3 a.m. pizza, french fries, five-pound bag of candy your roommate's mom just sent, ramen noodles, $1 tacos, beer, and more beer,and no parent to answer to?  What am I talking about? The Freshman 15.

Most associate the term "Freshman 15" with the phenomenon of how college students gain weight their first semester attending a college or university. With all these temptations, it’s no wonder the “Freshman 15” has become such a popular idea. This is hitting home with me as I have a daughter heading to her freshman year of college. I wanted to give her some pointers (subtly of course) on keeping an active and healthy lifestyle. Living in an university town, I see the changes the students’ bodies go thru. Of course, not all of these changes are bad, but why do college students gain weight? The reason why the weight gain usually happens is due to lifestyle changes — new environment with new food choices, added stress of being newly away from home(us parents not telling them what to do), and new changes in physical activity. College is an adjustment, but it doesn't have to mean an adjustment in their waist size. 

Freshman 15 “NOT" Tips:

  • Stock Smart Snacks

If you have a thing for chips, don't keep a giant bag in your room. Late nights and stress can lead to binge eating. Instead, stock snacks that combine protein and carbohydrates to fuel you. Good snack options include apples with peanut butter, carrots and hummus, and Greek yogurt or fruit and whole-grain cereal. 

  • Don't Skip Breakfast

Breakfast wakes up the metabolism and provides energy to the brain and muscles for the day's activities. Students who eat breakfast tend to eat less throughout the day than those who skip breakfast. There are many quick breakfast options for busy college students. An A+ breakfast is one that includes whole grains, fruits/vegetables and protein — so take note! Breakfast options for on-the-go students include hard-boiled eggs and fruit, whole-grain toast with peanut butter, protein bar, or a healthy smoothie. Keep the options simple the first year!

  • Cafeteria 101

The dining hall can be a friend or foe. There may be high-calorie foods and oversized portions, but most universities also provide nutritious options. Great options include foods that are baked, broiled, steamed, grilled or roasted and steer clear of foods that are buttered, fried, swimming in cream sauce and contain lots of breading.
Here are some more ways to make your cafeteria work for you:
• Salad bars are a great option, but don't go overboard on cheese, bacon, croutons and other high-calorie add-ons. An oil-and-vinegar mix is a great dressing option.
• Enjoy fruit for dessert, or save an apple or banana for a snack.
•Balance your plate with protein, carbs, and healthy fats.
• When indulging in a treat, practice portion control. Have one slice of pizza and hit the salad bar for a vegetable side.

  • Lay off the Booze

Alcohol is widely available on campuses, and those liquid calories add up. Five beers at 143 calories each equals more than 700 extra calories, about a third of a recommended daily intake. Aside from the booze itself, late night binge eating following the alcohol consumption is a double whammy. When drinking, alternate a glass of water with alcoholic beverages. You'll consume less alcohol and fewer calories. Eat a balanced meal before heading out for the night. Food slows the absorption of alcohol, and a good meal may curb late-night food cravings. Make a rule to not drink during the weekdays. You should be studying anyways.

  • Order Healthier Takeout

You can still eat pizza — just be smarter about it.  A veggie pizza instead of one loaded with pepperoni and sausage, or ask for only half the cheese. And limit yourself to only one or two pieces plus a healthy salad.  For Chinese food, choose steamed entrees like shrimp or chicken with veggies (as opposed to sautéed) and ask for your sauce on the side. However, be sure to add vitamin and fiber-rich bok choy, string beans, and broccoli rather than baby corn and water chestnuts, which have little nutritional value. Pass on the noodles, which are made from refined white flour and often arrive drowning in oil. Ask for brown rice instead of white, which is higher in fiber. Mexican choose a dish that’s wrapped in a soft tortilla and make sure it’s filled with lots of veggies, flavorful salsa, and lean protein like shrimp or chicken. Ask for cheese on the side so you can control how much you sprinkle in, and choose a little heart-healthy guacamole rather than fatty sour cream.

  • Get a Move On

Time is a valuable commodity for busy college students, but making time for regular activity pays off. Physical activity helps control weight, improves your mood and controls stress.
Many universities have excellent fitness centers available for students, but you don't have to become a gym rat. Instead of driving to class, walk or ride your bike. 

  • Sleep, Sleep, Sleep

Get enough sleep. Sleeping less than six hours each night can affect hormone levels that control appetite, cravings, and metabolism. People who do not get enough sleep often crave high-calorie junk food the body can quickly break down for energy. I think this one is the easiest for the students to accomplish. 

As parents, we hope we have taught them the things they need to know. As adults, we know that we knew everything there was to know at that age. Weight will come and go, but  these freshman memories are priceless.

Live Life Fitter, Freshmen!

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