You are what you eat.
And if you’re a university student living on residence what you eat depends on how much time you have.
For Stephanie Chow, Arianna Wong and Elissa Yazbeck their first year at university residences brought a flood of liberty to them not only from their parents but also in their eating and drinking.
The dreaded freshman 15 is known to all students heading off to live on university residences. It is the curse of gaining weight because of the change of eating habits of students living away from home for the first time.
The freedom to be able to eat and drink what they wanted contributed to all three university students following the trend of the gaining extra weight after their move into residence.
Chow, a fourth-year university student, said being able to stay out late without parental supervision led them to consume time that could have been used to cook or look for healthy meals. This contributed to her 18-pound weight gain during her first year at the University of Western Ontario.
“I would go out more and I’d have less time to do my work,” Chow said. “So instead of going and saving time to go out to the gym and work out I’d probably be at home studying and sitting on my bed.”
Lynda Wise, a weight coach for her company Wise Coaching, said she had seen the Freshman 15 trend in her own children and understood why it happened and why it continues to happen to first-year students living away from home.
“First of all, when you’re away from home and pressed for time, the healthiest choices are not necessarily available,” she said adding, “And then there’s beer which adds up to a lot of drinking.”
Wong, a second year student at Wilfred Laurier University who gained 10 pounds, recalls having little time to buy healthy meals because of her school schedule.
“The grocery store is as close as it can get but when it’s winter it’s still a 10 to 15 minute walk. Not only that, when you go to the grocery store you plan on spending at least 45 minutes to an hour there.”
Wong also added that with a full course load, spending time at the grocery store to prepare home-cooked meals was less of a priority, especially on a hungry stomach and especially when unhealthy and delicious alternatives were readily available.
“I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. It was a lot of snacking.”
Yazbeck, a second year student at the University of Western Ontario, said having such a large amount of prepared and unhealthy food made it difficult to not eat.
“They always had the snack bar open until 12 o’clock and they would always sell the greasiest food you could possibly imagine, pizza and cheese bread and you would just have four to seven meals a day and big meals because they were big servings.”
Wise said that apart from alcohol consumption, lack of time and missing sleep were also a factor in gaining weight.
“Shortage of sleep is huge in terms of gaining weight and people who don’t sleep enough tend to gain weight faster than people who do get their seven to eight hours of sleep,” she said.
Wise also advised that to maintain or lose weight it was important along with exercise to have a diet with a good portion of fruits and vegetables and plenty of protein for every meal.
While Chow, Yazbeck and Wong all agree that junk food and fast food contributed to their weight gain along with the consumption of alcohol, they recognized that healthy alternatives were available for them to eat.
“There were floors in my res that were healthy living floors and they tried to promote healthy eating rather than fries and chicken fingers and stuff. Then there was always the salad bar where you can get healthy sandwiches and pita wraps and stuff,” said Chow, adding that while the food was tasty, it got repetitive fairly quickly.
“I got bored of res food and started going out. There are more options so I started ordering and I’d go out to eat. The fact that I couldn’t cook was a big thing,” she said.
Wise said the ability to make your own food is a big factor in maintaining and losing weight.
“That gives you control,” she said adding that knowing what ingredients are being used and how much of each ingredient is in what you’re eating will make a difference on your caloric intake.
However, while the residences where Yazbeck and Chow lived in had kitchens, they were shared among the entire floor, making it difficult to prepare home cooked meals.
Carmel Chui, a fourth-year York University student who just moved into residence made clear the financial variation between a residence with a private kitchen and a public kitchen in her university.
“My res is probably like I would say one thousand dollars more expensive than the other residences. So it’s definitely more expensive because you get your own suite and you get your own kitchen and you don’t have to share anything with a whole floor,” Chui said, adding having a private kitchen encouraged her to cook more than she would at home.
However, while Chow believes eating more home cooked meals would’ve helped her gain less weight, she also feels her lack of concern over what she ate is what really contributed to her freshman pounds.
“I think most people do gain a little bit of weight because of the lifestyle change but I don’t think a lot of people actually gain 15 pounds, I gained like 18 pounds but I think it’s because I didn’t really care about what I ate and I didn’t really think that I would gain that much weight.”
Wise said that as a weight coach the most important aspect about maintaining or losing weight is control over what you eat. However, she said that while there needs to be control people also need to remember they can still enjoy food.
“I don’t believe that one has to be a size four, I do believe that most people need to establish what a healthy weight is and live according to how they can get there and maintain it.”