Health & Safety

How to Talk About the Freshman 15

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By: Rhiannon Winner, Uloop

There is no greater stress imaginable to a teenager than starting their first year of college. The freedom and difficulty of it is rewarding, but sometimes, the stress can be overwhelming.

Many students turn to food as a coping mechanism, or even if they’re managing the stress well, they might find themselves routinely overeating just to hang out with friends. Just about everyone knows what the “Freshman 15” is, whether you’re in high school, college, or a parent.

The 15 pounds often gained by college students during their first year — and, in many cases, more than 15 — can be hard to talk about. Students might be embarrassed about the weight gain, and of course, parents don’t want to bring up anything that might hurt their student’s feelings, assuming they notice the weight gain in the first place.

But if your student in question is not happy with their body after the weight gain, then it might be time to sit down and have a discussion about the Freshman 15.

Don’t initiate the discussion

If your student wants to talk about the Freshman 15, they will. Don’t force the subject upon them, because the only thing you’ll end up doing is making them feel bad about themselves. No one wants to be criticized for their weight.

If your student is happy with their body, then that’s wonderful and there’s really no place for you to step in. If they’re not, they’ll either settle into a lifestyle of healthier eating and exercise or let you know that they’re struggling to change on their own.

Even if your student isn’t the type to call home often, they know that you’ve got their back. They’ll reach out to you for help or just to vent if they need to.

Suggest they visit the counseling center

If your student is overeating because they’re extremely stressed or because they feel socially pressured to do so, the counseling center can help. Their campus almost certainly has some kind of mental health resource that they can access for free and as often as they need it.

Encourage your student to seek out that support system, even if they’re not certain it will help. Maybe it won’t, but it’s better to try, especially since college counseling centers across the country have helped thousands of students just like yours.

Help them construct a routine

Making a plan and sticking to it is the best way for your student to avoid gaining more weight and to lose whatever amount they’re aiming for. Help your student create a realistic plan for eating healthier and exercising often. Your student might want to jump right in and exercise seven days a week, but it’s your job to make sure they plan realistically. Making it to the gym can be difficult between classes, clubs, homework, and other activities, so ensure that they’re setting a reasonable goal that they won’t be struggling to reach.

Additionally, you should help them construct a plan for eating healthier. Encourage them to eat three meals a day every day, and go over what kinds of foods are available at the dining center and the nutritional value of such options. Your student may even want to download a calorie counting app on their phone so that they can easily search for the nutrition facts for their favorite dining hall meals. Remind them that eating healthy doesn’t mean starving yourself or limiting yourself to kale for every meal.

Make sure they know that they should be eating three meals a day, that they’re allowed to eat (healthy) snacks when they’re hungry, and that the occasional cheat day is perfectly okay. It’s about moderation, not cutting foods out of their diet entirely.

Send them back to school with healthy snacks

Your student will sometimes get hungry between meals, and inevitably spend a late night in the library craving a snack. When they head back to school, send them with lots of healthy snacks. Snacking is how many students end up gaining the Freshman 15 in the first place, and cutting out unhealthy snacks can help get your student back on track.

The ideal mix of healthy snack foods varies from student to student, so go shopping together for healthy treats. Just make sure that you don’t buy too many perishable items for them to eat. Foods that can last for a while, such as nuts, dried fruits, healthy snack bars, and other similar snack foods, are ideal.

The challenges posed by the Freshman 15 can be daunting for parents and students alike. As a parent, there isn’t much you can do to help your student other than encourage them to make good choices if they’re aiming to drop those pounds or stop adding them.

Just remember that your student’s happiness is paramount, so don’t judge or shame them. All you really need to do is be there for them when they need you.

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