Each fall, millions of students head off to college eager to leave the nest and start making decisions without that knowing look from mom or dad.  This newfound freedom carries a certain weight: fifteen pounds as the saying goes. While experts say the “Freshman 15” is a bit of an exaggeration for most, first year weight gain is no urban legend – on average, college freshman gain 11 times more weight in the first 12 weeks than the typical weight gain for 17-18 year olds!

All-you-can-eat dining options, late night munching, budgets, and eating on the run all contribute to the “Freshman 15” phenomenon; but it doesn’t have to be this way.  Here are some tips from my syllabus for curbing college weight gain:

  • Tip #1: Best bets for stocking the mini fridge. Your dorm room may be small, but most have room for a mini fridge and a shelf or two to store food. Keep some healthy snacks on hand like part skim string cheese, low-fat yogurts, instant oatmeal packets, whole grain cereals and crackers, and peanut butter. Don’t forget about beverages – water is always best, but an occasional soda or iced tea may satisfy your cravings for sweets. Remember, when it comes to caloric beverages, portion control is key – mini cans of Coke and Diet Coke fit perfectly in the mini fridge and are just the right size to quench your thirst. And don’t fret about the high fructose corn syrup in sweetened drinks – it’s nutritionally equivalent to table sugar.
  • Tip #2: Sensible, affordable snacks for on-the-go bites between classes. Make sure your snack has a combination of complex carbs, protein, and/or healthy fat to keep you well satiated between meals and your blood sugar levels steady. Some nutritious, yet cheap snacks: apple or banana with a to-go pack of peanut butter, whole-grain granola bars, raw nuts, string cheese and fruit, and baby carrots dipped in a hummus single-serve snack pack.
  • Tip #3: Staying up through late night studying without packing on the pounds. Late night study breaks often come in the form of a shared pizza and bottomless bags of chips, which may taste great, but aren’t ideal for fueling your brain. To keep your energy up for late night cram sessions, pick snacks that are high in protein, which digest more slowly and keep you satiated and energized for longer, or take an exercise study break, which may even boost your memory
  • Tip #4: How to navigate the endless dining hall options. Dining halls are basically a huge buffet. Before you start filling your tray, survey the landscape and see what is offered. Then fill half your plate with salad or cooked vegetables and choose one lean protein like fish or chicken and one starch - brown rice, mashed potatoes, butternut squash all fit in this category. Resist the urge to try a little of everything - remember, you have a whole year of dining hall meals to get through! For dessert, you can’t go wrong with fresh fruit, but an occasional sweet treat like ice cream or a brownie is fine – just keep portion sizes in check.
  • Tip #5: Working a workout in your campus-life syllabus. Between classes, study groups, and fraternity parties, it may seem like there’s no time to exercise, but it’s important to get at least 30 minutes in most days of the week. Walk to class whenever you can and take the stairs rather than the packed elevators – you’ll be on time to lecture and get some cardio in. Most colleges have a campus gym that is available to all students – take advantage and use it in the morning before classes or as a study break in the evening.

A healthy diet is about total nutrition with less emphasis on singling out certain ingredients and more emphasis on ensuring that you eat a balanced meal. Eat and enjoy a variety of foods – when eaten in a healthy way and balanced with physical activity, all foods can fit in moderation.

Jessica Levinson

Jessica Levinson

Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist and the founder of Nutritioulicious, a nutrition consulting and counseling practice in the New York area. In her practice, Jessica consults for various food and beverage companies. She has extensive experience as a nutrition writer, editor, and speaker, and has been featured as a nutrition expert on NBC, Fox 5, and NY1, and in national magazines, including Glamour, Fitness, and Woman’s Day.