By Caitlyn Wilkes
The term “Freshman 15” is something incoming college students frequently hear and dread as they prepare to start their first year of college.
Developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle in college, while encouraged, is easier said than done. Stress from classes, extracurricular activities, jobs and other priorities can often cause students to focus less on their own health.
One of the most common effects caused by this stress is weight gain. On-the-go students who may only have 10 or 15 minutes between classes often base their meals on convenience rather than nutritional value.
Jonah Plant, a dietetics student at Youngstown State University, said fast food and a more sedentary lifestyle can contribute to weight gain in first-year students.
“It’s easy to go over the amount of daily calories your body needs, especially if you’re not very active,” Plant said. “[Fast food] is cheap, quick and high in calories. If you’re eating it often, you’ll put on some body fat if you’re not careful.”
YSU students have a variety of services available to them on campus to help them get on track to a healthy routine. The Andrews Student Recreation and Wellness Center offers a free full-service gym and court space to play a variety of intramural and club sports, and group exercise classes such as spinning, yoga and Zumba.
Inside the rec center is the Wellness Resource Center, where students have access to a wealth of fitness information online, in books and through a staff of health educators.
Students can make appointments with specialized nutritionists and personal trainers to help create a healthy diet plan and workout routine that fits into a hectic college schedule.
Taylor Stewart, a senior kinesiology and sports science student at YSU, said there are some simple adjustments students can make throughout the day to help them develop healthy habits.
“If you commute, park across campus and walk to class instead of parking in the nearest lot,” Stewart said. “Avoid partying and focus on your goals in the gym and in the library.”
Ashley Ellwood, a sophomore biology per-veterinary student, said finding time for exercise is key to staying physically and mentally healthy in college.
“Students should try to set a schedule where they can fit in a few workouts between classes and studying so it isn’t overwhelming,” Ellwood said. “Exercising can also help students forget about and relieve their stress.”
College students often have many sources of stress in their lives, which can lead to unhealthy choices such as overeating. Stewart said finding coping mechanisms to avoid stress eating is important.
“Avoid aimlessly snacking [when studying or doing homework.] If you feel hungry, drink a bottle of water and wait 20 minutes,” Stewart said. “If you’re still hungry, eat. If not, it’s normally just because you were bored.”
The Freshman 15 is not necessarily a real construct for every college freshman or even the majority of students, but beginning college is the start of a new, hectic chapter in a young adult’s life. A few simple choices can help students find their way to a healthy lifestyle.
“Stay active and consciously make healthier food choices every day,” Plant said. “It can be as simple as choosing an apple for a snack instead of a bag of chips. If you do these things, the Freshman 15 will not catch up with you.”