7.1 Exercise and Diet

Is Gaining Weight Part of the College Experience?

Is it true that freshmen gain up to fifteen pounds in the first year of college life? The “Freshman 15” is the popular belief that most college students will gain 15 lbs of weight in the first year of college. Vella-Zarb and Elgar (2008) found that when pooling the results of 24 studies and 3,401 subjects, the mean weight gain was 3.86 lbs. Approximately 36% of U.S. college students are estimated to be currently overweight or obese (American College Health Association, n.d.). Boyle and Larose (2008) surveyed 169 students and found that among healthy-weight students, greater self-efficacy (i.e., a personal evaluation about their abilities and skills to successfully complete a task) was associated with more physical activity and healthier diets. Of the 65% of Americans that are overweight, the greatest increases in weight gain occur in persons between the ages of 18–29 years. Adams and Cloner (2008) analyzed data from 40,209 college students that completed the American Health Association-College Health Assessment. They found relationships between physical activity, perceived health, sleep, self-care behaviors, and grades and the intake of high fruit and vegetable intake for men and women. In other words, your health is tied in with your college success in many ways.

You are in control of what happens during your college days. Sure enough, college is new and exciting with many changes and disruptions from familiar and stable conditions at home. Racette, Deusinger, Strube, Highstein, and Deusinger (2005) studied 764 college students during their freshman and sophomore years. They found that at the beginning of the freshman year 29% of the students reported not exercising, 70% ate fewer than five fruits and vegetables per day, and more than 50% ate fried or high-fat fast food at least 3 times during the previous weeks. By the end of their sophomore year 70% of the 290 students reassessed had gained weight. There are many things that you can do to ease the transition to college life while enjoying a healthy lifestyle. Why is it necessary to have a healthy diet? A healthy diet will result in a healthy body and this will ultimately result in good grades and decreased stress.

Students consider their choices at Connections Café in the University Center.

What Is a Healthy Diet?

A healthy diet can be incorporated in a lifestyle at college whether you are living at home, in a residence hall, or sharing a home with roommates. In order to maintain a healthy diet, you must understand what constitutes a healthy diet. At ChooseMyPlate.gov, you are able to enter height and weight and get a plan for a non-therapeutic diet according to the current dietary guidelines. You will receive a customized food guide. The site also has topics related to physical activity, sample menus, tips for eating out, vegetarian diets, and healthy holiday eating. You can also follow ChooseMyPlate tip daily or follow ChooseMyPlate on Twitter©.

ChooseMyPlate.gov hosted by the United States Department of Agriculture

When you are at college, you have opportunities to socialize and that often means opportunities for dining out. Luckily, most restaurants are now providing calorie counts for items on their menus. As a supplement to these, you can access virtually any restaurant and the nutritional facts on the menu items at the USDA’s FoodData Central.


USDA FoodData Central


Your living situation will affect your plans and access to a healthy diet. You may be eating on campus most of the time, or you may be cooking for yourself for the first time. Regardless of your living arrangement, the key to a healthy diet is planning for your snacks and meals. The food plans on the ChooseMyPlate.gov site suggests three meals per day plus two snacks are satisfactory. (While you work to maintain healthy eating habits, it’s important to remember that skipping meals is not recommended as it can result in binge eating, as well as low blood sugar levels that contribute to lower levels of concentration, dizziness, weakness and crankiness.) The on-campus dining facilities make it a point to offer a number of healthy meal and snack options.

If you live off-campus, though, you can prepare your own foods and may be tempted to be less than healthy. To help ensure a proper diet, it is helpful to make a list of what you would like to purchase when going to the grocery store and following through with that list. Create a list that includes mostly fresh and unprepared foods. Purchasing less prepackaged food is not only more cost effective, it provides a healthier diet. Also, you can cook meals ahead of time and freeze them or plan to eat them for the week in order to save time. However, remember that even if you live off-campus, you can purchase an on-campus meal plan for the Connection Café and let them plan your breakfast and lunches for you. For those who live on-campus, the key to eating on campus is to make healthy choices. If you have a meal plan at the cafeteria, remember that there are many foods from which you can choose— you can choose to eat pizza or you can choose to eat baked chicken and a vegetable. In addition, on-campus housing may permit the use of a refrigerator. If not, always be prepared with snacks that do not require refrigerating or heating. Some examples of these snacks are fruit cups, fresh fruits, nuts, and peanut butter and crackers. If you are faced with choosing a snack from the vending machines, your choice for healthy foods is more limited.

Depending on your circumstances, you may have to prepare your own meals. If you have not done this before, then you will need some help. Some suggestions are investing in crock pot cooking and purchasing a recipe book that demonstrates quick and healthy meals within minutes using less than five ingredients. Remember to double the recipe so that you can have leftovers for those times when you are busy studying for exams or writing papers.

How Much Water Should I Drink?

Total water intake includes water in drinking water, beverages, and water contained in food. Adequate water intake was derived from U.S. survey data (U.S. Departments of Health & Human Services & Agriculture, 2005), and adequate intake for young men and women aged 19 to 30 years is 3.7 L to 2.7 L respectively. The Beverage Guidance system has recommended that water intake be limited from high-calorie beverages to very low-calorie beverages to ensure healthier living and to combat the obesity epidemic.

What about Exercise?

A freshman faces many challenges, and incorporating exercise can be difficult with a change in lifestyle and schedule. However, the benefits of exercise outweigh the complications of including it in your routine. For instance, it has been shown that exercise can decrease blood pressure, stress levels, and risk of osteoporosis in women.

You can be successful with the inclusion of an exercise regime in your new life, but it is very important to find an activity that you like. Setting a schedule is advisable for success in your program. Also, doing a variety of activities will result in less boredom, and incorporating fun activities with family and friends can be very encouraging. The Maverick Activities Center (MAC) offers a wide range of exercise options from free-play sports, exercise equipment, swimming, indoor track, etc. Getting involved in intramural sports can also increase your activity level while meeting some social needs. Also, you will have the opportunity to walk on campus to contribute to your exercise activity, so don’t be so concerned with finding the closest parking spot available.

When considering exercise, keep some things in mind. First, it is important to remember that before embarking on any exercise program, you should be cleared by your physician. Also, make sure you have the correct equipment, clothing, and gear to prevent injuries. If you plan to cycle or jog, caution is urged to prevent injuries due to accidents on campus and in the city. Knowing the rules of the game is also essential to prevent injuries.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services



Type in “Activity” in the search box to find charts on exercise activities and levels of exertion.


Also, for the most benefit, exercise at least a few times a week. The American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend that adults under the age of 65 do moderately intense cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week, or vigorously intense cardio 20 minutes a day, three days a week. The AHA and ASCM also recommend 8–10 strength-training exercises, 8–12 repetitions of each exercise twice per week.

American College of Sports Medicine acsm.org
Type in “Strength-Training Exercises” in the search box to find information on different types of exercises and guidelines for starting a program.

Now that you are armed with resources and information to develop and/or maintain a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise, you are sure to be successful as you embark on the career that you desire. Live, laugh, and learn while maintaining optimum health.


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