Getting Fat in College

Weight gain during college is so typical that the “Freshman 15” has become a commonly known phrase.  But if you start college with the necessary knowledge, tools, and determination,  and make a concerted effort, you can avert the seemingly inevitable weight gain.

  • Eat mindfully.  Are you paying attention to what you’re eating or is half a bag of chips gone before you know it? Do you go to the school cafeteria and find yourself eating everything in sight? Tracking your daily food intake is a tool you can use to help you eat mindfully.  You can track manually, online, or by using a  smartphone app. It may be time to start making conscious food choices! Challenge yourself to participate in The Mindful Eating Marathon developed by Susan Albers, a Cleveland Clinic psychologist.
  • Recognize your triggers.  Some students find that certain things trigger them to overeat so it’s important to start paying attention.  Perhaps your triggers include high stress, boredom, feeling overwhelmed, or being over tired.  Before you eat, check-in with yourself and decide if you’re really hungry, or if food is just your way of coping.
  • Study the Daily Plate.  Over the years the daily recommendations for food intake have changed.  The current healthy standard is the DAILY PLATE.  This guideline is much easier to visualize and recommends smaller portions of grains and larger proportions of protein sources, fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid empty calories.  Empty calories are typically high in sugar, high in fat, highly processed, or some combination thereof.  Are you drinking full strength sodas or eating excessive amounts of chips and crackers or highly processed packaged foods?  You’re not doing yourself any favors.  The calories will likely add up quickly but you won’t feel satisfied or well nourished for as long as you would by filling up on a nutrition packed meal.  
  • Stay hydrated.  Are you drinking enough water?  It’s easy to forget to drink enough just plain water and instead get into the habit of drinking caffeinated drinks, which actually cause you to be dehydrated.  Sometimes people confuse hunger and thirst.  According to the blog, Hungry? You Could Be Confusing it for Thirst :

Clinical studies have shown that 37% of people mistake hunger for thirst because the thirst mechanism is so weak. By doing so, the body is led to think that it needs food when what it’s really asking for is water.”

  • Exercise daily.  Exercising daily does not mean killing yourself for hours at the gym.  Even light exercise has been shown to reduce stress, build muscle, speed up your metabolism, elevate your endorphins, improve your mood, and help you sleep.  Exercise doesn’t need to be complicated, in fact you can incorporate it into your daily routine.  Perhaps you could ride your bike to do your daily errands or get school credit for taking a PE course.
  •  Get enough sleep.  We all know that we’re not at our best when we don’t get enough sleep.  Perhaps you can’t focus, you keep losing your keys, or mundane tasks seem challenging.  According to Denise Mann in the WebMD feature article, “Coping With Excessive Sleepiness,” lack of sleep can lead to weight gain. During sleep cycles our bodies produce a hormone called leptin that tells your body when to stop eating.  The leptin hormone offsets the ghrelin hormone, which tells your body when to eat.  If you don’t get enough sleep, then you produce less leptin and this can lead to a hormone imbalance and a reduced ability for your body to know when to stop eating.  If you’re sleep deprived your metabolism is slower too.

Leaving for college means moving to a new location, changing your lifestyle, and more importantly developing new habits.  When it comes to staying healthy, forming positive habits right from the start can help you avoid unwanted weight gain and enable you to keep it off for the next four years!


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Heidi Meier

Heidi Meier

Heidi Meier is a junior at the University of California, Davis pursuing degrees in communication and psychology. At school, Heidi can be found participating in psychology experiments or lounging on the quad. Outside of school, she enjoys exploring new cities, adventuring with friends, and playing with her puppy, Pancake.
Heidi Meier

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