Get a B.A. without getting F.A.T.

Posted: September 12, 2013

WHILE heading to college is a thrilling and exciting part of growing up, adapting to the challenges of a new lifestyle can be overwhelming. Is it any wonder that so many students pack on the dreaded "Freshman 15"?

College students gain weight for any number of reasons: grazing for too long at the cafeteria, noshing at night, limited or no exercise and, of course, too much alcohol.

Now, that 15 pounds is just a ballpark figure. Some students may actually lose weight. (Especially if the cafeteria food really stinks.) Others may gain a lot more.

To avoid unwanted extra poundage, they have to incorporate exercise and healthy eating into their crazy schedules. Here are a few tips:

Exercise every day. A daily exercise habit not only helps to keep the pounds at bay but also restores energy and helps manage stress.

I recommend getting to the gym first thing - before classes, instead of after. Gyms on most college campuses open as early as 5 a.m., so there's no reason that a student can't get in a workout, especially students living on campus. (Morning workouts also help you beat the evening rush.)

Here in Philadelphia, students at Temple, Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania all have fine, state-of-the-art fitness facilities available to them.

Don't eat late at night. Giving in to the midnight munchies is a surefire weight-gain accelerator. Those "fourth meals" are an extremely difficult habit to break, so it's best never to start.

In particular, stay away from fattening, heavily salted convenience foods like take-out pizza, Chinese and Mexican dishes.

Choose snacks wisely. Replace unhealthy dorm snacks like cakes, cookies, candies and chips with healthy alternatives.

Eating crunchy baby carrots or celery sticks with a dip can satisfy salt cravings. Sliced apples with a dab of peanut butter are good for a combo sweet-salty craving.

Watch out for food land mines at the cafeteria. In an all-you-can-eat scenario, many students attempt to do just that. I've seen some of them get hooked on sugary cereals, eating bottomless bowls of their favorite cereals and racking up literally thousands of calories in a sitting.

The smarter way to go in the cafeteria is to look for salads with lean protein (minus the fattening salad dressings) or tasty combinations of cooked vegetables and lean proteins. For dessert, skip the ice cream station and double down on fruit (a/k/a "nature's candy").

Maintaining proper portions is key. Practice at home until you get really good at estimating a half-cup portion. That's the recommended portion size for cooked grains, beans, vegetables, fruit and protein.

Eating at regular intervals (2 1/2 to 3 hours tends to be optimal) is another way to minimize the tendency to overeat - or to eat the wrong thing.

Rethink all that drinking. Alcohol use and abuse plagues many students - not just as freshmen but throughout college. Aside from the obvious health risks with alcohol, it's highly caloric.

Let me be frank: Whether it's beer, wine or hard liquor, alcohol is excess liquid calories.

So slamming down a couple of brewskis will not only get you drunk - it will get you fat. One beer in a 12-ounce red plastic cup is 155 gut-busting calories.

And shots aren't innocuous, calorie-free spirits, as some students have been misled to believe. They clock in at around 100 calories per shot of 80-proof vodka, whiskey, rum, gin or tequila. You're looking at a few hours of straight cardio to burn off the (dangerous!) quantities that some college students consume.

Kimberly Garrison is a wellness coach and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia. Her column appears Wednesdays.

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