Nutrition Know-How Helps Prevent 'Freshman 15'

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Nutrition Information

Brushing up on nutrition basics can help college-bound freshmen avoid extra pounds while pursuing their higher education.

"Being on their own for possibly the first time and facing a heavy academic load can make the first year of college very stressful," said Dr. Karen Cullen, a behavioral nutrition researcher at the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "Many college freshmen respond to stress by eating."

Temptations like an unlimited smorgasbord of fried foods and desserts in campus cafeterias and midnight pizza parties also contribute to weight gain, especially if balanced meals, adequate sleep and regular physical activity are a low priority.

To help freshmen get a healthy start on the academic year, Cullen offers these nutrition information tips:

  • Deal with stress in a positive manner. A short study break practicing a musical instrument, exercising artistic talents, playing basketball, or walking is a healthier way to relieve stress than munching through a bag of chips.

  • Keep fat-calories in check. Choose low-fat cafeteria fare like grilled or baked fish, poultry and lean meats, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, non-fat milk and yogurt, and low-fat salad dressings.

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  • Limit high-fat and high-sugar treats to once a day.

  • Choose beverages wisely. Good daily choices are two or more glasses of fat-free milk, a glass or two of fruit juice and plenty of water or other calorie-free beverages.

  • Keep dorm-room snacks healthy. Stock up on pretzels, rice cakes, dry cereal, air-popped popcorn, instant soups, and baked chips with salsa. Fill dorm-room refrigerators with crunchy vegetables and low fat dip, vegetable and fruit juices, low-fat yogurt, water, and fresh fruit.

  • Make time to be physically active every day. Become involved in physical education classes, intramural sports teams or become a regular at the gym. Team up with a dorm-mate for regular roller blading, biking, racquetball, basketball or tennis sessions.

  • Don't skip meals, especially breakfast. Meal-skippers rarely reduce their actual caloric tally, and often shortchange themselves nutritionally.

  • Have a plan. If weight gain begins to exceed three to five pounds, consider starting a food diary and physical activity diary to help identify problems. Many campus health centers have nutrition professionals who can help students struggling with weight problems.

"For many freshmen, one of the most valuable lessons that college life can teach is that freedom must be tempered with self-control," Cullen said.

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