The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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College weight gain product of stress, convenience

At this point in the semester, students may be noticing that their jeans don’t fit quite like they used to. Though it is nice to blame it on the fact that you are doing your own laundry for the first time, odds are that it is something else: the infamous “freshman 15.”

There are several factors that may contribute to this weight gain. The transition from high school and mom to college and life on one’s own brings with it many changes and challenges.

First off, mom is probably not cooking for you anymore. Instead, many first-time (and continuing, for that matter) college students are on a first name basis with the people at their favorite fast food joint.

“All of a sudden, they go from mom’s cooking to whatever they want, 24 hours a day,” said Ellen Bauersfeld, a registered dietician with the Klotz Student Health Center.

Even when trying to make healthy selections at a fast food restaurant, studies have shown that each meal has about 186 extra calories, Bauersfeld said. “That’s a recipe for disaster!” she said.

People already know it’s not good for them, but fast food isn’t going away anytime soon. Krystal Daniels, a kinesiology major who works at the fitness center, had several ideas of how to help trim the fat. “It’s all about moderation,” she said.

Order sandwiches without mayonnaise or other sauces, and for combos, she said to order a side salad rather than fries, or to skip the meal altogether and stick with the main course. For portion control, try the kid’s meal. “It still satisfies the craving, but in smaller portions,” Daniels said. Also, soda isn’t the only drink option – there’s water, iced tea, or even Powerade.

Andy Marek, a credential student and a supervisor at the fitness center, said that time and knowledge also come into play.

“They don’t want to take time to cook,” Marek said. “They may not know how to cook, or they might not have the time and money to go to the store and purchase food to cook at home.” He noted that within a mile of campus, students can find pretty much any kind of fast food that they desire.

Eating at all hours is also a problem. In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, there is now a fourth meal. Taco Bell is happy to capitalize on this phenomenon, launching an ad campaign and a Web site dedicated to late-night cravings.

During a late night study session, it is not unusual to turn to food as a pick me up or as a welcome distraction. Unfortunately, when one consumes pizza at midnight, there usually is not a lot of physical activity to follow, so the already less than great food simply sits rather than being burned off. At least some calories from lunch are burned when we walk to class or head to work.

That walk to class is the only exercise that some people get. At the same time that calorie consumption is increasing, exercise tends to hit the back burner. Between classes, work and homework, not a whole lot of time is left to go to the gym.

There is hope, however. Bauersfeld noted that exercise is cumulative, so even 10 to 15 minutes a day can help. She suggested small changes, such as parking further away, to increase physical activity. Marek suggested that those close to school walk or bike rather than drive.

If someone is looking for a gym to join, CSUN has a fitness center right on campus. Located near the University Student Union, the convenience is hard to beat. Marek advises students to come and work out during long breaks between classes.

“It’s not all jocks, not all people trying to be on the cover of a magazine,” Marek said, describing the members of the center. Members are a mix of students, faculty, and people from the community.

To really get in shape, Marek suggests weights three times a week, cardio five times, and “nutrition every day but for one meal. Go crazy for that meal,” he said.

Going crazy, not once in a while but on a regular basis, is another way that students put on weight. Living the party life means less sleep, more pizza, and lots of alcohol.

Marek equated beer with “liquid bread,” and said that alcohol has a chemical in it that prevents fat loss. Going through the Greek system, he said that he saw many people pick up a few pounds.

The Midori Sour was a favorite of Clara Jeredjian’s. Jeredjian is a peer nutrition counselor with the student health center. She pointed out that a six-ounce sour has 300 calories in it. “You start partying, have three or four drinks, and you’ve added thousands of calories in just a few hours,” she said.

The peer nutrition counselors offer individual counseling to look at one’s diet and physical activity, and can help students understand weight and nutrition issues.

After all the late-night dietary misbehaving, many students continue the next day by skipping breakfast. We are all told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it also seems to be the easiest to avoid. Bauersfeld said that not having breakfast sets one up for dietary disaster, since people overeat during the day to compensate.

If one does need a snack between meals, Bauersfeld and the peer nutrition counselors suggest fruits, vegetables or the 100-calorie packs of cookies or crackers.

Snacking out of a vending machine is sometimes the only food that Angie Osuna, sociology major, has in a day. She works full-time in addition to taking classes, so she is often looking at 14-hour days.

“I don’t have a steady schedule, so there’s no focused time when I eat,” she said.

The final factor affecting the “freshman 15” is stress.

“It’s a rare person who feels stressed about an exam and eats a carrot,” said Ellen Mayer, a counselor with University Counseling Services and director of the JADE program. She said that many freshmen come to her feeling lost and alone, since it takes a while to fit in and make friends. They are also overwhelmed from trying to juggle the many aspects of their new lives.

“They’re bombarded with all kinds of new and different situations and choices, and they don’t always make the healthiest, wisest choices,” Mayer said, adding that not coping can lead to eating disorders, from anorexia to compulsive overeating.

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