10 Ways To A Healthier Freshman Year

And avoid the dreaded freshman 15.

Salad bar photo via shutterstock

Salad bar photo via shutterstock

September means going back to school, and if you’re one of the thousands of freshman who will be on your own for the first time, then you might be facing the thought of the dreaded freshman 15 (or the dreaded freshman 25—you know who you are). Don’t stress. Research shows that the average freshman “only” gains between 3.5 and 4 pounds in the first year. While that’s still a significant amount of weight, it’s a lot less daunting that what you’d usually read about freshman year.

Going off to college and being on your own can be an opportunity to create lifelong healthy habits. Take charge of your newfound freedom and use these tips to stay healthy this school year.

1. Pay attention to portion sizes. Just because the cafeteria is all-you-can-eat or you have unlimited purchases on your meal card, doesn’t mean you should go crazy. Go through the cafeteria or café once and buy one serving of a meal, eat it, and then allow some time to pass before deciding if you’re hungry enough for a second serving. You can also skip the trays and simply pick up a plate and a drink. This practice will help you think twice about taking extra food to the table without the hands to carry it.

2. Fill half your plate with vegetables. And I don’t mean vegetables you promptly cover in ranch dressing. Visit the salad bar and load up on leafy greens, shredded carrots, green beans, and other veggies, but go light on (or skip) the dressings. Check out what’s cooking on the buffet line and look for veggies without added butter or sugar. Also, avoid casseroles which tend to be very high in fat and calories.

3. Don’t make visiting the dessert bar an every meal, everyday occurrence. Did you eat a daily dessert at home? Probably not, so don’t do it at school. College is a time to test your limits but also your restraint. Look at the menu for the week and find one or two desserts you really love. On those days, go for it. You are more likely to enjoy the dessert if it feels like a treat. Don’t forget to remain conscious of portion sizes.

4. Choose an active commute. Take advantage of that across campus walk up the largest hill to your 8 a.m. class. Don’t cheat yourself out of burning a few extra calories and taking in the sights of the campus at the same time. It might take a little bit longer than you would like, but choosing an active way to get to class can burn a few extra calories that will really add up. Plus, you just might run into a new friend along the way.

5. Find the campus gym and use it. Colleges and universities have some of the best gyms around and they are often free for students, so find your school’s gym and take full advantage of it. Take a fitness class or study while on the elliptical, but whatever it is, make regular physical activity a part of your new lifestyle.

6. Don’t drink extra calories and stay away from 2 a.m. pizza. Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, lemonade, and fruit punch should be avoided. And if you drink alcohol (which I’m sure you don’t because if a freshman, you’re most likely underage), remember that those calories add up quickly, and drinking comes with more consequences than just extra calories. Plus, you might be more likely to make poor diet choices as a result of alcohol consumption, like pizza at 2 a.m., which is a surefire way to gain the freshman 15. (We’d know.)

7. Join a recreational or club sports league. If you aren’t on a sports team with the school then find a recreational or club sports group to join. There’s a wide range of available activities on campus, like swimming, fencing, soccer, and softball. Club sports are a great way to get exercise while meeting new people and having fun.

8. Don’t skip breakfast. Even if it means heating up oatmeal in your dorm and eating it on the way to class, eating breakfast will help you stay full throughout the morning and it may even help promote concentration. (Who can think when their stomach is growling, anyway?) Make your breakfast balanced with fiber, protein, and fruit or vegetables. Oatmeal with strawberries and peanut butter, egg and cheese on a whole grain English muffin with some spinach or arugula, or bran cereal with milk and banana slices are all great options.

9. Find an outlet for your stress that has nothing to do with food. Stress can take a toll on your health and trying to relieve it with food will not have the best results. Instead, try taking up a hobby or meditating. Call a friend or family member to chat or go for a long walk. Creating healthy habits to relieve stress in the first few months of school will be better for you in the long run.

10. Stock your dorm with healthy, on-the-go snacks. Maybe you don’t have a car or the grocery store seems too far away, but neither are excuses to skip on healthy snacks for your apartment or dorm. Rent or borrow a car, or hitch a ride, but try to get to the grocery store to buy items like fresh whole fruit, snack-able veggies like carrot sticks and snap peas, low sugar granola bars (less than 5 grams per serving), oatmeal, high fiber cereal, or peanut butter with wholegrain crackers.