First year spread and 3 healthy eating tips from the experts | TrueLove – SNL24

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The start of university can be a jam-packed time for first-time students, leading to unhealthy eating habits.

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  • Adolescents’ bodies are in the late stages of puberty where weight fluctuations are still common.
  • In between class schedules, university activities and socialising, healthy eating can end up taking a back seat.
  • Being educated on what you’re eating, meal prepping and healthy snacking are easy ways to control your weight.

For many, it’s their first time away from home fending for themselves in the grown-up world of adulting.

University is a rite of passage of sorts. Not only to begin the journey of learning all there is to know about your desired career path but it’s also an opportunity to carve your own identity, meet your kin and have fun.

Between the fresher’s braais, hectic class schedules and night outs in the city, it can be easy to choose the quickest fast food available to curb the hunger.

This has led to a phrase almost every student is familiar with – whether you’ve just heard the warnings or experienced it yourself – first year spread.

As the term suggests, first year spread is the phenomenon where university students put on a noticeable amount of weight in their first year.

READ MORE | How to maintain a healthy lifestyle plus 10 ways to optimise your diet

A growing body

While you might be quick to calorie count and hit the gym, it’s also important to remember that most first year students are still in their teens, meaning that their bodies are adjusting to the end of the cycle of puberty.

Social media and peer pressures are also significant factors into young adults like first years’ relationships with their bodies, which helps gives insight into the consistent first year spread.

We spoke to Zitandile Hlombe Mfono, a registered dietitian, nutrition lecturer at Nelson Mandela University and spokesperson for The Association for Dietetics in South Africa, who gave TRUELOVE some insight into the world of adolescence.

“First year students are in their late adolescence in terms of their physiology and that means their growth rate is starting to come down. A lot of females would have achieved their adult height and the [males] would be still growing slightly in terms of their height. There is some weight gain that can happen just normally or physiologically.”

To know how to beat it, you must know how you got there

There are a few factors that can lead to a growing mkhaba while one tries to find the balance of lectures, assignments, exams and maintaining a social life fresh just one December holiday after leaving their high school gates.

“What often happens is that it’s more the change of the environment that affects a lot of first years where you find they’ve moved away from home, there is a lot of eating of fast foods, takeaways,” Zithandile explains.

“There may be excessive snacking, excessive use of alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages in the form of energy drinks for studying, for various reasons that students might have in need for feeling like an energy drink.

“There’s a lot of irregular meals depending even about the financial affordability. So, food insecurity and what happens is that when they do have money – those who are food insecure – they will buy excessively refined foods or highly processed foods, which tend to be cheaper and cook quicker because cooking times are highly limited.”

Time is a scarce commodity for students, Zitandile shares, there usually isn’t enough time for meal prepping and those who live in residences with supplied dining halls don’t usually have many healthy options at their disposal.

How to get your body back on track

Weight fluctuations are a part of life but it’s important to make sure that you keep you body and mind healthy and strong to tackle the day-to-day rollercoaster that is university.

Zithandile gives us some tips on affordable eating habits for first year students.

1. Know what you eat

It’s easy to grab a skhaftin of slap chips or a garage pie and energy drink when you’re pulling an all-nighter with your assignments. But being aware of the fact that many fast-food vendors and shops around university campuses target students who may not know of healthier affordable options.

Zithandile agrees, explaining that, “What would help with adolescents is just learning how to read your food labels. Identifying food items with less sugar in them compared to their counterparts, with more fibre in them compared to their counterparts, with less salt in them compared to their counterparts.”

READ MORE | Get a massage, dance plus 5 more simple health boosters

2. Get a meal planning strategy

It may seem like an added task to an already busy schedule but meal prepping is the quickest and easiest way to stick to healthy eating habits.

“What I find sometimes easy is when you’re drawing up your study timetable, also draw up your meal plan for the week. And then in that meal plan, then you can plan a vegetable or fruit,” says Zithandile.

“Planning what is going to be your staple or your starch, looking at wholegrains such as oats, brown rice, wholewheat or brown bread and then planning for your protein … it could be your lentils, it could be your beans, it could be your peas, it could be your fish and fish that is commonly not as popular but a little bit more affordable is your pilchards, your tuna, your sardines.”

3. Get snacking with ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables

Instead of going for your favourite packet of sweets or chocolates for a snack in between classes, switch it up with cut-up fruit for those healthy and natural sugars.

“If you cut your fruit and peel it, can make it easier to eat fruit along the day rather than putting it off and you can use it as a snack. Just to prevent it going brown, you could put a little bit of lemon juice or squeeze a lemon on it, just to keep it fresher.”

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