Originally posted on 11/21/2009 for Huffington Post
Meatless Monday: Meatless Meals Make The Freshman 15 Old School
Welcome, college freshmen. Your education begins today. What you learn in class matters of course, but the great thing about being a freshman is what you learn outside of it, by observation, by interaction, by trial and error. After a lifetime of parental control, suddenly, you’re off-book, off-leash. You teach yourself. You make your own rules. Or maybe you don’t make any at all.
This heady time can result in a physically weighty manifestation known as freshman 15 — weight gain via partying, late nights, shocking eating habits and other behavior that would not please your parents were they to know about it. We won’t tell. But when you go home at Christmas spilling out of your jeans because you’ve been megadosing on processed junk food, don’t be surprised if they notice.
The Journal of American College Health indicates the average freshman gains nine pounds rather than the full-blown 15, but that’s hardly reason to celebrate. This is your time of optimal hotness. Why gain weight at all? Why sign on to America’s epidemic of obesity and its ancillary woes like diabetes, cancer and heart disease? These things may seem very far away in the gorgeous bloom of your youth. They’re lurking, believe it.
So how do you fight freshman 15? By teaching yourself how to eat. While you’re experimenting with assorted youthful indiscretions, try one healthy act — consider moving toward a plant-based diet. A produce-rich diet of whole, not processed, foods makes the freshman 15 totally old school. The American Dietetic Association states vegetarians have lower rates of obesity-related diseases, plus they weigh less than their burger-eating buds.
Better health, lower body mass index, it all translates into more energy than a shot of Red Bull Say you pull an all-nighter or just hypothetically speaking, have partied a little too hard. A plant-based diet gives your body what it needs to recover quickly. As Dr. Neal Barnard says, “A healthy vegan diet will give you the strength and stamina you need to leave those sluggish meat-eaters in the dust.”
Here’s the thing — eating less meat means eating more of what you’ve probably been avoiding most of your life — fresh produce. Only two percent of American kids get as much as government guidelines recommend. Green titans like Chez Panisse muse Alice Waters and renegade lunch lady Ann Cooper have spearheaded better nutrition in public schools, putting fresh fruits and vegetables on the menu in delicious ways. This is a wonderful thing. You, however, have aged out of the system. You’re on your own.
Most college dining halls offer meatless options. Give ’em a try. You can get a free vegetarian starter kit at www.goveg.com, along with meatless suggestions galore, but here’s one now — learn to cook. There will be a time in the not-too-distant future when you won’t be on a meal plan. You’ll have to create your own. It wouldn’t hurt to try your hand at it now.
Think you can’t afford to cook on a starving student budget? Meatless meals cost less than much fast food, and they’ll leave you healthier and leaner. Many plant-based recipes, like this Asian noodle dish, come together in a few minutes. Now that’s fast food. Plus it’s easy, doable in a dorm kitchen and the payoff is enormous. You get cheap, fab, meatless eats, the other starving students will want to be your BFF and you’ll be helping the planet by reducing carbon, methane, nitrous oxide, all heating up the earth in big ways. You’re going to be in charge of the world in a few years and you might want it to be in good working order.
Save the planet and break out the skinny jeans. A plant-based diet won’t give you freshman 15, just a cleaner, cooler world and a healthier, hotter you.