Long before I entered college, I heard about the infamous Freshmen 15, which I disregarded as just a myth or a funny joke. But after almost a semester, I realized that the Freshmen 15 is an incredibly real and threatening force. I spent some time brainstorming the different reasons college is an environment that is highly conducive to the Freshmen 15, and ways you could strategically deal with them.
Truth #1: Buffet-style all day every day.
The buffet-style eating in most college dining halls is the death of portion control. We sometimes feel like we have to get our money's worth and take advantage of the unlimited amounts of food, so we end up eating more food than we need.
Strategy #1: One plate and go.
Keep in mind that just because you can eat all the food, it doesn't mean that you should. Assemble a plate with a balanced variety of food that can fill you up (vegetables, protein, and carbs). Enjoy the meal, and then intentionally leave the dining hall. Avoid returning to the food counters to graze.
#SpoonTip: The more colorful the plate, the more balanced and nutritious the meal will be.
Truth #2: Eating schedules are a thing of the past.
For many of us, life is now different from the first 18 years of our lives. We no longer have breakfast at home, lunch in the school cafeteria, and dinner with the family at night. The sudden lack of an eating routine can lead to day-long snacking and late night eats.
Strategy #2: Create your own structure.
Make an effort to create a routine for your eating. Actually take the time to sit down with friends and enjoy at least 2 of your 3 meals. Eat without staring at a computer screen. Satisfying and nutritious meals will reduce the likelihood of a 4 pm detour to the vending machine or a late night pizza delivery.
Truth #3: Free food galore.
Freshman year of college means a constant stream of free food. On any given day, I'll see a "Free Donuts" poster, or get an email about free pizza at an info session. Unfortunately, the free food offered is rarely healthy.
Strategy #3: Be selective with the offers.
Don't feel like just because there is free food you have to eat it. One piece of brownie here and a slice of pizza there do add up in your body. Take control of your health and walk away from the free food stand unless you really want that donut.
Truth #4: Greasy food is everywhere.
I walk into the freshman dining hall and I am immediately surrounded by pizza, fries, and chicken tenders. It's easy to resort to those foods because they're your safe bets; how bad can you really mess up pizza? But those foods tend to leave you with a bloated stomach, fatigue, and bad skin.
Strategy #4: Explore your options and be creative.
Avoid the greasy selections by checking out what else the dining hall has to offer. College is all about trying new things, which can start in the dining hall. The tofu stir-fry may look, uh, different, but you might also end up loving it. And hey, if all else fails, the salad bar is still your neglected but loyal friend.
Truth #5: College is stressful.
There is no denying the fact that the academic pressure, social commitments, and sleep deprivation of college can make you seek refuge in comfort food. While there's no problem in indulging in the occasional chocolate chip cookie, the habit of using food as a coping mechanism for stress can eventually lead to bigger problems.
Strategy #5: Find and prioritize a stress outlet.
Recognize that regardless of how busy you are, your mental well-being needs to be taken care of. Whether it's an intramural sport, music, or meditation, choose an activity you find relaxing. Make time for it on a regular basis. If you're someone who likes to eat during your study breaks, prepare for those moments by keeping healthy snacks in your room and backpack.
As you experience the exciting and stressful changes of starting college, eating habits are usually the first thing compromised in that adjustment process. Nevertheless, with a little effort and planning, you'll be avoiding the freshman 15 while eating in a way that makes your tummy, mind and heart happy.