Ward off the winter flab: The Hatchet’s Nutrition Guide

Sophomore Kate Williams goes to the gym seven days a week for at least an hour and a half, in addition to playing club volleyball twice a week.

“I have always been an athlete and I just have to work out to feel like it’s a normal day,” Williams said. “All of my classes are over by early afternoon. I usually go straight from class, before I get bogged down with other work.”

Williams played volleyball, basketball and softball in high school, and said she has worked out every day since her freshman year at GW.

Nutritionists recommend people of all ages aim for 30 minutes of exercise a day at least five days a week. If students are busy, experts suggest the time be broken up into smaller intervals.

In general, research shows college students tend to get less exercise or physical activity after the transition from home to school.

Some students said they are initially overwhelmed by school and cannot find time to use facilities like the Health and Wellness Center.

“I just don’t want to (go to the gym),” freshman Heather Behrmann said. “I’m not drawn to the whole exercise thing.”

Nutritionists said keeping fit at college does not always mean a traditional workout.

“Being healthy does mean a balanced diet and regular physical activity.

The transition to college can offer many opportunities to forget or overlook these two basic principles of health,” nutrition consultant Barbara Ruhs said.

Being active on a daily basis may not mean going to the gym every day, but it does mean making fitness “functional.” Riding a bike to mail a letter, power walking to the library or opting for the stairs instead of riding an elevator are examples of “functional” fitness.

“I get most of my exercise biking around campus. I am just too lazy to go to the gym,” freshman Ben Trachtenberg said.

Exercise not only burns calories, but it also revs up metabolism, so fit students burn more calories while sitting in class all day, Ruhs said. Physical activity has also been shown to reduce stress.

College Eating

When it comes to healthy eating, “the most important thing for college students to remember. is the golden rule: hunger should be used to guide your eating,” Ruhs said.

Ruhs suggested using a scale of one to 10 to assess hunger level, staying in the middle range so not to feel starved or overstuffed.

“You should think about how hungry you are before eating and after eating,” Ruhs said.

A recent study by Tufts University found that 60 percent of college freshmen eat too much saturated fat and 85 percent of students fail to meet the minimum recommended intake of dietary fiber.

The Tufts Longitudinal Health Study tracked students at the Massachusetts university, finding women gained an average of 4.5 pounds their freshman year of college, while men gained an average of 5.5 pounds.

While weight gain is not nearly as large as the stereotypical “freshman 15,” nutritionists said the numbers were still alarming.

“These eating habits will follow them into adulthood,” principle investigator Christina Economos told The New York Times this month.

“I bought a book on the freshman 15 because I was so worried about it. With all the walking, I don’t think it will be a problem. I am starting to get more concerned though . I am getting lazier and it’s getting colder,” freshman Hilary Golston said.

Ruhs recommended starting off the day with breakfast.

“Usually, keeping a regular schedule of three meals a day, breakfast is very important. It can help regulate the hunger cycle so that you’re not caught in class and suddenly starved,” Ruhs said.

Skipping meals may harm students rather than help them lose weight. When people skip meals they tend to over-consume later or eat unhealthy foods.

“I try to eat meals instead of snacking,” freshman Megan Janes said. “I try not to buy a lot of food.”

When the body thinks it is starving, it tries to conserve calories as fat in case it is never fed again. Attempting to function on caffeine alone can cause the brain and body to fail, Ruhs said.

“It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it is full – so beware of eating when you are starved, because you can pack away a lot of (food) in 20 minutes and then feel uncomfortably full,” Ruhs said.

Some students said they take in the most calories at night, while studying or after an evening of drinking and partying.

“Since college students maintain odd schedules, a suggestion is to eat within an hour of waking up and every three and a half to five hours after that,” said Ann Selkowitz Litt, a registered nurse and dietitian author of “The College Student’s Guide to Eating Well on Campus.”

It really does not matter what time you eat, but “the amount of food eaten over a 24-hour period” should be taken into account, Litt said.

“The big thing to not gain the freshman 15 is to not snack,” sophomore Megan Della Selva said. “(Some students) don’t eat breakfast, but we still eat three meals – lunch, dinner and late night.”

“I usually don’t eat late at night because my stomach gets mad at me,” sophomore Julia Panebianco said.

Much of what and when a person eats can be attributed to emotions and stress, not actual hunger, students said.

“Every time I am stressed out, I go and get a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food,” sophomore Erin Johnson said, adding, “If I have a healthier option available, I am not as tempted to eat it.”

Ruhs suggested students “strategize” and understand why they eat.

She advises that you first ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?”

Then, make a list of things to do instead of eating and, finally, drink something before eating because sometimes hunger may mask thirsty, she said.

“Freshman year is a big experimentation in how you eat. A lot of people go through extremes because there is food always readily available,” sophomore Erin Schanning said. “Second year, you figure that out more. I think you are just more aware of it.”

Fitness on campus

Assistant Athletic Director Tony Vecchione said the addition of the Health and Wellness Center has had a “tremendous impact for our students.”

While Vecchione said his office does not tabulate numbers of the amount of students using what has become known as “Hell-Well,” he said he has seen an initial increase in the number of students working out on campus.

Before the Health and Wellness Center opened its doors last fall, students used the workout facilities in the Smith Center. Vecchione said the new facility has enabled the University to create more programming for students, from supporting more intramural activities to providing personal massages.

“I know that I have lost a substantial amount of weight since I got here . a lot of the reason is because I started swimming,” freshman Louis Kaminnki said. “The Health and Wellness Center is right there.”

Last week, the Office of Recreational Sports and Fitness Services released a brochure outlining available exercise programs. Officials said the office intends to pass the information out to all incoming freshmen next year.

Students can also receive a fitness assessment, during which a certified personal trainer tests endurance, flexibility, strength and body fat percentage. Students can sign up at the Recreational Sports and Fitness Services office on the second floor of the Health and Wellness Center for a fitness assessment. The program offers a start to any fitness plan or a measurement of how effective a student’s current routine is.

For students looking for motivation, the On the Move Incentive Program rewards students for workouts. The program gives prizes for students who follow through with workout programs set by a trainer. One of the first prizes this year includes a $7 gift certificate to Einstein Bros. Bagels.

The center also offers nutrition sessions, massage therapy and personal training at student rates. Every semester the Health and Wellness Center runs interactive health education programs as well. The next wellness program, a vegetarian workshop, is scheduled for the end of the month.

There are 15 scheduled intramural leagues this fall alone, some of which have not yet begun. Students can sign up to compete as a team or as a free agent to be placed on a team by Recreational Sports and Fitness Services. The most popular league right now is NFL seven-on-seven College Flag Football.

Fraternities make up an estimated 20 to 25 percent of the intramural teams, out of the 1,000 people involved, said Jon Broska, assistant director for intramural sports.

“Frats are the backbone of what we do,” Broska said. “We rely on them to keep the teams strong.”

The Health and Wellness Center also currently supports 28 student-run club teams, from ultimate Frisbee and soccer to paintball. Club sports teams compete with other club teams at a more intensive level, usually against other schools or clubs, than intramural sports.

“The love of the sport motivates us to play. It keeps us in shape,” said Maria Isayeua, a freshman member of the club lacrosse team.

This semester, officials at the Health and Wellness Center are making an effort to tell students, faculty and staff about the programs they offer.

The largest events they have hosted so far include the health fair and the open house at the beginning of the semester.

“Our attendance could always be improved. If the GW population took advantage of everything we had to offer, it would counterbalance the J Street and it would help create healthier lifestyles,” said Jeanie Williams, assistant director for wellness and fitness.

Other improvements at the Health and Wellness Center may include longer hours and more equipment; however, officials are awaiting approval from neighborhood organizations to lift the current time constraints. Community members have cited the increased foot traffic and noise that could result if times are expanded.

“If the zoning is lifted, we would like to stay open a little later,” Vecchione said.

The Health and Wellness Center is open until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and until 8 p.m. Sunday. The Smith Center is open to non-athletes from 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Monday through Friday

Though the most common complaints about the Health and Wellness Center are about congestion, Vecchione said he will only be able to order more equipment when the gym is “steadily used at a high pace all the time.”

Healthy Dining Options

Every day of the week, students dart in and out of J Street carrying Jamba Juice shakes, Einstein Bros. Bagels Tasty Turkey sandwiches and Chick-Fil-A nuggets. Every year, students at GW gain weight from eating on the go, eating the wrong things and failing to stay active, officials said.

Although many of the options around campus may be fast, not all of them are good for you. Healthy eating may take a few extra minutes here and there and involves planning meals and snacks every so often.

“For people who are interested in health, health comes over convenience,” junior Norm Nigh said.

The largest student gripe about GW’s dining options is the lack of a salad bar at J Street.

“There should be a salad bar on J Street because there is no where to get green vegetables or any kind of vegetables,” sophomore Rachael Solomon said.

Although GW offers many pre-made salads on campus, a larger make-your-own-salad venue is a popular request.

Pre-made salads are appreciated but not preferred, students said.

“The pre-made salads don’t fill you up. The portions are very small and you have to eat other things with it,” sophomore Nuray Inal said.

With all the food outlets at J Street, students said they are still looking for improvements. For example, students can make requests at Provisions for something they think they should order.

“In Provisions, the healthy things are far more expensive, like fruits and vegetables,” Inal said.

Students say it is difficult to eat healthy when Provisions offers so many tempting snack foods.

“(Provisions) offers so much snack food. It just draws me to buying all of it . crackers and cookies,” Della Selva said.

Other students said GW’s dining options are no worse than other universities and, at times, even better.

“I think there are a lot more.choices here,” said junior Melissa Manis, who transferred from Florida State University this year. “There was a lot more fast food (at FSU).”

Although many students said they want healthier cuisine, dining officials said some of the less healthy options sell more food everyday.

“It’s hard to invest a lot in healthy options,” Director of the Student Association Dining Services Commission Ryan Geist said. “It’s hard to deny the statistics.” Last year GW replaced the salad bar with a sushi station.

“No one was actually eating at the salad bar,” Geist said, adding, “We are selling about 900 units of sushi per day.”

Dining Services is looking to improve healthy options while keeping the students satisfied.

Although a “very few number of people are eating salads,” the commission wants to make a “mini salad bar” with lots of “condiments to add to salads,” Geist said.

Students can email their comments to Dining Services from a link off the GWired Web site or call 994-9317.

Some students said they are worried about weight fluctuation throughout the winter because of not being able to get outside as often. Others are comfortable with whatever the season brings.

“Yeah, I will probably put on a little bit of weight, but it will keep me warm this winter,” Trachtenberg said.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.