Just Starting College? Should You Worry About the Infamous 'Freshman Fifteen'? Seven Simple Tips on How to be Healthy While at College

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The Freshman Fifteen is more fiction than fact. The weight gain of college students is more the result of growing into adulhood, but in an over-weight American culture, that fact in itself has some health implication. Incorporate merge2gether.com's seven easy habits for a a healthier life at college and then beyond.

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Contrary to popular opinion, most college freshmen do not gain 15 pounds. According to a 2011 study in Social Science Quarterly, of the 7,400 young people in the study, women gained an average of 2.4 pounds and men gain an average of 3.4 pounds. The study also showed, however, that college students do gain weight steadily over their college years. The typical woman gains between seven and nine pounds, while men gain 12 to 13 pounds. Those weight gains are comparable to non-college students in the same study.

All of the “Freshman 15” myth busting aside, there is still reason to be concerned about weight gain and the eating and exercise habits of young adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that approximately 33 percent of Americans aged 20 to 39 are 30 pounds heavier than their recommended weight. So for freshman students and beyond, there is still room to practice healthy eating and exercise habits. Top tips include:

#1 Plan Daily Meals
Planning what and when to eat at the start of the day will help. Always choose food items before getting into the cafeteria line. Do not wait to make impulsive food choices when in the “All-You-Can-Eat” cafeteria line.

Do not go to the cafeteria while ravenous. Have a healthy snack first, and then wait ten minutes before going to get a meal.

#2 Limit Junk Food Consumption
Make a pact with dorm-mates that no junk food should be in the room. Shop weekly for tasty, low-calorie alternatives and stock the fridge.

Don’t drink soda or other drinks high in sugar: there are 125 to 200 calories in a soda and 110 to 200 in a can of energy drink.

Watch late-night eating while socializing or studying. Many snack foods are high in calories. Stick to fruit or vegetable snacks; they may be a little boring, but they are better in the long-run.

#3 Alcohol Consumption
Avoid alcohol intake. According to the Core Institute, 84% of college students consumed alcohol in the past year and 46% binge drank (defined as five or more drinks in one sitting). A 12-oz. light beer contains 60-120 calories, and regular beer is approximately 120-200. So, someone who has five regular beers has consumed more than a third of their daily calories (if observing the often-used FDA standard diet of 2,000 calories per day).

#4 Pay Attention to Portions
Portion control is an effective way to eat healthy. Splitting a meal with a friend is an easy way to manage portions. Remember, it is okay to leave food on the plate; there is no need to be a member of the “Clean Plate Club.”

#5 Exercise
Use the School’s Sports and Gym Facilities
Plan to exercise to manage stress, health and weight. The Center for Disease Control recommends at least two and a half hours a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and two or more days a week of muscle-strengthening exercise for all major muscle groups. Have a simple routine posted in the dorm room in the event that making it to the gym is not possible.

Join a Club or Team
Many colleges have intramural as well as competitive team sports. Do something for fun and exercise, not just to win. Clubs and teams are also a great way to meet like-minded people.

Passive exercise, like walking to class, to the store, or just around campus to relax will add to the daily calories expended.

#6 Get Enough Sleep
Being well rested helps people have enough energy throughout the day. When tired, people tend to rely on caffeinated drinks to keep them going. Unfortunately, many of today’s popular energy and coffee drinks have many empty calories.

#7 Manage Stress
Some people overeat as a way of managing stress, while others do not eat enough. Either way, food is not the answer for managing life’s daily challenges. College staff understand that school can be stressful for many reasons: socially, scholastically and/or personally. Help is available, so take advantage of it.

Remember that 3500 calories equal one pound of body fat. Eating needs to be balanced with activities that burn calories, and food intake should be within about 2,000 healthy food calories for the average person. Talking with a doctor or a dietitian can help to calculate individual intake and activity levels for a long and healthy life.

For more information about life at college, go to merge2gether.com.

About merge2gether (http://www.merge2gether.com): Founded in 2011, merge2gether is headquartered in Oakland, California. merge2gether.com is an online community offering resources to guide people as they think and talk through the process of moving in with another person. merge2gether provides free information, questions-and-answers and ideas to people of all ages and at all stages of life.

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Beverly Aabjerg
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