How to Avoid the Freshman 15: 10 Ways to Keep Fit in College While Still Having a Life
Unfortunately, the Freshman 15 is not a myth. Although you don’t magically gain 15 pounds immediately upon stepping foot on campus, keeping fit in college can be tough. You’re forced to leave behind old routines, forge new running routes, and hunt for healthy options amidst the smorgasbord of fried food at the dining hall ... and this is all while you’re making new friends and finding your way around a scary new campus.
That's not to say that maintaining a healthy lifestyle in college is impossible. Here are a few simple tips to make staying in shape easier. No, they’re nothing ground breaking, but it’s always good to be reminded.
1. Workout in your dorm room
College gyms can be intimidating places, and if you live anywhere on the East Coast, running outside becomes a laughable option when fall begins its swift and cruel decline into winter. So, what’s left? Thanks to the Internet, you can be guided through a series of workouts in your own dorm room — all you need is a few feet to move and a yoga mat or towel. For no-frills circuits and targeted workouts, try the YouTube chains Fitness Blender or BeFIT. If you need a little more pep to get you going, check out the Blogilates website, where Pilates guru and clean-eating godhead Cassey Ho will lead you through a range of high intensity interval training routines and Pilates workouts. If you sign up for her newsletter, she’ll send you a monthly calendar with a list of videos to do each day. No brainer.
2. Take the stairs
I know, I know. This appears on every list of “workplace exercise” tips and you’re probably tired of hearing it. But you’ve most likely never done the math. According to Livestrong, a160-pound person burns 29 calories after three minutes of stair walking. Do that four times a day, and that’s 116 calories you’ve eliminated without even thinking. Plus, you’re working your major muscle groups and improving your cardiovascular fitness. Win win!
3. Choose water
When faced with the impressive soda and juice offerings at the dining hall, choosing water can seem a bit disappointing, but it’s a fantastic habit to get into. Soda, packaged fruit juice, and iced tea are all packed with sugar and are completely lacking in health benefits. (In fact, here are ten reasons and one gross picture detailing why you should avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.) Meanwhile, water fuels your organs and muscles and keeps you feeling energetic. Also, it’s worth remembering that the feeling we often interpret as hunger is actually thirst. Before eating, drink a glass of water and wait a few minutes. Then, you'll only eat as much as your body actually needs.
4. Pack snacks
I never leave the house without an apple and some almonds. This may sound ridiculous and over-zealous, but I stand by it! Packing healthy, protein-filled snacks like nuts, hummus and carrots, or Greek yogurt can only do good things for your body, liking help you to stay full, maintain your energy levels, and stop you from devouring a block of chocolate the size of continental USA, mid-afternoon. Avoid snacks that are high in fructose, like dried fruit. Studies have shown that fructose doesn't trigger a fullness hormone (like fat and protein do), and therefore allows you to eat and eat without ever feeling full. (For more info on sugar and healthy snacking, check out Sarah Wilson's incredible I Quit Sugar website.)
5. Join a team (or start one!)
Most colleges have an array of sports clubs to offer — take advantage of this! Whether it’s yoga, Zumba classes, ballroom dancing, or a running club, get involved! Join a club or start a team. It’s an awesome way to get active, meet new people, and be held accountable.
6. Say no to fried foods
If your college dining hall is anything like mine, it’s about ⅓ fried food, ⅙ desserts, ⅙ healthy options, and ⅓ items you can’t even identify. Choose the healthy options! Green, leafy things, vegetables (preferably boiled or steamed), and lean protein like fish, chicken, or tofu will keep you full and energetic. Avoid heavy, creamy, or sweet sauces. In terms of dressing, opt for olive oil and balsamic vinegar — most other options are packed with sugar and fat and can make your “healthy option” little better than a hamburger. Let’s be honest — it’s dining hall food and it’s not even that tasty, so you may as well choose the option that will benefit your body. For some inspiration, check out these dining hall hacks.
7. Find a buddy
It’s far easier to select a salad over onion rings if your friends are doing it, too. So, find friends who are excited by exercise and vegetables and go for group runs and meals together. A healthy lifestyle should be infectious, not isolating — you don’t need to do this alone! There is plenty of evidence that workout buddies keep you motivated and working hard.
8. Start a recipe exchange
If you’re not on a meal plan or are able to cook every so often, you should start a recipe exchange. Send healthy recipes to friends by email or on Facebook and get together and make them as often as possible. This is a favorite activity of mine. Recipe exchanges have exposed me to a ton of new and fun food combinations and have kept me excited about healthy eating. Plus, it’s wayyyy more satisfying nibbling on homemade kale chips or granola than stuffing yourself with a tub of Ben & Jerry's. A website like The Recipe Box can make trading notes on food even easier.
9. Skip the jungle juice
It's safe to say alcohol is, for many, a contributor to college weight gain. Not only is alcohol itself filled with empty calories, but most chasers and mixers are essentially sugar syrup. If you’re drinking (legally, of course), opt for spirits with tonic water or soda water as mixers, and drink in moderation (for more reasons than just calories!). And say HELL NO to the jungle juice. That stuff is lethal. Need help finding an alternative? The horrifyingly named website "Get Drunk Not Fat" offers this handy table listing the calories and carbs in different alcoholic beverages.
10. Don't be too militant
While it’s important to take care of your body, you also need to take care of your mind. Being healthy doesn’t mean going to the gym for two hours every day and eating only kale, agar agar, and wheatgerm. Health is all about balance. Find an eating and exercising ethos that is fun and, above all, flexible. If you’re too strict, you’ll go crazy and it won’t last long. So, drink water, eat your greens, and get your body moving — just don’t become obsessive.
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