New classes, new digs, new friends and, for some new college students, a new pants size.
While most freshman don’t actually see the scale jump by 15 pounds in their first year of college, many newbies do put on at least a few pounds.
Some studies have shown that about 70 percent of students gain weight — between 3 and 8 pounds — during their freshman year, mostly during the first semester.
In a 2011 study, researchers from Ohio State University found that students generally gain between 2 and 4 pounds during their first semester, with only about 10 percent gaining 15 pounds or more.
Between living away from the family kitchen and the convenience of college cafeterias and student-union food outlets, a freshman’s new eating patterns are just one of the “big adjustments going from high school to college,” says registered dietitian Carrie Lawrence.
“You have to be aware of it and, that way, you can make healthier options,” Lawrence says.
For some students who were high school athletes, a drop in activity may be one reason behind weight gain, say nutritionists.
Alcohol consumption can play a part, too, along with the likelihood of sipping on more coffee drinks and sodas on campus.
“The calories you drink aren’t what you’re thinking about,” Lawrence says.
“It’s hard because your parents aren’t there to make the meals for you,” says Rebecca Miller, a registered dietitian and nutritionist.
Those years can be exciting, fun — and also stressful, and “some of us tend to be emotional eaters,” Miller says.
Nutritionists say the college years are probably a good time to squelch bad eating habits and form new ones to keep for life.
Miller recommends staying active, thinking about portion control and stepping on the scale, maybe weekly or so, to keep track of weight.
You shouldn’t worry about daily fluctuations in weight, she says, but if you don’t like your weight picture over time, change your diet or become more active.
A nutritionist with a university’s health center can give a student good suggestions, too, Miller said.
With all the new labeling of fast food items and information on healthy eating practices, college students need to realize “that the choice is actually theirs,” said Catherine Champagne, Pennington Biomedical Research Center researcher into dietary assessment and counseling.
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