I remember my first year in college, my roommate used to joke: if you want to know “how to gain weight fast”, then you just have to go to college.
While we used to laugh at her joke, college life does cause major damage to health and puts too many unwanted pounds on college students …gaining weight in college is a serious issue.
In fact, a study found that about 70% of college students gain weight during college.
It used to be thought that most of the weight gain happens during the first semester or year in college (freshman 15) mostly due to a severe lifestyle change.
But researchers from a recent study suggest that weight gain, in fact, may persist well beyond the first year in college and continues on for the entire four years of campus life.
According to studies, students gain an average of 12 to 37 pounds by college graduation, and the percentage of overweight students in class increases from 18% to 31%.
The researchers also noted that body fat composition and waist circumference increase with weight.
They mostly attribute the weight gain to a severe lifestyle change, which often involves late-night study, lack of sleep, inactivity, and unhealthy eating.
Demanding school work and busy campus life make convenient, unhealthy junk foods appear more seductive and easy to reach for, and their affordability makes it a perfect pitfall for budget-minded students.
Let’s also not forget their incredible accessibility.
Fattening snacks and sugary drinks are widely and readily available through vending machines and cafeteria, both very strategically placed in every corner of the school campus.
But just because it’s super easy to gain weight in college doesn’t mean you have to and you will.
Here are 16 healthy ways college students can avoid gaining weight and lose weight during the college years.
Note: The only students most likely will bypass freshman 15 or a major weight gain in school are students who attend online colleges as they don’t live a typical college campus life.
1. Drink more water
Not only water will keep you hydrated, but it will also make you feel fuller. Let’s also not forget that most of our bodies, about 60% is made of water, and we need water for better health.
According to H.H Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water.
The skin contains 64% of water, muscles and kidneys’ water content is 79%. Even the bones are watery and are 31% water.
This is not taking gender and age under consideration.
Generally, the average size of adult male needs about 3 liters of water per day, and the average adult female needs about 2.2 liters per day.
You can also get some water from eating fresh whole fruit and vegetables.
Water serves as a number of essential functions to keep us all going, but that’s for another post, The Benefits of Drinking Water.
The bottom line is drinking more water will make you healthier overall and can certainly help you lose weight, according to science.
One study demonstrated that drinking water could boost your metabolism by 24 to 30% over a period of more than an hour, which could help you burn additional calories, especially before exercise.
Some other studies are also showing that drinking water right before your meal improves health.
While this statement alone may not be anything new, there is a new reason behind this water before meal rule.
Science says the classic reasoning of “drinking water before a meal can make you feel fuller and eat less!” is actually not the whole story; there is more.
According to one study, it can actually reduce the total number of calories the body absorbs during a meal, helping to lessen the load of caloric intake and encourage weight loss.
2. Lift weights to lose weight
While aerobic activity such as cardio is great for burning calories, without weight training, you’ll lose muscle mass.
And that’s not a good thing for health and weight loss.
And when you hear someone saying “cardio is bad”, most likely, this is the reason, as this is the downfall of doing just cardio as your main workout as opposed to weight training.
While gaining lean muscle mass translates to faster, more efficient metabolism and higher calorie expenditure, losing muscle mass is linked to slowing metabolism as it’s short on active tissues that use energy to sustain themselves.
In fact, muscle mass contributes to as much as 20 to 25% of your total resting metabolic rate.
And if you’re dieting while doing cardio exercises, this could even make the matter worse. Without intending, you are steering your body to the starvation mode or adaptive thermogenesis.
One way to stop your body from losing muscle mass is to perform resistance exercises or weight training like lifting weight.
Studies demonstrate that lifting weights keeps your metabolism running at full strength up to 14 hours after exercise, and prevents you from losing your muscle mass.
If you love cardio, then make sure to combine it with resistance training. Combining the two has been shown to be the most effective way to lose weight and keeping it off.
3. Do your aerobic
I know we just talked about cardio causing a loss of muscle mass.
But that doesn’t mean cardio lost its place in weight loss and weight gain prevention.
Cardio (aerobic exercise) is a key to burning calories and improving your overall health, even more so than weight training.
One study shows the aerobic activity as 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, according to the earlier study.
Other studies also came with similar findings.
They reported that doing simple cardio exercises like brisk walking or light jogging is effective at reducing belly fat, particularly the deep visceral fat around the organs, known to be the most dangerous fat you can have in your body.
Harvard Health calls the visceral fat, one of the worst fats to have due to its close proximity to the living organs and how it wraps them around.
If you see that you’re gaining weight around your belly, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s part of getting older and entering 20s.
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 joining an aerobics class.
4. Take the stairs
Losing weight is all about burning calories (and eating healthier) —and taking the stairs a few times a day is a great way to burn off extra calories and getting 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.
Also, going up the stairs 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.
5. Make use of an exercise or fitness tracker
There are tons of fitness trackers out there to help you keep track of your activity level. If you’re trying to lose weight and get in shape, an exercise tracker is a great way to keep yourself motivated.
Most of us do some sort of exercise, but the question is, is it enough to see the results we want?
Using an activity-tracking device such as the Apple Watch, Fitbit, is a great way to monitor energy burn, not just on the treadmill but all other activities you do elsewhere.
But you don’t necessarily go high-tech and get the latest gadgets.
If you don’t feel like splurging on a modern fitness tracker, a classic pedometer can do the job of tracking your daily steps.
I like using pedometer because it keeps things simple—a pedometer counts steps you take and other movements like running and stair climbing.
The best part about it is, you can easily forget about it and go about your daily chores.
At the end of the day, see how you did and record your steps.
Studies show that people who walk more tend to be leaner than those who walk less.
6. Exercise with a partner
A recent study suggests we perform an aerobic activity like running and cycling better when we exercise with a partner.
Hitting the gym with a friend, coworker or partner can also increase accountability and improve your performance. So grab a buddy and get moving.
Not sure what exercises to do?
Exercises like push-ups, planks, squats are all great partner exercises.
You can even challenge yourself and your partner to a 30-day workout challenge for a little performance-boosting competition.
7. Calorie counter
Surprisingly many people don’t know how many calories they should eat a day.
You can simply start by choosing healthier foods to make sure your body gets fueled with the right kind of nutrients.
However, if you’re eating too much of those healthy foods, you still won’t lose any weight. In fact, you can still gain some.
Every one of us has a personal calorie limit—Eat within your calorie limits is the key to reaching and maintaining healthy body weight.
As a matter of fact, losing weight and reaching a healthier weight is a balancing act.
The energy is the calories from the foods and beverages you take in each day. Energy out is the calories 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 a 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. This is also known as your BMR ( Basil Metabolic Rate).
- 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 know your specific calorie intake.
There are also numerous apps and fitness websites that offer a calorie counter calculator for free.
Here are a couple of my favorites that I use often:
- My Calorie Counter
- Every day Health Calorie Counter
8. Eat less bad carbs
Actually this is the basis of eating healthy— cutting back on unhealthy carbs and sugars.
Bad carbs are often grains that have been stripped of their fibers.
Think of pastries, white bread, and pasta, they are called simple carbs.
They provide you with quick energy, but only to have you fall asleep an hour later. Bad carbs aren’t packed with the same nutrients found in complex carbohydrates.
The body also processes simple carbs more quickly than complex carbs, meaning you’ll be heading to the bathroom sooner and absorbing fewer of those good nutrients.
And thanks to their effect on spiking blood sugar, eating lots of simple carbs is strongly linked to weight gain, obesity, and diabetes.
Cut back on eating simple carbs, and you’ll start to lose weight.
9. Cut out sugar
I know, you are probably wondering how does sugar intake causes weight gain?
Sugar contains two molecules: glucose and fructose.
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 sweets? Get it from natural sources such as fresh fruits.
Studies have linked added sugars to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and weight gain.
10. Eat More Fiber
If you’re going to eat vegetables and fruits, why not eat the healthiest kind— High-fiber foods like purple passion fruits, pear, avocado, brussels sprouts will keep you feeling fuller longer after eating.
Studies have also shown that people who eat more vegetables and fruits tend to weigh less.
While the science is still not completely certain about the effects of fiber on the gastrointestinal system, studies have shown its effects in helping to increase satiety and help you control and better manage your weight over the long term.
11. Healthy snacks
Healthy eating is really the key to a healthy lifestyle and a healthy, happy life.
Snacking between meals is a great way to avoid hunger.
In fact, contrary to popular belief, going too long without eating is actually not healthy for your body. You’ll get the urge to eat a lot more once you have access to foods and your body senses hunger and gets into the starvation mode, which attempts to hoarder everything the moment you begin to eat again.
This is why having healthy snacks nearby may improve overall health, curb cravings, fight weight gain, regulate mood swings, boost brain power and give you the energy you need to keep going for a good chunk of a day.
Healthy snacking also helps keep your metabolism and blood sugar at an optimal level.
According to Megan Mullin, a nutritionist and Everyday Health expert, “Your blood sugar dips every three to five hours after you eat, and eating frequent snacks keep your metabolism revved up and helps normalize your blood sugar.”
Before heading off to grab snacks to munch, know that this snacking recommendation is not your right of passage to your office break room, where it’s filled with donuts, sodas, and other sugar-filled snacks.
The key here is healthy snacking.
Those sugary snacks and junks can easily sabotage all your hard work and let extra pounds to creep in.
They are also damaging to your metabolism, blood sugar and cardiovascular health.
But they are tempting—I know.
So how to best avoid them?
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 potato chips, M&M’S and the others.
Instead stock your fridge and pantry with these healthy snacks:
- Natural Beef Jerky
- Dry Roasted Edamame
- Mixed Nuts or Trail Mix
- Kale Chips
- Almond butter
12. Go for a smaller portion
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 amount 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. Limit fruit juice
Fruit juices are one of the easiest ways to pack on pounds.
When you’re trying to lose weight and watching your weight, don’t just watch what you eat, you have to watch out for those sugary drinks promising you that they’re healthier.
You might think that fruit juice is better for you than a sugary snack but think again. A study shows that sugar in liquid form is actually worse for the body than in solid form.
Another study reports sugary beverages are linked to a 60% increased risk of childhood obesity for each daily serving.
So don’t just watch what you eat, but what you drink as well.
14. Get more sleep
Yes! a good night of sleep is one of the keys to maintain a healthy weight and keep the pounds off.
Many people underestimate the benefits of a good night’s rest, especially when it comes to losing weight.
Studies have shown that poor sleep strongly increases the risk of obesity in both adults and children.
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 keeping your weight in check.
15. Drink your coffee black
Coffee and medical researchers have non-stop, ongoing relationships.
It seems that no one can’t seem to agree about whether coffee is healthy or not.
But let’s face the fact; a black cup of coffee without sugar and creamer is nothing but a cup full of antioxidants with countless health benefits.
Some studies show that the caffeine found in coffee can help boost your metabolism by 3 to 11%, and increase your body’s ability to burn fat from 10 to 29% – awesome win for those wanting to lose fat.
Adding sugar and milk to your coffee equation, that’s another story.
It’s almost like taking a healthy drink and purposely making it unhealthy, for the sake of indulgence.
The extra unnecessary sugar and creamer makes it far less effective for weight loss
It’s time to cut back on the coffee add-ons: sugar, artificial sweeteners, and highly processed creamers, and enjoy a nice cup of coffee, as is.
16. Drink green tea
Tea is the widely most consumed beverage in the world second to water and can be found in approximately 80 percent of all U.S. households.
It is also one of the healthiest beverages you can drink according to Huffingtonpost.com
While green tea only has small amounts of caffeine, which won’t make it as effective as coffee to power up your morning and get you energized, but its real gem is in its health benefits.
Green tea offers ample health boosters that make this tea well worth a drink.
Green tea is packed with antioxidants called catechins, which are thought to work together with caffeine to make the body more effective at burning fat.