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Avoiding the Freshman 15

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Eating healthy in the dorm room and dining hall, smart socializing, and reducing stress will keep those unwanted college pounds at bay. By: Carol Lapin, MS, RD

Making the move from home to campus life is a major transition for most college freshmen. Students are faced with sudden changes that often result in undesirable eating and fitness practices as well as stress and increased body weight. Studies show that the average freshman gains five pounds rather than the much feared “freshman 15.” However, a small amount of weight gain during each year of school can potentially add up by graduation. Try these tips for better health during college and beyond.

Stocking the Dorm Room

Limited kitchen resources and lack of cooking skills keep students from preparing healthy meals. However, a few small portable cooking appliances and healthy grocery store staples may aid in meeting nutrition goals. A mini fridge, toaster oven, and microwave are all you need to create quick, healthy meals and snacks. Be sure to check the dorm rules for using appliances before moving in.

Download the PDF: Dorm-Friendly Grocery List

Navigating the Dining Hall

College dining halls offer an array of healthier options. Follow these tips when making your selections:

  • Choose a small plate and use the proper plate division rule. Make half the plate nonstarchy vegetables and/or fruit, a quarter of the plate a protein-rich food, and the other quarter of the plate a starchy vegetable (like potatoes or corn) or a whole grain (like brown rice).
  • For breakfast, choose high-fiber cereals, whole grain breads, fruit, poached eggs, and non-fat yogurt or milk.
  • Start at the salad bar by pairing spinach or Romaine lettuce with low calorie, nutrient-rich foods like vegetables, beans, corn, and low-fat cheese. Skip the creamy dressing and opt for vinaigrette.
  • Watch for high-fat items that use these descriptors: buttered, in butter sauce, fried, crispy, creamed, in cream sauce, in its own gravy, Hollandaise, au gratin, in cheese sauce, escalloped, casserole, and marinated in oil.
  • Choose these healthier food descriptors: steamed, garden fresh, roasted, broiled, and poached.

Socializing Smarter

  • Excessive alcohol consumption is not only bad for your health but can also lead to weight gain. Remember: beer and alcohol are high in calories.
  • Junk foods like pizza, fast-food burgers, sodas, donuts, and chips may be cheap and convenient, especially after an evening of late-night studying or partying, but the expanding waistline will make them more expensive and lead to weight gain in the long run.
  • If you need an extra jolt of energy after a long evening, beware of the extra calories you dump in your coffee. Full-fat milk, sugar, whipped cream, and flavored syrups can add up quickly.

Reducing Stress

  • Adjusting to a new home away from home, meeting new friends, and the pressure of making the grades all add up to one thing for many students: stress. Many people turn to food and alcohol to sooth their stressful mind, which leads to bad habits that will last a lifetime. Students should be ready to face the stresses of college life and find favorite (healthy) ways to decompress.
  • Exercise keeps the brain stimulated and the body energized by releasing endorphins. Try exercising before a test or presentation to boost cognitive thinking. Most college campuses have gyms on campus, giving students opportunities to be fit and socialize in a healthy environment.
  • Sufficient sleep at night is a must. There is a close relationship between weight gain and sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep robs the body of energy, causes irritability, and may result in nodding off during class.

Carol Lapin, MS, RD, CSSD is owner of CSL Nutritional Services in Houston, Texas. She is on the executive committee for Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Dietitians within the American Dietetic Association.