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How to Avoid the Freshman 15

While college is an exciting time, research shows freshman are more likely to gain weight compared to the average population. So to lower the risk of weight gain and optimize that college experience, learn how to avoid the freshman 15 with these practical tips.


College is a time to accelerate academic performance, grow as an individual, meet new people, and, for some, gain that so-called "Freshman 15."

Researchers examining whether or not the freshman 15 is real observed an average weight gain of 2.7 pounds, of which half the students gained weight and only 15 percent lost. Freshman weight gain was also 5.5 times greater than that experienced by the general population.

While gaining weight is not a prerequisite, learn how to avoid the freshman 15 or the anticipated weight gain with these practical tips.

Tips for Avoiding the Freshman 15

1. Create a Game Plan

Heading to college is often the first time freshman breakaway from home. Not only does this open the opportunity for more freedom in regards to food choices and other habits, but can be a stressful, overwhelming time for some.

The stress can trigger the body to release cortisol, which is a hormone known to heighten cravings, stores fuel and energy as fat, and slow down the metabolism.

Turning to food during bouts of stress is also at risk and known as "stress" or "emotional eating," which tends to be towards those so-called "comfort foods" laden in sugar and fat.

While these emotions can be a huge factor for weight gain, knowing how to handle them is one of the best ways to beat the freshman 15. So rather than negatively feeding into or avoiding stress, create a game plan to manage stress and lower its aggressiveness.

Ways to overcome stress and anxiety include taking a study break to meditate, exercise, call a family member or friend, practice yoga, or take a quick 10 minute walk. There are also often counseling services available if stress and anxiety start impeding on daily functions and happiness.

2. Learn How to Eat Healthy in College Cafeterias

Part of knowing how to avoid the freshman 15 is by learning how to navigate the cafeteria without always being tempted with a few slices of pizza and ice cream.

Tips to successfully eat healthy in the cafeteria include:

• Loading up on veggies and lean proteins at the salad bar, and avoiding and limiting croutons, bacon, cheese, etc.
• Avoiding or limited foods that are fried and creamed
• Choosing foods that are baked, steamed, poached, roasted, or broiled
• Filling at least half the plate with veggies, a quarter with a lean or plant-based protein, and complementing with a whole grain and healthy fat source (an example meal plate includes a steamed veggie blend, 4 ounces of baked chicken, ½ cup brown rice, and light drizzle of olive oil)
• Practicing portion control when indulging in a treat
• Asking questions politely to cafeteria staff when unsure on the food preparation

3. Start the Day with Breakfast

Breakfast can be key for not only beating the freshman 15, but improving academic performance throughout college.

A high-protein breakfast lessens and blunts hunger, ultimately reducing the risk of overeating on high-calorie snacks and meals later on. Eating breakfast can also heighten energy levels to kick start the morning and motivation to make healthy choices throughout the day.

Besides, eating breakfast can be key for not only beating the freshman 15, but improving academic performance throughout college.

Healthy breakfast options and combos include:

• 1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese with ½ cup of pineapple, peach, or pear chunks
• 2 eggs, 2 slices of turkey bacon, and 1 slice of whole grain toast
• 1 cup of cooked oatmeal, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, ¼ cup of blueberries, and 8-ounces of milk
• Protein shake with a piece of fruit
• 1 cup whole grain cereal with 8-ounces of milk and slice of fruit

4. Stock Up with Healthy Snacks

Rather than relying on a bag of chips amidst a snack attack, stock up with healthy snacks and keep them on hand. Convenient and grab-n-go snack options include:

• An apple with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
• Portioned containers of Greek yogurt
• A couple tablespoons of hummus with sliced veggies
• Rationed out ¼ cup of nuts into baggies or small containers
• Low-fat and low-sugar protein bars
• Beef jerky

5. Keep Hydrated with Water

Sustaining hydration is not only key for a healthy body, but is purposeful for beating the freshman 15.

First off, water is required to fuel metabolic pathways and even slight dehydration can slow down metabolism. What's more, thirst is often mistaken for hunger. So rather than heading for a snack first, drink a glass of water.

As a general rule of thumb, adult males need 3.7 liters of water per day, while adult women need 2.7 liters. Keeping a portable water bottle can be a friendly reminder to drink more water. 

Drinking water before and with meals can also help naturally control portion and serving sizes.

6. Be Cautious of Alcohol Consumption

While water is always the recommended hydration source, college can trigger the temptation of alcohol consumption.

While alcohol may be enjoyable in the moment, it can leave lasting impressions on weight and health outcomes.

So if you do choose to drink, be mindful of how much and what you choose to drink. Men are advised to two alcoholic servings daily, while women are limited to one. Serving sizes also include 12 ounces of regular or light beer, 5 ounces of red or white wine, and 1.5 ounces of liquor.

Also eat a balanced meal before a night out and alternate a glass of water between each beverage. Not only can this slow down the absorption of alcohol, but protects from dehydration alcohol is known to cause and lowers the risk of over-drinking.

7. Stay Active

Though schedules are often busy, it is important to not let physical activity take the backseat. Regular exercise helps maintain weight and, opportunely, there are numerous ways for college students to keep active.

So take advantage of the recreational center and intramural sport activities. Even beyond the more structured activities, stay active by walking or biking to class over taking the bus. Also take the steps whenever possible.

There are additional benefits of physical activity outside of weight management, including supporting cardiovascular and bowel health, enhancing mood and energy levels, improving sleep cycles, managing stress, and growing social connections.

8. Prioritize Sleep

From late-night study sessions to weekend parties, sleep may be at the bottom of the priority list. However, sleep is essential for not only keeping the mind sharp, but one of the best defensive ways to beat the freshman 15.

The National Sleep Foundation advises seven to nine hours of sleep each night for the general population. Achieving the recommendation helps to curb cravings, regulate hunger hormones, and boost energy to keep active throughout the day.

Make sleep a priority by staying consistent with sleep and wake times as much as possible. Limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption, creating a comfortable sleep environment, creating a comfortable sleep environment, turning off all electronics, and relaxing leading up to bedtime may lead to a better night's rest.

9. Consider A Meal Delivery Service

Especially if living in a dorm, there may be limitations in what you can and can not prepare.

And while there certainly are ways to cook healthily in a small space, taking advantage of a meal delivery service takes the guesswork creating and sticking to a nutritious diet.

Meal delivery services ensure healthy eating for college students across the nation. In addition to the provision of nutritious and delicious meals, they cater to personal preferences and needs to meet individualized nutritional requirements.

Besides, there is more to college than constantly worrying about eating healthy!

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