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Editor’s Note: This post was updated on August 31, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on September 17, 2015

As summer turns into fall, it is almost time for the new freshman to start their college life. The college experience is definitely an exciting time full of newfound freedom and choices. If you are like me, one of the highlights was definitely the dining hall all-you-can-eat buffet (what can I say, I love to eat!). Unfortunately, that, of course, leads to the dreaded “Freshman 15”, the weight you put on from all of those 1 am pizza runs. While it’s not really 15 pounds, weight gain doesn’t happen overnight, freshman typically do gain body weightmore than 9 pounds for men and over 4 pounds for women. Studies have also shown that freshman experience weight gain 5.5x the rate of the general population.

How do you avoid the Freshman 15?  Here are 5 things you can do to steer clear of that extra weight gain (and maybe learn a few things for Biology 101 along the way!)

1. Practice Portion Control with Dining Hall Food

Image Credit: Flickr

Many colleges have been working hard to make meals that excites and satisfies their students.  Unfortunately, the food that excites satisfies your average college student is usually very high in calories.

On top of that, dorm food doesn’t come with nutritional fact labels, so it can be a challenge to know what’s in the food you’re being served, and very easy to over-consume calories and gain weight.  For example:

  • 1 standard slice of cheese pizza contains 285 calories. Eat three and you’re already halfway to 2,000 calories.
  • A 12 oz can of cola contains 140 calories. Your standard large 32-ounce cup of cola contains 290 calories.
  • A single-patty, basic cheeseburger contains 330 calories. However, the burgers offered by many dorms and fast food vendors can be much bigger, and much higher in calories.  A Big Mac, for example, contains 540 calories.

With the buffet style used in many dining halls, it can be very easy to consume more than you intended. While it can be a challenge to eat less in the dining hall with so many great options, one strategy you can employ is portion control. Portion control helps you become more aware of how much you are eating, and is a cornerstone of any weight management strategy.

Start your meal with some healthy options from the salad bar like leafy greens, eggs, and other vegetables to make yourself a nutritious salad. This will ensure that consume enough vegetables in your diet. But make sure you avoid high-calorie salad dressing or bacon bits. When you do go for that pizza, take one slice at a time. That way you won’t be compelled to finish everything on your plate.

2. Beware the Calories in Alcohol

calories in red wine

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We just want to say we don’t condone underage drinking, but if you do happen to be in presence of alcohol please remember this rule of thumb. For many college students, calorie counting is the last thing they are thinking about when they drink. However, alcoholic beverages are very high in calories.  So high in fact, that ale was actually a large source of calories among peasants the Middle Ages (remember this for your Intro to Western Civilization midterm!)

Here are the amount of calories you will find in your favorite college bar drink:

The only thing easier than drinking these calories is forgetting that you drank them; however, your body composition doesn’t forget.  It keeps track of everything, and according to the CDC, it’s the calories that you consume over a 24-period that contribute to body weight gain or loss.  That means adding on 1,000 calories after dinner still counts; whether you remember them or not. If you do choose to drink, make sure you limit yourself as much as possible to avoid weight gain!

3. Don’t quit being active!

In high school, many people are involved with sports.  However, at the college level, it can much more difficult to be involved in school athletics as college sports are fiercely competitive.  Priorities change as well; many first year students find new interests and devote more time to other activities, not the least of which is their schoolwork.

Although not everyone was a former student-athlete, this point is just one part of a greater trend amongst college students: the average student steadily reduces their physical activity time by 6% from the first semester of college through their seventh semester.

There are many ways that a student can be active and burn more calories throughout the day. It just takes a little creativity. Start with these tips to increase your activity level:

  • Always taking the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Taking exercise breaks to break up long study sessions
  • Doing pushups or situps in between watching TV shows

By finding ways to increase your activity level, not only can you avoid the Freshman 15 you might even experience some weight loss!

4. Keep Healthy Snacks In The Dorm Room

healthy snack alternative

Image Credit: Flickr

Staying up late and burning the midnight oil is a classic college stereotype that is all too true for many college students today.  Staying up later means eating later, but the later the night goes on, it can be a hassle for a student to cook a healthy meal in their dorm.  The easy solution? Grab a bag of chips or cookies from the campus store.

These unhealthy snacks can contribute to extra body fat, especially if you aren’t trying to limit your high calorie food intake throughout the day.  However, it’s fairly easy to replace these with healthy options. Here’s a couple high-energy snacks that won’t add on the extra pounds:

  • Almonds and Walnuts
  • Fat-Free Yogurt
  • Turkey Jerky
  • Fruit, like Apples and Bananas

5. Stay Positive!

College is a time of many changes.  For the first time, many students are making many decisions for themselves. Many of them are also getting used to living with complete strangers, which may lead to conflicts and increase stress.

High levels of stress can lead to overeating to cope with anxiety, and although this stress-coping strategy affects both sexes, it is particularly prominent with among women.  For female students who already have a history of eating to cope with stress, stressful situations that arise in college trigger binge-eating much more than with women who don’t have any history of binge eating.

Stress management and coping with stress is an important lesson that many people learn in college (although it is a lifelong pursuit).   The transition from high school to college is also compounded with the transition from adolescence to adulthood, making the four years in college potentially a turbulent time in many people’s lives.

Instead of snacking when you’re stressed, try healthy activities to help you cope with stress.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed by schoolwork or distracted by other personal problems, exercise has been shown to promote feelings of mastery and self-efficacy, which can help you cope with stressful situations.

These tips aren’t just good for avoiding the Freshman 15 your first year in college; they’re good for anyone interested in weight management or weight loss!

Follow these tips to avoid the Freshman 15 – practice portion control, beware of the calories in alcohol, stay active, eat healthy snacks, and manage stress – and unwanted weight gain will not be part of your first year experience. Good luck to this year’s freshman class and get ready for some of the best years of your life.

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