Healthy choices for holiday eating

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the average American gains 7 to 10 pounds and consumes approximately 500 extra calories every day during the holidays, according to a Weight Watchers report. This trend affects everyone, but college students in particular aren’t making the grade when it comes to eating healthfully.

Dorm snacks, the stresses of adjusting to a new environment and more studying can all play a part in the fluctuating weight of freshmen, according to Weight Watchers.

“The more bad habits they practice, the harder they are to break,” said Diana Bloom, a USF professor of Islam Studies and spokeswoman for Weight Watchers in Temple Terrace.

Bloom said developing good eating habits is important for men and women during their college years because their habits can often follow them later in life.

“College students really need the time to make eating healthily a priority, and they need help with time management,” she said. “If food and exercise don’t come in now, then it will be a lot harder later.”

Paying attention to what she could have done in college to exercise, Bloom said, would have helped her in the long run with her health.

“Students can walk or ride their bikes to class easily now,” she said. “They need to take advantage of these opportunities.”

A 2001 health study of 1,800 students at Tufts University in Massachusetts showed that college men gained an average of 5 1/2 pounds their freshman year, while women gained 4 1/2 pounds. The study also states that 66 percent of freshmen don’t consume the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and 59 percent say they know their diet has gone downhill while in college.

Howard Jacobson, a research professor for the Community and Family Health Department in the USF College of Public Health, said nutrition is not the focus of most students’ college careers.

“It’s the least of their worries,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson said most students don’t take their nutrition seriously because of their schedules and because of money.

“We live with the idea that we have to eat three square meals a day,” he said. “Do any of us do that?”

Bloom agreed and said that students need to become self-motivated.

“I understand a college lifestyle (is hectic), but students need to come up with action plans,” she said.

Bloom suggested students know that a regular fast food, microwave or portable food diet can work if done in the right way.

“Weight Watchers gives students a ‘Dining Out Companion’ guide which teaches students how to eat healthy and is flexible for their schedules,” Bloom said.

Gary Brannan, a professor at Hillsborough Community College who teaches nutrition, said students who are healthy do better mentally.

“If the body is in shape, the mind will follow,” Brannan said.

However, Brannan said students eat too many carbohydrates and worry too much about socializing while not exercising.

“With a student’s life there isn’t enough time to really eat properly,” Brannan said.

Students who have such a busy schedule should look at the alternatives to make sure they are receiving the right nutrients, Brannan said.

“Have a daily dose of vitamins,” he said. “Plus, they don’t cost that much. Other than that, students should choose the widest possible selection of food they can get.”

Jacobson said that in many ways, television and recently the Internet have caused many to lose the thought of eating healthfully.

“Eating styles are a lifestyle issue. People vary, and there are no hard and fast rules of eating healthy,” he said. “But there is a matter of variety — either be as active as they can be, or they can just sit in front of the computer.”

According to Weight Watchers, the several students who will travel home this holiday season and find themselves indulging in rich foods, cookies, candies and holiday feasts can definitely expect a weight gain.

However, Bloom said she disagrees. She said the holidays are the least of the students’ problems.

“We are aware of holiday overeating. All of us know and don’t want to gain pounds,” Bloom said. “Our guard is up for the holidays. It is when the holidays are over and we are regretting what we ate during the holidays and we forget by March and then start packing it on again.”

Bloom said eating right is a year-round chore in order to achieve a better and healthier lifestyle. Bloom added she hopes the programs that focus on healthy eating, like Weight Watchers, will encourage students to be proactive in their health and nutrition.

“I think it is getting trendier, being healthy,” Bloom said. “Shows like Sex & the City use Weight Watchers and make it look cool.”

Contact Stefanie Greenat