How to Avoid the Freshman 15

Enjoy this post from guest blogger Lindsey Ceniviva

It is getting close to that time of year again and for all you parents about to send your baby off to college, it can be a stressful one. Although you have a lot on your plate, it is a tough time for your youngster as well. Your child has a lot to think about, like making sure they have everything for their dorm, wondering if they will get along with their roommate(s) and figuring out what to wear to class on their very first day as a college student. It is time for them to leave the nest and begin a new chapter in their lives.

They are experiencing a whole new level of independence which entails some major self discovery.  One significant part of being on your own is developing a personal set of nutrition values. You are not around to prepare your son or daughter’s meals, or tell them what and when to eat. They are left to single-handedly determine healthy choices in their refined dining halls and within their limited budgets.

There has been talk about the dreaded “Freshman 15” for years and there are many factors that contribute to such weight gain in college. Here are a few simple tips and suggestions you can share with your child to preclude them from gaining those first-year student pounds.

Dining Halls – they often provide an immense variety of food choices all of which can be very tempting. There are no set portions and you will almost always find sugary desserts offered. My advice is to not feel like you have to load up your tray. Keep your eyes and your stomach on the same page, forget the tray! Just grab a plate; you can always go back for more.

Intuition – depending on what is available, it may take a few weeks to determine what foods agree with your stomach and your body and which ones do not. Be sure to eat slowly and listen intuitively to what your body truly enjoys.

In my experience, my stomach could not handle the dining hall’s eggs so it was important for me to steer clear of anything with eggs in it. I found that some reliable go-to choices were salads (with low-fat dressing), cereal (with skim milk) broth based soups and sandwiches (with veggies packed in). Even good old PB & J will work is all else fails.

Good food choices – a good balance of variety including, fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Try to include protein, carbohydrate and a little fat with each meal.

Drinking – drink lots of water and stay hydrated. As you probably already know, it is beneficial to pass up on the sugary sodas and sports drinks. Furthermore, where there are college libraries there are college coffee shops. It can be very tempting to grab a sugar and caffeine loaded beverage to get through that 10 page paper that is due by midnight. However, that temporary sugar rush may cause you to crash later on. Also, those late night parties involving alcoholic, carbohydrate and sugar loaded beverages can be harmful to your health and contribute to weight gain. Be social, but I suggest you play it safe and know your limits. Alcoholic beverages are empty calories and research supports the increase in illnesses and disease due to overconsumption.

Snacks – keep healthy ones in your room to dodge the effortless, quick call to Pizza Hut. Fruits, vegetables, energy bars, whole grain crackers, popcorn and those 100 calorie packs are inexpensive and make for healthy, convenient snacks.

Exercise – Most college students are not as active as they were in high school, therefore they are not working off as many calories. Most campuses have well equipped gyms that are free for students, so go! It is a great way to get your mind off of class work while working off stress. Get your roommate to go with you; having a buddy will encourage consistency. The gym is also a superb place to meet friends and even potential significant others.

Sleep – most people do not get enough sleep, it is important to get about 8 hours a night. Procrastination leads to those dreaded all-nighters which contribute to numerous health issues. In college, naps are your friend! Your dorm and your comfortable bed are not far away, use your time wisely and allow your body to rest and recover.

Have Fun! College can be extremely stressful, make time in your day to focus on YOU. Self-care promotes a healthy mind, body and spirit. Go get your nails done, play in an intramural league, go for a walk, and do something every day to remind yourself that you come first. Self-love helps to reduce emotional eating habits while encouraging intuitive eating habits that will last a lifetime.

Remember the famous Freshman Fifteen is not inevitable! As long as one maintains an intimate connection with their body, by listening to its wants and needs, a healthy lifestyle while in college is entirely possible. Have a plan, time management skills are extremely valuable for a successful and healthful college experience. Your child is in charge of their life now so support their decisions and trust them to make remarkable choices that are right for them.

Lindsey Ceniviva, BS.

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Hi! I'm Heather: a body positivity, Health at Every Size dietitian. When I'm not blogging about wellness, I'm spending time with my fabulous family. Sometimes, they wear me out, so then it's time to bake, read, knit, tie myself into a yoga pose, or continue to work my first novel... stay tuned.


  1. nutritioulicious

    Great advice for a difficult time in life. Hope young women are reading this!

    • Hi Jessica,
      I was thinking about all the fabulous (LOL) choices we had when I was in college- I think I ate grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken cosmos for months. Good thing Penn State was a huge campus and I had to walk everywhere 🙂

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