CLAY COUNTY – Starting your freshman year of college is one of the most exciting experiences after high school. For many college freshman health and nutrition is not the top priority but the “freshman 15” should be a real concern.
Weight gain during the first year of college is common and can be a result of a variety of factors. Decreased physical activity, unlimited food options in dining halls, late night snacking, fast foods and convenience foods, sugary beverages and increased stress levels can all contribute to rapid weight gain.
Unless you are walking far distances across your college campus daily you should make sure to be incorporating at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity into your schedule each day. Many college campuses provide free on campus gym access and fitness classes to students in addition to outdoor programs like walking trails, rock walls, and more. Having a roommate or classmate as a workout buddy will help increase your chances of sticking to your fitness goals and staying motivated.
Smart food choices are also essential to maintaining a healthy weight. Many college students often fall prey to inexpensive high-calorie, high-fat fast food options and pizza or excess consumption of the all you can eat options in dining halls. Try to focus on nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy foods, and lean meats. Stock up on healthy snacks to eat throughout the day which will provide the fuel your body needs for busy college course schedules and late-night studying. Fresh vegetables, peanut butter, and granola bars serve as great snack options and will help prevent you from binge eating on less healthy options like candy and potato chips. Also, don’t forget the importance of drinking plenty of water.
The massive loads of stressful schoolwork and late nights out can easily put a strain on the amount of sleep you get each night. When you’re tired, you’re more likely to reach for those sugary drinks (including energy drinks) and high calorie junk food for a quick boost of energy. Also, not getting enough sleep disrupts your metabolism and can cause weight gain. Additionally, poor food choices and lack of physical activity make it more difficult to sleep well. In order to get 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night you should try to avoid napping during the day and avoid watching TV, listening to loud music, or staring at your phone or laptop screens before bed. The light of the screens mimics daylight and convinces your brain that it’s daytime therefore decreasing the brain chemical melatonin, which helps you sleep.
If you find yourself falling into the “freshman 15” weight-gain slump try visiting your schools health center or contact Annie Sheldon at the UF/IFAS Extension Clay County at 904-284-6355 for more information on how to make the right choices when it comes to healthy eating and exercise.