College Eating Habits

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Erika Wilhite

Published: January 9, 2006

The semi-mythical Freshman 15 – the number of pounds supposedly gained during the freshman year of college- may be a real concern for incoming students. While it’s not true that everyone experiences such a drastic weight gain, studies have shown that most students do gain weight within their first few months at college.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis published a study in the Journal of American College Health stating that 70 percent of the freshmen they tested gained a “significant amount” of weight between their first semesters and the end of sophomore year.

And a study at Cornell University showed that students gain an average of four pounds during their first 12 weeks on campus. This figure, though much lower than the fabled Freshman 15, is still 11 times higher than the average gain for other 17-18 year olds and nearly 20 times higher than the average gain for adults.

It’s not surprising; college students have atrocious eating habits. Class loads are often overwhelming, and living in a dorm or an apartment is a sharp contrast to living at home. If you don’t pay your bills, do your laundry or go grocery shopping, who will? Stressful changes like these can lead to big changes in students’ daily habits, contributing to a sudden, severe impact on the health of many freshmen.

Getting up early for morning classes often means skipping breakfast or grabbing coffee instead; with classes running past noon, students are usually too hungry by lunchtime to plan a healthy meal; many students hold jobs, forcing them to study after work, fueling those late-night study sessions with sugary, caffeinated drinks and salty, fatty snacks.

Habits like these take their toll. Poor nutrition doesn’t just affect the body; it affects the brain. A student with bad eating habits is more likely to have trouble focusing in class, have a harder time studying, and perform poorly on exams. Studies also show that how students eat in college shapes their eating habits for the rest of their lives. That’s right – you could be ordering pizza and guzzling soda pop for life.

On the bright side, avoiding the dreaded freshman weight gain and its potentially long-term side affects isn’t as hard as you might think. It’s usually as simple as eating a quick breakfast, exercising for 20 or 30 minutes a few times a week, and choosing healthier meals and snacks.

The National Weight Control Registry says that eating breakfast regularly is a common characteristic among people who successfully loose and keep off weight. Eating breakfast provides nutrients for physical and mental activity and reduces hunger later in the day, helping to prevent overeating.

Also, make it a practice to eat healthier snacks. An amazing number of calories – the bad kind, from sugars and saturated fats – come from snack foods. Instead of candy bars, eat granola bars; replace cookies with bran muffins, soda with tea or juice, and so forth.

Last but not least, a little bit of exercise goes a long way. While exercising every day is preferable, a few quick runs or visits to the gym during the week can do wonders for your heart and metabolism. Little things, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking once in the morning and walking to classes, make a big difference.

Now, what are you waiting for? Do you want to turn into the quintessential stressed-out, out-of-shape, borderline-crazy college student? Of course you don’t. So eat better, exercise more, and avoid fast food like the plague.

“What can I eat in Pensacola,” you ask, “that isn’t fast food? Good food is expensive! I’m poor!” Here are a few meal suggestions for the culinary impaired and the light-of-wallet:

Five Healthy Breakfast Ideas

-Scrambled eggs and whole wheat toast
-Sliced fruit (berries, melons) on bran flakes with low-fat milk
-Granola and yogurt
-Fruit salad and cottage cheese (a personal favorite of the author’s)
-Oatmeal and a banana

Five Healthy Snack Ideas

-Cut veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cucumber, etc.)
-Celery or apple wedges and peanut butter
-Grapes! Nature’s perfect snack food!
-Baked tortilla chips and bean dip
-A bran muffin! Carbs are not evil, fad diets are.

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