The Freshman 15 is real: a recent study published in the Nutrition Journal shows that nearly one in four freshman gain at least 5% of their body weight. But beating the Freshman 15 isn’t impossible; use these tips to eat healthfully and stay active during your first semester at college!
At the cafeteria
1. Take a walk
Before you start loading up your plate with food, take a lap around the cafeteria to see what they’re serving up that night (or if it’s available, look at your dining hall’s online menu). Pick one protein and one side of carbs, and then load up the rest of your plate with fresh vegetables. Planning what you eat beforehand will keep you from food regret: loading up on pasta and then seeing that slice of pizza you’ve been craving all day!
2. Keep it simple
Avoid food that’s been doused in sticky, shiny, gooey sauces: they’re loaded with sugar, salt, oil, butter--and of course, calories. If chicken teriyaki is the main entree of the night, head to the kitchen and see if they’ll cook you a plain chicken breast. Then head to the salad bar to add flavor: think pico de gallo and fresh herbs.
3. Be salad smart
If you plan on making a meal out of the salad bar, start with a plate of leafy greens and fresh vegetables. For protein, add grilled chicken or salmon; for an extra dose of filling fiber, top it with black beans, edamame, chickpeas, or lentils. Steer clear of processed meats like pepperoni and bacon bits, croutons, mayo-packed potato or pasta salads, and high-calorie dressings like Ranch or Thousand Island dressing.
In the dorm/on campus
4. Keep snacks on hand
Your meal plan probably only includes two or three meals a day--and for a hardworking student, that means you’re likely to get hungry in between meals! If you have a mini-fridge in your dorm, stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables (portable ones like bananas, apples, berries, sugar snap peas, carrots and pre-cut bell peppers are perfect for snack), Greek yogurt, and hummus. Nuts and seeds are a great snack option too--just be sure to stick to the portion size (about ¼ cup)!
5. Stay active
At the beginning of the semester, sign up for a gym membership--most colleges offer them for free or for a small price. Commit to going at least three times a week; grab a roommate or friend to go with you to keep you accountable. And aim to walk or bike as much as you can; large campuses are perfect for working off extra calories and sightseeing.
6. Get enough sleep
A college freshman’s sleep pattern is all over the place: waking up early for 8AM classes, staying up late to cram for a midterm, and napping whenever you can. But according to a number of studies, not getting enough sleep is linked with weight gain because of its effect on our metabolism and hunger hormones. Aim to get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.