6 tips for keeping off the pounds during college

The 'freshman 15' weight gain isn't inevitable

Published: August 2012

According to a recent study in the journal Social Science Quarterly, most first-year college students don't gain the "freshman 15." But they do pack on some weight, typically about three pounds. Those numbers, like student-loan debt, grow over the four years of college: Men add on about 13 pounds; women, about 9 pounds.

Here you'll find easy solutions to common dietary problems faced by college students. For more information on how to avoid scale creep, use these weight-loss strategies.

Fix: It’s important to eat three meals a day especially since people who skip breakfast are at increased risk for being overweight, says Joan Salge Blake, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and clinical associate professor at Boston University. If you don’t like eating breakfast in the dining hall, stock a small refrigerator in your dorm room with skim milk or low-fat yogurt, to put over a quick bowl of whole grain cereal (bonus: add in some blueberries or bananas!) before class in the morning.

Fix: Resist the urge to pile on everything as you go down the buffet line. Instead, fill at least half your plate with vegetables and fruit and use the My Plate icon from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a guide, says Blake. Can’t resist the pizza? Top it with vegetables and eat a salad with it. Better yet, Blake recommends starting with a salad and vegetable soup when you get into the dining hall and then getting up a second time for your next course—if you’re still hungry.

Fix: Soda, energy drinks, and sport drinks account for more than a third of the added sugars many of us consume each day! So opt for water instead. Too boring? Add a slice of lemon or cucumber from the salad bar, says Blake.

Fix: Campuses these days are filled with small shops where you can load up on unhealthy snacks. Instead, heat up a 100-calorie bag of popcorn in your microwave or a community microwave in a common area. “It’s a neat, efficient, yummy way to get whole grains,” says Blake. For quick snacks in-between meals, skip the instant mac-and-cheese and potato chips, and instead pick up low-fat string cheese, chopped vegetables, and dips like hummus and salsa. (The snack suggestions also apply to late-night munching!)

Fix: There’s always an excuse to not exercise: The gym is too far away, the fitness schedule doesn’t work with your classes, or the atmosphere is too intimidating. If those are real barriers for you, squeeze in some exercise by taking a brisk walk around campus, signing up for a gym class for credit like tennis, or getting involved with intramural sports like broom ball.

Fix: As mentioned earlier, while most students don’t put on a lot of weight right away, they do tend to get heavier over their four-year stay on campus. To keep the pounds from creeping on, pack a scale, since research shows that successful losers weigh themselves at least once a week. If you do find yourself gaining weight, keep a food journal or use an app like MyNetDiary to see what you’re eating—and what you’re not eating. “You may find you’re skipping meals and you’re becoming so ravenous that you end up eating anything that’s not moving,” says Blake. Instead, try to eat 4.5 cups of vegetables and fruits per day, which will fill you up without filling you out unlike calorie-dense chips and crackers. Made-to-order omelettes are also a great way to eat more vegetables—add in some spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms when you’re ordering it. And find out if your university has a program that allows students to meet with on-staff dieticians free of charge.

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