With every passing year, a new pool of incoming college freshmen are faced with the sudden risk of double-digit weight gain commonly known as the “freshmen 15”. While some folks call it fiction, the fact of the matter is that many students do experience weight gain during the first couple of years of college oftentimes due to a newly found food independence and subsequent changes in customary eating patterns, social influence, peer pressure and even stress. As a first-generation college student, this is something I’ve experienced myself.

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Given the ever-lurking threat of the dreaded freshmen 15, I’ve put together an easy-to-follow list of strategies for avoiding all that unnecessary weight gain.

Be Physically Active Each and Every Day

College time is one of the best times to be regularly physically active as there are gyms and countless other recreational resources available to students at virtually no cost. In addition to making use of such resources, take some time to walk or bike to your classes as opposed to taking campus transportation. Doing so is an easy and effortless way to accumulate 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity thereby warding off any potential weight gain.

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It’s also important to perform some type of resistance (weight) training at least two days a week. Such training is critical for maintaining your muscle mass, boosting your metabolism, and enhancing your overall health and well being. If you don’t want to be stuck in the gym incorporate an ‘in-room’ body weight training routine comprised of simple calisthenic exercises like burpees, push-ups, dips, squats, lunges, mountain climbers, and planks.

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Take Full Advantage of Salad Bars

Most if not all college dormitories and residence halls have fully equipped salad bars that offer a variety of vegetables, fruits, healthy fat and lean protein sources. You can eat these salads as either an entree or a hearty side dish. Some ingredients to consider when compiling your salads include romaine lettuce, kale, spinach, carrot, broccoli florets, cucumber, tomato, avocado, berries, apples, nuts and seeds, eggs, grilled chicken breast, and salmon.

In addition to selecting the right ingredients, try making it a practice to choose oil-based dressings over creamy ones and limit your portion to 1-2 tablespoons.

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Make Wise Choices When Eating Sandwiches

Sandwiches are indeed a key staple in the diets of many college students. Whether you’re on campus or off campus at a local fast food chain, it’s incredibly easy to make healthy choices when eating sandwiches. As a start, avoid battered, breaded, deep-fried and processed fillers, as these are virtually devoid of nutrition and unnecessarily high in calories, fat, sodium and/or other preservatives.

Instead, choose freshly prepared sandwiches made with grilled poultry, seafood or lean meat and get a rich dose of high-quality protein and other valuable nutrients. In addition, include lots of vegetable condiments in your sandwiches for added vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. You should also substitute side items like French fries and chips for veggies or a piece of fruit.

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Snack Smarter and More Often

The rigor and overall intensity of college can easily lead to emotion- and stress-related eating. Since such eating patterns are oftentimes inevitable given the increased stress levels of incoming freshmen, it’s better to just accept the reality of the situation by snacking more often but more smarter with lower-calorie, nutrient-dense foods.

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There are countless quick and convenient snack options from which to choose including whole vegetables and fruits, boiled eggs or ready-to-eat tuna and chicken, nuts and seeds, and high-quality whole grains (breads, crackers and plain popcorn). For added protein and healthy fat these snacks can easily be combined with nut butters, yogurts, hummus, avocado or cottage cheese. And, most important, don’t forget to drink plenty of water!

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Go the Healthier Route When Eating Pizza

College students and pizza go hand and hand. In light of this fact, when it comes to eating this traditional dish, go the healthier route by choosing a whole grain crust (if possible), going easy on the cheese, and avoiding processed meats by opting for more nutritious alternatives like lean ground turkey, chicken, and anchovies.

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You can also go the vegetarian by simply garnishing your pizza with lots of sweet or hot peppers, spinach, mushroom, zucchini, onion, garlic and other vegetables. Since veggies tend to be very low in calories and high in fiber, including large portions on your pizza can substantially curb your appetite thereby reducing the urge to overeat. This is an especially beneficial tactic for avoiding the dreaded freshmen 15.

Opt for Healthy Meal Replacements for Convenience Sake

For healthy eating on the go, keep a good supply of meal replacement bars or drinks. Choose only those products that contain less than 18 grams of sugar with relatively low amounts of fat, and significant quantities of protein, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. You can also include smoothies into your meal replacement repertoire, as they are a great way to sneak a ton of vegetables and fruits into your diet.

To reduce the sugar content of these beverages, it’s best to use a fruit-to-vegetable ratio of at least 1:2 or even 1:3, as vegetables tend to be much lower in sugar and total calories. In other words, for every 2 servings of fruit you include add 4-6 servings of vegetables. For added nutrition, be sure to blend your smoothies with yogurt, nut butters or other tasty foods.

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If you really want to prevent unwanted weight gain during those early college years and beyond, healthy eating habits and good nutrition can be easily and effortlessly implemented into your lifestyle, whatever your lifestyle may be. Following these five super simple tips and ideas will ensure an easy road to achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight and total avoidance of the dreaded freshmen 15. Trust me!