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  health > diet & fitness > story page AIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

College freshmen can avoid the 'Freshman 15'

August 19, 1999
Web posted at: 11:48 AM EDT (1548 GMT)

In this story:

It's all in the planning

Keep a record

Exercise and choose food wisely

Be realistic


By Elizabeth Somers, R.D.


Tens of thousands of high school graduates will be heading out on their own this fall. They'll be confronting the rigors of higher education while adjusting to a new environment and new pressures. With all the changes, gaining weight is common. Maintaining a healthy weight, however, is entirely possible, by following these simple guidelines.
Draw a plan: People who plan for success -- and failure -- will mostly likely avoid gaining weight.

Keep a record: Taking stock of what you eat and when will help you track your progress and pinpoint areas where you can improve.

Stay active: Exercise is a crucial part of any weight-maintenance program.

Choose foods wisely: Foods that are low in fat and high in fiber are best for a healthful diet.

(WebMD) -- One of Dianne Wang's chief fears about going to college this month is gaining weight, or what some call the "Freshman 15." The 17-year-old San Franciscan isn't alone, as thousands of high school graduates head for college this fall to juggle a heavy academic load, a new social life -- and a college cafeteria with its smorgasbord of light and not-so-light foods.

The stress of handling rigorous studies and being away from parents for the first time, in an environment with unlimited access to food, can quickly result in weight gain. And if freshmen use food to soothe emotional needs instead of hunger, putting on 15 pounds is quite possible.

Fortunately, the skills for managing weight are no secret -- it's just a matter of eating less. If you're serious about attaining or maintaining a realistic weight, then "commitment" must become your middle name.

It's all in the planning

Nowhere does the saying "failing to plan is planning to fail" apply more than with weight management. People who successfully manage their weight have learned how to set realistic expectations and limits on themselves - a particular challenge for young college students who deal with so much for the first time.

Managing weight involves planning meals and exercising regularly - as well as anticipating high-stress situations that may trigger overeating, such as a tight class schedule, eating in the dormitory dining hall, loneliness or boredom. If you notice you overeat in the dining hall, for example, then plan to serve yourself modest portions of four items and don't go back for seconds. On top of that, have a plan for when you slip off your plans. Leave little to chance.

Dianne, who will attend the University of California at Berkeley, says she's already strategizing to maintain her weight. The former high school rower says she'll try to continue rowing to stay in shape and she'll avoid eating out, a usual cause of weight gain for her.

Keep a record

Monitor your progress by keeping a food journal. Record what, how much, when and where you eat, as well as your hunger level and mood before and after the meal. From your food records, you'll identify situations that trigger inappropriate eating. Write them down and develop plans for handling them. Revise your plans as needed. Record keeping boosts self-awareness, keeps you focused on your goals, provides invaluable feedback and is the critical first step in designing a strategy.

Most important, develop the habit of checking your feelings at least five times a day by asking yourself how you feel and what you need. If you're hungry, eat. If you're not hungry, don't eat. Food isn't the answer to stress, loneliness, boredom or fatigue. Find a nonfood way to solve these issues, such as calling a friend to talk when you're lonely, exercising during your boredom-prone time of day or taking a nap when you're tired.

Exercise and choose food wisely

Keep moving. Those who avoid the Freshman 15 exercise regularly. Also, combine daily activity with low-fat, high-fiber foods from the dorm dining hall or student union. That means loading your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and extra-lean meat. Be sure your daily diet includes two to three servings of nonfat milk products. At the salad bar, load up on lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables, but go light on the dressings, pasta or potato salads and avocados. Avoid casseroles, meat with sauces and gravies, butter on bread, cheese dishes and high-calorie desserts.

Be realistic

Finally, never say "never" or "always." People who successfully manage their weight give themselves permission to be imperfect. They allow themselves treats. Labeling foods "bad" or "forbidden" only makes those foods more desirable, and when your resistance breaks down you'll overeat the very foods you worked so hard to avoid.

The secret is to forgive yourself for one missed exercise session or eating one piece of chocolate cake. Don't let your failures undo all your efforts. If you go overboard, pick yourself up and start over again at the next meal or the next day.

Elizabeth Somer, R.D., is a registered dietitian and author of several books, including "Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy," "Food & Mood," "Nutrition for Women: The Compete Guide" and "The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals." She is editor-in-chief of "Nutrition Alert!," a newsletter that abstracts current nutrition research from more than 6,000 journals.

Copyright 1999 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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