The Freshman Fifteen Muffin TopPilates and yoga are wonderful for the body and the mind. I am all about Pilates and yoga, but I had reason to wonder recently about their ability to conquer the Freshman Fifteen. Last week I had occasion to dine in a college cafeteria. Even in this award-winning college cafeteria, the greatest contributors to the Freshman Fifteen were immediately apparent: pizza, pastries, hard and soft-serve ice cream, copious deserts, fried foods, flavored milks, and soda.

Pilates and yoga alone may not be able to combat that kind of diet, but let’s look at the more insidious culprits behind the Freshman Fifteen: lack of sleep and stress.

Aside from the keg parties, giant carbo-loads, and all-you-can-eat buffet style dining, lack of sleep is a significant contributor to weight gain in college students. Sleep deficiency lowers the body’s levels of leptin, the hunger hormone. Leptin sends satiety signals to the brain and stimulates physical activity. As these levels are reduced, the body becomes confused about when to stop eating and when to get moving.

Stress is another major contributor to the collegiate muffin top. Stress-induced weight gain is not a new idea. During times of increased stress many of us turn to comfort foods; chronic stress can be tied to an increase in appetite; some of us even use the actual activity of eating (lifting the spoon, chewing) to relieve stress.

Here is where my two favorite exercises shine: both cultivate a mind-body connection that helps us make healthier choices about our lives. Yoga is a legendary stress-reliever. It calms anxiety, eases tension and restores balance – all important for good sleep. Better sleep means better leptin levels, which translates into better judgement at the desert table. And the principles behind Pilates (centering, concentration, control, precision, breath and flow) make practitioners more conscious of their actions whether they are on the Reformer or in the cafeteria.

Yoga and Pilates are great springboards for increasing conscious awareness in all aspects of life! They teach us to pay attention and make conscious decisions for everything you do.