Create a College Diet & Fitness Plan to Help You Feel Good and Avoid Weight Gain
Are you getting ready to head off to school and stressing about maintaining a healthy college diet? You are certainly not alone in having that concern. You have probably heard many different freshman 15 and college weight-gain stories from your friends and family. The reality is that, although some students experience a small amount of weight gain, you probably don't need to worry about it as much as you think you do.
Freshman 15 stories are more myth than reality. To help ease your mind, we've looked into freshman 15 statistics, and the results are not nearly as alarming as you might expect. With a good college workout plan and a healthy diet, you can easily maintain your current weight—and even lose weight—while you are attending school. By conducting your research and developing a solid fitness and meal plan, you can stay a step ahead. After all, the most prepared college students are usually the most successful at avoiding the freshman 15.
To help you create a good college diet plan and exercise routine that works for you, we have compiled useful information and resources that cover topics ranging from college fitness to healthy eating. Check out the following categories to start preparing for a healthy transition into the next phase of your life:
- What is the freshman 15?
- Is obesity among college students really that common?
- What is the link between sleep and weight gain in college students?
- Helpful resources for how to stay fit in college
- Additional college health tips
What Is the Freshman 15?
The freshman 15 is a common expression used in the U.S. and Canada. It refers to the amount of weight (15 pounds) that a college student gains during his or her first year at college. However, fifteen pounds is somewhat arbitrary, and there is no clear evidence about where it came from because it is not supported by research studies.
A 2011 study found that college students gain no more than 2.5 to 3.5 pounds, on average, during their first year. In fact, college students gain an average of seven to 13 pounds in total during four years at school. Additionally, the average amount of weight that is gained during freshman year is comparable to the amount of weight gained by same-aged young adults who are not attending college.1
So it's not the freshman 15 that's a concern. It's the gradual weight gain over the four years of a traditional college or university degree program that poses a concern, along with the potentially unhealthy habits that are developed and that lead to that weight gain. College students often gain weight for a number of reasons that include:
- More alcohol consumption
- Increased consumption of high-fat and high-calorie food
- Lack of sleep
- Less exercise
- Increased stress levels
That's why so many students are trying to determine how to avoid the freshman 15. In light of that, most colleges and universities have implemented awareness campaigns and programs to help students develop healthy eating and exercise habits.
Is Obesity Among College Students Really That Common?
Many researchers say that the freshman 15 has been perpetuated by the media and is not as big of a worry as many believe. That claim is in agreement with the results from the study mentioned in the section above. However, even though the freshman 15 may be exaggerated, it doesn't change the fact that college students often gain some weight and lead potentially unhealthy lifestyles. So why do college students gain weight?
Well, it may seem cliché or like something out of Hollywood blockbuster movies, but the reality is that many college students party quite a bit, consume more alcohol than usual, eat unhealthy food, and experience loss of sleep and higher-than-normal stress levels. College health statistics compiled from a spring 2015 survey show that:2
- Almost 70 percent of students consume two or less servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
- Almost 65 percent of students had used alcohol within the past 30 days.
- Fifty-four percent of students are not meeting the exercise guidelines that are set out by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association.
- Over 53 percent of students report that they experience higher-than-average or tremendous stress levels. Additionally, 30 percent of students report that stress had negatively affected their academic performance within the past year.
- Thirty-five percent of students are overweight or obese.
- Twenty percent of students say that sleep difficulties negatively impact their academic performance.
It is important to note that the fruit and vegetable consumption, alcohol use, exercise, and obesity rates among college students are not anomalies. In fact, those percentages are comparable to the rates found among the average American adult population. So, many of the health issues that are experienced by college students are no different than those experienced by the non-student population.
What Is the Link Between Sleep and Weight Gain in College Students?
Many research studies have shown that there is a definitive link between sleep and weight. However, that link is for all adults and children alike (not just college students). That said, college students are more susceptible to sleeplessness. Students sleep, on average, six to seven hours per night even though the recommended guideline is seven to nine hours.3
A lack of sleep can lead to daytime sleepiness, and that can make it much harder to find the motivation for beginning or continuing an exercise routine. Additionally, receiving 6.5 hours of sleep or less on a regular basis is linked to increased weight gain and a variety of long-term health problems. Ongoing sleeplessness can:4
- Diminish the body's metabolism and disturb hormone levels
- Reduce the body's ability to process glucose (i.e., sugar) in the blood
- Lower leptin levels (i.e., levels of a hormone that makes you feel full), which leads to a false sense of appetite
- Trick your brain into thinking that you're hungry because it easily confuses fatigue and hunger, which can result in unnecessary calorie intake
Sleep deprivation is also linked to increased cortisol levels (i.e., levels of a stress hormone) and increased ghrelin levels (i.e., levels of a hunger hormone), which are also factors that contribute to weight gain and obesity.5 So it is clear that having a healthy sleep regimen is an important part of college weight loss or maintenance.
Helpful Resources for How to Stay Fit in College
Arming yourself with information that covers everything from college workout routines to healthy eating habits is one of the best ways to develop a customized plan for you that can help ward off the freshman fifteen. You will likely find college life to be hectic from the moment that you hit the campus, so preparing yourself before you get there is a good idea.
Below are some helpful resources to check out that can help you maintain, and even improve, your health. After all, you want to enjoy looking back at your awesome memories rather than feeling like you have to hide away all of your college weight-gain pictures.
Find a College Fitness Blog
If you are worrying about how to not gain weight in college, then finding an informative fitness blog or two that you love can help you keep on track. It can provide you with the inspiration and motivation to keep pushing yourself to stick to your college fitness plan. Here are a few blogs that may interest you:
- Nerd Fitness—After spending years throughout high school and college trying to find a good approach to keeping fit, Steve Kamb started blogging to share his knowledge and help people who struggle just like he did. His blog covers topics related to fitness, diet, and mindset, with a bit of nerdiness thrown in there too.
- Fit Bottomed Girls—Although this blog is targeted more to women, guys can find some useful information there too. With a mix of humor, fun, and love, the three ladies that run this blog share their wisdom regarding how to get active and eat healthy without depriving yourself.
- Tabata Times—Finally, a blog for CrossFit lovers that brings together resources from all over the Internet to one place. This blog can help you stay current on the latest CrossFit workouts and tips while inspiring you to keep pushing yourself.
- Born Fitness—This blog's goal is to simplify all of the conflicting information found in the fitness industry and do away with empty promises. If you want to get results from good information that deconstructs all of the fitness gimmicks and faulty science, then this could be the blog for you.
Develop a College Weight-Loss Plan
Whether your goal is to lose weight, or maintain where you're at throughout college, equipping yourself with a healthy eating plan that works for you is a smart way to reach your goal. There are a lot of resources on the Internet that can help you do just that. Here are a couple that you may want to check out:
- Sarah Fit's College Diet Plan—While attending college, eating habits can turn bad quickly if you aren't being mindful. Fitness blogger Sarah Dussault offers a free diet plan that includes five meal ideas a day, along with workouts, in order to help you keep college obesity at bay. You may enjoy some of her other posts as well, such as how to curb your late-night eating habits and how to stop craving pizza.
- Nerd Fitness' College Guide to Healthy Eating—When you attend college, healthy eating habits will be a lot easier to maintain if you prepare in advance. This guide focuses on doing good while setting aside the notion of achieving perfection. It acknowledges that you're going to cheat and don't need to feel deflated because of it. The guide is based on the paleo diet, which focuses on proteins, vegetables, and fruits. And it addresses common problems related to gaining weight in college, like being stuck on cafeteria meal plans and living in dorms without kitchens.
Discover a College Workout Plan
Some people feel like college students and exercise mix like oil and water. But it doesn't have to be that way. Instead of signing up for a gym membership that you never use or struggling through workouts that you hate and will eventually give up on, take some time right now to explore a variety of workouts and find one that appeals to you. There are many different ways to be physically active. You just have to find the right fit. Here are a couple of places to start:
- Steve Cook's Big Man on Campus 12-Week College Trainer—Explore this 12-week muscle-building program that discusses the importance of exercise for college students while covering other valuable topics like nutrition, supplements, and time management. You can find a detailed workout description for each day of the plan, along with pictures and videos.
- The College Muscle Anywhere Workout—Find out how you can build muscle and strength train regardless of your location. This is a great guide to college workouts that include exercises to do in your room. You can learn how to gain muscle and burn fat while making the most of your time.
- Beach Body Workout Program for the College Student—Learn how to build muscle in order to look good at the beach without having to spend hours in the gym. This program acknowledges that not everyone wants to become a bodybuilder, and it teaches you how to perform simple and effective exercises in a short amount of time.
Start a College Running Routine
You may already be a runner, or you may not have ever considered it until now. Regardless, running is a great exercise for college students. It burns calories and fat, and it is free and easy to do.
Whether you are just getting started or want to join a running club, check out these sites that can help you achieve your goals:
- Running 101: A Beginner's Guide—This is a great place to start if you are new to running. It covers your most basic questions about how to get started, what equipment to use, and what to expect.
- The National Intercollegiate Running Club Association (NIRCA)—This site is for the more seasoned runner who wants information pertaining to collegiate running, cross country, and track clubs. NIRCA aims to bring together college runners in a friendly yet competitive manner, and its site is a great place to find out more about running events that are taking place across the country.
- Run to the Finish—This blog is an excellent resource for learning how to run safely and effectively while fueling your body and keeping your motivation. Blogger and runner Amanda Brooks can show you how to enjoy running and incorporate it as part of your lifestyle.
Explore College Weightlifting and Strength-Training Routines
If you are trying to figure out how to stay fit during college, then weightlifting or strength training may be the way to do it. Many colleges and universities have on-campus gyms. If not, there is probably one close to your campus that offers student discounts. As long as you have access to some basic weightlifting equipment, you can get started. Check out these websites that can help you create an effective program:
- Beginner Weight-Training Guide—Discover the rules of lifting etiquette, learn about the common mistakes to avoid, and find easy-to-follow workouts that include pictures and tips.
- 4-Week Beginner's Workout Program—Begin a four-week workout program that is broken down day by day in an easy-to-follow format. It includes pictures, videos, and how-to guides.
- Beginner Strength Training for Women—Find out how you can become leaner and stronger and achieve the body that you have always desired. Explore a number of tutorials that cover topics like why women should strength train and how to avoid beginner mistakes.
Develop Good College Nutrition Habits
We've talked about diet plans and workout plans, but in order for either of those to have a lasting impact, you need to understand the basics of nutrition. For a college student, weight loss or maintenance may be the main thought on his or her mind. But in order to achieve your weight and fitness goals, it is important to understand how and why to feed your body properly. The Nutrition Blog Network is a great resource because it is a collection of nutrition blogs that are written by registered dietitians. You can explore the daily posts to see what grabs your attention, or you can go through the blog directory to find the ones that you relate to.
Here are some basic nutritional tips to get you started:
- Learn about proper portion sizes.
- Drink water.
- Eat breakfast.
- Incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables into your daily diet.
- Avoid fried foods.
- Eat calcium-rich foods.
- Change up your daily meals.
- Stock your cupboards or dorm room with healthy snacks.
- Eat only when you're hungry and not when you're just bored, tired, or stressed.
- Limit the amount of sugar and alcohol that you consume.
Start Collecting Healthy and Delicious Recipes
When you are trying to avoid gaining the freshman 15 in college, healthy recipes can be very helpful. If you can find a variety of easy, healthy, and budget-friendly recipes, then you can enjoy a more interesting diet, which makes it less likely that you'll stray and order pizza or eat cafeteria fries. There are a lot of blogs and websites that offer good recipes for college students. Check out the ones listed below for some inspiration:
- Minimalist Baker—Discover healthy, plant-based recipes that can be ready in 30 minutes or less and only require one pot and no more than 10 ingredients. Now that sounds like college cooking.
- The Almond Eater—Find drink, snack, dessert, and meal recipes that take 30 minutes or less to complete. This blog shows you that healthy food can be fun, tasty, and fast.
- Healthy Recipes That Won't Break the Bank—Explore more than 400 recipes that cover everything from breakfast to dessert. The best part is that the recipes have no more than eight ingredients and don't take any longer than 20 minutes to complete.
- Healthy Budget Dinner Recipes—Uncover fast, healthy, and budget-friendly dinner recipes. You can take a look at categories like "recipes for $1 or less" and "weeknight dinners for $3 or less."
Additional College Health Tips
Your health matters. If you can implement an all-around healthy lifestyle while attending college, then it is likely that you are going to have more energy and feel better. And that can lead you to becoming more successful with your studies. So having a good college diet and workout plan can benefit you physically, mentally, and academically. We've provided you with a lot of information and resources that can help you customize a plan that will work best for you. And in the meantime, here are a few tips to get you started:
- Focus on good nutrition and balanced meals. And don't beat yourself up when you cheat. It will happen, and you just need to be prepared to return to your healthy ways for the next meal or day.
- Ensure that you are getting enough essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, calcium, and iron.
- Get a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week.
- Mix up your exercise routine whenever you can so that you do not get bored with it.
- Walk or bike, when possible, rather than driving or taking public transportation.
- Aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep at night. And don't be afraid to take naps if you need to.
- Try to keep as consistent of a schedule as possible and avoid pulling all-nighters. It is easier to keep routines and practice good sleep habits when you have a schedule.
- Take breaks when you need to. Excessive stress is not good for your mental or physical health.
- Spend time with your friends, make time for your hobbies, and take part in activities that you enjoy. College shouldn't be all studying and homework. You need to balance that with having fun too.
1 The Ohio State University (OSU), "The Freshman 15 Is Just a Myth, Nationwide Study Reveals," website last visited on July 4, 2017.
2 American College Health Association (ACHA), National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Executive Summary Spring 2015, website last visited on August 25, 2016.
3 The University of Georgia (UGA), University Health Center, "Sleep Rocks!...Get More of It!," website last visited on August 25, 2016.
4 National Sleep Foundation, "Obesity and Sleep," website last visited on August 25, 2016.
5 National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), U.S. National Library of Medicine, "Sleep and Obesity," website last visited on August 25, 2016.