The “Freshman 15”––the supposedly unavoidable 15 lbs. that students gain during their first year of college––is not a myth. Studies show freshmen tend to gain weight, but the exact number of pounds is under dispute.

“The weight gain generally occurs because it’s the first time that students have had to make all of their food decisions on their own,” says Jenny Lindsey, the administrative dietitian at Virginia Tech for 21 years. “With their newfound freedom, confronted with a multitude of appealing items, they find it difficult to practice moderation.”

Behavioral changes can also affect weight, with  alcohol consumption and stress playing major roles. Most students also aren’t as active as they were in high school. In fact, high school athletes who are no longer involved in sports burn fewer calories than before.

While it’s true students may adopt a different lifestyle upon entering college, it’s still possible to make healthy choices, Lindsey says. They should look for a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables, a variety of low-fat choices, whole grains and low-fat dairy items. They should try to avoid being overwhelmed by all of the food options available on campus and ensure meals are varied. (Translation: Don’t eat the same foods every day.)

Learning proper portion sizes and eating in moderation are two of the most important steps to weight management. Students’ eyes are often bigger than their stomachs after a long day of class. It’s important to grab a few food selections at a time; if they’re still hungry afterward, then they should go back for seconds.

The USDA Food Pyramid can serve as an invaluable guide. Ask: “How close have I come to eating the correct portions from each area? Is one much higher or lower than it should be?”

A midnight snack is OK, but students shouldn’t overindulge. Instead of a slice of sausage and pepperoni pizza, choose plain cheese to avoid the high-fat toppings. Healthy snacks like pretzels, unbuttered popcorn, granola bars, and raisins can be kept on hand for energy.

Finally, students should go to class! The exercise they get from leaving their rooms or apartments and walking across campus (and back) are well worth the effort. Exercise reduces stress levels, promotes better sleep and improves overall health.

Of course, here at OrganicAuthority, we recommend making natural and organic food choices whenever possible.

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