How stress leads to first year spread

There seems to be a reason why first-year students often struggle with weight gain. Studies have revealed high levels of stress can lead to weight gain.

According to the Centre for Student Counselling and Development, stress is not necessarily bad but high levels of stress, which is distress, can have a negative effect on people.

The main causes of distress among university students range from adjustment challenges for first years, not enjoying one’s degree and failing tests and exams.

According to the centre these factors can have a negative effect on students and could affect their emotional, spiritual, social and physical well-being. Also, behavioural patterns such as lack of exercise and eating patterns are as a result of stress and can manifest in weight gain.

High levels of stress and an unbalanced diet can result in weight gain. PHOTO: Tembisa Mguzulo

Dr Irene Labuschagne who is a Dietician at the Nutrition Information Centre at Stellenbosch University, said that when stressed, “healthy eating habits can be difficult to maintain” and many students start eating fast foods.

Labuschagne said South African adolescents are prone to consume unhealthy foods.

Labuschagne gave some tips to prevent excessive weight-gain:

  • Use fat sparingly, particularly saturated fat.
  • Eat less red meat and processed meat, and more white meat (chicken and fish).
  • Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day (fresh rather than preserved).
  • Eat at least five to seven servings a day of a variety of cereal foods, mainly in an unprocessed form such as whole wheat bread and breakfast cereals as well as whole grain pasta and rice.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.  A maximum of one drink a day for women and two for men.  
  • Do not smoke.
  • Exercise regularly. 

– Tembisa Mguzulo