Surviving the everyday stuff: The coauthor of the ultimate college survival guide tells you how to cope with weight gain, illness, and dirty laundry when you’re living on your own

Surviving the everyday stuff: The coauthor of the ultimate college survival guide tells you how to cope with weight gain, illness, and dirty laundry when you’re living on your own – On Campus

Janet Farrar Worthington

Drop the chalupa. No, really, put it down. Now look in the mirror, and consider the dreaded “Freshman 15.” Imagine yourself stuffed like a susage into those retroLenny Kravitz hip-huggers that looked so good when you bought them. Look out–the zipper is feeling the strain, and if that waistband button pops off, some poor bystander could lose an eye. The “Freshman 15,” an almost universal college phenomenon, happens when people who have been used to fairly sensible, balanced diets suddenly have too much freedom–to snarf latenight pizza, fries with every meal, and daily ice cream from the “build-your- own-sundae bar” in the dining hall. The result: Until they figure out how to eat right, they blimp up into chunky little Pillsbury dough people.

Actually, if your worst problem as a freshman is a hefty tummy, your problems are pretty small. But sometimes it’s the “small” everyday things that can get you down. Here’s a troubleshooting guide to help you survive some of the everyday stuff-eating right, keeping clean clothes, and maintaining your health.


Let’s face it: Ordering a Diet Coke with the Meat-Lover’s Pizza special from the place that delivers until 2 a.m. isn’t going to “cancel out” the extra sausage. When your mom told you to eat your vegetables, she probably didn’t mean french fries and onion rings. And fried mozzarella sticks aren’t the ideal source of daily calcium or vitamin D.

But how do you stay trim when temptation is everywhere–especially in the dining hail with its “Wednesday Burrito Night”? Is it hard for freshmen to eat a balanced diet?

“Oh, my God, yes,” says Charisse Lyons, a recent graduate of the University of South Carolina in Columbia. “I don’t know if I gained the Freshman 15, but I definitely gained. I always ate on campus. I think I ate a hamburger every day my freshman year.” Although healthy food was available, “it’s not as good as the junk,” she adds, and having a comprehensive meal plan–with Pizza Hut and Taco Bell outposts in campus eateries–actually made things worse.

“Eating junk food does catch up with you,” says Lyons, who shed the extra pounds when she moved into a campus apartment where she could cook her own meals. “You’ll go home for the holidays, and everybody’s like, ‘What happened to you? You’ve been eating!’ I think the best thing to do is get a small meal plan, buy your own fruits and vegetables, drink water, and take advantage of the gym.”

Eating “healthy” just requires some common sense. If you’re buying food in a grocery store, shop for a balanced meal–including proteins, fruits, and vegetables. Take a few seconds to check out the labels. You can do a lot just by consistently selecting low-fat, or better yet, fat-free versions of fatty favorites, such as mayonnaise, cookies, salad dressing, tortilla chips, and cheese. (Note: Beware of sneaky wording. The phrase. “light yogurt,” for example, may just mean it’s made with Nutrasweet instead of sugar; even though it has fewer calories, it may have just as much fat as regular yogurt.)


When Malik Husser started out at the University of South Carolina, he had relatively few problems adjusting–even though he came to the 26,000-student campus from the tiny town of Goose Creek, South Carolina. But one thing really ticked him off his freshman year– rudeness in the laundry room.

“When I first got to college, I hated the laundry room,” he says. “People would leave their clothes in there forever when I really needed the dryer or washer, so I’d be sitting around waiting.”

Because he wanted to be nice, Husser says he didn’t feel right taking other people’s clothes out of the washer or dryer. On the other hand, when it was his clothes in there, his fellow launderers weren’t always so tactful.

“I had to get used to people taking my stuff out of the washing machine and putting it on the side,” he says. “I had to really adjust to that.”

Eventually, Husser developed a strategy of precision timing-knowing exactly how long he could stay away for the washer and dryer cycles, and returning the instant his clothes were done.

Unless you babysit your clothes in the laundry room, or watch the clock like a hawk, ready to swoop down on your loads and whisk them on to the next phase of the process, you may find yourself in the same boat. Rude launderers also strike loads of clothes that are still in the dryer. Sometimes they rake out still-damp laundry just to make use of the dryer time somebody else-you-just paid for. Sometimes, if they like a particular garment, they have even been known to help themselves to it.

IF You Get Sick

Eating right and exercising will hopefully prevent illness (some colleges even require vaccinations.) But sickness may still come knocking, and some problems you can treat yourself with a well-stocked medicine chest (see checklist). But you should see a doctor if:

* You have a fever of greater than 101 degrees that doesn’t get better with aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. Be especially cautious of a fever associated with a shaking chill.

* You have severe pain that’s unexplained-not caused by a muscle injury, tension headache, menstrual cramps, or mid-cycle pain, which some women experience about two weeks after their last menstrual period.

* You’re unable to keep down food or water for more than 24 hours.

* You’re unable to urinate, or you haven’t had a bowel movement in several days.

* You notice any unusual discharge, blood in your urine or bowel movements, or blood when you cough.

* You experience burning when you urinate, which could be a sign of irritation or infection.

* You’re having upper respiratory problems. If you’ve been coughing for several days, cough syrups don’t help and your chest is getting sore, or if you’re short of breath and can’t take a deep breath.

* You have a sore throat that lasts longer than a couple of days.

* You’re feeling excessively fatigued for several days and can’t “perk up.

* You become severely depressed and find it hard to get out of bed.

* You begin to have suicidal thoughts.


Stock up now, because it’s inevitable: Sooner or later, you will get sick, and chances are, it won’t be during normal business hours–and worse, you’ll have a paper due or a big test the next day. You’ll probably need:


You can get brand names, or buy generic medications, which are generally just as good and a lot cheaper. The basic ones are aspirin, acetaminophen (the key ingredient in Tylenol), ibuprofen (found in Advil or Motrin), and naprosyn (found in Aleve). Before you buy, read the labels. Some pain relievers do not mix well with alcohol and can damage your liver. Others can irritate your stomach.


Again, read the label: Some of these can make you sleepy. Others can make you wired. Also, it’s better to buy drugs that need to be taken every four to six hours, instead of the 12-hour kind. This way, no matter how they affect you, they’ll wear off a lot sooner.

* COUCH DROPS OR COUCH SYRUP. The basic choices are a cough suppressant to soothe your throat or an expectorant to loosen up congestion in your chest.

* BANDAGES. Get a multipurpose box, with a variety of sizes.

* ANTACIDS. Indigestion happens, particularly after late-night pizza. Some people prefer the kind you drink; others would rather chew pills like Turns, or take acid-blocking tablets that work for hours.

* MEDICINE FOR DIARRHEA OR AN UPSET STOMACH. You definitely don’t want to go shopping for this when you need fast relief for a digestive track out of whack.

* COTTON BALLS, TISSUES, SWABS, AND TWEEZERS. These are essential for all types of minor body repairs.

RELATED ARTICLE: Controlling Your Intake

Here are some more tips on conquering the “battle of the bulge.”

* DON’T REWARD YOURSELF WITH JUNK FOOD. You’ve studied four solid hours for you economics test. It’s nearly midnight, and somebody’s sending out for pizza. “You deserve it,” says your well-meaning roommate-who has the metabolism of a race horse and couldn’t gain weight if she chugged Crisco Cover your ears. If you must order something go light. Get a grilled chicken sandwich or a Greek salad. Listen instead to the bathroom scales: They’re screaming “No, no! Get off me, Tubby!”

* STOCK YOUR OWN FOOD. If you can, rent a small refrigerator; if you can’t afford it, stockpile some snacks that don’t have to be kept cold: A few little containers of low-calorie pudding of applesauce, low-fat granola bars or pretzels (most pretzels have no fat), or boxes of fruit juice or V-8. Get a hot pot and fix yourself some soup.

* CHECK OUT THE WHOLE MENU. In the breakfast line, look beyond that custard-filled doughnut and see what else is out there. Check for grapefruit; a hard-boiled egg, and toast (plus jelly has no fat). Look for whole-grain cereal (fiber is always nice) and skim milk. At lunch and dinner choose the salad and fruit plates.

* EXERCISE. Every little bit helps-even if it’s just taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or jogging up and down the halls of your dorm, or around you room for 10 minutes a night.

* DRINK LOTS OF WATER. You’re supposed to drink eight glasses a day anyway. It’s good for the skin, and it works wonders on the appetite-you don’t get nearly so hungry if you’re already sloshing around full of water.

* FIND A FOOD BUDDY. It’s easier to go through anything if you’re not alone. Seek out friends who are also trying to stay trim.

Laundry List

* AVOID MARATHON LAUNDRY SESSIONS. Yes, it takes only one night to wash and dry six loads at once–but that’s one long, tedious night. If you do quick loads throughout the week, you’ll save time in the long run.

* INVEST IN A FOLDING CLOTHES RACK. Some students save lots of money and time by never paying to dry their clothes. They just wash them and bring them and bring them back wet to hang up in their rooms.

* WASH CLOTHES ON WEEKDAYS. Avoid the Sunday-night crowd.

* WASH LIKE COLORS TOGETHER. It is the sadder but wiser student who washes a red shirt with white socks in hot water.

* TEMPERATURE MATTERS. Institutional hot water is really hot. The general rule is use hot or warm water for whites or lights, and use cold for colors. If you’re washing every-thing in one load and you know nothing is going to “bleed,” it’s probably safe to use warm. If you’re not sure, go for cold.

* CHECK OUT LOCAL LAUNDROMATS. Some places offer “laundry by the pound” service. If you’re totally stressed by exams and schoolwork, you might want to splurge and have someone else do your laundry for you.

Washin’ Wares

* A STURDY PLASTIC LAUNDRY BASHET. You’ll probably keep it forever. You can use it to stow loose clothes or loose gear, particularly when you’re moving in or out.

* A LAUNDRY BAG. If your room is too cramped, this may be the way to go. It probably holds just as much as a basket, and it can be stored much more easily. (However, because air flow in laundry bags tends to be poor your clothes may be prone to mildew.)

* POWDER OR LIQUID DETERGENT. Go to a low-priced store like Wal-Mart and buy a big box or bottle. Don’t waste your money buying micro-Tide in the laundry room.

* STAIN REMOVER, ODOR REMOVER AND BLEACH. These “three horsemen” of the laundry apocalypse can make a huge difference in your appearance. Remove any stains before you wash clothes. Don’t count on the detergent alone to do the job. Spray odor remover, such as Febreze, on anything that stinks-including piles of clothes just sitting around your room. And finally, when it comes to bleach: Don’t fear it, embrace it. Use it whenever you wash whites, and they’ll come out looking crisper and more like new. Hint: Add the bleach to your regular detergent when the water is first running, BEFORE you put in the clothes. Undiluted bleach can “spot” and ruin clothes.

* Optional: A mesh bag for delicate items such as hosiery and lingerie that you probably should, but don’t want to, wash by hand.

Advice for Vegetarians

College dining can be especially tricky for vegetarians. Shellye Habbersett ran into trouble during her sophomore year at Westchester University in Pennsylvania. “Because I wasn’t eating meat, I didn’t know exactly where to get my protein,” she says, “So I ate a lot of carbs.” And she gained weight. “I actually went to a nutritionist to see what was going on. I was worried because I was getting tired; I didn’t know what was wrong with me.” The nutritionists good advice was to eat more fruits and veggies, plus protein-rich foods like peanut butter and beans. This diet put her back on track.


If you’re heading into a dorm in the fall, you should be aware of the increasing threat of contracting meningitis. Although this is not a plague (the disease strikes about 150 to 200 college students annually), the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices estimates that on-campus undergraduates are three times as likely to contract meningitis than five years ago. Because of the increased risk, the panel has recommended that all freshmen should have access to the vaccine. About 65 percent of all cases could be prevented by vaccination, according to the American College Health Association.

Students who drink, smoke, or are under stress may have particularly low resistance to meningitis. Dorm residents are six times more at risk than other students because the disease is spread by close contact with those who are infected.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord. The disease can be devastating. In 1995, Melanie Bean was a freshman at Humbolt State University. in Arcata, California, when she contracted meningitis. She was in intensive care for two months, and doctors had to amputate, her arms and legs to save her life. For more information about the disease, go to the Meningitis Foundation of America’s Web site

Web Watch

College Cooking:

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Health & Nutrition:

Got advice to give? Want to get some? Go to the bulleting board at and air your dirty laundry.

Janet Farrar Worthington is the coauthor of The Ultimate College Survival Guide (Peterson’s).

COPYRIGHT 2002 EM Guild, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group