Avoiding the ‘Freshman 15’

College life is a big adjustment for freshman. And changes in diet, fitness and lifestyle can ultimately lead to a significantly different number on the scale. Yes, I’m talking about the “Freshman 15.”

Some people assume that freshman year weight gain is inevitable, and some assume it’s a myth. Neither of these assumptions are correct: The feared “Freshman 15” is very, very real (I know from experience), but also preventable. Here are a few tricks of the trade I’ve picked up throughout the years that have helped me reverse the damage — and can help you avoid it all together.

DIET

1. Head to the dining hall with a plan.

Dining halls are essentially all-you-can-eat buffets featuring a lot of high-calorie foods. But amid the french fries, mashed potatoes, grilled cheeses and hot dogs are a few healthy options, like salads, lean meat or sandwiches. Before you head to the dining hall, look up the menu for the day and plan your meal ahead of time. Having healthy food picked out beforehand will make passing on the macaroni and cheese or chocolate cake a little bit easier.

2. Know the low-calorie tricks.

Calories add up quickly, but small, healthy adjustments to your everyday eating habits can add up too. Start your morning with a creamer-free coffee and add low-fat milk instead. At lunch, skip the mayonnaise and opt for mustard, or try a lettuce wrap instead of a sub. If you need a sweet bite at the end of a meal, savor a small square of dark chocolate instead of a hot fudge sundae. And never, under any circumstance, mindlessly snack straight from the chip bag — take out an appropriate portion, close the bag and put it away. Little tricks like these can save you hundreds of calories per week.

3. Choose your drink wisely.

It’s no secret that a significant part of the “Freshman 15” often comes from alcohol intake. But, if you make small changes to your drink of choice, you can save yourself from hundreds of calories in just one night. When drinking hard alcohol, many calories come from chasers or mixers. Opt for vodka with water and lemon or lime instead of sprite, and stick to rum with diet coke instead of regular. Low-calorie beer is also a better option than the typical Keystone or whatever else is coming from the keg.

FITNESS

1. Make fitness part of your routine.

At Illinois, we have some of the best fitness facilities in the country, so working fitness into your everyday life is easy. Find a fun group fitness class that works in your schedule and treat it like any other course. Or, instead of lounging on your futon during your favorite show, watch it at the ARC or CRCE — almost every cardio machine has a built in television.

You’ll be so entertained by the Jersey Shore cast members that you wont even realize how many calories you’ve burned.

2. Make it social.

Working out with a friend is a great way to make fitness a more social experience, but that doesn’t mean you’re limited to lifting or running together. Activities like racquetball, basketball, or organizing an intramural team are great ways to sneak in a workout and spend time with your new college friends.

3. Stay active in general.

Each day, we make choices as to how we want to go about things, and taking the more active route can make a difference in your overall health. Walk or bike to class instead of driving or taking the bus. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. During a night out, hang out on the dance floor instead of a barstool. Even though it takes more energy, staying active is an important part of avoiding weight gain.

LIFESTYLE

1. Create a schedule.

One of the biggest challenges for college freshman is adjusting to life without a routine. Aside from classes, most college freshman don’t have too many scheduled obligations, which is a huge change from having school 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., after-school activities, etc.

Creating and sticking to a routine with scheduled time for working out and studying will help you maintain a balanced lifestyle, and you’ll still have plenty of time for any “extracurricular activities.”

2. Start good habits now.

In college, it’s really easy to let laziness take over. Buses and elevators are convenient, and sleeping in trumps working out almost every time. But these choices, which may seem inconsequential, add up over time. And bad lifestyle habits go beyond activity — behaviors like procrastinating often lead to late nights and little sleep, which can also cause weight gain. It’s important to introduce good lifestyle habits into your college routine right away, because bad patterns are easy to fall into and hard to get out of.

3. Allow yourself to indulge occasionally.

If you’re making a serious effort to stay active and eat a balanced diet, there’s no reason to limit yourself all day, every day. Sharing a pizza with a few friends after a night out isn’t a crime. When it’s several nights a week, however, you’re likely to see weight gain. You can indulge without being gluttonous, and keeping caloric splurges to a minimum will make a rare late-night pizza taste that much better.

Samantha is a senior in Media.