By: Patti Conner
As one contributor wrote on these pages five years ago, the “freshman 15” is not a myth bandied about by upperclassmen wanting to scare their younger contemporaries into starving themselves. It’s a very real issue that most students face when entering higher education, and a big reason for its existence is quite simple: You’re on your own and facing a slew of options for food and beverages that you may have avoided or, at least, enjoyed in (slight) moderation in the past. But now? To use a cliche, the world is your oyster and you’re probably going to enjoy eating it.
Here’s the thing, though: You can avoid the dreaded weight gain through some simple practices. And the good news is that these tips won’t make your freshman year dull and boring. Instead, they’ll lay the groundwork for a healthy lifestyle (physically and mentally) that you can hopefully stick with for years to come. I make that point about life after college because, as someone several years out, I know exactly how difficult it can be to make the transition to post-grad life—but that’s a topic for another article.
In the following list, you’ll see tips that I’ve culled from my own experiences along with an Eating Bird Food blog post by health coach Brittany Mullins. A graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, she uses what she learned there and, like me, her personal experiences to inspire others on how to embrace healthy living and improve your mindset. The latter is an essential piece of integrative (or holistic) nutrition, which is defined as eating well and exercising while maintaining strong emotional and mental health. Basically, it means that you give just as much to your body as you do your mind, which makes sense for anyone who has, say, stress-eaten an entire pizza (myself included).
Now, on to the tips!
1. Leave the Treats for a Set “Treat Day”: I know how easy it is to get to the dining hall and want to binge on some of the worst food there. But I also know how easy it is to ween yourself off of those treats (like burgers, pizza, and the like). You need to leave those for specific days each month that can be your “treat” days, and it’s OK if you slip up once in a while and have those days earlier than planned. Just don’t overdo it!
2. Create a Fitness Schedule for YOU: There is absolutely no one-size-fits-all approach to exercise, so I’ll spare you the “you must do THIS” verbiage here. However, it’s imperative that you create a schedule of exercise that best fits your class (and work, for many) schedule. This may mean waking up a bit earlier to get in a morning run/gym session. It could also mean taking some clothes in your backpack to class so that you can work out afterwards. Whatever the case, you’re setting a great example for the rest of your life by entering college with a set fitness plan.
3. Find Time to Meditate: This goes right along with the holistic approach to health. You need to find time for you. This may seem difficult at first as you’re getting pulled from class to class to studying session to party to… you get my point. However, there is time in even the busiest person’s day where there’s time to shut down the smartphone, turn off the music and/or television, and just breathe. Even if it’s for a few minutes, it’ll do wonders for your mental health.
4. If You’re Going to Drink, Go Low Calorie: Look, we all know that drinking alcohol is part of the college culture, so it’s pretty difficult to avoid completely. So if you do choose to indulge in alcoholic beverages, go the low-calorie route. This means drinking (in moderation, of course) stuff like vodka tonics and light beer (hat-tip to Brittany) instead of darker options that almost-always have more calories. You could also opt for red wine, which has been found to even help with your brain’s age. Who knew!
5. Don’t Let Any of This Stress You Out: Another tip from Brittany, this may be the most important one of them all. While even reading this article may cause stress-induced sweats, it may be time to take a deep breath, step away from your computer, and take a quick walk. I understand that the concept of creating a schedule and setting limitations seems stressful, but it’s all part of building new and better habits for yourself. It’s totally doable and 100 percent not something that will stress you out. If nothing else, the time you allocate to meditating will relieve any stress you’re feeling.