How to avoid the ‘freshman 15’

Eating and lifestyle tips from NAIT’s registered dietitian

Welcome to post-secondary! It’s a time of discovery, learning, and, all too often, a few extra pounds.

The “freshman 15,” as it’s commonly known, refers to weight gain associated with the first year of post-secondary, when students are on their own – sometimes for the first time – in a new social environment.

“You’re drinking more and you’re eating more. [It’s] a terrible combination that promotes weight gain,” says Nick Creelman, NAIT’s registered dietitian.

But the freshman 15 is an arbitrary term, he says. Weight gain varies for everyone when they start attending post-secondary school.

What isn’t arbitrary is how to avoid it. Here are four strategies to avoid unhealthy eating habits.

1. Find a routine

recreation at NAIT

“You need to find your new normal,” Creelman says. Take a look at your schedule and see what days you need to pack a lunch or snacks. If you have a full day, make sure to have food with you so you don’t get too hungry and wind up overeating when you get home. Focus on incorporating protein and fibre, which will keep you full longer, he says

Making time for physical activity is important when establishing your new routine, he says. Activity levels can change a lot between high school and post-secondary, which can lead to trouble.

“You may have played sports in high school [and don’t anymore]. Usually the activity level goes down, and that can take a big toll,” he says.

Take advantage of free services on campus, such as the fitness centre, pool and gymnasium. Campus Recreation also offers free fitness classes throughout the year.

2. Eat slowly

sloth eating

It takes about 25 minutes to feel full after you eat, says Creelman. If you slow down and try to savour your food, your stomach will appreciate it.

“If you’re going to scarf your food down in 10 minutes, you might still feel hungry for 15 minutes,” he says. You’re likely to eat more and wind up overeating.

“Focus on your food and feeling full,” he says.

3. Log your calories

calorie app

Creelman always recommends recording food and beverage intake, even if it’s only for a few days. That can help paint a picture of what your diet really looks like. He usually gets clients to write it down or record meals using the MyFitnessPal app, but says Lose It and Cronometer are two other apps you could use.

“If you don’t think you’re fully in tune with what you eat, it doesn’t hurt to record it,” he says. You may realize you’re eating more than you thought you were.

You should also consider monitoring your alcohol intake, he says. Even if you’re having drinks made with water or club soda instead of pop, you’re still looking at 70 to 100 calories per shot.

“It adds up so quickly, in your pocket and calorie-wise,” says Creelman.

4. Cook for yourself

dude staring at frying pan before cooking

In addition to preparing healthy snacks to take to school, try cooking at home, Creelman says.

“It’s not easy to keep any restaurant meal under 700 calories,” he says. “You’re going to be up around 1,000 or 2,000 calories.”

Creelman says eating at home is cheaper, and if you’re incorporating protein and fibre, it can be better for you as well.

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