The new school year brings freshmen into a new world. Before college, teenagers are taken care of. They are told what to eat and when to exercise. This works for most (assuming good parents, teachers and coaches are around) and keeps obesity at relatively low levels. When a teenager starts becoming an adult, they start making their own choices. Unfortunately, some of these choices are not always the best. Here are a few ways new freshman can avoid the dreaded fifteen pounds of weight gain known as the “Freshman 15.”

1. All You Can Eat. Buffets are the cornerstones of on campus meal plans. Try to avoid these places as much as you can. Once you’re in there, self control can only go so far. You’ll be flooded with smells of all sorts of goodies and be tempted to eat them all. Instead, try going to a cafeteria in which you pay for what you eat. Once you’re full, you’ll be less likely to eat more.

2. Plates. If you have to go to a buffet, use a big plate for salads and a small plate for everything else. Make sure you eat the salad before the main entree so that you’ll eat more low calories foods before moving onto the high calorie ones. This will get you full on nutrient dense foods that are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals while leaving less room for foods high in calories and low in nutrients.

3. Water Instead of Soda. When you eat, drink water instead of soft drinks. Many people don’t know how many calories soft drinks really have. One cup can have more than 130 calories and that’s only in 8 ounces. The cups that you’ll be using can be around 16-24 ounces. This can save you hundreds if not thousands of calories per week and make a huge difference in the long run.

4. No More Driving. Rather than driving, walk or bike to class. In addition to burning extra calories, keeping your car parked can save you gas money and parking fees. A growing number of schools are also introducing rules which would prohibit freshman from parking on the campus.

5. Stay Active. Exercise might be the most important step in trying to avoid unwanted weight gain. If you eat too much, exercise is the only way to burn off those extra calories. You have a free gym at your disposal so you might as well use it. Intramural sports are also a great way to exercise while keeping your social life intact.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of life’s circumstances, unwanted weight gain is caused by combining excessive calorie intake with physical inactivity. Eating too much and exercising too little will lead to major health complications (cancer, type 2 diabetes, stokes and heart disease) later in life. Starting healthy habits now will save you from a lot of pain later on.

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