The Freshman 15 is a running joke (no pun intended) but sometimes it’s more like the Freshman 40. If you find yourself packing on some weight, don’t take it for granted that it’s inevitable and don’t fear it’s some other terrible malady. Google unexplained weight gain and you’ll see why thousands of parents are telling funny Freshman stories about their child calling home to say goodbye because of suspected thyroid malfunction, diabetes, or brain tumors. Don’t be that Freshman. Realize you’ve most likely made some lifestyle changes and a little research, coupled with self-discipline, can help get you back to your original weight and into your favorite jeans.
The 5 lifestyle choices attributed to causing weight gain in college are:
- Change in Diet – College cafeterias offer high carb foods because they’re cheap and easy (like that betch who stole your boyfriend). You might have to go on the defense and make a concerted effort to pick up (and eat) more vegetables than meat or pasta. Mom isn’t there to ensure you have adequate nutrition anymore so you need to do it. Ask her for some help if you skipped that nutrition class. Internalize that voice that says, “Don’t drink soda with every meal” and “Eat your vegetables.” Scope out your friends and eat with those that make healthier choices – rumor has it that you'll start eating what your peers eat and it’s often a race to the bottom. And remember to drink 8 cups of water every day.
- Alcohol – Speaking of drinking, if you’re drinking you are taking many more calories than your body needs. And you’re drinking them so they go down fast ( like that betch who stole your boyfriend)! And a night of drinking often leads to a midnight raid at the local burger joint – more unnecessary calories. All of these calories are consumed at night. Studies indicate your body metabolizes calories differently at night than they do in the daytime so all of this partying adds up fast. (No, this is not building a case for day drinking). In fact, this builds a good case against college drinking: but if you choose to drink and still need to lose your new-found weight, consider drinking 2 glasses of water for every alcoholic drink or drinking less often. A lot of girls change to Skinny Girl brand alcohol – but they usually don’t report weight loss.
- Sleep Deprivation – Between study, work, play, and scamming on your new crush there isn’t a lot of time left for sleep. If bedtime is typically at 2 a.m. you aren’t getting adequate sleep; even if you sleep in every day. Sleep deprivation is one of the most serious problems you can have in college. It can lower your grades, render you helpless in the face of all those diseases you will encounter, stress you out, and make you fat. If you don’t change anything else, change this. People who go to bed after midnight on a regular basis gain weight. Go to bed.
- Distress – Stress can actually be a healthy motivator for you; it’s distress that creates all the havoc. You’re adjusting to a lot: you’re living away from home, having to juggle work and play, eating differently, trying to find friends, mad about your stolen boyfriend, and buried in homework. It takes time to learn to manage all of this so take heart and know you will prevail. In the meantime, you’re suffering. When you’re distressed, your body increases production of the hormone,Cortisol. Cortisol encourages your body to store more fat as it prepares you for the hard time ahead. A lot of distressed people also eat high fat or sugar laden foods for comfort - more calories. You need to find ways to decrease your distress as well as learning how to manage it minus the stress eating. This is no easy task but can be done. Talk to your parents or your Health Center for tips and suggestions. Go to the campus gym and work it, enroll in a yoga class, get some sleep, schedule in some fun time, and get some support. Everyone wants you to succeed.
- Depression – If you’re truly overwhelmed or feel paralyzed with sadness, you may be experiencing Situational Depression. The bad news is it sucks and alcohol can make it worse. The good news is a lot of students experience situational depression of some type – homesickness, anxiety, the blues, stressed and sad – those are a few and overcome it when they learn to adjust. Depressed people tend to get fat. Only you can take that first step to overcoming depression – talk to someone. We suggest the person who you have historically (hysterically?) turned to when you had problems in the past. Whether that’s a parent, a friend, or an old teacher reach out and talk about how you’re feeling. If you don’t feel you have anyone, head to the Health Center and talk to the nice people there. Yes, it’s true that you have a lot on your plate and no one can really fix that, but talking about it will help you sort it all out and allows your support person to look for ways to make life better for you. Some additional helps could be St. John’s Wort (sounds silly but try it before you judge), targeted help like a tutor or the writing lab, extra weekends home where you can be pampered and cared for, or happy surprises. Given a chance, your support person will try to make your life easier or at least lend some support. But no one can help until you take that first step of reaching out.