Before coming to college, most students hear about the infamous “Freshmen 15” before they even have their major picked out. This widely talked about occurrence has an after effect that’s rarely mentioned: weight gain doesn’t stop at freshman year. According to research done by Auburn University in Alabama, 70% of college students will pack on from 12 to 37 pounds by graduation. The culprits: poor diet and study habits that are picked up by freshman and carried on through following years. Be part of the 30% that beat the college weight gain trap and turn your bad habits around now.
DITCH: A giant cup of coffee the morning after drinking
PICK: A giant bottle of water
The number one bad habit college students say they have adopted is heavy drinking. Weekend benders can make it impossible to get out of bed the next day and finally start that research paper or read 250 pages for your Women’s and Gender Studies class. Tame your hangover and still be productive the next day by avoiding caffeine, which will only further dehydrate you. You should be downing a glass of water between each drink during nights out, and at least one more glass before bed to prevent a pounding headache in the AM.
DITCH: Treating the dining hall like an all-you-can-eat-buffet
PICK: Going in with a plan
You were probably used to your mom controlling most of what you ate when you were still living at home. Now the food in the dining hall and other places on campus is virtually a free-for-all, and it’s easy to eat with your eyes. “Enter Eickhoff with a plan of what you want to eat and stick to it,” says Norma Brown, MSN, RN, professor of the nursing department at TCNJ and Coordinator of Clinical Laboratory Learning. “Go to a line only once—eat what you get and no more, so make sure what you get the first time is a well-balanced plate.” Remember what foods usually tempt you to go overboard (queue those fresh baked cookies) and set a limit in your mind ahead of time, Brown suggests
Grabbing a sandwich on whole-grain bread and a salad on the side makes for a well-balanced lunch. Still want dessert? Treat yourself to one portion of what you really love, and save yourself any more distracting guilt later on. You’re too busy for that!
DITCH: Pulling all-nighters
PICK: Taking shorter naps
Busy schedules and heavy homework loads leave students with few hours of nighttime sleep. Instead of compensating with long naps at random times in the day, Brown suggests limiting naps to under an hour. “Naps can be rejuvenating, but are not sleep substitutes,” says Brown. She also advises that students skip energy drinks, which are overloaded with caffeine and sugar that will only harm your overall energy level. Brown says the best way to achieve healthy sleep habits is to stick to a regular nightly routine. According to an article by Michael J. Breus, PhD, for WebMD, depriving yourself of as little as 90 minutes of sleep for just one night could reduce your daytime alertness by as much as 32%, which means late night cramming for an exam is an easy way to put hours studying to waste.
DITCH: Skipping meals
PICK: Snacking more
Before running to early morning classes, many students say they skip breakfast and maybe more meals throughout the day. Skipping meals is never a good idea; this will zap your energy and focus, make your memory foggy for big exams, and could make you appear embarrassingly sluggish for class presentations. But if you’re really pressed for time, snack on healthy alternatives. Brown suggests fresh fruits, dried fruits, nuts, whole grain snacks, and smoothies made with fruits. AVOID energy drinks and snack bars; most of these have poor nutrient content—“Make sure that you are not filling up on empty calories but calories that contain good nutritional value,” says Brown.
DITCH:Reaching for fried foods
PICK: Foods that are grilled or steamed
Students find themselves craving the fried foods on campus that are quick and ready-made: the chicken fingers, the onion rings, the French fries. These choices may seem to be exactly what you want, but your cravings may be misleading you. Think about when these cravings occur—they may be associated with stress or exhaustion. You probably aren’t actually hungry for a greasy belly bomb. When you’re exhausted and on-the-go, you’re actually in more of a need of whole grains and nutrients. Brown suggests recognizing what’s really causing your cravings. And then (hello) swap that fried chicken for grilled!
Not eating the fruit?
Some students said they skip the whole fruit in their dining hall because they don’t think it’s clean or because it doesn’t seem appealing. “This is a poor excuse. There is always the option of self-cleaning using water!” says Brown. There’s also the option of peeled fruits like bananas and oranges. If you’re still not convinced, dried fruit will also help you get some of the healthy nutrients you’re missing, says Brown.