How to Lose Weight in College

College students eating pizza in the cafeteria

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Some college experiences are almost universal. Learning to get along with a new roommate, blanking on that first mid-term (that you thought you were going to ace), and the "freshman 15."


If you aren't familiar with the term, the freshman 15 is the moniker given to excess weight gained during the first year of college. Living in a dorm with 24/7 access to food can be an adjustment. Late study nights and the added stress of exams makes weight gain a common college experience.

But this weight gain doesn't need to be permanent. Lose the freshman 15 (or prevent it in the first place) using these simple lifestyle changes.

Plan Your Meals

Depending on your school, the dining hall is not always the easiest place to make healthy choices. With a constant supply of fresh bakery items, cheesy pizzas, and fried foods, the steamed vegetables or baked fish just don't always make it onto the tray. Choosing healthier foods more often and treats once in a while is a positive way to think about your nutrition plan.

Find out if your school posts the weekly menu in the cafeteria, commons, or online. Getting a chance to see what's on the menu in advance will let you consider what you're going to eat ahead of time. Planning ahead allows you to make a more objective choice based on nutrition, rather than just being influenced by the sights and smells from the cafeteria.

Avoid Multi-Tasking

Are you munching without realizing it? If your weight has crept up and you can't recall overeating, mindless eating might be the culprit.

Whether you're stressed out, studying, or relaxing in front of the television, it's easy to eat on auto-pilot. When your mind is focused on other things, you aren't as conscious about what or how much you're eating. Taking the time to eat your food mindfully, without other distractions, can make the experience of eating more intentional.

Try to separate eating from other activities so you can concentrate on your meal.

Take Time to Eat

When you don't take your time to eat slowly, it can seem like your meal is over before it even started, which may prompt you to look for extra helpings or snack throughout the day, even when you're not hungry. Remember, it can take up to 20 minutes to feel full.

Experts often suggest that you put your utensil down in between every bite. If you're eating a sandwich or apple, place it on your plate while you chew. This simple gesture can help you to taste your food and slow the eating process. Take a few minutes to relax and enjoy your food during mealtime. Allowing yourself time helps your brain to register when you've eaten.

Snack Smarter

Snacking too often (especially if you aren't hungry) can cause weight gain. Be prepared with a healthy snack so it's easier to stay away from chips, sodas, and candies. Avoid keeping unhealthy snacks in your room. If you want a treat, enjoy it out with friends as an intentional choice, rather than as a default snack. The following snacks are day-to-day healthy options:

  • String cheese and apple slices
  • Baked tortilla chips or veggies with salsa, hummus, or bean dip
  • Tuna packed in water and whole-grain crackers
  • Cottage cheese or Greek yogurt with fresh fruit
  • Celery sticks with peanut or almond butter

Nix Late-Night Noshing

It may seem impossible when you're up late studying, but try to keep late-night snacking at a minimum. Instead of eating while you're studying, take a snack break. Give yourself a moment away from your computer and your books to focus on the snack you're having.

Once you return to studying, your brain will feel refreshed from the short break, and you won't be preoccupied with hunger. Doing this also prevents a quick snack from turning into a long night of mindlessly snacking over your laptop.

Also, keep in mind that it is not uncommon to feel hungry when you are actually tired or thirsty. If you feel yourself craving snacks, drink a glass of water first. It may give you the energy boost you need. Another option is to go to bed when you're tired and wake up early to finish your work.

Limit or Eliminate Alcohol

If you started drinking alcohol in college, it is very likely that alcohol is contributing to the freshman 15. Just one bottle of beer has about 200 calories. If you have two, that's almost as many calories as in a meal—without any of the nutritional benefits.

There are many reasons to limit (if not eliminate) alcoholic beverages. By reducing your inhibition and giving you an excuse to be up late, drinking often leads to unhealthy snacking habits as well. It can make you less likely to work out in the morning if you're feeling hungover. Looking at your alcohol consumption first, before trying to change other areas of your eating habits, can go a long way towards putting you on the path to a healthier lifestyle.

Get Moving

If you participated in sports in high school and no longer do so in college, your activity level may be dramatically different. As you get older, it's not uncommon for your metabolism to slow down anyway. Try to get enough exercise by incorporating about 30 minutes of moderate activity into your schedule every day.

Even if it's just brisk walking, physical activity helps prevent weight gain and can make you feel better.

Check out your campus gym for exercise classes. Grab some friends to go with you or consider joining an intramural team. The accountability of exercising with others can help you stay motivated. If there is no health club on campus, look for budget-friendly gyms nearby, or try an online workout video in your dorm.

A Word From Verywell

The college experience is multi-faceted, but your focus should be on academics (and having fun). Eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight can support you in reaching your goals by letting you feel your best.

If you're struggling with the adjustment of making healthy choices away from home, seek help from the health center or your family doctor. Even if your grades are perfect, it's important to balance your physical and mental well-being while journeying through this period of growth and change.

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