14 Tips for Avoiding Weight Gain Your First Year at College from 14 Tips for Avoiding Weight Gain Your First Year at College

14 Tips for Avoiding Weight Gain Your First Year at College

Before you start worrying too much about the “Freshman 15,” you should first know that you’re not inevitably destined to gain 15 pounds just because you’re a first-year college student.

Research published in The Journal of American College of Health shows that only about half of college freshman gain weight over the course of their first year at school. Additionally, further research from Ohio State University found that for those who do gain weight, the average is between 2.4 and 3.5 pounds.

In other words, most freshmen don’t gain anywhere close to 15 pounds. Knowing this shouldn’t make you feel like you won’t have to pay any attention to your eating, physical activity and other healthy habits while you’re away at school, though. You’ll be experiencing a new sense of freedom for the first time, and not to mention, probably a bit more stress, too. All of the different factors — like late-night studying, dining hall food options, partying and simply adjusting to a totally new environment — that characterize freshman year will certainly play a role in shaping your well-being.

You’ll likely be presented with many different situations that encourage less than healthy habits, but if you arrive armed and ready to overcome those obstacles you can easily avoid weight gain and set yourself up for a healthy and fit future. Keep reading to find out what to keep an eye out for and to learn expert tips for navigating college life in a way that promotes both a healthy and happy experience.

Choose Your Friends Wisely

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“The old saying is ‘You are the product of the five people closest to you,’” explains Phil Bennet, a strength coach from the UK who primarily trains combat athletes and specializes in creating real world strength results. “Choose to be around healthy, active individuals and you will become one.” 

Keep in Touch with Friends and Family

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“Substitute a phone call or Skype for the brownie you’re reaching for,” says Laurie Towers, a fitness expert, former professional bodybuilder and founder and CEO of The Bridal Body Shop in New York City. “Loneliness is a void that is often filled by food, so don't feel ashamed to pick up the phone and reach out to a friend, or better yet, your parents — who probably would love to hear from you — anytime the feeling hits you.

Bodyweight Workouts

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“Make friends with bodyweight training,” says Bennet. Even though you’ll likely have access to a great gym and tons of recreational activities, you may not always have time for a full-blown workout. “Staples like push-ups, pull-ups, dips and squats make for very efficient, very effective dorm-friendly workouts,” Bennet adds. “Never overlook the value of the basics and progressions.” 

Focus on Whole Foods

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“Eat mostly whole foods with the balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat that works for you,” says Bonnie Modugno, M.S., R.D., creator of Much More Than Food. “Include enough protein and adequate fat with the plant foods to provide a stable source of energy to fuel your day and minimize energy dips. Better energy and stamina leads to fewer temptations to tap into sugar, caffeine and other quick fixes that end up sabotaging the best of intentions.”

Be Mindful at the Buffet

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“Oh the all you can eat dining plan… From self-serve frozen yogurt to cereal buffet bars, the urge to fill up and go back for more is beyond temping,” says Amanda Russell, a personal trainer and the founder of FitStrongandSexy.com. “Plus, it’s easy to make the wrong food choices.” Russell suggested avoiding buffet binges by always aiming to fill half of your plate with vegetables.

When it comes to dining on campus, Rebecca Kordecki, a certified personal trainer and owner of RK Fit offered the following valuable advice. “Load your plate with colorful vegetables, lean protein sources such as turkey, chicken or fish, and minimize starchy carbs such as white rice, breads, potatoes and pasta,” Kordecki said. “Avoid processed, canned and frozen foods as often as you can. Start drinking seltzer water with lemon or lime rather than a soda with your meals. Avoid sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and other hidden sources of refined sugar.”

Avoid Skipping Meals

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“Many college students try to save calories by skipping breakfast,” says Russell. “This plan will backfire since it slows down your metabolism, which can actually cause weight gain.” Breakfast is of the most importance. If you really can’t make it to the dining hall before class, Russell recommends keeping Greek yogurt and instant oatmeal in your dorm room fridge so you can easily grab something on the go. Kordecki also warned against skipping meals and suggested using your phone’s alarm feature to help you stay on track with meal times. “Or just follow a traditional mealtime pattern such as breakfast upon waking, lunch around noon, a snack around 3 p.m. and dinner around 6 p.m.,” she said. “Proper mealtimes with healthy whole foods will keep your blood sugar regulated and will boost brainpower so you can stay on top of your studies.”

Join New Clubs and Sports

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“Now is the best time to try something new,” says Bennet. “Look for a new sport to try. Think outside the box — bouldering, martial arts, gymnastics. Going to these kinds of classes and groups will bring about healthy habits and a new circle of healthy friends.”

Keep Alcohol Consumption in Check

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“Most people don’t take into account the calories they take in liquids,” Bennet explained. This is probably especially true for college students.  “Choose to drink only water throughout the day and limit alcohol consumption,” he suggests. Also keep in mind, Modugno says, that alcohol can slow your metabolism, promotes fat storage and since it impairs your judgement, can lead you to make poor food choices. “With a buzz, it is easier to justify just about anything,” she said. 

Learn to Cook Simple Meals

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Just like you may not always have time to hit the gym for an entire workout, you may find you won’t always have time for a proper meal at the dining hall. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep some healthy, no-hassle meals on hand in your dorm room. For example, sugar-free instant oatmeal packets, low-sodium vegetable-based soups or sugar-free Greek yogurt with some frozen fruit and granola. 

Establish Healthy Sleep Habits

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“When you don’t sleep enough a hormone called leptin is decreased, while a hormone called ghrelin is increased,” Bennet explains. “Leptin is responsible for that ‘full’ feeling. Ghrelin on the other hand stimulates appetite. Make sure you are getting a solid eight hours a night to keep your hormones in balance.” Plus, not only will getting adequate amounts of sleep keep your appetite in check, it can also help decrease your risk for serious illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, stroke and depression. 

Eat Mindfully

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“Honor hunger and satiety,” Modugno explains. “Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are satisfied. Adequate protein will help here. Strong self-regulation skills are needed to avoid indulging at all you can eat cafeterias and social events.”

Walk Everywhere

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In addition to exercising regularly and participating in recreational activities or sports, an important part of staying healthy involves incorporating as much movement as possible throughout your day. “Walk around campus as much as you can, even when you aren't on class,” says Towers. “Enjoy the atmosphere and soak up your new environment.” Not only is this a simple way to keep weight gain at bay, it also promotes good general health and wellness. “In addition, physical movement buffers the impact of stress and can help you sleep better,” Modugno added.

Snack Smart

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Especially given many college students have wacky schedules, snacking between meals will likely be inevitable. But just because snack foods are typically considered “unhealthy” doesn’t mean you need to avoid it entirely. Make sure to always have nutritious snack options on hand and between-class or late-night noshing won’t become an issue. “Try to keep fruits and nuts on tap for that late-night cramming instead of grilled cheese sandwiches and Ice cream,” Towers suggests.

Pay Attention to Portion Sizes

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This may sound complicated, but to help you get your portion sizes right, Polina Marchenko, founder at KptnCook, a healthy cooking app for beginners, says you only need to use your hands. In a balanced meal or even when snacking, a serving of carbs should be about the size of your fist, a serving of fat the size of the tip of your thumb and a serving of protein the size of your palm. This infographic shows you how to use your hands to measure your portions.