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Fight the freshman 15 with healthy alternatives

TODAY nutritionist and diet editor Joy Bauer offers helpful advice  to help  kids avoid gaining weight that first year of college.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

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 potatoes200 calories saved

Lose: Macaroni and cheese Choose: Pasta with marinara sauce280 calories saved

Lose: Salads with excessive dressing Choose: Salads with half a ladle of dressing (about 2 tablespoons) — or opt for a low-cal dressing320 calories saved

Lose: Cheeseburger on bun Choose: Turkey burger or veggie burger on bun430 calories saved

Lose: Oversized bagels and muffins Choose: Two slices whole-wheat toast or one English muffin350 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

Weighing yourself regularly on a scale can be a helpful reality check. Dr. David Levitsky, professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University, tested this theory on freshman girls. He followed two separate groups of young women for 12 weeks — only one group was instructed to weigh themselves regularly. At the end of the 12-week period, the freshman girls who weighed themselves regularly remained at their starting weight, but the freshman girls who did not weigh themselves packed on an average of five pounds each. Consider buying a small bathroom scale for your dorm room or check your weight once a week at the gym or campus health center.   

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 .