A classic problem that university students face is one that creeps up unexpectedly: weight gain. The “freshman 15” is a phrase that refers to an amount of weight that is usually gained during a student’s first year of post-secondary education, and is generally caused by everything student life stands for — drinking, lack of exercise and not eating well.
A meta-analysis published in 2015 by BioMed Central — a journal based out of the United Kingdom — tracked and monitored a group of post-secondary students over a five month period, and found that 60.9 per cent of them gained an average of 7.5 pounds in that time period. Additionally, three other studies showed that approximately 9.3 per cent of them gained at least 15 pounds.
Drastic weight increases in university occur due to changes in routine and lifestyle. While in high school, students generally participate in extracurricular activities that centre around physical activity and have parents who cook for them every day, which often shifts once university begins. Although changes to weight may not have a chaotic impact on daily life now, they can be dangerous in the long run, putting students at risk for a plethora of health problems and negative habits.
The following list looks at the main reasons for the freshman 15, so that you can be aware of why it happens and stay mindful about how to avoid it.
1. Excessive consumption of alcohol: many campus events and parties centre around having drinks with friends, and not participating can take away the fun of the university experience.
To deal with this, be mindful of how much you drink. While one or two nights out a week won’t have a disastrous impact, four nights of drinking every week will likely catch up to you.
Another culprit associated with drinking is coming home and binge eating or grabbing fast food. Instead, try eating something small or choose something healthy — like a banana, which will also restore depleted potassium sources in your body caused by alcohol.
2. Lack of exercise: it can be tricky to fit in trips to the gym with homework piling up, and to make matters worse, Saskatoon is oh-so-cold during most of the academic year, making exercising outdoors difficult. Take advantage of the weather while it’s warm and bike or walk to campus.
Try to fit in some simple exercise throughout your day as well — take the stairs in the Murray Library, stretch while reading or try taking a walk through the tunnels on campus during a class break. There are ways to get creative about sneaking in mini exercise bursts throughout your day that will help keep your metabolism high!
3. Changes in diet: it takes only five to 10 minutes each day to make a lunch for school — a much smaller commitment than it might seem. Try making sandwiches, wraps or salads and grab a piece of fruit or veggies for a quick and healthy meal. If you don’t enjoy cooking after a long day, try making a large quantity of a soup or stew and freeze it, so that when you come home hungry after class, you don’t have to worry about the temptation to order something in.
Another issue that contributes to the freshman 15 is snacking while studying. Grab a cup of tea so you have something to sip on instead of an energy drink, or tell yourself you can have a snack after you’re done with homework. That way you will be much more aware of how much you’re eating, and will be less likely to overeat absentmindedly — and you will probably be more productive as well.
4. Stress: feeling stressed can actually cause you to eat more, sleep less and overdo it on substances like alcohol or caffeine. Although there is no secret cure for going through university stress-free — I don’t even think that’s possible — everything is interrelated: exercise breaks can help decrease stress and choosing nutritious foods will also help you stay alert and can reduce anxiety.
The habits that you set in your first year are likely to carry over throughout your entire university career, so make sure to be aware of what you are doing to your body and choose what is best for you.
Naomi Zurevinski / Editor-in-Chief
Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor