Balance plays key in student nutrition

Not only freshmen get caught up in the “Freshman 15.”

Mariah Weber, the wellness coordinator and registered dietitian, said anyone can experience weight gain, but it tends to be associated with freshmen because of the change from high school to college.

“The issue I think freshman students run into in regards to campus dining is that it’s a completely different setup from what they were used to in high school. In high school they may have had home cooked meals made by themselves or their parents,” Weber said. “As a freshman you have to eat on campus, and you are faced with various different choices. It can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate.”

Anywhere from 25 to 82 percent of students gain around five pounds or more during their first semester of college, according to a compilation of studies from the University of Texas at Austin.

Weight gain is the result of overeating, Weber said. But it’s not necessarily from overeating in one food group category. One of the main reasons students, or anyone, tend to gain weight is because they don’t have an understanding of what the serving size is or what is in the food they are eating.

Weber recommends getting an app, such as MyFitnessPal, to track the calories eaten in one day. This helps students gauge where they are at for caloric intake.

But Weber said tracking calories and eating healthy doesn’t necessarily mean restricting foods from the diet.

“I don’t consider foods good or bad,” Weber said. “Food is energy.”

For foods high in calories and less nutrient-dense, Weber said students should look for healthier side options. For instance, a student can still get a sandwich from Chick-fil-A, but Weber said instead of getting fries as a side, maybe get a side salad or a side of fruit.

Though it may seem like there are only unhealthy options on campus at first, Weber said she guarantees there are healthy options at any of the dining options on campus.

“It does take some strategy and a little bit of planning,” Weber said. “But is it possible to eat healthy on campus? Yes, absolutely.”

Emotional eating, or stress eating, can also be an issue for students, Weber said. This can lead to overeating as well.

“If that’s happening, try not to keep foods that you may normally go to when you are stressed in your room because if you’re overwhelmed and the food is in sight, you are setting yourself up for mindless eating,” Weber said. “I also recommend trying to find an alternative activity other than eating … like exercise or journaling.”

Weber said eating while studying should be avoided because it’s “mindless eating,” meaning students don’t pay attention to how much they have eaten.

To manage and maintain weight, Weber said it is important the way a person eats is sustainable in the long-run. If maintaining weight is the goal, fad diets, or what she calls “band-aids,” should be avoided.

“They are masking the problem,” Weber said. “They may be successful short-term, but in the long-run, usually not. Typically you’re not learning any sort of behavioral change with fad diets.”

Unless students are diagnosed with celiac disease or intolerance, she said the Nutrition Center tries to steer students clear of gluten-free diets. It can be easy to take a lot of nutrients out of the diet if students go about it the wrong way.

“Can you do it for life? If the answer is no, then let’s figure something else out,” Weber said.

Weber said when it comes to weight management, people can be successful with just modifying their diet. But exercise is always recommended, not only as an extra measure to weight loss, but also as stress relief.

“An hour of moderate activity every day is ideal,” Weber said, “but if students can only handle 20 to 30 minutes per day, that is great as well.”

The activity doesn’t have to be one block of 30 minutes either, it can be split up into 10 minute intervals or as students walk to class.

Patrick Hybertson, wildlife and fisheries and theatre double major, uses the Wellness Center to his advantage to stay healthy.

“I go to the Wellness Center when I can as well as being involved with club sports or intramurals,” Hybertson said. “Rugby Club is a great way to stay healthy because there’s a lot of running.”

But he never struggled with the “freshman 15.” Instead, he lost weight.

Hybertson has been a community assistant on campus for about three years, and said he hasn’t had trouble finding healthy food.

“I’ve been eating the food on campus the whole time or I might eat in my room, sit here and watch a movie and think about life and eat a sandwich,” Hybertson said.

Of the students Weber sees at the Nutrition Center, she said about 75 percent are for weight management.

But the success rate of losing, gaining or maintaining weight can vary.

“It depends on how serious they are when they came in, and if they were ready to change,” Weber said. “I’d say it’s about 50-50. Fifty percent are ready to make changes and take time to make healthy decisions when dining on campus.”

For those who fall back off the bandwagon, Weber said there are a number of reasons, including busy schedules and stress. For weight management to occur, the student has to make nutrition one of their top priorities.

The Nutrition Center offers nutrition counseling and wellness coaching to students and community members. Weber said those services cover anything under the “umbrella” of nutrition, whether it be weight management, digestive disorders, eating disorders or anything in-between.

The initial appointment for nutrition counseling is $25 for students and any follow-up appointments are $10. Wellness coaching appointments are sold in blocks of four at $75 for students.

“I encourage students … to reach out and come get help now,” Weber said. “It’s very low cost for students to receive nutrition counseling and now is the time when students are making decisions and habits that can last a lifetime.”