Balanced lifestyle key to fighting freshman 15

The benefits of eating healthy far outweigh the costs of trips to the grocery store, expert says

About half of students arriving at Queen’s can expect to gain two to six pounds in their first year of university.
About half of students arriving at Queen’s can expect to gain two to six pounds in their first year of university.

Unbeknownst to many students, uprooting from home and starting university in a new town can have a surprisingly profound effect on your eating habits. This can lead to an upset in diet and exercise routine and a rise in consumption of calorie-rich junk food and alcohol. For many, this means packing on a few extra pounds, hence the moniker “freshman 15.”

But just how much weight does the freshman 15 theory carry? According to researchers at Cornell University, first-year students gain approximately a third of a pound each week, averaging out to 4.2 pounds during the first semester of school. That is more than 10 times the expected weight gain for an 18-year old.

However, other research proposes much more conservative estimates on the amount of weight students can expect to gain in their first year of university.

Daphne Oz, author of the book The Dorm Room Diet, claims only half of all first-years can expect to gain weight and it will generally fall between only two to five pounds. She said there is a general tendency for students to develop unhealthy habits in their first year of school, though.

“When you’re just starting university, you’re faced with all these different stresses so concerns for health comes in last,” she said.

Oz said students are forced to deal with what’s presented to them on campus. Although there are salad bars and healthy food options, students may feel pressure to conform to the less healthy diets of their peers.

“Nobody wants to stand out like a sore thumb, so you end up adopting unhealthy habits that your friends have,” she said.

In order to create a healthy alternative diet, Oz said students should take weekly grocery trips to buy healthier food that isn’t available on campus. Additionally, students should stock up on healthy snack foods like soy crisps so they won’t need to hit the vending machines to refuel during the day.

According to Oz, parties are a “danger zone” for students because of their propensity to eat junk food. She said students should bring their own food or siphon off portions of food they are comfortable eating.

Healthy food, however, often costs much more than its unhealthy counterpart—a reason many students choose to eat junk food. However, Oz said, the benefits of healthy eating far outweigh the costs of grocery trips.

“You need to think about the smart trade-offs,” she said. “You have to start thinking of your health as an investment.”

When she was an undergraduate at Princeton University, Oz said she wasted money on things like berries, which perish within a day or two and are usually out of season during the school year. She recommends buying in bulk and buying things you know you will eat before they go bad.

Students may also be prone to overeating or eating unhealthy foods because they frequently eat on the go or in front of the television or computer.

Oz said students are more likely to eat unhealthily if they are distracted.

“You want to live in the moment and be aware of what’s going into your body. The majority of the time if you’re focused in front of something, you’re not paying attention to what you’re eating,” she said.

Healthy eating isn’t just a matter of keeping your weight on track., Oz said More importantly, it’s about achieving an ideal lifestyle where you feel energized because your body is getting all the nutrients it needs.

“It’s all about achieving mental and emotional stability,” she said. “[Food] is fuel. It’s just there to let you function optimally.”

Along with healthy eating habits, exercise is a key element in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Besides maintaining a healthy weight, exercise improves your mood, strengthens your immune system, gives you more energy and improves circulation.

Ian Janssen, assistant professor in the Queen’s department of health and kinesiology said he’s found large variability in how much exercise students get when they first come to Queen’s.

“Some students were extra sedentary when they came to Queen’s so the fact that they have to walk to the caf all the time means they actually have a higher activity level. Others were more aware of their activity level [before coming to Queen’s],” he said.

Janssen said most students meet the exercise guidelines from Health Canada and other research organizations for health and wellbeing but not for weight control.

“The guidelines for health and well-being suggest about 30 to 60 minutes of vigorous to moderate activity per day. The guides for weight control are often double that,” he said.

The physical activity level at Queen’s is higher than most university campuses in Canada, a fact Janssen attributes to the fact that most students at Queen’s live within walking distance of school and downtown.

“That’s what I like about Queen’s,” he said. “Everybody lives within that 15-minute range so people walk where they are going.”

Janssen said although there is a common image of university students as being unhealthy and inactive, the reality is not necessarily the case.

“Not everyone fits that stereotype,” he said. “There are a lot of very active students at Queen’s who do very well.”

With more teams and clubs than any other university in Canada, students are bound to find something that is fun and keeps them fit. Janssen says the new Queen’s Centre, which will house a cardio and fitness space three times the size of what Queen’s currently offers, will be an incentive for students to stay active.

Janssen says the key to developing a healthy lifestyle is to establish a routine that is workable and enjoyable.

“Develop a plan of healthy eating and activity and find activities that you like, he said. I can introduce someone to a piece of cardio equipment and say it’s great but if they don’t like it, they’re going to use it maybe three times and that’s it.”

best bets on beating the freshman 15

•Eat regular meals, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and a midday snack to prevent hunger and overeating.

•Scope out healthy options in campus cafeterias and resist the all-you-can-eat mentality.

•Take smaller portions of food and eat slowly. That way the satiating neurotransmitters in your brain will kick in before you’ve eaten a massive meal.

•Eat meals with friends rather than alone in front of the television or computer. You are more likely to be aware of what you’re eating and you will likely take longer to eat.

•Keep a set of weights or heavy objects in your room that you can use to fit in some exercise during the day while watching television.

•Moderate your intake of starchy sides like bread, potatoes or noodles.

•Don’t add dessert on the first trip through the line at the caf. Finish your meal first and you won’t be as likely to head back for dessert.

•Avoid late-night eating. If you must snack while studying, choose healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, nut or whole-grain crackers rather than chips and candy. Or even better, sip tea.

•Never snack straight out of the box or bag. Measure a serving on a plate so you can keep track of how much you’re eating.

•Consider getting a small fridge in your room so you can load up on snacks like yoghurt or baby carrots.

•Try to fit in veggies and protein whenever possible.

•Opt for whole wheat pasta and bread. More nutrients and more fiber means you’ll feel fuller longer.

•Drink at least eight to 10 glasses of water per day.

•Devote at least 30 minutes a day to moderate exercise.

—Sources: The Globe and Mail, The Dorm Room Diet

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