Avoiding Weight Gain at College

Reviewed by Sarah Klemm, RD, CD
Avoid College Weight Gain

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The legend of the "Freshman 15" is a real concern for many college students but it's neither limited to freshman nor to 15 pounds. College weight gain is a common problem and may result from a variety of factors, such as:

  • Decreased physical activity or less involvement in sports.
  • Unlimited food and beverage choices offered in dining halls.
  • An increase in snacking, late night eating and convenience foods.
  • Drinking more calorie-dense beverages such as sugary coffee drinks, regular soda, energy drinks or alcohol.

While college may be filled with a variety of stressors, you can take steps to keep your weight in check. 

Make Smart Food Choices

Put the emphasis on nutrient-rich foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds. Limit sources of added sugars, solid fats and salt and choose more healthful fats from avocados, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils, such as olive oil and canola oil. Stock snacks that combine lean 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.

Limit Liquid Calories

Reduce the intake of regular soft drinks and other beverages with added sugars, such as sweetened coffee and energy drinks. Instead, opt for lower calorie choices such as water, low-fat or fat-free milk, unsweetened teas and coffee. Alcohol also contains calories and may contribute to weight gain. Guidelines advise those who are of legal age and choose to drink to do so in moderation, which is considered up to one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.

Get an "A" in Cafeteria 101

The dining hall can be a friend or foe. There may be high-calorie choices and oversized portions, but most colleges and universities also provide nutritious options..

Here are some more ways to make your cafeteria work for you:
  • Salad bars are a great way to add more vegetables into your day but don't go overboard on cheese, bacon, croutons and other high-calorie add-ons. When selecting a dressing, an oil-and-vinegar mix is a great option.
  • Enjoy fruit for dessert or save an apple or banana for a snack later.
  • Follow the MyPlate guidelines when filling your plate at the cafeteria. Focus on filling half your plate with vegetables and fruit. Add a serving of whole grains and a lean protein, along with a serving of low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt.
  • Practice portion control with foods that are high in fat or calories. For example, pair a slice of pizza with a salad or choose a steamed vegetable for the side.

Be Mindful

Before you snack, ask yourself if you're eating out of boredom or soothing yourself with food. If you're stressed, anxious or feeling blue, take a study break to chat with a friend or go on a brisk walk. If stress and anxiety feel unmanageable, consider seeking on-campus student counseling services.

Incorporate Physical Activity

Get moving with at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity most days of the week. Moderate-intensity activities include brisk walking, biking and stair climbing. Many schools also offer elective classes such as dance, yoga, martial arts and other sports.

Activities of daily living burn calories, too, such as walking to and from class and parking your car further away from campus.

Talk to an RDN

If you'd like help creating a healthy eating plan, or advice for managing your weight, check to see if your student health services offers nutrition counseling. Registered dietitian nutritionists are food and nutrition experts and can help you ace your health goals.

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Need serious help making a plan? The nutrition experts in our professional membership are ready to help you create the change to improve your life.

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