Between unlimited food in the dining hall, calorie-loaded beverages and late-night eating fests consisting of pizza, chips and ice cream … it's no wonder thousands of freshman students gain weight during their first year at college. But weight gain is not inevitable. In fact, if you eat smart in the campus dining hall, are mindful of caloric beverages (soda, juice, flavored waters, sports drinks, special coffees and booze) and stock your dorm room with nutritious essentials, you’ll come home for summer vacation looking and feeling better than ever.
Pointers for the campus dining hall
These days, campus cafeterias are loaded with healthy and not-so-healthy fare. Your job is to find the healthy options and make smart food choices the majority of the time. Here’s what you should choose — and lose — and the impressive amount of calories you’ll save.
Lose: Fried chicken/buffalo wings
Choose: Grilled chicken/skinless drumsticks
385 calories saved
Lose: French fries
Choose: Baked potato with ketchup or one scoop mashed potatoes
200 calories saved
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Lose: Macaroni and cheese
Choose: Pasta with marinara sauce
280 calories saved
Lose: Salads with excessive dressing
Choose: Salads with half a ladle of dressing (about 2 tablespoons) — or opt for a low-cal dressing
320 calories saved
Lose: Cheeseburger on bun
Choose: Turkey burger or veggie burger on bun
430 calories saved
Lose: Oversized bagels and muffins
Choose: Two slices whole-wheat toast or one English muffin
350 calories saved
Lose: Excessive desserts (cakes, pies and cookies)
Choose: Fresh fruit and half dessert (e.g., half slice of cake)
130 calories saved
Best bets for late-night munchies
When it comes to late-night snack attacks, pass on pizza, ice cream, candy and chips. Instead, invest in a mini-fridge and stock your room with healthy snack alternatives.
Healthy ideas for the mini-fridge; nonfat flavored yogurts, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, hummus, apples, grapes, string cheese, skim milk and bottled water.
Dorm-friendly snack foods that don't require refrigeration include: bananas, small bags of soy crisps (Glenny’s and Sensible Portions), low-fat popcorn (Boston Lite and Smart Food), granola bars (Nature Valley, Fiber One, Gnu), rice cakes and whole-grain crunchy cereal (Kashi Heart to Heart, Barbara’s Puffins, Mighty Mites and Life). If you need a sweet treat while studying, try options that are 150 calories or less, such as lollipops, diet hot cocoa mix, and fun-size chocolate bars.
Don’t skimp on exercise and sleep!
Exercise burns calories and helps prevent weight gain — even if you’re just walking to class. You’ll burn about 80 to 100 calories for every mile you walk. If you average five miles of walking a week, at the end of the year you’ll have burned 26,000 calories and prevented seven pounds of weight gain! Exercise is also a great way to deal with stress, so recruit roommates and friends to hit the gym.
Sleep is equally important. During sleep, our bodies rest and regenerate so we can be strong and clearheaded the following day — including clearheaded enough to make wise food choices. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, causes an imbalance in certain hormones, ghrelin and leptin. When we don’t get enough sleep, our levels of ghrelin go up and levels of leptin go down (this hormone imbalance increases hunger!).
Consider tracking your weight at school
Important note: If you find yourself truly abusing food — overeating or undereating — speak with your parents and/or a counselor on campus. While most college freshmen struggle with the freshman 15, others — typically girls — become obsessed with losing weight and develop serious eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. I urge you to seek help if you’re struggling.
Joy Bauer is the author of “Food Cures.”
For more information on healthy eating, check out Joy’s Web site at www.joybauernutrition.com.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints