Overeating at college
The transition between college and the freshman year and living at home often means lots of new additions and stressors added into a students life. Most new college freshmen have heard of the “freshman 15”, or the commonly believed 15 pounds of weight gain that a freshmen will put on in their first year of college.
New studies at several different universities around the United States has shed light on the amount of weight that most freshmen put on. Interestingly, the average freshmen will put on between four and 7 pounds in their freshman year and will average an increase in weight of 15 pounds over their four years in college.
Not all college students will gain weight during their first year but studies have shown that more than half of them do. Much of this is related to overeating and lack of exercise which becomes common lifestyle choices for most college freshman.
College students will face the same challenges that other adults do, in their school work, lifestyle choices and maintaining their weight. Unfortunately, they also face them all at once after having lived under the protection and structure of their parents for the past 18 years. Freshman undergo very many transitions which can sometimes have a negative impact on emotional eating.
An individual who practices emotional eating habits will either increase or decrease their intake based on the emotions they are feeling at the time. So for instance, someone who eats will tend to grab a candy bar or a larger plate of food when they are depressed, feeling sad, angry or even on an emotional high than someone who tends to not eat when they are experiencing wide swings of emotions. (1)
One of these emotions is also stress. All college students who attend for the first time will experience a high degree of stress based on being presented with more responsibility than they ever had faced before. As freshmen, students are asked to make food choices, snack choices at night, keep their own sleep schedule and are faced with the freedom that allows them to make honest choices based on their own belief system about alcohol, drugs and tobacco.
College freshmen are also enticed by late-night eating, pizza deliveries and sugar laden study breaks. Most colleges have coffeehouses and an array of fast food possibilities available to their students. Some experts have actually been calling this type of environment “obesogenic” because it is is conducive to developing poor lifestyle choices that results in obesity.
All of these factors contribute to the phenomenon of overeating which is often seen in college freshman. Some students will practice binging after a particularly rough day or when a meal taste so good they can’t stop eating. Negative emotions also play a big part in whether someone binges or not. This factor is particularly important for new students who are dealing with the challenges of the new environment and homesickness.
While binge eating used to be relegated to the privacy of a person’s home, new research has shown that people also binge in restaurants because they see eating at a restaurant as an indulgence. Because it’s a special occasion they often feel like splurging. This works when you eat out only once a month but when you’re eating out every day (college cafeteria) it can spell trouble. (2)
College students can devise strategies in order to keep themselves from over eating. By learning what a balanced meal looks like, and negating second helpings of any high calorie foods such as fried foods and bake desserts, most college students can navigate the cafeteria. Look for broiled fish, chicken or meats as well as vegetable dishes. Don’t take the fried foods and carbohydrate laden fats that look tempting but will not satisfy your craving.
Select fruits for extras and for snacks and eat slowly during your meals. If meal time is a social occasion then try to take the conversation outside the dining area or take a walk with friends after dinner. Don’t skip meals! You increase your chances of over eating later when you are very hungry.
Snacking is very important, especially while studying, to maintain your energy level. But, avoid munching while you hit the books. Instead, take some regular breaks for stretching and refreshing your mind while grabbing a granola bar or an Apple. This means walking past the vending machines and forgoing take out food, all of which are packed with calories that have very little nutritional value.
While exercise is a great way to burn calories, it is also a very good way of reducing stress and decreasing your hunger. Research is shown that people who exercise 30 to 45 minutes a day have a better overall sense of well-being and will actually eat less. Moderate amount of exercise, three to four times a week, can help you keep the extra weight off and your mind productive in the classroom.
Alcohol and alcoholic beverages are another place where college students often overlook calories. Many have between 80 and 150 calories per drink and they’ve tend to be stored in the body as fats. Limit your intake of alcohol to decrease your calories, improve your sleep habits and improve your grades and motivation.
Students who are not sure if there are overeating should monitor their weight occasionally and notice any trends. If you see that you’re consistently increasing your weight over several weeks, or you notice that your overeating to cope with stress, then consider seeking help from your college counselors who are well-versed in helping students accommodate to the out of challenges their freshman year presents.
(1) KidsHealth.org: Emotional Eating
(2) SAGE Publications: Significant Amount of Binge Eating Occurs in Restaurants