THE BLOG
11/24/2014 05:04 pm ET Updated Jan 24, 2015

Ask JJ: Ditching the Freshman 15

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Dear JJ: I'm a college freshman who totally fell into the "freshman 15" my first semester. Now the holidays are here, which means another excuse to pile on the pounds. Help! I need to gain control now rather than make another useless New Year's resolution.

I applaud taking control of your weight -- and more importantly, your health -- during the holidays. So often, we push fat loss onto the back burner till after the holidays, or our next vacation, or that big splurge. Choosing to make a clean start now, rather than Jan. 1, becomes self-empowering and puts you in the driver's seat.

College freshman year often involves learning to managing time, juggling classwork with a job, being away from home for the first time, and other adjustments that can create stress. Your nose is in the books or looking forward to that big Friday party. Healthy eating and exercise often takes a backseat, hence the clichéd but often true term "freshman 15."

When we're stressed or anxious, we turn to food for comfort. Those emotions feed into cravings, and not for wild salmon or grass-fed beef. No, we crave sugar. Researchers at the University of South Florida found when people become stressed, they crave foods higher in sugar and fat.

Ironically, sugar can actually stress your body further, shooting it full of short-term energy, sending your hormones into a spin cycle, and causing your blood sugar to spike and then plummet.

So our go-to crutch can actually leave us more jittery and crankier than before. Not to mention that it can cause weight gain, fatigue, brain fog, hormone imbalance, and worse. I'd consider that pretty stressful!

Whether you're a college freshman or a stressed-to-the-max single mom juggling two jobs, you'll want to focus on the right foods to manage hunger and cravings as well as ditch those stubborn pounds. Lean protein, healthy fats, lots of leafy and cruciferous veggies, and slow-release high-fiber starches should form the bases for all your meals.

Once you get the hang of it, this becomes easy. Stock up on healthy essentials during the holidays and steer clear of high-sugar impact foods at social gatherings. If your carb-pushing aunt insists you try her signature pumpkin spice cake, smile, sample a bite if you know it won't become a slippery slope and you don't have food intolerances, and step away from the dessert!

Skipping meals can become a disaster. You arrive to a party famished, some handsome server passes around appetizers and red wine, and before you know it you've devoured three petit quiches and feel a little tipsy downing that second pinot noir. Arrive pleasantly full and you can focus on festivities rather than food.

A protein shake makes an ideal breakfast but can also cover another meal if you're incredibly harried. Blend non-dairy, non-soy protein powder with avocado, kale, frozen berries, freshly ground flaxseeds, with unsweetened coconut or almond milk for a fast, filling meal replacement that costs less time and money than a Starbucks.

Once you return to college, make a list and hit your favorite grocery store. Pre-cooked chicken and wild salmon in aseptic packs, frozen veggies and berries, quinoa, legumes, and nuts and seeds make quick, easy, healthy meals and snacks. Think convenience when you buy low-sugar impact foods.

If budget becomes a concern, focus more on plant foods. Many people discover eating healthy actually costs less than the pastries, bodega packaged foods, and coffee drinks they practically lived on before.

I'm willing to bet you pulled a few all-nighters to cram for finals. Sleep becomes crucial to manage stress and cravings, so you'll want to aim for at least seven and probably more like nine hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night. I know sleep doesn't always make top priority among college students, but the more shut-eye you get, the more everything improves.

You also don't have hours to spend at the gym. Good news: Burst training provides a fast, efficient workout in just minutes a day. I've combined burst training with weight resistance in my 4 x 4 Workouts, which you can knock out in just 15 minutes, three times a week. Grab a free 4 x 4 Workout here.

Finally, develop strategies to reduce stress. That might mean a yoga class, meditation, calling a good friend, or a hot bath. Schedule it if you need to and make it happen. Every area of your life improves when you create leisure time.

If you struggled with the freshman 15 in college, how did you get your weight and health under control? Share your story below. Love your questions, so keep them coming at AskJJ@jjvirgin.com.