Term Paper: College Freshman Is Aware That the Transition

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¶ … college freshman is aware that the transition from life at home with the family to the relative independence of communal living on-campus is one fraught with challenges. Managing money, laundry, appointments, transportation, work, social engagements, and food are all fairly new to most people entering college - and the stress of management can have significant effects upon a person going through all of those changes in personal responsibility. For many, the transition period can be equally liberating and traumatic. One of the most common points of trauma upon entering college, is the body. College food is not the same as home cooking. College parties are not the same as parties in high-school. Consumption of food and alcohol, in varying amounts, can have a very rapid and quite negative effect upon the body during this time in a young adult's life. What is commonly referred to as the "Freshman 15" refers to the commonly held tale that freshmen, on average, gain 15 pounds their first year (but the reality is that people can move in all sorts of directions both up and down on the scale) due, in great part, to the shift in dietary habits no longer regulated by parental purchasing and cooking patterns. Coupled with the prominent drinking that occurs once away from home, this dietary change can and often does lead to an expansion of the waist line. It is the purpose of this paper to examine the causes of weight-gain for college freshmen, how to prepare for making truly independent food choices and how to combat the potential effects.

Regardless of how healthy or otherwise a persons diet is at home with Mom and Dad, significant changes occur when attending college. Depending upon how far away from home one travels to attend school, an individual may or may not have access to familiar foods and may not have a solid grasp on how to navigate the shift from kitchen to cafeteria eating. When we leave home for the first time, we are not only learning how to eat on our own, but how to truly manage our lives. The stresses of managing one's own life can be complicated by budding romances, intellectual challenges, feelings of isolation within the new context, pressures to conform to or within particular social groups, and the challenge of understanding how to interact within a new environment can all lead to deleterious effects upon health overall - not just weight. Of course, we know that "this is life," and that there is no getting around the fact that such transition is absolutely necessary - that all of us need to leave the nest and fly on our own at some point in order to become true adults.

The fix? Before leaving for college, students need to sit down with their parents and learn the skills of independence. They need to know how to balance a checkbook, how to safely and responsibly use a credit card, how to take care of transportation needs, how to do laundry, and how to manage a daily schedule that is always less-regular and predictable than the schedule they lived with in high school. Classes in basic personal finance are often available in community centers, many high-schools offer personal or life-management classes to assist students in just this manner. Parents are really critical here - the more independent they can make their children before they head off to school, the easier this transition becomes - and the less those stressors will affect them. Therefore, parents should, at least one year before graduation, establish a checking account for their child, get that child to do their own laundry, teach them how to cook a meal, and teach them how to use a daily planner and how to manage their time. Children will often seek out this kind of assistance out of an innate awareness of the impending change, but many will not - therefore, it is the parents responsibility to not only make this happen for their children, but to encourage development in all of these areas. Doing so will have a dramatic effect upon the levels of stress a freshman experiences and upon the stress-related weight issues that are so commonly experienced.

Fortunately, colleges and universities (and particularly dorm-living) offers a cocoon-like transitional atmosphere. Bills are limited, generally, to just a few items, rent is part of room & board paid with tuition, and meals are often part of an account-based plan that allows for any number of meal-number variants (1-3 meals per day is a common range). So, in a sense, dorm-life is a lot like an all-inclusive resort. The problem with that kind of setup, however, is that the majority of cafeterias on college campuses are set up like restaurants, with restaurant-sized portions, industrial-batch cooking, and cost-cut ingredients. Meals on campus are often heavily starched and fatty because those are the cheapest types of food to make, and fresh food, vegetables, and fruit are offered, but are not planned parts of the menu. In short, cafeteria eating requires skill and dedication to decipher and to navigate. For the uninitiated, however, the idea that one can have French fries with every meal, or that Taco Bell / Burger King takes the student meal card, or that crepes seem like an exotic and exciting way of eating a pancake for lunch all can result in a surprisingly quick and rapid weight gain.

The fix? First, be aware of what you are eating. This simple rule means taking a real look at the "value" of the food behind the counter. Eating only what you need, eating the things you like, but in moderation, and avoiding menu items that have absolutely no nutritional value are all good advice - but nearly impossible to really follow. The best advice a freshman can get is to simply think before they eat - how will I feel about myself after eating/drinking this? How will it affect my mental function or my body? Do I really have to eat 3 full meals each day to really use my meal-plan? Do I really have to eat 3 plates of fries just because they're there? If I go to a party and plan to drink, I should eat something before the party so as to reduce the need to eat after (when self-control is significantly lessened). Focusing on your personal behavior and knowing what those choices mean is of the greatest importance to the control of diet and the modulation of weight.

Compulsory exercise in high school is seen as one of the most effective methods of helping students maintain healthy bodies. but, the vast majority of colleges and universities do not require more than a single (if that) class involving exercise.

Walking to and from classes (depending upon the size of the campus) will offer a chance for good cardio-vascular exercise, but that also depends upon a variety of factors (California State Long-Beach, for example, is a campus that employs and teaches more than one-hundred-thousand people - walking is not an option for most students given the size of the campus). Therefore, unless a student gets involved in a sport, intramural activity, or sets up their own exercise regimen, activity levels will naturally decrease sharply for college students.

The fix? For the college student, then, exercise is an exceptionally important part of dorm-life. The first thing a person needs is access to a scale (most college gyms or weight-rooms have one) and to be aware of one's weight. Find a running partner, go swimming at the pool, go to the gym, get on an intramural sports team, do anything that gets your body moving - the choices on the typical college campus are usually very broad and varied. Second, you should weigh in once… [END OF PREVIEW]

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