College comes with newfound freedoms, including eating what you want whenever you want it. Many new students are accustomed to having most meals at home, usually purchased and prepared by their parents. It’s easy to assume freshmen are set up to fail with the limited options of “healthy” foods, but there is a century old technique to prevent the dreaded weight gain without sacrificing the fun of the college lifestyle.
By now, we are all aware of the phenomenon that is the “Freshmen 15,” and while many different factors contribute, one thing is for certain – nutrition plays a huge role. For new students, the majority of their meals now come from the union cafeteria and fast food restaurants.
Like your grandmother always said, “everything in moderation!” This isn’t just a tip for college students – this is what I consider the golden rule of nutrition. While a few in the nutrition field will try to single out a certain nutrient or food (red meat, sugar, etc.) for the reason behind fat gain, the truth is that the foundation of every diet always comes back to calories-in versus calories-out. Put simply, if more calories are consumed than burned, weight gain will occur. This is also known as a calorie surplus. More calories burned than consumed results in weight loss, or calorie deficit.
Weight loss diets may all have a unique way of creating a calorie deficit, whether it is low carb, dairy free, baby food diet or any other wacky nutrition plan. All of these have had some success, yet none of them are magic. They work simply because they create a calorie deficit.
So what does that mean for you? Focus on getting 80-90 percent of your calories from whole food, nutrient dense sources (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats) and then allow yourself freedom with the remaining 10-20 percent. This will provide the optimal environment for weight maintenance or weight loss, while also keeping you psychologically healthy by allowing your favorite foods.
Remember, calories-in vs. calories-out. So if Applebee’s were on the radar for Friday night, it would be wise to eat lower calorie foods during the day or maybe play basketball at the rec, this way you don’t over consume for the entire day.
If weight gain does occur, drastic changes are rarely the answer. Try eating smaller portions in the café, more fiber to stay full or switch to diet if the issue is soda. Learning to apply the rules of moderation will allow for the optimal balance of health and fun in college.