6 Healthy Ways to Avoid the Freshman 15

Last Update: September 28, 2022

Wide-eyed freshmen come face-to-face with many new challenges as school gets underway, not least of which is that loaded meal card.

Between the make-your-own waffle station in the dining hall and the Taco Bell in the student union, the dreaded “freshman 15”—the supposed curse that students are destined to gain 15 pounds in their first year of college—can be very real. That specific number may be pure conjecture, but studies have shown that many freshmen are prone to putting on weight. That’s because, aside from those dining hall calorie bombs, there are a lot of lifestyle changes that can wreak havoc on eating habits and overall health—from late-night cram sessions to lots and lots of beer.

Staying reasonably healthy is just a matter of making a few simple, smart choices—here are six tips that’ll help you do just that as a first-year student.

Be vigilant in the dining hall

Some dining halls have better-tasting food than others, but no matter the quality, bad choices always lurk. Whether the aforementioned glorious waffle station calls your name every morning, or you’re craving cheese pizza and fries, try to resist the temptation to default to greasy, creamy, and starchy foods and instead choose lighter, fresher fare.

For breakfast, pass on the pancakes, syrup, and hash browns and grab some oatmeal and fresh fruit. At lunch and dinner, focus on veggies, whole grains, and have some lean protein like chicken breast or fish. Look for foods that are baked, broiled, steamed, grilled, or roasted. Salads are great, unless they’re loaded with cheese, bacon, croutons, and drenched in dressing. If you can, whip up your own quick vinaigrette—all you need is a little olive oil and vinegar.

And just because swiping a meal card makes it feel like you’re eating for free, it doesn’t warrant frequently going back for seconds. Mind your serving sizes.

Stock up on healthy snacks

You can’t choose your roommate, but you definitely have a choice when it comes to the snacks in your dorm room. Ditch the ramen noodles and chips and set yourself up for nutritious study breaks with affordable, tasty options like:

Thrive Market memberships are free for students; sign up here to save 25 to 50% off of these foods and more.

Watch the booze

If you’re underage, as most freshmen are, you technically shouldn’t be drinking alcohol, right? But the reality is, drinking is a pretty common aspect of the college experience. Before you partake in any keg stands or beer pong, though, realize that alcohol is basically full of empty calories that have the potential to pack on the pounds (the term “beer gut” exists for a reason). There’s another way drinking might wreak havoc on your health, too: according to one study, people seem to consume more calories on days when they drink. And impaired judgment could also make late-night pizza seem like a great idea. Don’t forget about the morning after—sometimes it feels like greasy Chinese food is the only cure for a pounding hangover. (Psst: It’s not.)

Take a fitness-oriented class for credit

One of the coolest things about college: learning new things! And we’re not just talking about economics or deconstructing Russian literature—you could also pick up fun, active hobbies like yoga, swimming, and even fencing, which are offered at many schools as electives. Taking these kinds of classes in your freshman year will not only build exercise into your schedule, but may also help fulfill some general education requirements (depending on your major). Talk to your advisor to see if working in an active class makes sense for you. If you’ve got to wake up for an 8 a.m. class, it might as well be Pilates.


Pulling an all-nighter to cram for a test is actually counterintuitive. A lack of sleep can sabotage you in pretty much every way possible. Certain hormones get out of whack, making you hungrier and more likely to overeat; your workout performance suffers; and your memory is impaired, which won’t help you at all come exam time. Make a point to prioritize sleep.

Manage stress

College years can be a pretty intense time between classes, studying, and the pressure to figure out your future career. If you do start to feel stressed, levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) spike, which can lead to more belly fat. That’s why it’s so important to take care of your mental health during this time—meditation can help, and so can regular exercise. When sophomore year rolls around, you’ll look and feel good—and the next three years will be a breeze.

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

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Dana Poblete

Dana's love for all creatures under the sun (bugs, too) drives her in her advocacy for ethical eating, environmental sustainability, and cruelty-free living. A natural born islander, she surfs when she can, and writes, always.

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