I remember entering college as a scrawny teen. And, before I knew it, I had gained 15 pounds by the time my third summer came around.
Only much later did I find out that I wasn’t alone.
Gaining weight isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
But nowadays, we seem to be more conscious about weight. Social media probably has a lot to do with it.
So, if you find yourself in the same situation as I was back then and want to know how to lose weight while in college, we’ve got some tips for you.
Is the Freshman 15 Real?
The short answer is no. The 15 pounds is a fictional number that was made up.
Somehow, it stuck. And, many people still believe it to be true today.
But, that doesn’t mean weight gain and obesity isn’t a problem for college students.
On average college students gain between 2.5 and 3.5 pounds during their first year of school.
More interestingly, data shows that 70% of students attending college gain weight and body fat during their four years. The average weight gain during this time was 12 pounds. But, for some individuals, it was as much as 37 pounds.
In total, about 18% of the students were overweight upon entering college, compared to 31% by the time they graduated.
These results are confirmed by another study. In this one, 23% of students started college overweight. That figure ballooned to 41% by graduation time.
Why Do You Gain Weight in College?
Okay, so most of us gain weight through college.
The question now is, why does it happen?
To help you figure out the reason, and how you may avoid it, here’s a list of the most significant factors that cause college students to gain weight.
Weight gain isn’t always a bad thing. This is one of them.
Most first-year students enter college between the ages of 16-18. This means you’re at that age when your body is growing or completing its growth spurt.
But, it’s important to realize that towards the end of your freshman year or early into your sophomore year, physical growth will be complete.
At that point, you’ll be entering the early years of adulthood. And with it come changes in metabolism and lifestyle that can cause you to put on extra weight.
Women, for example, experience changes in metabolism between the ages of 17 and 19. This makes it easier for them to add a few pounds, often without being noticed.
Poor Eating Habits
For many students, college is the first time you’ll be living on your own away from your parents. This extra freedom often means sleeping later, eating what you want, whenever you want.
Being able to do whatever you wish is amazing. But, we often develop bad habits because there is no one there to discipline us.
Also, college offers an unlimited selection of food. These range from the pizza shops just outside to cheap junk food in vending machines and all you can eat dining halls.
Having food around you available at any time is both good and bad. On the one hand you’ll never go hungry. But, it also lets you eat anything anytime.
As a result, most college students end up overeating, snacking at odd times of the day, indulging in junk food and fast food.
Yes, drinking is prohibited in almost all campuses and dorms. But, it’s almost never enforced, even by resident advisors in dorms.
This is why you’ll often see free-flowing alcohol during parties.
While it may be fun to enjoy at the time, alcohol can make you add on the pounds reasonably quickly, Even worse, it tends to accumulate in the mid-section, causing belly fat.
Each 12-ounce bottle of beer contains an average of 145-150 calories. How much you actually consume depends on the brand and type of beer. Light beers have closer to 100 or so calories while others like craft and seasonal beers have more at around 170 to 220 calories per bottle.
You’re Not Exercising Much Anymore
Your busy schedule doesn’t leave much time for exercising. So, you’re more likely to forego the gym or participating in club sports. As a result, you spend most of your time sitting behind a desk listening to lectures.
College life does offer some saving grace. It forces you to walk between classes, which does help limit weight gain.
Unfortunately, if you skimp on sleep, enjoy partying and don’t watch what you eat, you may likely see yourself pack on a few pounds before you graduate.
You’re Stressed Most of the Time
College students are among the most stresses populations in the world. According to the American Stress Institute, 8 out of 10 college students say they’re sometimes or frequently stressed in their daily lives.
Homesickness, schoolwork, deadlines, exams, getting good grades and finding a good job after college are among the top causes of stress and anxiety in students. In fact, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America notes that 85% of college students reported feeling overwhelmed by everything during the past year.
Unfortunately, stress has adverse effects on health as well as performance. It is linked to weight gain. And, it also gets in the way of you getting good sleep, which in turn also leads to more weight gain.
Many students also turn to food as a way to cope with stress.
You Are Not Sleeping Enough
All-nighters and parties are two reasons why 73% of college students don’t get enough sleep.
Also, they also enjoy using the laptop and phones in bed. This may seem harmless. But, the blue light from your device’s screen has been shown to disrupt both quantity and quality of sleep.
According to the University of Georgia Health Student Health Center, not getting enough sleep increases your risk of obesity and weight gain. It also increases the levels of stress hormones in your body which in turn, help you pack on the pounds as well.
Students who don’t get enough sleep have also been shown to get lower GPAs.
How to Lose Weight in College
Now that you know the likely causes of weight gain during college, it’s time to figure out how to keep the pounds off.
1. Stay Active
Unless you’re a student-athlete, odds are you’re likely to be less active in college that you were in high school. This change in lifestyle causes your metabolism to slow down. Thus, making it easier for you to gain weight.
To prevent this from happening, or at the very least limit it, try to add 30 minutes or more of physical activity daily. Sports and going to the college fitness center are two of the simplest ways to do so.
If you don’t like doing those, try riding a bike or jogging around campus. Simple activities like walking or going up and down stairs are very effective in shedding the pounds.
2. Cut Out Sugar and Soda
Sugar in its many forms is present all around you. You can find it in dining halls, dorms, cafes and restaurants in and around campus.
Sugar and soda are two of the most significant calorie contributors in a teenager’s diet.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
- Men between 12-19 years old consume an average of 442 calories per day from added sugar.
- Women consume 314 calories from added sugars.
To put things in perspective, that’s 17.5% and 16.6% of their total day’s calorie intake, respectively. And all that just from sugar.
It’s also worth noting that a good chunk of that, 41%, comes from beverages which include sodas and fruit juices. Food makes up the other 59% many of which come from cereals and snacks.
So how many calories are there in sugar?
- One teaspoon of sugar contains 16 calories.
- A 12 ounce can of soda has 150 calories.
- Eight ounces of fruit juice adds 143 calories to your diet.
As you can see, the calories can quickly add up.
3. Watch What You Put in Your Coffee
Coffee is almost a must for any college student. It helps wake you up for class. And, keeps you going when you need to stay up late to study.
Coffee itself doesn’t contain many calories, so it won’t make you pack on the pounds.
In fact, a cup of black coffee has two calories. That’s a good thing!
But, not many college students like to take their coffee that way. Additionally, coffee shops in and around campus offer a wide variety of more flavorful coffees like lattes and iced drinks.
Sugar, milk, sweeteners, and flavoring in these drinks add extra calories in a hurry. This is why many of the specialty coffees in cafes contain over 150 calories per cup.
On your own, you can do some damage as well.
Going back to our sugar calorie example above, if you drink 3 cups of coffee a day, adding a teaspoon of sugar to each cup gives you nearly 50 more calories.
4. Choose Your Food Wisely
Just because dining hall food is all-you-can-eat don’t stuff yourself every time.
Dining halls offer a wide variety of junk food including soft serve ice cream, sugar-laden cereals, and chips. But, they also have a lot of healthy options. These include a salad bar, yogurt and things you can have grilled fresh on a hot plate.
The key is choosing the right foods to avoid gaining weight. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy some of your favorite foods like doughnuts or ice cream. Just make sure you limit them to something like once a week at moderate servings.
Being able to navigate colossal college dining halls require a bit of understanding of which foods you want and which to avoid. Ideally, go for:
- Whole grains
- Lean protein like chicken breast, turkey or fish
- Vegetarian options like tofu
- Low-fat dairies like milk and yogurt
Avoid the following to keep the pounds off:
- Fried foods
- Eating lots of refined carbs like white bread, pasta, and rice
- Cakes, cookies, and pastries
- Fruit juices (except freshly squeezed ones)
- Soda fountains
- Ice cream
- French fries
- Chips and snacks
- Other desserts
5. Keep Healthy Snacks on Hand
Pizza, soda, and chips are very popular among college students because they’re cheap and contain a lot of calories, making them satisfying. This lets you get the most out of your buck.
To break this habit, try keeping healthy snacks around instead. Here are some ideas
- Fruit slices or whole fruits like bananas or apples
- Whole grain bread
- Canned tuna or salmon
- Raw vegetables or a quick salad
- Plain low-fat yogurt
- Cottage cheese
These are more nutritious and contain a lot fewer calories.
6. Cut Down on Alcohol, Drink More Water Instead
Like sugary drinks, alcohol contains a lot of calories. Drinking more than one bottle of beer on a regular basis can add up, causing your weight gain.
Besides weight gain, there are a few other reasons to ditch the alcohol. Research shows that nearly 2,000 college students die each year from alcohol-related accidents. Also, close to 700,000 students have been assaulted by other students who were intoxicated.
Instead of alcohol, drink more water instead. Water has an opposite effect. It helps you lose weight by helping fill you up, so you eat less.
Also, water also lets your body flush out toxins.
7. Get More Sleep
Getting the sleep you need during college is hard. You need to get up early for class. There are tons of homework, projects, and deadlines. You’ve got to attend the parties and many more.
As a result, most college students are sleep deprived. And this is one reason why you gain weight. Lack of sleep is associated with packing on the pounds. That’s because it messes with your body’s ability to regulate metabolism and hormones.
The bottom line is, try to get 7-8 hours of sleep nightly. If that isn’t possible, try to make up for lost sleep during the weekends when there’s more free time. You can also take short naps during the day to help your body recover and recharge.
8. Stop Snacking Late at Night
College students are known for late-night snacking. Now more than ever, it’s easy to get things delivered to your dorm. Also, some convenient stores are open 24 hours. This makes chips and other junk food available at any time.
The problem with late night snacking is it often happens during stressful times. You’re up cramming for an exam or rushing to finish a project or homework. This makes you seek out food that’s comforting, which often is junk food in the form of chips or pizza.