How to Diet While in College

Three Parts:Eating Healthy At CollegeBeing Physically Active at CollegeMaintaining Your Diet in College

The term "freshman 15" refers to the initial weight gain that many college freshman experience.[1] It's sometimes a little less than 15 pounds or a lot more than 15 pounds. Weight gain during college may be due to a variety of reasons, but most commonly: increased snacking, alcohol consumption, decreased physical activity, and access to "unlimited" eating plans.[2] Although college is a time to have fun, learn, and make lifelong friends, these same factors may lead students to put on the "freshman 15." You can avoid or minimize weight gain by adjusting your mindset and making a game plan for how to eat, be active, and enjoy social activities. A few changes can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight while enjoying your years in college.

Part 1
Eating Healthy At College

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    Meet with an on-campus dietitian. Many colleges have an on-campus dietitian, nurse, or other health professionals that can educate and guide you toward a healthy diet and weight. Take a walk over to your health department (or review their website) to see what services are offered to students.
    • Work with the dietitian to find a meal plan that works for you. Consider your schedule, meal plans and dining options that you prefer. They will be able to give you meal plans and ideas for eating healthy on campus.
    • Many services provided by the health and wellness department are free or very reasonably priced for students.
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    Eat regular, consistent meals. It's important to eat consistently throughout the day. You might choose to eat three meals a day or four to five smaller meals throughout the day.[3] Either way, you'll need regular meals to help fuel you through long classes and study sessions.
    • Eating regular, consistent meals helps provided a steady supply of fuel to your body and brain. Skipping meals or allowing too much time between meals will cause a drop in blood sugar can make you feel tired, mentally foggy and have poor concentration.[4]
    • Some dining halls offer grab and go options when you are pressed for time.
    • How often you eat or when you eat will most likely be determined by your class and activity schedule. Determine what meals you can eat at home, at dining halls, or where you'll need to pack a meal or snack.
    • You may also want to write a meal plan to help keep you on schedule throughout the week. That way you'll know to which classes you'll need to bring a pre-packed snack or when you can grab a quick meal at a dining hall.
    • Keep track of long classes or study sessions. Be sure to take a small meal or snack with you if you won't be able to take a break to purchase food.
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    Choose well-balanced meals. Many colleges offer great dining plans for students. You'll have access to a variety of different foods that will allow you to consume well-balanced meals most days. When you're choosing your meals, make sure to include:
    • Lean protein. Protein helps fuel your body, keep you satisfied and support weight loss or weight maintenance.[5] Lean protein foods include: poultry, eggs, lean beef, low-fat dairy, tofu, nuts and legumes. Pick items that are not fried or cooked in a lot of butter or oil to help minimize your calorie intake.
    • Fruits and vegetables. These foods contain very little calories are are an essential part to a healthy diet. They provide most of the vitamins and minerals your body needs. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables each day and include a variety of different colors as well.
    • Whole grains. When you're choosing grains, aim to pick items that are 100% whole grain. They have more fiber and other nutrients compared to refined grains like white bread or plain pasta.[6] Choose items like: brown rice, quinoa, or 100% whole bread and pasta.
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    Stock your dorm room with healthy foods. If you can, stock your dorm room with healthy foods for quick meals and snacks. Even if you're on a meal or dining plan, having healthy options stocked at home can help keep you on track with your diet.
    • If you have a small refrigerator in your room, keep healthy items like these on hand: low-fat cheese sticks, low-fat yogurts or individual cottage cheese cups, cut up raw vegetables, low-fat salad dressings, hummus and low-fat deli meat.
    • Also stock dry goods and shelf-stable items in your dorm like: individual oatmeal packs, high fiber/high protein cereal, whole wheat bread/wraps, nut butters, high protein bars, low-fat/low-sodium canned soups and nuts.
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    Carry a water bottle with you. Aim to consume at least 64 oz or about 2 L of water daily.[7] Carrying around a reusable water bottle can help keep water handy and help you reach your goal each day.
    • Other fluids that can help maintain proper hydration include: sugar-free flavored waters, sugar-free flavored powders, decaf coffee and tea and no calorie sports drinks.
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    Choose wisely when it comes to high fat/high calorie foods. It can be difficult to choose healthy foods all the time in college. There are a lot of tempting foods at dining halls, parties, and study groups. Choosing wisely when you consume these higher fat, higher calorie foods can help minimize weight gain.
    • When you can, have a say in what's ordered or bring a healthy option at potluck style parties. For example, bring a fruit salad or veggie tray to a party.
    • Other ways to make junk food a little healthier include: ordering a pizza with a thin crust, 1/2 the amount of cheese and extra vegetables; ordering a kids meal at a fast food restaurant instead of an adult meal; indulging in a higher calorie entree like a burger, but ask for a salad instead of fries; or order an appetizer or half size portion.
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    Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a common source of extra calories for college students. In addition, these extra calories are "empty calories" that provide no nutrition for your body.[8]
    • If you're 21, choose lower calorie alcoholic beverages like: low-calorie or low-carb beers, wine or mixed drinks made with 1 ounce of liquor and without juices or other sweetened beverages. These items have about 100 calories per serving.[9]
    • Drinks to stay away from include: higher calorie beers, wine spritzers, and mixed drinks.
    • If you're of legal age to drink, women should consume no more than one alcoholic beverage a day and men should consume no more than two alcoholic beverages daily.[10]
    • In addition, alcohol inhibits your senses and ability to make good decisions. This may lead to eating high fat junk foods.[11]
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    Limit eating late at night. Many college students are up late into the night studying or coming home from social activities. Since it might have been awhile since your last meal, it can be tempting to snack or eat again prior to going to sleep.
    • This additional meal or snack can add a significant amount of calories to your day and cause weight gain or slow weight loss.[12]
    • Try to skip this late night snack or meal altogether. If you can't, take a small portion of food or choose a healthy option. For example, if everyone's ordering pizza, eat only one slice or choose a healthy option you have stocked at your dorm room (like a cheese stick and an apple).
    • Keep healthy snacks in a backpack or purse, like a granola bar, cheese and crackers, etc.
    • Eat enough before you head out for the night. It might be tempting to skimp on dinner, however that may lead to snacking later one if you go out on an empty stomach.

Part 2
Being Physically Active at College

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    Take a PE class. Many colleges offer PE classes as courses you can sign up for. Many times, these PE classes teach you about physical activity, different types of activities, and how to do them safely.
    • PE classes will generally include both cardio, strength training, and stretching. They are well-rounded and a good place for beginners or those wanting to learn more about physical activity.
    • Common PE classes offered by colleges include: weight lifting, dance, martial arts, aquatic exercises, yoga, and basic or intro classes.[13]
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    Hit the gym. Take advantage of your school's gym. It's likely that your school has an expansive and free gym for you to use. Check out the treadmills, ellipticals, pools, or any other features of your school's gym.
    • Do both cardio and strength training activities during the week. You should aim for 150 minutes of cardio each week and two days of strength training.[14]
    • If your college doesn't have a gym or offer aerobic classes, many local gyms give discounts to students with a valid student ID.
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    Join a sports team. Many schools offer additional ways to be active and socialize. Joining a club or intramural sports team may provide a more fun and enjoyable outlet to be active.[15]
    • Refer to the student activities page or club listings to find more information about different sports teams that are offered. There may be more than one per sport to cater to a variety of skill levels.
    • Typical sports clubs offered include: soccer, baseball, basketball, tennis, and even skiing.
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    Take the long way to class. One easy way to get in some extra physical activity is walking to and from classes. If you can and it's safe, take longer pathways to class or skip driving or taking the bus to class.
    • You can also consider purchasing a pedometer to see how many steps you take in a day. Take this opportunity to plan additional steps into your routine.
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    Workout in your dorm room. If you can't make it to the gym or walk a longer pathway to class, try working out in your dorm room. There are a variety of exercises you can do in a small space with limited or no extra equipment.
    • Get a set of resistance bands or light weight dumb bells (these can be purchased fairly inexpensively). There are a variety of exercises you can do with this equipment to help work up a sweat and build lean muscle mass.[16] Exercises to try include: lunges, push-ups, sit-ups, bicep curls, shoulder raises, or tricep dips.
    • Cardio activities can include: lunges, jumping jacks, knee raises, or running in place.
    • You can also find a variety of free, online cardio videos that require little to no equipment or space.
    • Try alternating between some cardio activities and strength training activities for a well-rounded workout.[17]

Part 3
Maintaining Your Diet in College

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    Meet with an on campus behavior therapist. Maintaining a healthy diet or weight loss plan in college can be difficult. This is especially true if friends are not following a healthy diet or lifestyle. Speaking to a therapist on campus might provide you with additional support and confidence to maintain your healthy eating plan.
    • Many colleges offer free or very reasonably priced counseling to their students. Contact your campus health department to find out what type of services are offered and their price.
    • Talk to a behavior therapist about your healthy eating plan, any barriers you have, and what difficulties you're having. They'll be able to coach, guide, and support you.
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    Sleep seven to nine hours each night. Sleeping is very important to a healthy weight and helps support weight loss.[18] Try going to bed early enough that you can get a solid seven to nine hours of sleep prior to waking up for your first class.
    • Adequate sleep also helps with memory, your ability to retain and recall new information, and may help improve your study habits and grades.[19]
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    Manage and address stress. Whether it's exams, living in close quarters with roommates, or tough classes, there are a variety of reasons for high stress levels in college. It's important to manage and address your stress, as high levels of stress may cause increased snacking or the consumption of high-fat foods.[20]
    • If you're noticing increased stress, try to relax and self-soothe with restorative activities like: yoga, meditation, exercise, talking to a friend or therapist, or listening to music.
    • If you notice you're reaching for food when you're stressed, try to go for healthier snacks instead. Try: raw carrots and hummus, an apple with peanut butter, or a small greek yogurt.
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    Find a support group. College is a great place to find a variety of friends that share common interests with you. In addition, many other students might be fighting the same "freshman 15" and will want to get on a healthy eating plan.
    • Studies have shown that those who have a solid support group have an easier time losing weight and maintaining that weight loss long-term. They provide you the encouragement and motivation to stay on track.[21]
    • Ask friends or roommates if they'd be interested in eating healthy with you and being more active. Working as group can be more fun and enjoyable.
    • Also check your campus clubs or group listing to see if there are any clubs that focus on healthy eating, nutrition, or physical activity.


  • Stock up on healthy snacks to avoid those late-night trips to the vending machine. Though it may feel like a rare indulgence, it can add up.
  • Take advantage of as many free or low-cost services that your college provides. They might offer a variety of health and diet programs for students.
  • It's OK to choose less healthy foods occasionally. Don't feel guilty for indulging in the occasional late night pizza or ice cream party. Just make sure that most of the time, you're choosing healthy foods.

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Categories: Diet & Lifestyle