Was fitting into your jeans a lot easier before you got to college? Hate to break it to you, but you and your classmates are experiencing a time-honored tradition, the Freshman 15 -- the roughly 15 pounds many students gain during their first year at college.
What to do? "You have to strategize," says Katherine Grubiak, RD, a former dietitian at UCLA's Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center. By that, she means you need to put some effort into eating right, eating enough but not too much, and eating regularly.
It might sound surprising, but don't skimp on the calories you need. Going hungry will only leave you less energized and more prone to overeating later.
"You want to eat three meals and two to three snacks a day," Grubiak says.
Breakfast is key, she adds. Some studies show that having a healthy breakfast helps improve academic performance, so make it a part of your day, every day.
Enjoying healthy snacks between meals -- Grubiak recommends nuts, some fresh fruit, non- or low-fat yogurt -- means you won't be tempted to pig out when you hit the dining hall. "Starving doesn't allow any room for smart choices," she says.
The first key move to make at the dining hall is to head straight for the salad bar. Fill up half your plate with fresh vegetables. Then pick your entree.
Grubiak recommends dividing the empty side of your plate equally between protein and carbs. In other words, you want a 3-ounce piece of meat -- that's about the size of a deck of cards -- and a cup's worth of healthy carbs -- think whole grains like brown rice or a baked sweet potato.
Not a carnivore? Three-quarters of a cup of tofu or cooked beans, 1.5 ounces of unsalted nuts, 2 to 3 tablespoons of nut butter, or 3 ounces of tempeh will get you your protein fix.
Rule No. 2: Snack
Most dining halls won't allow you to take any leftovers or second helpings with you, but Grubiak says they often allow students to pocket a few pieces of fruit and a sandwich or two. Take advantage of that, especially if you're on a two-meal-a-day plan. You'll want to nosh on those takeaway items throughout the day.
Snacks are essential at night, too. Grubiak tells students that if they're going to be up late -- and what student isn't? -- they'd better have some good food on hand for fuel.
"That's the biggest myth: that you shouldn't eat after dinner," Grubiak says. "The truth is, your body is constantly utilizing calories."
Stock your dorm fridge with healthy snacks to keep the munchies at bay while keeping the nutrition you need close at hand. Grubiak's favorites include these healthy treats: