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7 Ways to Avoid the Freshman 15

Students taking notes in a classroom.
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Many students come back from their first year of college with new friends, new knowledge…and a few extra pounds. Here’s how you can avoid gaining weight when you gain the extra responsibilities of living on your own.

The “Freshman 15” is a catchy nickname that refers to the weight gain many college students experience while away from home for the first time. It’s a combination of easy access to junk food, having to navigate meal planning and nutrition on your own, and more.

However, while the Freshman 15 might be common, it’s not a given. With a little mindfulness and attention to what you’re eating and how much you’re moving, you can keep your body healthy during your first year away from home.

Sneak in Those Steps

The more you move, the more easily you can fend off the dreaded Freshman 15. Whenever possible, walk to your destination. If you get in more steps throughout the day, you get exercise without having to hit the gym.

Take the long route to your classes. Go on a walk between lectures, instead of taking a nap or grabbing a snack. If your art history class is on the top floor, take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator.

Pretty much any time you can sneak in a walk instead of taking your car or the campus bus, you should.

Learn to Cook

Nothing beats the ease and convenience of popping down to the dining hall to take advantage of your unlimited meal pass, but eating pizza three times a day can take its toll.

If you learn to cook even a few basic meals, it can help you balance your diet and ensure you sneak in at least a few vegetables throughout the week.

You don’t have to become a gourmet chef. You can throw together a tasty salad without cooking anything or use pre-cooked ingredients, like grilled chicken. If you have access to a microwave, you can follow a dorm room cookbook to prepare hot meals.

Even if you eat in the dining hall a lot, learning to cook teaches you what goes into meals, and it will help you make more nutritious and healthy selections from the menu.

Don’t Drink Your Calories

Sometimes, it’s not the all-you-can-eat pizza that causes college freshmen to pack on the pounds; it’s the weekend partying.

Alcohol has calories, and if you toss back a bunch of beers every weekend, you can gain weight quickly, even if the rest of your diet is healthy. Be mindful of how much alcohol you consume and factor it into your assessment of your overall diet. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re fine if you drink liquor instead of beer—a stiff shot of vodka has 120 calories.

Booze and sugary drinks are really high in calories and an easy area where you can cut back.

Even if you’re not hitting the party circuit, keep an eye on those liquid calories. If you have a big cup of soda with lunch or dinner every day, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. But by the end of the month, you’ll have drunk around 4,500 calories—more than the number required to put on an extra pound. Keep that up all freshman year and, between the alcohol and the soda, you’ll get your Freshman 15 just from beverages.

Remember, calories count, no matter what form they come in.

Go to the Gym

A group of people doing yoga.

Most colleges and universities have free athletic facilities for students, and they’re typically extremely nice. Whether you have a gym, a pool, a track, or all three available, if you take advantage of these resources, you can prevent your weight from creeping up on you.

If you’re not sure how to get started at the gym, take a class. Most universities offer free classes to students, which means you can try out different types of exercise under the watchful eye of an experienced instructor.

If you prefer to check out the gym by yourself but still have some anxiety, enlist a friend to go with you. A workout buddy can make your gym time fun rather than stressful.

Opt for a Healthier Dinner

Even if you’re a master microwave chef, you’ll still probably hit up the dining hall occasionally. And you shouldn’t feel guilty about it! Nothing beats the ease and convenience of hundreds of food options available with a quick scan of your meal plan card.

It’s fine to indulge in pizza or a cheeseburger now and then, but take advantage of the healthier options, too. Most locations have a salad bar where you can put together a healthier, less heavy meal.

Head Outside

Between and after classes, head outside! Whether you play Frisbee on the quad or go rock climbing with your friends, outdoor activities get you moving and having fun.

On the weekends, try to fit in some exercise between studying and social activities. If you live in a city, see if you can rent a city bike—it can be a fun way to explore. If you’re in a more remote location, try to go on some hikes with friends.

You can have a lot of fun while breaking a sweat, too!

Take Care of Yourself

College is such a stressful time, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. You’re kept busy studying for exams, meeting new people, and learning a new place. If you also work a part- or full-time job, it’s even more difficult!

So, make an effort to treat yourself well! Get a good night’s sleep, drink lots of water, and take breaks when you need them. Stress can cause weight gain, so if you manage your mental health, it can have a positive impact on your physical health, too.

College is a time to meet new people, try new things, and explore new places. For many students, it’s the first time you’re on your own. All this change makes it easy to fall into bad habits that lead to weight gain.

However, with a little thought and dedication to the tips outlined in this article, you can have a great time at college, maintain your health, and avoid the dreaded Freshman 15.

Hayley Milliman Hayley Milliman
Hayley is a former Teach for America teacher turned curriculum developer and writer. Over the past five years, she's written hundreds of articles on everything from education to personal finance to history. She's co-author of the book  Females. Read Full Bio »
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