freshman 15

Health 101: How to avoid the freshman 15

Ditch the freshman 15 this school year and embrace the ‘freshman five’
August 26, 2016

As college students flock to campuses across the nation, most are blissfully unaware that in a few short months the unwanted ‘freshman 15’ may appear. A professor with the Texas A&M College of Nursing wants new undergrads to embrace the ‘freshman five’—healthy advice students can use to tip the weight scale in their favor, and beyond.

“Staying healthy is a challenge for all of us,” said Sharon Dormire, PhD, MSN, BSN, professor with the Texas A&M College of Nursing. “But the unique transitions in a college student’s routines, responsibilities and residences make it even more difficult to make healthy choices.”

Instead of dreading the freshman 15, Dormire encourages students to take a positive, holistic approach to managing their health—through what she calls the freshman five.” Dormire’s freshman five involves eating well, exercising regularly, getting enough rest, managing stress and building a community of support.

You are what you eat

“Eating well means having breakfast, not skipping meals and balancing carbohydrates with protein and vegetables,” Dormire said. “It’s okay to have pizza and other favorite foods, but always in moderation. Eat a salad first, and then have a reasonable serving of the higher calorie foods.”

READ MORE: What do my cravings say about my health?

Planning well also makes eating healthy easier. Always have fresh fruits, vegetables or other low calorie snacks on hand for in between meals or late night snacking. Dormire says that drinking several glasses of water each day is also key to weight management, as our bodies need sufficient water in order to burn calories. Keep in mind, eating well is just one part of the equation for weight management.

Exercise your right to a healthy lifestyle

“Exercise is so important, and unfortunately it’s one of the first things students cut from their busy schedules,” Dormire said. “Making exercise a priority in your daily routine—whether it’s working out at the gym for 30 minutes, riding a bike, taking the stairs or going for a walk—is key. Physical activity can be easily incorporated into the busiest of schedules.”

Incorporating exercise into your class schedule or extra-curricular activities is another way to ensure your exercise needs are met. “Many colleges offer a diverse assortment of classes and student organizations that keep students moving,” Dormire said. “From aerobic walking to yoga and everything in between, there truly is something for everyone.”

Sleep for better health

With late night study sessions, employment, volunteering, faith-based and social activities, it can be difficult for students to get the rest they need. However, sleep is very important. The National Sleep Foundation notes that young adults (ages 18–25) need between seven and nine hours of sleep in order to maintain good overall health and well-being.

“Research indicates that college students are the most sleep deprived population as a whole,” Dormire said. “This is problematic because sleep deprivation is linked to lower grade point averages—affecting concentration, memory and the ability to learn. And, getting the right amount of sleep helps with weight control and stress reduction.”

Don’t let stress get the best of you

Managing stress can also be challenging for college students. “With term papers, tests, projects, peer pressure and possibly financial concerns, being a college student is stressful,” Dormire said. “The healthy habits that we’ve already discussed should be in your stress management tool box, but students should also understand that they can’t control everything.”

Look for the humor in everyday life, and—maybe most importantly—do your best and then let it go,” Dormire continued. Finding additional healthy ways to relax, like listening to calming music, breathing deeply when anxiety is on the rise and taking time for yourself are also good options for stress management.

Support for a healthier you

Building a community of support can help us improve and manage our physical, mental and emotional health. “Friends, family and the support that they provide are critical to most people’s well-being,” Dormire said. “Let close friends and family act as a sounding board to provide advice and give encouragement during stressful situations. This can help lighten your load, and caring about someone else can add balance and meaning to our lives.”

If students find that they are too busy to spend even a little time with friends or family, then they are likely too busy for their own good.

Make good choices: there’s an app for that

With today’s technology, you can be as precise and accountable as you want to when managing your health. “There are hundreds of apps available to track diet, calorie intake, exercise and even sleep quality,” Dormire said. “These apps are available to anyone who has a smart phone or other mobile device, and they provide us with immediate, accurate information.” Many students also use apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and others to manage their social lives.

READ MORE: Improving health through mobile technology

“We are at an amazing intersection, with a wealth of information about how to live a healthier lifestyle, and having so many tools at our disposal to help us reach our goals,” Dormire said. “College students are at the perfect place in their lives to leverage this information and use these tools, not only to avoid the freshmen 15, but also to lay a foundation for good health throughout their college years and beyond.”

— Diane L. Oswald

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