For many teens, the excitement of being away at college often wanes with the reality of weight gain during the first few semesters of school. And while that the Freshman "15" may indeed be a myth, research shows that college freshmen can still count on a weight gain of about 5 pounds during their first year, and some may even gain more. In one study, about a quarter of freshmen gained an average of 10 pounds during their first year at school.
If you’re heading back to school as a college freshman (or sophomore, junior, or senior, for that matter), below are 15 tips you won’t want to miss.
1. Rent a mini-dorm refrigerator
Having a mini-fridge is a great way to keep your diet in check while on campus. Skip the stash of cookies and brownies, and stock up on healthful snacks that you can grab on the go, such as apples, pears, string cheese, low-fat yogurts, hummus, and carrot sticks.
2. Avoid the 4th meal of the day
Breakfast? Yes. Lunch? Definitely. Dinner? Absolutely! Late night pizza or insomnia cookies? Not so fast. All too often, the pounds creep on quickly from post-studying or post-party eating episodes. Instead of indulging in high-fat fare at 2 a.m., try drinking a 12-ounce glass of water first and immediately brushing your teeth.
3. Watch out for all-you-can-eat dining buffets
Helping yourself to the taco bar, cereal bar, and the self-serve ice cream machine can turn into a freshman five every week! Make only one trip to the buffet, be super-selective, and watch those portion sizes. Additionally, most dining halls have salad bars; make a habit of filling up half of your plate with salad and get the dressing on the side.
4. Buy an extra notebook and use it as a food journal
Writing down the foods you eat (and where you eat them) can give you a unique perspective on your eating habits by enabling you to pinpoint problem areas during the day. If you find that you tend to snack a lot while working in your dorm room, it may be time to think about switching to the library.
5. Count your aerobics class as any other class
A great way to avoid weight gain worry is to join the school gym. Many schools have athletic facilities that offer a wide variety of fun classes (even dance classes, if you wish!). Breaking a sweat keeps your mind off of food and is a fantastic stress reliever as well.
6. Don't take the easy route to class
Take advantage of campus life by being physically active. Walk or bike to class, and take the stairs instead of the elevator in the dorm and in class buildings. A brisk morning walk can help to energize you and get your mind focused before sitting during that hour-long lecture.
7. Ask for extra help if you need it
Whether it's studying for midterms or finals or working through homesickness, college life can be a source of stress and emotional eating. If you’re having difficulty, get help from a teaching assistant or other professional before turning to unhealthy eating habits.
8. Avoid bringing snacks into the library (even if you're allowed)
"Unconscious eating" doesn’t only occur when we’re watching television. Munching on jellybeans or chips while studying for hours in the library can lead to major weight gain, especially if it becomes a daily habit. Go for a walk and grab a cup of coffee or tea if you need a break from the books.
9. Don't aspire to be the beer pong champ
Beer, wine, and other cocktails can pack on the pounds, aside from being potentially dangerous. Even light beers have about 100 calories each. If you chose to drink, limit yourself to no more than two alcoholic beverages per party, and drink a glass of water or seltzer in between beverages.
10. Don't go into overdrive at the tailgate
With lots of burgers, hot dogs, and beer at a football tailgate, it's easy to leave the stadium with a pound or two more than you came in with. (Add another pound for the chips and dips). Carry snacks with you, and when you get to the game, take only a taste of the foods you really like.
11. Never go hungry on a date
Going hungry on a date can be problematic, especially if the night starts out with drinks. Try eating a small snack (like a low-fat Greek yogurt or a small handful of almonds and raisins) before your date to avoid drops in blood sugar. You'll be less likely to overeat, and you'll be better able to concentrate on your company.
12. Don't live in a single if you tend to eat more when you're alone
If living solo means eating alone (and overdoing it on chips and cookies), then it's best to request a roommate, who can help distract you from engaging in unhealthy food splurges. Plus, when you share meals with friends, you are more likely to focus on the conversation instead of the food.
13. Don’t leave for class without eating breakfast
Skipping meals, especially breakfast, can lead to overeating later in the day. Get your day off to a good start with a bowl of high-fiber cereal and low-fat milk, or a slice of whole wheat toast with melted cheese or peanut butter and a banana.
14. Take a nutrition class
Some schools offer an introductory nutrition class, which can teach you the basics of nutrition, food and weight management, and the difference between a healthy diet and a diet fad. You can also pick up a few low-fat cookbooks to learn what a healthy meal looks like.
15. Get your Zzzzs
Research shows that getting an adequate amount of sleep is key to maintaining a healthy weight. When we are sleep deprived, we experience hormonal changes that increase appetite. Aim for eight hours of sleep per night, and try sticking to a regular bedtime if possible.
Special thanks to my nieces Allison and Jessica Strumeyer for sharing their recent college food experiences and traps!