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Expert Q&A: Avoiding the Freshman 15

An interview with Connie Diekman, MEd, RD

How should a weight-conscious freshman navigate the vast dining hall?

As you go into the dining facility, take a look at what’s there. Don’t jump immediately into the salad bar line. There may be healthier options such as fresh vegetables or whole-grain pasta. Once you have made your decision, you are in control. Think about how much cheese, meat, beans, nuts, or salad dressing that you take. Choose more vegetables and less of those things. A dinner plate should comprise two-thirds fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This is a good way to build a healthy meal. Also, ask questions in the dining facility such as ‘how is that prepared?’ or ‘can I get this without butter?’ If a service-line person can’t help you, find out who can.

How does or can late-night pizza and alcohol fit in?

If you order pizza late-night, get a salad too so that you can control the number of slices you eat. Participate with friends, don’t isolate; because isolation leads to disordered eating. When you restrict what you eat during the day to allow yourself to drink at night, alcohol affects you more quickly. When alcohol has a rapid affect, it drops your blood sugar and triggers the need to eat and alcohol also lowers your inhibitions. You can end up eating as many calories -- if not more -- than you would have if you ate throughout the day and still had a drink at night. Eat during the day if you are planning to drink, so you don’t drink too much or eat too much.

Are any freshman immune to the freshman 15?

Weight gain is an individual issue. Our genetics determine how we gain, where we gain, and when we gain. Most students find they have some ups and downs with their weight while at college.

There also seems to be a parallel epidemic of eating disorders among students. Is that related to the freshman 15?

The environment of watching people eat and seeing people eat as much as they want and not gain a pound can make it difficult to put “healthy eating” into perspective for college students. We end up with weight gain. Some students handle this well and others will resort to disordered eating such as fad diets, restriction, and sometimes it moves on to eating disorders.

How can healthy eating among college students be encouraged?

Kids are not getting the nutritional education that they need to arm themselves for college. My recommendation to schools and parents is to talk more about healthy eating in high school and middle school. We need to teach kids about the importance of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy food. We need to teach them what they should eat, not what they should not eat. College kids also spend a lot of time on the Web. There is a lot of misinformation out there. Go to reputable sites for good nutritional information, and do not believe the fast, quick, and easy way to drop 5 pounds. Also find out what services are available on campus, such as a dietitian or health and wellness center that can help develop healthy eating strategies.

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