Facing the "Freshman 15"

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Anybody sending their teen off to college this year and wondering “will my kid succumb to the Freshman 15? Of course I am speaking of the dreaded weight gain our teens can face when they start college in a brand new environment. I just taped an interview for a program called HealthZone with Amy Hendel that airs on Time Warner Cable here in Los Angeles on that very topic (for those in the Southern California area I’ll let you know when it airs). I shared some tips on how our new collegiates can practice healthy behaviors when they go off to school and thought, hey, that needs to go on the blog! So here goes

Freshman year is certainly a time of major change in your teen’s life. Often they are out on their own for the first time with a virtual smorgasbord of food awaiting them. If they are living in the dorms they have access to all you can eat buffets every day 3 times a day! And of course there’s late night study snacking, midnight pizza runs, skipping meals then bingeing later, weekend parties, stress eating and so on. There’s a lot of gnoshing going on in college (I personally remember falafel runs at one in the morning, yikes!).

We certainly don’t want our teen to start chronic dieting, that’s not healthy either. We want to guide them to practice healthy behaviors from the start. So here are some tips you can share with them to get them going:

  • Serve yourself smaller portions in the cafeteria and resist going back for seconds.
  • Eat slowly to give your brain time to register that you’re full. It generally takes 20 minutes for that message to get from your belly to your brain.
  • Drink water or nonfat milk with meals and you’ll be less likely to overeat.
  • Rethink your drink – stay away from high calorie beverages like regular soft drinks and ‘fruit’ flavored drinks. Even juices have a lot of calories. Stick to sugar free beverages, water, nonfat or 1% lowfat milk.
  • Don’t skip meals! This can lead to bingeing later. Start with breakfast to get your body going and help you concentrate better in class.
  • Have a fruit and/or vegetable with every meal. They’re low calorie, high fiber and help fill you up.
  • Keep healthy low calorie snacks in your dorm room or apartment for those late snack attacks i.e. 94% fat free microwave popcorn, Skinny chips, grapes, bananas, apples, baby carrots, whole grain cereals etc.
  • Keep in mind that fat-free doesn't mean calorie-free. Fat-free muffins, frozen yogurt, and other snack foods often contain so much sugar that they can have just as many calories as the fatty versions.
  • Try to be active every day and/or incorporate it into your daily routine. i.e. walk to class instead of driving or park far away.

Granted some of these this will take some self-discipline because all that food is so tempting. But with a little practice these strategies can eventually become habit. Good luck!

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About the Author

Registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli is a nutrition advocate, consultant and educator.

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