Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Weight Gain During Freshman Year In College

Dear Laurie,
I am a 19 year old male and I've gained weight with no explanation over the past year. I used to eat 3 meals a day at home, but in college I live in the dorms and I started skipping breakfast, partly due to sleep habits. My lunch and dinner are usually fast foods, but I try to choose the healthiest items they offer. Other than that I drink only about one soda a day and maybe a couple of light snack foods. So I'm not eating that much, but I've gained about 20 pounds since last year. It's affecting the way I look, especially my stomach, and I would like to go back to the way I was a year ago, and definitely not to gain any more! Can you help??!! --- Adam T.

Dear Adam,

I believe I can explain your weight gain in several ways: you may be able to change one or two habits and stop the gain this coming year, and maybe even lose!

Although it may seem that you should not be gaining weight because you cut an entire meal out of your daily regimen (breakfast), this action can actually contribute to weight gain.
When you refuel your body at breakfast time, it reacts by reving up and burning calories for daily metabolic processes. If your body believes there is no fuel available (as happens when a person is starving due to decreased availability of food) it makes an effort to conserve energy and you actually burn fewer calories during the day.

Secondly, though you are trying to make the best choice at a fast food restaurant, that's not always easy to do for more reasons that one: It might be tempting to add fries and a shake once you see them, or see others ordering them, even though you were determined not to before you went in. And even if you skip what you know is high in calories, it's hard to know what is in the foods unless you've looked up the actual nutritional content on the restaurant's menu information. Even I was surprised to see the high calorie content of things like "market fresh" sandwiches (over 800 calories) and healthy baked potato dishes (over 500 calories) and fish sandwiches (over 700 calories). There are often sauces, spreads, and other hidden sources of fat in these dishes that can mean ingesting hundreds of calories over what they seem to provide.

Thirdly, snacking during the day is something we often do more often than we think we do. We don't remember grabbing that candy bar from the vending machine on the way to class, accepting a cookie from a friend, downing a soda on the way to the gym, and so forth. So we can ingest another few hundred calories without realizing it.
Make a conscious effort to keep track of your snacking, even carrying a small pad of paper with you and jotting down what you eat to monitor what you're actually eating.

I suspect once you become more attentive to your diet, including having breakfast, eating only foods which you know the calorie content for, and being aware of the extra snacks and sodas you actually consume during the day, these will add up to a high enough number of calories saved every day to get quite a few pounds off your sophomore year in college!

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