15 Tips and Strategies to Help Avoid the Freshman Fifteen
Phoebe Kammerer, School of Music Mentor
College is a period a drastic change in young people’s lives. Some of these changes will positively impact you for the rest of your life, but some may not be quite as beneficial. A study published in 2012 by the University of Alabama that followed 131 undergraduate students through four years of college found that 70% of the group gained weight during their college years. The average weight gain was 12 pounds, and the greatest amount of weight gain was 37 pounds. Although these statistics are not meant to scare or depress anyone, it is almost inevitable that your body will change during your time in college.
Freshman year may be the first time in your life that you are responsible for your own food and exercise choices without parents making your meals or required gym classes. You will eventually have to develop healthy habits for yourself so why not start now and avoid the freshman weight gain that is so common? This list is by no means a fail-proof guide, or have any real authority. These are simply some tips and strategies that I have learned and picked up through my years at West Chester. Learning to be healthy is a personal discovery. Therefore not all of these tips will apply to everyone, but they are things that I thought are worthwhile. So here goes!
1. Accept that things are going to change.
Whether you were an athlete, a mathlete, a drum major, or an honor roll student in high school, your life is about to change because none of you have ever been a college student before. Trying to balance classes, friends, practicing, and being on your own is a difficult task that takes time to master. Your whole life is about to change and that includes your eating and exercise habits as well as your body. The first thing you need to do is accept that this is going to be a completely new experience and may be difficult. If you decide to make being healthy a priority, strive for progress, not perfection.
2. Make exercise a part of your schedule
When there’s homework with due dates, and lessons to practice for, it can be easy to say, “I just don’t have time to work out”. But if you decide that being healthy is a priority you can almost always find time to work out. That being said, if you don’t make a conscious decision to schedule in your workouts, there is a good chance you will spend your free time sitting on your bed watching Netflix and eating junk food. Buy a planner and block out all of your required activities, and then find places to fit in working out. If you write it down, you’re much more likely to actually get up and go do it.
3. Find ways to be active even when you’re not at the gym
Even when you’re insanely busy, try to get up and move as much as you can. Although it is tempting, don’t take the elevators but go for the stairs instead. If you make it a habit, eventually you won’t even think twice before walking right past the elevator. Also, if you’re looking for things to do with friends, why not take a walk into town? Need a study break? Put on some music and dance in your dorm room. Whatever you do, get up and get moving!
4. Useful Apps
It seems that everyone is trying to lose weight now, and there are countless fitness apps out there that can be great tools. Some of my favorites, which are all free are, My Fitness Pal which is a calorie counter app, Map My Run which records how far and how many calories you burn on your walk or run, and the c25k app which trains you for a 5k race using the couch to 5k program which is great for beginning runners.
5. Never feel guilty about working out
Everyone needs time to de-stress and unwind. Exercise is a great way to do this, and gives off those awesome feel-good endorphins. When you’re at the gym, forget about all the homework you still have to do and just focus on how proud you are that you made it to the gym today. Be selfish and use your workout time for you. Everyone and everything else can wait.
6. Splurge on some cool workout gear
Whether it’s a new pair of neon Nike sneakers, or just some really awesome workout songs, treat yourself to something that will make you want to workout. If you know you have a super fly pair of new shorts in your drawer maybe that will be enough incentive to get you to the gym. Or buy the week’s hottest new song, but don’t let yourself listen to it until you’re at the gym. Make going to the gym a fun experience.
7. Find a workout buddy
We all have those days when we just do not feel like getting out of bed. Having someone to go to the gym with not only makes it more fun, but also holds you accountable. Find someone who you trust and make plans about when you will go to the gym and then hold each other to those plans. We all need a little push some days, and a friend can be just the motivation you need.
8. Take advantage of your resources
West Chester has a new student recreation center by Tyson Hall that has almost anything you could want from a gym. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. At the rec center, there is a rock wall for students to climb, several basketball and multipurpose courts that students can use, racquetball courts, fitness classes and even an outdoor sand volleyball court. On south campus there is another gym open to students that is located in the Health Sciences building as well as softball fields, hiking trails and another sand volleyball court. West Chester also has an intramural league for most common team sports. Information about all these things is on the Campus Recreation page. Check it out!
9. Change it up
So maybe you’ve found that perfect elliptical that you love and you go every other day and do half an hour. Although having a routine can help you stay motivated, it is always good to change up your fitness routine. Different activities require new things from our bodies and help our muscles continue to get stronger as well as help us not get bored. If it is a nice day instead of going to the gym, why not go for a run around campus? Or get a group of friends together and play volleyball outside. Try a new fitness class. Whatever you do, just don’t be afraid to try new things and change it up sometimes. You never know what you may end up liking.
10. Don’t get discouraged
Staying motivated can be one of the most difficult aspects of any workout or diet plan, but it is essential if it is going to be successful. Diets and workouts should be considered changes to your lifestyle, not just a three-month program. In order to stay motivated, try to set short term goals for yourself. Have you ever run a 5k? These short races are attainable for almost everyone if you put your mind to it, and give you something tangible to be proud of. Not a runner? Make a goal that you will exercise at least 3 days a week for a month, and then if you meet that goal reward yourself with a new movie or a dinner at one of the restaurants in town. The gym is always packed at the start of every semester and then clears out after the first month. Don’t let yourself be one of those people who give up.
Okay, now lets talk about food!
11. Beware Lawrence
As a freshman you will almost inevitably eat at Lawrence Dining Hall. Don’t worry, the dining hall is a great place to eat but you need to be aware of what you’re eating. Lawrence is all-you-can-eat and although at first this seems like the best thing ever, it can lead to overeating and unnecessary calories that lead to weight gain. In order to avoid this, only get one plate at a time. Don’t get everything that looks good and then sit down with four plates, but eat one thing at a time and then assess whether you are still hungry or not. Also, Lawrence tends to cater to typical college student preferences and has a lot of unhealthy fried and fatty foods. Maybe get a salad first and then go for the pizza when you’re not quite as starving so you only eat 2 pieces instead of 8.
12. Don’t keep massive amounts of junk food in your room
Let’s be honest, if its in your room you are most likely going to eat it. Having snacks in your room is great for when you’re super busy and don’t have time for lunch, or if you’re hungry at night while studying. Snacking is not bad as long as you’re not living off Ramen and Easy Mac. At the very least try keep a balanced supply of snacks. If you have a mini fridge, stock it with things like baby carrots, apples, and yogurt instead of soda. Instead of chips and candy, keep peanut butter and whole grain crackers like wheat thins. Its ok to let yourself eat junk food on occasion but don’t let your dorm room look like a 7/11 convenience store.
13. Don’t drink your calories
To be healthy it is important to stay hydrated, but beware soda and other sugary drinks. Soda, sweetened tea, and energy drinks may satisfy your craving in the moment but they have an incredible amount of calories and sugar with almost no valuable nutrients. They are empty calories. Water should be your go-to drink when you’re thirsty, and only have soda or sugary drinks as an occasional treat.
14. Find balance
This will undoubtedly be the most difficult thing you do as a college student. You are required to balance classes, sleep and a social life and being healthy is no different. Extreme diets or exercise plans may help you kick start a change in your life, but ultimately these habits are not sustainable. Being healthy needs to be a lifelong goal and should not be something you struggle to maintain on a daily basis. Be careful with extreme diets or exercise plans and don’t let it make you lose your balance.
15. Never let your weight define you
Being healthy is important, and everyone wants to feel like they look good. That being said, no one comes to college and majors in working out. Sometimes it is ok to put other things above being healthy. And if you do start to gain weight, accept that you are still the same person and talented musician that you’ve always been. Weight is just a number, and by no means defines you as a person or a student. Don’t let it ruin your self-esteem. Making the choice to be healthy is one of the best things you can do for yourself. But always remember that it should be about you wanting to do something good for yourself, not so that you look like someone else.