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How to Help Your Child Avoid "Freshman 15" Weight Gain

Gaining extra pounds in those first few months of college isn't inevitable -- if your child learns how to eat well and fit in exercise.
By
WebMD the Magazine - Feature

Each month WebMD the Magazine puts your questions about weight loss and fitness to top exercise and motivational experts. This month, Debra Bennetts, a marketing professional from Norwalk, Conn., has been touring colleges with her 18-year-old daughter, Emily, and asked how she could help her daughter avoid gaining the traditional "freshman 15" -- those extra pounds that too often pile on while adjusting to college life. Advising her is Robyn Priebe, RD, CD, director of nutrition at Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women’s healthy lifestyle program in Vermont that operates a special camp for college-age women.

Debra's question:

My daughter eats healthy foods, but left to her own devices, I know she will skip breakfast and eat junk food. How can I make sure she understands that what she eats and drinks makes a difference not only to her weight but also to her overall health and how she feels when she’s on her own at college this year?

Answer:

New research shows that it may be a myth that college students gain quite this much weight -- it may be closer to five to seven pounds. But obviously rapid weight gain and unhealthy eating are not good for anyone.

Follow these tips to help young college women stay fit, healthy, and full of energy:

Scope out your schedule. College students with crazy schedules need to plan ahead so they can eat regular meals rather than grab a cup of coffee on the way to class and then binge later. They should stock a minifridge in their room with healthy food that can be quickly tossed in a backpack. Aim for a combination of healthy carbs, fat, and protein -- trail mix, apples and peanut butter, cheese and grapes. Nonfat or low-fat dairy is a healthy option, particularly for young women who need to build bone mass, so stock up on foods such as cheese or plain yogurt with fruit to mix in.

Make it about friends, not food. So much college socializing revolves around food: pizza parties, deli runs, study sessions loaded with bags of chips. Encourage your child to do things with friends that aren’t an opportunity to gorge, such as bowling, indoor rock climbing, or attending a play or concert. For food-focused events, suggest bringing a healthy option -- a big bowl of fresh fruit instead of chips and dip.

Reinvent yourself. If your child wasn’t much of an athlete in high school, college offers a fresh start. Most colleges have many more options for sports and physical activities, at multiple levels -- from very competitive to oh-so-casual. She can join an intramural volleyball team, become part of a pickup soccer group, or take yoga or dance. 

Weight and see. Many college women try to lose weight by doing a lot of cardio and eating next to nothing. That just causes their metabolism to shut down. Lifting weights is an essential part of staying fit -- your freshman can burn more calories and boost bone health at the same time. And eating five or six small meals or snacks a day helps keep metabolism -- and energy levels -- soaring.

Reviewed on September 30, 2009

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