Good choices in diet and exercise can eliminate ‘freshman 15’

Column by Jordan Covvey

One of my favorite memories from freshman year was the ritual weekly hike to K-Lair Grill and Food for the daily meal special.

Sitting inside our favorite little hole-in-the-wall, I’d watch all the dorm students drag themselves through the door, freshly rolled out of bed and clad in mismatched pajama pants and UK gear. With a quick swipe of their meal card and a couple squirts of ketchup later, the burden upon their shoulders melted away as they dove into their plate of chicken fingers and crinkle fries.

Now of course, I wasn’t just sitting in the corner watching this happen; I, too, was elbow-deep in my own chicken finger special. But at least I had ordered a diet soda.

Freshman year is a formidable transition by any means. For many students, it’s their first true experience in residential, academic and social freedom. Balancing college coursework, roommates and a little fun on the side can sometimes seem unmanageable.

Perhaps that’s what created the ‘freshman 15.’ In addition to the aforementioned freedoms, we also incur dietary freedom.

For one of the first times in our lives, we eat what we want, when we want. And there’s no mom sitting at the kitchen table raising an eyebrow as we eat our third dinner for the evening. Combine this freedom with stress and lack of sleep, and students can pack on the pounds.

Contrary to popular belief, research suggests that most students only gain around five pounds during their first year, so there is hope.

Whether the real number is five or 15, there are ways to fight the trend. Ultimately, the best way to keep your health in check is to eat a diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to teach you about the food pyramid, but I can also attest that these items are hard to find on a college campus. Campus weight management is really about small changes.

Drink diet soda or water instead of regular soda. Let’s assume that most college students consume, on average, two 20-ounce bottles of soda daily. Replacing this with a calorie-free alternative saves 3,360 calories each week, almost the equivalent of one pound of body fat.

The same theory works with your morning java fix. Requesting the light version of your blended frappuccino can save an additional 2,000 calories per week.

Often the items that pack on the pounds are a result of things other than hunger. Stress, loneliness or boredom can all contribute.

Small changes work for exercise too. Most people embark upon exercise routines by a couple days worth of two-hour gym sessions and quit in a week with sore muscles and a bad attitude.

Physical activity is best in small doses when you start out. Walk from the stadium parking lot instead of taking the bus. Buy a set of 5-pound hand weights and do a couple reps while you watch television at night. Grab some friends and throw a Frisbee around or play a game of racquetball.

Getting exercise with friends is 10 times easier to begin with and sooner or later, you’ll catch the bug. I started jogging by signing up for a 5K with friends. What started out as a painful chore slowly turned into something I love to do.

The ‘freshman 15’ is undeniably a hurdle you’ll have to jump when you start college, but luckily, it is completely manageable. Think of healthy eating and exercise in the same regard as studying for a big exam: Slow and steady wins the race.