15 Ways to Avoid the Freshman 15
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15 Easy Ways To Avoid The Freshman 15

From quick food swaps to healthy habits, here's a list of 15 ways to manage the dreaded weight gain that comes along with your first year of college.

15 Easy Ways To Avoid The Freshman 15
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Ah, freshman year of college. Those words carry with them so much substance. As I meditate on them, I am reminded of the girl I was 365 days ago: excited, nervous, unsure, and expectant. Six months into my freshman year, the excitement and nerves had faded, but my doubts and expectations had only increased... along with my waistline.

During Christmas break, I realized I was not happy with who I was becoming. This wasn't just because of my weight gain (see here for my article about a radical change in mindset). I mean, I knew I was no longer a teenager and unexpected weight gain and loss sometimes comes with being a woman. The issue was I gained 14 pounds in a six-month period. While I was familiar with the infamous Freshman 15, I suddenly realized that my unhealthy habits put me on track to gain 30 pounds in just one year.

I was determined to make a change as soon as I got back to campus. No, it didn't mean I was going to starve myself or try a fad diet or buy some new weight loss product I saw on Instagram. I simply wanted to be more aware of how I was treating my body.

Here are 15 tips that will help you avoid the Freshman 15 (speaking from firsthand experience!).

1. Keep a food journal.


Whether it's in your planner, notebook, or Notes app, logging what you eat helps you track how your body reacts to different foods, what foods keep you full, and how much you're truly consuming. Looking back and remembering you already had two cookies at lunch may help you stay away from the candy bar as a midday study snack.

2. Avoid fried foods in the dining hall.


One of my FAVORITE parts of my campus' dining hall is the french fries. Crispy and shoe-string just like Steak'N'Shake... YUM. However, during the first semester, I was eating french fries as a side for almost every lunch and dinner. Not exactly the healthiest choice.

Opt instead for a baked potato, cooked vegetable, or salad! Most dining halls have salad bars that aren't too shabby. The more vibrant colors your plate contains, the healthier it is more likely to be!

3. Substitute cream or 2% milk with a nondairy alternative.


As the workload increases and time for sleep decreases, many students turn to their trusty friend caffeine to stay alert. While black coffee has its health benefits, the calories that come with loading up a latte with cream and sugar basically cancel out the drink's positive effects.

Can't become a straight coffee drinker yet? You're not alone. However, asking for coconut milk instead of the default 2% milk in a grande Starbucks latte instantly saves you 50 calories. Almond milk is also an awesome alternative, containing 90 fewer calories, 1 less gram of fat, and 13 fewer grams of sugar than a grande latte with 2% milk.

Also, if you still need something else to dilute the bean taste, many coffee shops offer sugar-free sweeteners. Ditch your habit of asking for extra caramel drizzle and opt instead for a sugar-free syrup or 0-calorie sweetener packet instead.

4. Keep healthy snacks handy.


After high school graduation, I was the QUEEN of Target gift cards. I tried my best to save them until I got to school so that I could use them while grocery shopping. When I finally realized college wasn't all fun and games and that I actually needed to make health-conscious decisions, I tried to stop buying so many Oreos and M&Ms. Instead, I loaded up on healthy dorm foods like hummus, carrots, and fresh fruit.

Worried you won't have enough fridge space? Some of my favorite HEALTHY snacks that can be stored at room temperature include canned chicken noodle soup, light kettle corn, oatmeal, unsalted pretzels, almonds, apples, and bananas.

Don't think you have enough dough to spend on healthy food? I have two words for you, my friend: Trader Joe's.

5. Be conscious of your sugar intake.


Whether it be in a dining hall, freezer aisle, or a nearby shop, ice cream and I have a love-hate relationship. Because ice cream was basically at my disposal (and nothing relieves a stressful start to a week like Sundae Monday, right?), I took advantage of its availability.

I am an ice cream fanatic, so even though I decided to change my eating habits, I try to limit my ice cream intake to once a week. Also, on the days I do have ice cream, I steer clear of the rest of my favorite sweet snacks (M&Ms, Nutella, puppy chow, Dove chocolates, caramel macchiatos, frappes... you get the point).

Not an ice-cream addict? Remember carbs come in many different forms. If bread is your weakness, try to only use 1/2 of the bun on your next sandwich... or go crazy and skip it altogether!

6. Out of sight, out of mind.


If I have learned anything in my struggle to be healthier, it is that as long as I know there is chocolate nearby, I will eat it. Keeping out a bowl of mini candy bars was a BIG mistake. Every time I'd pass by the bowl (in between classes, while changing, when coming back for a nap), I'd grab a piece. From Reese's pumpkins... to Reese's Christmas trees... to Reese's hearts... to Reese's Easter eggs... I could almost always find an excuse to pop a little (or a lot) of chocolate peanut butter heaven in my mouth.

However, I knew if I wanted to start being healthier, I needed to shake that habit. One day early second semester, I decided to put the bowl just outside my dorm room door. Turns out college kids are pretty receptive to free candy. I came back to the bowl to find it empty, along with an anonymous note on my dry erase board that said, "More, please!"

7. Consume what will keep you full.


Protein is one of the most important parts of a balanced diet! You can eat unlimited veggies all day long, but you'll still feel hungry. You NEED protein. Lean meats like chicken (try it grilled instead of fried--you can even buy microwavable frozen grilled chicken for your dorm room), turkey, and fish are all good sources of protein that will keep you full longer than carb-filled foods.

Some foods that are considered "healthy" fats also keep you satisfied. These include peanut butter, avocados, and almonds. "Healthy" and hearty starches include popcorn and sweet potatoes (which you can steam in a microwave... and they don't need refrigerated!).

Also, thirst, often mistaken for hunger, can be cured by good ol' H2O. Drinking PLENTY of water is key to healthier living!

8. Get to the gym.


This may sound like a no-brainer or a cliché when it comes to losing weight, but in reality, the benefits of working out stretch far beyond a few pounds. At times when I would feel overloaded with stress or overwhelmed with to-dos, I'd run a couple miles on the treadmill. Not only did I start to tone up, but I also felt less anxious and more energized.

The trick to losing weight is burning more calories than you consume. In turn, if you really want that chocolate bar, look at the number of calories it contains. If you are willing to work off the number of calories it contains, by all means! It's in your hands. :)

9. Get enough sleep.


I cannot stress this ENOUGH. During busy weeks, I'd be up into the wee hours in the morning studying. To stay alert, I would snack on sugary treats or drink soda. If that wasn't bad enough, the following mornings were filled with so much fatigue that could only be subsided by lots of snacking.

More sleep = more energy.

More energy = less "quick fuel" needed from carbs.

10. Walk whenever/wherever you can.


This is an easy fix (hence why it made the list). As college students, we can walk to class, the gym, restaurants, other dorms, etc. If you have a car on campus, try to limit yourself to only using it when you need to go somewhere far away. Get some fresh air and your heart pumping by walking anywhere in close distance.

11. Before going out to eat, do your research.


One of the hardest things about being health-conscious is seeming like you're blowing off your friends when it comes to eating out. Because I wanted to avoid unhealthy foods, I often turned down dinner invites. After experiencing some FOMO, I realized instead of running away from that Italian place because of the carb overload, I could easily just do some background research to find some healthy options.

Most restaurants make their nutrition facts available on their websites, so if you want to eat healthily AND have a social life, just do a quick Google search before heading out the door.

12. Limit alcohol consumption.


I know, it's college, right? How am I supposed to convince you not to drink? How about this: 1 glass of certain brands of Cabernet (a type of red wine) contains the same amount of calories as TWO BITES of an Egg McMuffin.

Yes, it's true that clear alcohols like rum and vodka contain fewer calories than darker alcohols, but rum and vodka are usually mixed or chased with sugary sodas or juices.

Let me remind you, this is only counting the calories in the drinks themselves. We haven't even considered the calories in the food consumed at the end of a night out. On Friday and Saturday nights, I can almost guarantee fast food joints and pizza places get a lot more business than the local farmers' markets.

13. Surround yourself with positive influences.


One of the best things you can do for yourself is choosing to spend time with people who lift you up and encourage you. Whether you are in search of running buddies, fellow yogis, dance partners, or fresh-squeezed juice junkies, your people are out there! College campuses are full of people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Find those who love the same healthy habits as you, or try out a new hobby! It's never too late to discover new passions.

14. Be realistic about your goals.


You are YOUNG. Enjoy your life!! Maybe you'll weigh a few more pounds than you want to if you go get ice cream with your besties or eat a slice (or 3) of pizza during a Netflix binge. Don't beat yourself up. Each and every day is a FRESH START. It's impossible to be perfect. Just remember how foods make you feel and stay committed. Don't give up if you start to feel discouraged. It's way harder to get back on track after a bad week or bad month than it is after a bad day!

15. Remember that comparison is the thief of joy.


College campuses, as well as social media, can become huge threats to a positive self-image. It's hard to see people who seem to have "perfect" bodies without even lifting a finger while you're grinding at the gym 5 days a week and avoiding dessert like it's the plague. However, remember that everyone is built differently, and being healthy is more important than a number on a scale.

You want his toned abs? Maybe he wants your wide chest. You want her small thighs? Maybe she wants your big booty.

Work toward being the best version of YOU, not a knock-off version of someone else. Plus, life would be pretty boring if everyone was the same.

After a semester of making these changes, I lost 20 pounds then gained back 9. If you're trying to figure this out in your head, you'll realize that overall, I still gained three pounds over the course of freshman year. From this information, remember that it is not just the number on the scale. You must keep in mind the benefits of increased muscle mass, more energy, reduced stress, and clearer skin.

The most important take away is to examine how your body feels (not looks) after making these changes. There is a range that, as long as you're living a healthy lifestyle, your weight will constantly fluctuate between. You're becoming an adult! Rapid and excessive weight gain due to overeating, lack of exercise, stress, and lack of sleep are when health becomes an issue. If you keep in mind these tips and positively manage stress, you'll be well on your way to a healthier lifestyle!

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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