can often feel like a waste of time.
On the one hand, colleges often promote elaborate programs of lifetime athletics, intramural sports, and of course intercollegiate sports.
But on the other hand, the class work is often brutal, and your desire to maintain some semblance of a social life will find you veering off in the direction of a party instead of the gym.
So how do you deal with these predicaments?
Tips for finding time and motivation to exercise in college
The obvious solution to the problem of reduced activity is, of course, increased activity.
This is by no means a novel concept, but how can you accomplish it?
Make going to the gym a social visit.
If the only time you socialize is at a bar or a party while consuming vast quantities of empty calories in alcohol and salty snacks, it won’t do any good for your physique.
Alternatively, if your only visits to the gym are during off hours for a solitary weightlifting session or swim, then you probably will meet no one.
So try to combine the two. Attend social activities that involve more than just sitting and consuming, and pick exercise options that open up conversational opportunities.
Find a gym buddy.
Arrange regular visits to the gym with a friend or friends. You will be able to motivate each other to keep going and make the experience more fun and social.
Be active during study breaks.
Frequent five to 10 minute study breaks are a great way to increase your efficiency and avoid the various health problems that can be caused by long study sessions—including strain on your vision and poor posture.
These breaks can also help you stay fit and healthy if you use them to do short exercises.
Here are just some of the exercise options that you have for any short study break.
- Take a jog or a brisk walk.
This is probably the easiest option and, if done outside, has the added benefit of letting you get some fresh air.
Even as little as five or 10 minutes of walking or jogging (make it up the hill if you want more of a challenge) will help your body relax and your brain refresh.
Listen to your favorite music on your iPod or mp3 player for additional relaxation or fun.
- Don’t forget to stretch.
When you really have little time and don’t want to waste any by going out, stretching can help you relax and feel rejuvenated.
Moreover, it helps your body and muscles avoid the strain caused by prolonged sitting.
There are stretching exercises for almost every part of your body, but the common rule of thumb is to stretch until you feel mild tension building and then to hold the stretch for five to 30 seconds, while otherwise relaxing your muscles.
Stretch your back, for instance, by placing your hands with fingers interlaced behind your head and pulling your shoulder blades together until you feel a mild tension in the upper back.
Or stretch your arms by holding your hands together with fingers interlaced and pushing them in front of you or above your head, as if you’re trying to elongate your arms.
Stretches like these will help you stay in shape and maintain flexibility so you can withstand more rigorous physical activity.
- Develop an exercise routine.
A well-planned exercise routine can help you make the most of your limited time.
Even five or 10 minutes can give you a good workout if you choose your exercises carefully.
Jumping exercises (like jumping jacks or jumping in place), sit-ups, and punches are among the most intensive when done right and repeated many times without breaks.
Tips for eating healthy on a student budget
Make staying hydrated with water and other nutritious clear drinks one of your top priorities, and never skip meals.
Eat and snack mindfully. Take vitamin and mineral supplements if you aren’t eating a wide variety of fresh, unprocessed foods.
What should you be eating?
Proteins are an important part of a healthy brain diet.
Protein-rich foods contain amino acids, which are vital for neurotransmitter production.
There are two types of proteins: animal and vegetable proteins.
- Animal proteins contain all the amino acids the body needs to build and repair tissue and operate.
Milk products, fish, eggs, and poultry are several examples of animal proteins, and they are all great foods for the brain.
These animal proteins also contain a lot of saturated fat, so they should be eaten only in moderation.
- Vegetable proteins, with rare exceptions such as avocados, contain only a selection of necessary amino acids, so you should combine them carefully to produce a complete protein meal.
This is why becoming a vegetarian is not simply a matter of avoiding meat.
Some vegetable proteins include nuts, beans, and whole grains.
The simplest rule of thumb is that a legume plus a grain forms a complete protein.
Delicious and complete protein combinations are common around the globe: rice and beans, wheat and peanut butter (peanuts are a legume), tortillas and bean dip, tofu and rice, lentils and barley, miso and buckwheat noodles, or teff bread and lentils.
Balance proteins with carbohydrates to maximize their effects on the brain.
Carbohydrates break down into simple sugars and contain glucose, which works as fuel for the brain.
Some foods that contain a substantial amount of complex carbohydrates are whole grains, fruit, cereal, and vegetables.
These foods contain fiber and minerals along with the carbohydrates, so they take longer for the body to break down and absorb.
This slower absorption rate (known as the glycemic index) is good for the body as well as the brain.
Consuming too many simple carbohydrates, or consuming them in a form that speeds breakdown, may result in increased blood sugar levels.
Elevated blood sugar often results in wild fluctuations in energy (called sugar shock) and weight gain. To counteract this issue, make sure you’re combining carbohydrates with proteins during your meals.
Fats are a normal part of a healthy diet as well.
This is the one part of the food pyramid that most students have no problem including in their diet.
Consuming an adequate amount of fatty acids is important for the brain, but too much fat obviously results in weight gain.
To get the most out of the fats in your diet, avoid processed foods and fast foods. Stick to natural animal products, especially fish.
Fish products contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help the brain transmit signals more effectively.
In fact, many scientists believe that fish oils may be the healthiest food for the brain. Fish like salmon and sardines contain high proportions of omega-3 fatty acids.
Tips for cooking in dorm kitchen conditions
As a student, you may often find yourself very limited in terms of what ingredients you can afford and what kind of cooking equipment you have available.
Planning your budget in advance will help you avoid fast food splurges and will get you in the habit of seeking out the best deals.
Contrary to what you may believe, budgeting doesn’t have to be complicated.
There’s no need to break out spreadsheets or set up a full accounting system.
In fact, you can use one of these apps to make it easier to budget:
- mySupermarket is a great tool for planning your grocery list.
It automatically calculates your basket total and lets you scan a product to see where you’ll find the best deal in town.
- OnTrees Personal Finance securely connects to your bank account, lets you create a budget, and tells you when you overspend on something and need to cut back on spending at any point during the month.
- TopCashBack lets you earn money by listing links of stores that offer cash back options or giveaways. It also keeps you up to speed with the latest printable vouchers and deals in your area.
If you’re confident in the kitchen:
Make a habit of freestyling with whatever ingredients you have available—especially if some of them are about to expire—to make sure nothing goes to waste.
And if you feel like you need guidelines:
Try some of these simple BuzzFeed recipes (and do some research of your own to find your favorite recipe blogs or websites).
Other tips for taking care of your physical and mental health in college
- Make sleep a priority.
Getting enough sleep keeps your mind fresh for studying and lowers your stress levels.
- Keep your hands and the surfaces around you clean.
Since you’re probably around large numbers of other students for extended periods of time, make sure you wash your hands frequently.
You can also use Lysol or similar antibacterial cleansers on commonly used surfaces.
Be considerate of others when you have a cold or aren’t feeling well—cover your mouth when coughing, and avoid touching other people’s food.
- Be informed about medical care available to you as a student.
Colleges generally have either a campus health clinic or an arrangement with a hospital or medical practice to provide care to students, so take advantage of these options to care for yourself properly.
Be sure that you consult professional medical advice as needed, and always follow the doctor’s orders.
Don’t forget to stay current on any required and recommended immunizations, like your flu shots.
- Don’t skip out on regular dental care and daily oral hygiene.
For the sake of both your health and your social life, keep up with your dental hygiene. Set a reminder on your phone to schedule those yearly teeth cleanings.
- Maintain a healthy dose of socializing.
Depending on your time, you’ll need to find ways to socialize person-to-person, in groups, or online.
Social connections will nourish you emotionally even when you are immersed in studying.
It’s also important to learn to identify people who aren’t good for you:
Avoid people who distract you, who encourage destructive behavior, or who are too negative or toxic to be around.
6. Learn to manage your stress.
To manage your stress over the long term, consider doing activities like meditation, yoga, or stretching; attending religious services; or getting involved with local charity initiatives.
- Take advantage of your college counseling department.
Counseling services can provide excellent emotional support and often offer helpful advice about student life, tutoring services, and employment. Remember, they are there to help, and you are already paying for their services!
8. Take breaks from studying, and pace your work.
Finally, avoid cramming by organizing and allocating time sensibly.
Intersperse studying or sedentary activity with physical movement. After all, to achieve your goals of getting the the best grades and the best education possible, maintaining your health is vital.