Earning a college degree is an amazing accomplishment, but according to a new study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, you may need to order your graduation gown a size up.
While dozens of studies have investigated the so-called "freshman 15," this is the first to track changes in weight, body mass index, and body composition over an entire four-year college period. Researchers at Auburn University followed 131 college students from the start of their freshman year through the end of their senior semester and found a slow, steady gain. Roughly 70 percent of students gained weight, on average nearly a dozen pounds. In addition, body fat percentage increased 3.6 percent, and total body fat rose by about 7 pounds. Overall the percentage of students who qualified as overweight or obese jumped from 18 percent to 31 percent.
I think all of us who’ve gone through college know the factors that can lead to weight gain, including stress eating, social eating, all-you-can-eat dining hall fare, a reliance on convenience foods, and, for many students, too much alcohol. The good news is that you can take charge of your health, whether you’re in college now or have had your diploma for years. I’ve seen clients successfully stave off weight gain—even under challenging circumstances—and shed pounds after gaining them unintentionally. The keys are having an action plan and securing support.
Check out these previous blogs—even better, bookmark them on your computer. Each can help you navigate difficult situations while staying on track and help you plan healthy meals that won’t take a lot of time or effort:
- A week’s worth of mix-and-match meals
- Make-ahead lunch ideas
- Healthy-eating shortcuts
- What to eat before and after a workout
- How to splurge and still lose weight
- Tried and true ways to manage your weight (that don’t involve crazy diets)
- Overcome social eating temptations
For support, turn to the Shape.com community. We’re here 24/7 to help you stay motivated, cheer you on, and celebrate your successes. And if you are away at college, don’t forget about the resources available on campus. Most schools offer free access to a fitness center and many employ a nutritionist you can meet with if you need one-on-one guidance. (I know first-hand because I’ve held this job at universities in New York, Texas, and Florida.)
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.