Going away to school can be dangerous on the waistline. The dorm dining hall is like a giant, all-you-can-eat buffet. And let's be real, the food choices at most campuses are not healthy. On top of that, many students don't have access to a kitchen, and will ultimately eat all of their meals out. It's no wonder most of us gain some weight when going off to college, though the infamous "freshman 15" is really more like 10 pounds. And don't be fooled — weight gain isn't reserved to first-year students only. The eating habits you develop during your first year away can stay with you through college and beyond.
Whether you're eating in a dining hall or cooking for yourself in your first apartment, a few simple strategies can help you avoid that first-year college weight gain. Here are my tips for eating healthy while you're away at school.
- Don't skip meals, especially breakfast. Starting with a filling breakfast helps steady your metabolism throughout the day. Here are five ideas for quick but healthy starts.
- Drink lots of water. At the dining hall, during lectures, throughout cram sessions, whenever! Skip the soda and carry a water bottle that you can refill throughout the day to prevent constipation and bloating.
- Include at least three food groups in every meal. When choosing from the endless dining hall bounty, make an effort to get plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, lean protein, and calcium — not just pizza and chicken fingers. And the more color on your plate, the better.
For the rest of my top 10 healthy eating tips, read more.
- Control your portions. Just because you can fill your plate, doesn't mean you should. Familiarize yourself with what proper portions look like and stick to them.
- Treat yourself occasionally. Go ahead and indulge, but don't go overboard. If you have a cookie after lunch, skip the ice cream after dinner. Here are some ideas for healthy sweet treats.
- Avoid a fourth meal. In my dorm-room days, there were always late-night pizzas being delivered or roommates making mac and cheese at midnight. It's OK to fortify yourself with the occasional snack while studying, but make sure it's actually a snack, not the equivalent of a second dinner or dessert.
- Stock healthy snacks. For those late-night study sessions when you do get hungry, keep your dorm room full of healthy snacks like nuts, pretzels, fruit, popcorn, and nutrition bars.
- Pick your liquor carefully. Freshmen aren't supposed to drink! But if you do, remember that alcoholic beverages are full of empty calories, and sugary cocktails are the worst for both calories and hangovers.
- Shop smart. If you live in an apartment, choose healthy foods when grocery shopping. Only shop the perimeter of a grocery store, or go to a farmers market instead. If you're worried about food going bad, buy items like frozen vegetables and fruit, yogurt, low-fat string cheese, and healthy frozen meals.
- Exercise! OK, this isn't really a healthy eating tip, but it's an essential part of keeping the pounds off in college. Walk or bike to class, frequent the school gym, or join an intramural team and get moving!
What are your tips for incoming freshmen looking to avoid the traditional weight gain?