I started this blog with a focus on holiday weight gain. However, as I dug into various studies, I noticed similarities between holiday (or vacation) weight gain and the “Freshman 15” as root causes, along with the strategies to regain (& maintain) good health (and weight), are the same.
I was also pleased to learn, according to an Ohio State University study, the average student only gains 2-3 lbs. his/her first year vs 15–which is good news, but I digress..! Whether it’s the extended holiday season (the morphing of Halloween into Thanksgiving into Christmas into New Year’s!), vacation, or the beginning of your college career, weight gain is often due to repeated choices that aren’t in your best interest. Choices like poor quality cafeteria food, a plethora of venues offering unhealthy eats, energy drink vending machines, along with the limited college budgets encouraging cheap fast & fried “food” or a vacation budget allowing rich foods. Because of hectic schedules and multiple opportunities to indulge, meals get skipped and food prep falls to a low priority (or not even possible) resulting in cheap and low quality processed foods that are nutritionally void while offering “value meal” calories. A Cornell study showed that 20% of weight gained by students was due to eating at “all you can eat” dining halls. Yikes. Haven’t we all patted ourselves on the back with that same “value meal/what a deal” thinking while on vacation?
Poor food choices contribute to weight gain while another root cause is stress. Stress causes a double whammy because it causes surges of insulin and cortisol which can keep your body from mobilizing fatty acids as fuel. At the same time, stress prevents our body from using sugar leading to weight gain and fat storage. For our students, they are in a new living environment complete with a new set of friends, a different bed and late nights….well, you get the picture. Also, some folks deal with stress by…yep, you guessed it: eating.
So we have poor food choices and stress…now let’s add alcohol to the mix. Not that either of my college kids would indulge (yeah right)! With alcohol, we might as well add some “weighting” to the impact it can have on weight gain. Like junk food, it’s high in calories and low in nutrients. And, just one night of partying add a LOT of excess calories. But, add to that the hormonal impact of less testosterone and an increase in fat storage hormones like cortisol. A big double whammy. And…yes, there’s more. When imbibing, defenses (aka willpower and better decision making) goes out the window. Where does this excess fat get stored? Why right around the waist…hello “muffin” top.
Now…to each of the above root causes for weight gain, let’s add one more: not sleeping enough. A sleep deprived body causes hunger hormones to be stimulated (increased) AND causes a drop in dopamine and serotonin causing you to feel LESS full and MORE hungry leading to snacking.
So you can see, whether you are in holiday/vacation mode or are a newbie college freshman, the “environment” for weight gain is all around you. However, it’s not a forgone conclusion and there are simple strategies to combat the fat:
Hit the gym—or, find ways to be more active. If at the office, stand at your desk, make a point to take walk breaks. In the dorm, put a chin-up bar in the doorway -or keep a sandbag or pair of dumbbells so you can lift on a regular basis in addition to bodyweight exercise. Make a point NOT to sit for longer than an hour without getting up, try walking a few flights of stairs, or pumping out a set of squats, push-ups, dips, jumping jacks or leg swings. It’s all movement and every little bit counts. I hate to tell you this, but the research is in: it doesn’t matter how hard you train—if you spend most of your time in a seated position, you will be health challenged. So instead of Facebook or Snapchat surfing while sitting, walk to as much as possible. Walk while reviewing note cards and enlist nearby dorm friends to join you in the movement effort.
Be healthy. Choose health, that is. Avoid drinking high amounts of caffeine and choose drinks flavored with stevia vs those sweetened with sugar, sucralose or aspartame. Eat a variety of fresh, colorful food vs. packaged & processed foods. Add in some seeds and nuts.
As your energy increases, you can take it to another level by:
- Focus on managing stress. Become aware of triggers and incorporate breathing and or meditation exercises.
- Move outdoors and enjoy nature.
- Vent to a friend or try gratitude journaling. And,
- Sleep more. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and blue light before bed.
Till next time, choose fit, be healthy, & have a blessed holiday season!