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Avoiding The Freshman 15

We’ve seen our share of young co-eds this month at the office preparing to leave for college. Whether it’s a sports physical or a discussion about contraception, it always includes a discussion about avoiding some of the common mistakes young college students make when living on their own; sometimes for the very first time in their life.

One of the topics we commonly discuss includes the dreaded “Freshman 15”- referencing the weight new students gain when they start college. In reality, studies actually report closer to a weight gain of only three pounds for students, but women trend to a higher number over men.

So what do we say to our young patients (and often their parents) about strategies to maintain a healthy weight?

1. Avoid skipping (or adding) meals. Strive for the usual three. Extra calories come with pizza and cookies late at night and so does alcohol, sugary coffee drinks and ice cream. It’s not that you can’t enjoy these things with friends once in a while at school, but avoid making any of them routine and your weight is more likely to remain stable.

2. Watch your college meal plan and meal portions. Many students (and parents) purchase the maximum meal plan in order to make sure they won’t ever go hungry while away from the comforts of home. Having carte blanche at the school cafes and snackbars will make it difficult to control portion size and food selections. Most schools have several options for meal plans and always an option to upgrade to a larger (more expensive) one if needed.

3. Stress is a weight gainer. Many students experience signficant stress from the increased academic challenge that college provides. Stress also comes with independence, sleep disruption and social pressures to fit in. Being stressed often leads to reduced activity with long hours of study and increased snacking. Strive to find an activity that keeps you active and functions as a stress-reducer for you. Most college campuses offer a multitude of extracurricular activites and club sports and teams to keep you active, so find what works for you to assist in stress reduction.