Class is in session on college campuses across the country. And this time of year is especially exciting for millions of freshmen, who are leaving the nest and will have to start making their own decisions about all sorts of things.
While most of these decisions will center around sleeping and studying, they will also be faced with choosing what to eat and when to eat it. This is where making the wrong choices could get them into trouble (read: the infamous "Freshman 15"). While experts say the "Freshman 15" is a bit of an exaggeration for most, first-year weight gain is no joke. On average, bad habits and decreased physical activity can find some college freshmen packing on up to 10 pounds easily.
With an abundance of all-you-can-eat dining options, late night binges and eating on the run, avoiding extra weight might be easier said than done. Whether you're just starting college, headed that way or an upperclassman, here are a few tips that might help keep your weight in check away from home:
Move, Move, Move: First things first -- move as much as you can. Moving between classes offers a natural opportunity for you to be active, so make the most of it. Whenever you have extra time between classes, take the "scenic route" through campus. And if you have long breaks between classes, don't go back to your dorm and watch TV. Instead find the gym on campus or get involved in extramural sports. Staying active during your first year doesn't require a lot of effort or time, so keep moving.
Stock up for Study Breaks: Late-night study sessions are par for the course in college. To avoid eating unhealthy late at night, stock up your room and mini-fridge with a few healthier options. Here are a few snacks that can be easily kept in your room/fridge: peanut butter and crackers, fruits and vegetables (like bananas, apples, carrots), microwave popcorn, trail mix, yogurt and low- and no-calorie or portion-controlled drinks like mini soda cans and juice boxes.
Navigating Endless Dining Hall Options: The truth is that you need a variety of foods to maintain the energy and stamina needed to keep up with the demands of college. While you shouldn't avoid the endless options in the campus cafeteria, you should make smart choices. First tip is to grab a small plate (watch those portion sizes) and choose items that represent a balanced plate like protein, starch and fruits/vegetables. Most dining halls have a salad bar, so make a pit stop to choose something for your plate -- whether it's baby carrots, broccoli or a full salad. You'll thank me when you have a bit more energy later that night to study.
Eating Out the Smart Way: When eating out, which happens quite often during college years, transfer some food on to a smaller plate or order from the appetizer the menu. Save big money by sharing an entree or dessert with your friends. Also, do not feel embarrassed by asking for a "to-go" container right when your food is delivered to your table and place half of your meal in it. This can be lunch or dinner for the next day.
Your freshman year and beyond will be full of many choices and expanding horizons. And by making the right choices, you can ensure your waistline doesn't expand, too.
Follow Sylvia E. Meléndez-Klinger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@sklingerrd