Fitness, food, and the freshman 15

For incoming first-year students, college is all about new-found freedom: freedom to stay up late, freedom to choose when (or when not) to study, and freedom to eat vanilla ice cream and waffles from Schatz as a substitute for dinner.

Unfortunately, the “freshman 15” is not a myth. According to a study conducted by Cornell University, the typical first-year student gains an average of 4.2 pounds in the first 12 weeks of college. However, it is possible to balance health with deliciousness so you can still fit into your clothes come Thanksgiving. With a few helpful tricks, you can ward off those unwanted pounds.

Portion control is a huge problem for most of the American population, and unsurprisingly, an issue for students as well. At the buffet, treat your plate like a pie chart: one half should be devoted to vegetables, while the other half of the circle is split evenly between carbohydrates (baked potato, whole grain rice) and protein (egg, chicken, fish). Are your eyes always bigger than your stomach? Try limiting yourself to just one plate at the buffet instead of carrying an entire tray, which can fit two large plates and a smaller side dish.

Study sessions with friends and late nights at the library often mean that additional calories are consumed in the form of snacks. Instead of digging into sugary foods like cookies or sweetened sodas, which give a quick high and then zap all energy, keep a bag of whole wheat crackers or carrot sticks on hand to munch. Not only will you be saving money by bringing your own snacks, you won’t suffer from a sugar hangover and will be able to power through that problem set. If you’re hungry and haven’t planned your snacks ahead, remember that fruits and vegetables are the best way to go and are available at Maggie Murph Café in the library.

Let’s cut to the chase: College often means a dramatic increase in your alcohol consumption. Even a can of light beer has 100 calories, so a night of binge drinking will wreak havoc on your diet. Alcohol also lessens your inhibitions, so you may not have the willpower to turn down that entire pie from Domino’s that your roommate ordered at 3 a.m.

If you are avoiding the frat parties to study, don’t think you’re in the clear. A heavy course load and hours of homework isn’t exactly conducive to a fitness plan, but even a quick sweat session is proven to maximize your energy and boost your mood. “One 30-minute session of moderate-intensity exercise can help ease distress, depression, tension and anger,” wrote exercise physiologist and spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine Michael Bracko in a September 2007 MSNBC article. Try taking a brisk walk with a friend around campus, or head into the gym for a workout between classes.

And if you’re not the treadmill type, the UC Gym offers group fitness classes that include yoga, Pilates, and, for the more adventurous types, a samba dance class. “Doing the dance classes helped me not only strengthen my core, but I made such great friends,” said Hannah Pileggi, a junior statistics major. Group classes are also best for those unsure of their fitness ability. Group activities will motivate you to push yourself farther than you would working out individually, and the instructors will be able to answer any questions you have about the class. Another idea is to join your dorm’s intramural sport team. Tennis, soccer, and flag football are just a few of the IM sports offered at Carnegie Mellon. Just try not to reach for the chocolate cake or ice cream after a workout or game and cancel out all that hard work.