“Freshman 15:” The unwanted 15lb weight gain that tends to strike college students struggling to create routines and healthy habits in their new-found freedom. Weight gain is undesirable when it impacts your energy, confidence levels, and current or future health.
So, keep reading if you want to learn how to eat healthier in college.
No one wants to be that girl or guy who comes home for college break in jeans that are too snug, feeling unrecognizable. Thankfully, we got you covered with 18 simple and easy tips to help you glow up as you head to college. Avoid the dreaded “freshman 15” and build healthy and sustainable habits that will last beyond college life.
1. Drink more water
A great rule of thumb is to drink one ounce of water for every pound of body weight. If you weight 160 pounds aim to drink 160 ounces of water per day. However, these needs may vary depending on where you live and how much exercise you do in college.
People in more humid climates that exercise more frequently will need to drink even more water.
Your urine is a great indication of how hydrated you are. The more yellow your pee the more dehydrated you are.
Not only water will keep you hydrated, but it will also make you feel fuller. Many studies have shown that sitting down to 8 ounces of water before a meal can decrease the amount a person eats. (1)
Try drinking a glass of water before sitting down to each meal. In my college roommate’s experience, drinking water before each meal helped her to lose 20 pounds in college.
Drinking water is important for regulating body temperature, getting rid of toxins in the body, enhancing exercise performance, and keeping the digestive system functioning among many other important roles. (2) In fact, your body is 60% water. (3)
Here are four tips to increase your daily water intake:
- Make a habit of drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning
- Carry around an insulated water bottle around campus with you.
- If you get tired of plain water, try infusing with mint, citrus, melon, or cucumber
- Set reminders on your phone to drink water or try apps such as hydro coach and aqualert
2. Resistance training
While aerobic activity such as cardio is great for burning calories, without weight training, you’ll lose muscle mass and slow your metabolism. Resistance training is critical for weight loss. (4)
Gaining lean muscle mass translates to faster, more efficient metabolism and higher calorie expenditure. Excessive hours on the treadmill or elliptical paired with a low-calorie diet can decrease muscle mass and slow metabolism.
Yes, that is correct, dieting while doing cardio exercises can steering your body into starvation mode. Excessive calorie restriction can also lower your leptin levels. Leptin is the hormone in your body that makes you feel full. (5) So, not only will your metabolism slow but you will feel extra hungry.
In fact, muscle mass contributes to as much as 20 to 25% of your total resting metabolic rate. Aka the more muscle, you have the higher your metabolism will be. (6) Do not be afraid of weights and resistance bands.
This includes the college students, especially women reading this who might be afraid to step into the weight zone at the gym. Grab a buddy, and go for it. Increasing activity with a friend will help you achieve your weight loss goal.
If you love cardio, then make sure to combine it with resistance training so that your metabolism can benefit due to increased muscle mass and you can burn calories in a shorter period of time.
3. Do cardio
Cardio is not worthless but as mentioned above, excessive cardio can prevent you from losing weight.
Cardio (aerobic exercise) is key to burning calories and improving your overall health, even more so than weight training.
Studies show that aerobic activity is one of the best exercise methods for getting rid of annoying love handles and losing weight around the belly, which is great since your midsection is most vulnerable to packing on weight.
Researchers report that doing simple cardio exercises like brisk walking or light jogging is effective at burning fat.
Belly fat is linked to anything from metabolic disturbances, increased risk of cardiovascular disease to type 2 diabetes. You can easily add more cardio to your weekly activity by swimming, dancing, or even joining a group spin class.
Some people find their fitness tracker as one helpful tool for tracking daily activity level and keeping them motivated in working towards both exercise and weight loss goals.
4. Move more
Losing weight is all about burning calories (and eating healthier).
Increasing your activity level by taking the stairs a few times a day is a great way to burn off extra calories and get a calorie-burning aerobic workout.
According to Dr. Bryant from the American Council on Exercise, walking up the stairs at a moderate speed burns about 5 calories per minute for a 120-pound person and 9 calories a minute for a 180 pounds person.
Going up the stairs also comes with an additional benefit of strengthening and toning up your legs and glutes muscles. In other words, it’s great for getting rid of your thigh fat, cellulite, and extra sluggishness in your posteriors.
In addition to taking the stairs, aim for 10,000 steps per day, this can burn an extra 2,000-3,500 calories a week—3,500 calories burned is equal to one pound of body fat. If you wear a fitness tracker or have an iPhone you can use the health app to track your daily steps. Find new ways to exercise such as a walk with friends.
5. Manage your stress
When you are stressing about exams your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Too much cortisol in the body can cause digestive issues, headaches, memory issues, and weight gain. (7,8)
Many people under high levels of stress turn to emotional eating for comfort. Instead of eating, try these five tools.
Five stress relievers:
- Try a mediation app such as Calm or Headspace
- Listen to the rain or light noise stations on Spotify
- Call a friend or a family member
- Exercise or get outside for fresh air
- Take a moment to journal your thoughts and feelings
If you try the tips above and you still feel hungry, try to slow down and eat mindfully. In order to differentiate between hunger and a stress craving ask yourself if you would eat a banana.
If the answer is no, you are not eating because you are hungry.
6. Cut down on alcohol
The best way to gain weight in college? Binge drinking.
While in college you may feel pressure to drink and socialize with people but it is important to remember that alcohol will dehydrate you. Plus, drinks are full of extra calories.
And you only get one body.
Stick to these 2 rules in order to lose weight and enjoy alcohol in moderation.
Eat before a night of drinking
Seriously, do not try to save the calories. Skipping meals will cause your blood sugars to spike when you drink. Then, later in the evening, your blood sugars will crash leaving you ravenously hungry. No wonder you end up at McDonald’s drive-thru at 2 am eating much more than you would have if you ate dinner before going out.
Stick to two drinks or less
Moderate drinking is considered one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. This doesn’t mean you save up all 7 of your weekly drinks for Saturday.
Excessive binge drinking will spike your blood sugar and cause your body to spend more energy breaking down 100’s of calories from the booze consumed rather than the food you at all week.
7. Track your calories
Surprisingly many people don’t know how many calories they should eat a day.
Every one of us has a personal calorie limit—Eat within your calorie limits is the key to achieving weight loss.
As a matter of fact, losing weight and reaching a healthier weight is a balancing act. Energy comes from calories in foods and beverages you consume each day. Energy out is what you burn for basic body functions and physical activity.
Learning how to balance your energy in and energy out over the long run is truly the key to successful weight loss and weight management.
Here’s a quick overview of how you can balance your energy input and output for your goal.
- Maintaining weight: Your weight will stay the same when the calories you eat and drink equal to the calories you burn.
- Losing weight: You will lose weight when the calories you eat and drink are less than the calories you burn.
- Gaining weight: You will gain weight when the calories you eat and drink are greater than the calories you burn.
If you are trying to lose weight and reach a healthier weight, there are only two ways to do it:
- Eat less
- Exercise more
Implementing one or both is the only way to create the calorie deficit that you need to lose weight.
Using a calorie counter is the simplest way to find out your specific calorie intake.
There are also numerous apps and fitness websites that offer a calorie counter calculator for free.
8. Choose Complex Carbs
The basis of building healthy eating habits is prioritizing nutrient-dense foods and limiting processed foods. Aim to choose nutrient-dense healthy snacks rather than processed snacks.
When you eat simple carbs they are more quickly digested and absorbed in the body which causes your blood sugar to spike. For example, white bread will keep you full for less amount of time and spike your blood sugar higher than whole-grain bread will.
And, when losing weight you want to stay fuller for longer so you eat less.
The spike in blood sugar caused by processed, simple carbohydrates is linked to weight gain, obesity, and diabetes.
Cut back on eating simple carbs, and you’ll start to lose weight.
Dr. Redberg says, “the best way to avoid eating foods that you shouldn’t is to not keep any around”.
It’s simple, but it’s so true and effective. In fact, I can’t think of any better way than this.
So go clean your dorm room fridge and get rid of all the bag of chips, candy, and pizza and swap for these complex carbohydrates. No one wants to end up with uncontrolled high blood sugar in their 20’s.
Simple to Complex Carb Swap
- Tortillas to whole wheat tortillas
- White rice to quinoa
- Pretzels/chips to veggie sticks
- White pasta to whole grain or chickpea pasta
- Candy to banana
- Donuts to oatmeal
9. Cut back on sugar
I know, you are probably wondering how sugar intake causes weight gain?
Sugar contains two molecules: glucose and fructose and contributes to many calories in the average college student’s diet.
Glucose is absolutely necessary and our bodies need to function. Glucose which also called dextrose is the main energy source for all of the body’s cells.
Foods that supply glucose include:
- Whole Grain
Your digestive system converts these nutrients into glucose.
Fructose, however, is a different story. Unlike glucose, fructose is not a natural part of your metabolism and the human body does not produce it.
Most of the cells in the body can’t make use of this molecule, except for the liver cells.
There are many health risks that have been associated with consuming too much fructose. Some of these health risks involved in a high fructose diet are diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease, just to name a few.
According to Dr. Kyle True, DC, individuals should limit fructose intake from their daily diet to about 25 grams per day and should consume most of the fructose from fruits, not processed, packaged foods.
Take every opportunity you can to cut excess sugar from your diet.
Do you crave sweet snacks? Get it from natural sources such as fresh fruits.
10. Eat more fiber
If you’re going to eat vegetables and fruits, why not eat the healthiest kind— High-fiber foods like artichoke, avocado, brussels sprouts, legumes, and apples will keep you feeling fuller longer after eating.
Studies have also shown that people who eat more vegetables and fruits tend to weigh less.
Fiber can also add to the good bacteria in your gastrointestinal system. Studies have shown positive effects in helping to increase satiety and weight maintenance.
11. Carve your late-night snacking
The best way to do this is to make sure you are eating three solid meals per day.
Skipping meals during the day will leave you feeling hungry at night. Aim to eat every 3-4 hours during the day to avoid late-night cravings.
12. Control portion sizes
If you’re trying to calculate how many calories are in a food you’re about to eat, be mindful of what an average serving size should be.
Keeping track of the number of foods you eat won’t only help you keep track of your total calorie intake, but it can also help you lose weight faster by reducing your overall calorie intake.
This strategy can also help you become more aware of what you’re eating.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to use smaller plates when you eat.
I know this may sound crazy, but no matter what size the plate you’re using, if your eyes see it’s full, it tricks your brain into feeling more satisfied, despite the fact you’ve eaten a lot less.
13. Scroll less
Yes you, get off of Instagram and Facebook.
Spending hours on social media can impact your grades and your mental health. In fact, research shows that decreased social media use decreases loneliness and depression (9).
Keep in mind that what you see on the internet is photoshopped and the highlights of people’s lives.
Get outside and interact with people face to face.
14. Get quality sleep
8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep is key to maintaining a healthy weight and keeping the unwanted pounds off.
Many people underestimate the benefits of a good night’s rest, especially when it comes to losing weight.
Studies have shown that better sleep is associated with less weight gain, largely because of how it controls the metabolism of glucose.
The impact a good rest might have on you is undeniable, giving you better energy keeping you in a good mood and helping you to lose weight in college.
15. Drink tea, coffee, or sparkling water
If you are currently drinking sodas, quit the sugar and try zero-calorie sparkling water. This will give you the same carbonation feel without the extra sugar and calories.
A cup of both green tea and coffee contains caffeine which is scientifically proven to enhance exercise performance (10).
Green tea, without added sweeteners, contains phytochemicals that can produce a calming effect in addition to increasing alertness (11).
Coffee on the other hand may boost your metabolic rate, reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, and prevent dementia.
Both beverages are effective for college students seeking weight loss as long as they are served without sweeteners and creamers. If you struggle to drink coffee black, try naturally flavored hazelnut or vanilla coffee beans. Creating this habit is how I lost weight in college.
16. Stock up on healthy snacks
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
If you do not have healthy snacks available when hunger strikes you are more likely to turn to fast food and vending machines snacks. Those things are higher in calories, sugar, and fat and will keep you from losing weight. They will also eat away at your college budget. Keep nutrient-dense foods in your backpack, car, and dorm-room if you want to lose weight in college.
Snack ideas for weight loss:
- Veggies stick with hummus
- Banana and PB smoothie
- Popcorn with nuts
- Greek yogurt
- Chia seed pudding
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Natural Beef Jerky
- Cheese sticks
- Dry Roasted Edamame
- Mixed Nuts or Trail Mix
All of these are healthy snacking options that can help you maintain healthy body weight or lose weight in college.
17. Eat smarter in the dining hall
If you live on campus, you are bound to eat in the college cafeteria. Use the six simple strategies below to help you navigate the dining hall and lose weight while eating the foods you enjoy. This is an easy guide for how to eat healthy at college.
Check your hunger
Although you are likely busy, do your best to head into the dining hall on a moderately hungry stomach. Sitting down to a meal starving, may cause you to overeat. On a hunger scale 1-10, it is best to sit down to a meal at a 6-7 so that you can slow down and enjoy your food rather than shoveling at a hunger level 10. Keeping this in mind will help you lose weight in college.
Let’s be honest, we have all been there. If you feel starving, try to eat a small healthy snack from the list above before heading to the campus dining hall. This will prevent you from overeating at the cafeteria which is often buffet style.
You did not grow up your entire life hearing your mom tell you, “Eat your fruits and vegetables” for nothing. Fruit and veggie are loaded with antioxidants and phytochemicals that help your body fight inflammation and remove free-radicals that can cause cancer. Moms really do know best.
Make sure that half your plate is color or start your lunch and dinner with a bowl of vegetables. Another reason to add fruit and veggies to your plate is that they bulk up your meals with fiber and essential vitamins and nutrients.
The more variety of colors on your plate the more vitamins you will get. Eating fruit and vegetables is the key to weight loss during college life.
Eggs, fish, chicken, turkey, beans, nuts, tofu, peanut butter, cheese, milk, and beef are all great protein options. If you are wondering how to lose weight at college a great place to start is ensuring that you have 20-30 grams of protein at breakfast.
Research supports that the higher-protein breakfast helps to regulate appetite, decrease cravings, and help weight loss efforts (12, 13). Instead of eating plain cereal or oatmeal, try to add eggs, meat, and nut butter to your breakfast. For reference, one egg is 6 grams of protein.
When you arrive at the cafeteria take a lap to find what protein options are available to you at each meal. Protein is a key macro-nutrient to helping you feel full and a great way to reach your weight loss goals. Be sure to have at least one protein source at all meals and snacks.
Food should be fun and enjoyable. Bring spices with you to the cafeteria to jazz up your food. An easy way to add extra healthy fats to things is to drizzle olive oil or add avocado to salads and such. After all, fat is flavor and 9 calories per gram (carbohydrates are 4 calories per gram and protein is 4 calories per gram). Because fat is higher in calories it keeps you fuller for longer.
For long-term weight maintenance, it is important not to avoid any particular food groups or things that you enjoy.
If you feel that you struggle with your relationship with food, reach out to your college’s Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
The food will be there
People are more likely to overeat when the food is bottomless such as the buffet-style eating you see in your college dining hall.
As you sit down to enjoy your meal, remind yourself that you can stop when you are full even if that means leaving things on your plate. You will study much better on a content stomach rather than stuffed ready for a PMLD (post-meal lay down) stomach.
Going to college and having more power of what and how much you eat can be daunting. Remind yourself that the food will still be there tomorrow and it will taste better when you are hungry.
18. Eat breakfast
In a rush out the door for early-morning class, college students tend to skip the most important meal of the day, breakfast! Missing out on this meal causes the average college student to binge later in the day due to feeling famished.
Think about it, have you ever gone so long without eating that you feel like you could eat anything and everything in sight? At that moment, it is much more difficult to slow down and enjoy a healthy portion of food— disconnecting you from a feeling of fullness which causes you to overeat.
Skipping breakfast also increases cravings for carbohydrates.
When the body feels excessive hunger, cravings for a quickly digested form of energy emerge in the form of a sugar craving. Skipping breakfast would make you more likely to buy a sugary Starbucks Latte, grab a candy bar from the vending machine, or over-eat at your next meal.
This will increase the number of calories you consume each day and in return, will cause you to gain weight. Research supports that eating breakfast supports metabolism and is protective against developing diabetes and heart disease (14).
The breakfast secret is out.
According to the National Weight Control Registry, individuals who have lost 30 pounds and maintained this weight loss have one morning habit in common–they eat breakfast (15). If you want to lose weight during college and keep it off forever, start your day with a balanced meal. This is also a great tip for how to lose college weight already gained.
Avoid the freshman 15 and make breakfast a routine. You can lose weight in college.
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