Thursday, September 26, 2013

How to Avoid the Freshman 15...Even If You're Not a Freshman

It's that time of year when the kids are back in school, you're back to work and you've sent your eldest off to college.  Suddenly you remember how you needed to hit mom and dad up for a quick shopping trip when you came home for Thanksgiving break because you couldn't fit into half of what was in your closet.  What happened?  Why the sudden weight gain?

A major contributor to the Freshman 15 is consuming "cheap eats" -- convenient, prepackaged junk, chock-full of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), food additives and empty calories.  Combine that with drinking alcohol, unhealthy sweetened coffee drinks, energy drinks and sodas, and anyone is bound to pack on a few.  

Our stress levels also increase when we start anything new.  Deadlines, social life, grades, money are an every day reality in the life of a college student.  Stress puts on weight.  How?

You know when your driving down the freeway and the guy in front of you slams on their breaks, and you immediately have a very sudden, strong reaction and slam on yours?  That rush of adrenaline is known as a "fight or flight" response.  The stress hormone, cortisol, is released from your brain into your blood stream.  Cortisol triggers your body to fill its energy reserves by taking in additional calories by making you feel hungry.  Your brain may tell you to have "comfort" or "feel-good" food, like chocolate cake or fries and a coke to calm you down.  It's easier to give in to cravings when we're away from home because we don't have close friends and family around.  Don't cave!

Exercise, or dropping exercise all together, is a major factor in how your body will respond to changes in food consumption and stress.  If you were big into sports and them drop them freshman year, your body will makes some changes -- with or without consuming convenient junk.

So, how can you avoid the Freshman 15?
• Avoid convenient, low quality pre-packaged "cheap eats".
• Cut all HFCS, food additives and refined sugar.
• Drink plenty of fresh, pure water -- 1/2 your body's weight in ounces per day.   And more if you exercise/sweat.  You'll stay hydrated and feel full.  
• Get into an exercise routine.  Alone or with some friends, dance, get a work out in at the gym or take a walk around campus.  Your body was designed to MOVE!
• Laugh.  Yes, laughter is a great stress-reliever, so make it a habit to spend time laughing every day.
• Go gluten-free.  Grains, even "whole wheat", are depleting and can plump you up.  There are plenty non-wheat options available in your local market.
• Do not buy pre-packaged foods!  You know... those thinly veiled "healthy snacks" that are full of ingredients you can't pronounce?  Leave 'em on the shelf and head to the organic produce aisle.
• Shop the perimeter of the grocery store -- even if you're in Whole Foods or similar market!
• Consume organic produce.  Frozen organic produce is less expensive than fresh.  
• A less expensive, healthy, filling meal option -- Organic eggs, organic beans and organic vegetables.   If you don't have access to a stove, you can boil eggs, warm beans and steam vegetables on a hot plate in your dorm room.
• Sit down to eat! Make it a point to take a break, relax and enjoy your food.  Chew slowly and thoroughly.  It's easy to over-eat pre-packaged junk on the run.  So STOP! This is a great time to pull some friends together and laugh!
• Take time to relax.  For some, it's beyond "slow down"'s a full-on "STOP"!  Note to Type A's (and you know who you are): Just do it!
• Take time for yourself.  Sure, it's fun to hang with new friends, but don't lose yourself in the process. Take the time you need to take care of yourself and you won't have added stress and pressure on your shoulders.
• Sleep!  I know you don't want to miss out on anything, but you want (and need) to be fully cognizant to enjoy your college experience, and make it successful.  Your body and mind needs 8 hours of good sleep every night.  Again, Type A's:  Just do it!

Use your freedom to do "whatever you want" by making responsible choices to best serve your mind, body and spirit.   The habits you form now are the springboard to your future.