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For many incoming college students, gaining weight while at school is a big concern. Facing the academic and social stresses that are prevalent in college, college students can find it challenging to eat healthily and exercise regularly. In fact, this phenomenon is so common among U.S. college freshmen that they have a nickname for it: the “Freshman 15,” referring to the 15 pounds (about 6.8 kilograms) students are thought to typically gain during their freshman year. Some studies indicate that the average college freshman actually gains only between 2.4 pounds and 7.5 pounds. Although the Freshman 15 may be a misnomer, gaining weight in college is still a valid concern for students. Here are some tips to help you avoid weight gain and stay healthy during your first semester at school.

Make smart choices in the dining hall

Prior to moving away to college, you may have been used to eating healthy, portion-controlled, home-cooked meals. The transition to college means transitioning to eating in the dining hall. Many dining halls include all-you-can-eat buffets, which allow you to take larger portions of food than you might otherwise. In addition, many schools require you to purchase premium or unlimited meal plans, which encourages you to eat more frequently.

It is easy to overeat in the dining halls, but it is important to exercise self-control. Dining halls at colleges are often filled with many unhealthy options that are high in fat, sugar and calories, but they also have healthy alternatives. While it can be tempting to load up on pizza, burgers and desserts, opt instead for more nutritious offerings. Many dining halls have extensive salad bars with healthy toppings like nuts, vegetables and low-fat dressings. Consider also looking for whole grains and drinking water instead of sugar-laden juices and sodas.

Another good tip is to take a piece of fruit from the dining hall back to your dorm when you leave. This allows you to have healthy snacking options on hand for when you are in your room. It is much healthier to satisfy a late-night craving during a study session with an apple or a banana than a bag of chips or cookies.

Stay active

College students have busy schedules. Between attending class, going to club meetings, studying for exams and working part-time jobs and internships, it can be very difficult for students to find time to exercise. The good news is that U.S. colleges provide many resources that make it easy to stay in shape.

For example, most U.S. colleges offer on-campus fitness centers. The convenience of having a gym located within walking distance from your dorm room makes it a lot easier to fit a workout into your schedule. School gyms usually offer free or discounted memberships for students.

Another good way to avoid weight gain in college is to join a sports team. Most schools offer three different levels of athletics. Varsity sports are the highest level of college athletics and are often reserved for highly skilled student-athletes who are recruited from high school. Varsity sports teams practice almost every day and travel around the country to compete. A step below varsity sports is club sports. These offer an intermediate level of competition. Club sports teams generally practice a few days a week and may travel regionally or locally to compete. Club sports are usually more relaxed than varsity sports, but still offer a competitive environment. Finally, intramural sports offer students a low-commitment opportunity to participate. Intramural sports may practice or compete once or twice per week and generally allow anyone to play regardless of skill level or experience. Because of the tiered athletics system, it is very easy for anyone to participate in sports at colleges in the United States.

Finally, if you are an international student at a U.S. college, this is your opportunity to explore a new place! Walking, running and biking are all great ways to tour the local area. Some university campuses offer free shuttle buses for students to take to class, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Skip the ride and walk or bike to class instead. Walking and biking to class are great ways to burn a few calories even if you don’t have time for a full workout. Invite a friend and go outside!

Limit alcohol consumption

The legal drinking age in the United States is 21, but alcohol consumption is prevalent on college campuses nonetheless. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than half of half of college students ages 18 to 22 said in a survey that they had consumed alcohol within the last month.

Overconsumption of alcohol is one of the leading causes of weight gain among college students. A typical beer, glass of wine or shot of vodka all provide around 100 calories or more. In addition, drinking too much leads to hangovers, headaches, poor sleep and fatigue. This may deter you from exercising, further exacerbating weight gain.

Many college students like to drink alcohol at parties and in other social settings, even if they are not yet 21 years old. Not only will avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption help you avoid legal problems, but it will also help you avoid the Freshman 15.

Maintain a regular schedule

Keeping your schedule consistent and getting enough sleep can go a long way in preventing weight gain. As a college student, you may find it difficult to maintain a regular schedule because classes are not at the same time every day. You may find yourself having to wake up early in the morning on some days, but not having your first class until mid-afternoon on other days. If possible, try to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. This will make it easier for you to fit in time to exercise, and it will help to ensure you get enough sleep.

Getting the proper amount of sleep is vital for maintaining a healthy weight. You may think that it is a good idea to stay up all night in preparation for an exam, but avoid the all-nighter if you can. It is recommended that college students sleep for seven to eight hours per night. In addition to hurting your academics, fatigue can cause you to eat too much and exercise too little.

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Many students in the United States are worried about gaining weight in college, but if you follow our tips, you should be able to avoid the Freshman 15. For more tips on attending college in the United States, be sure to follow U.S. News Global Education on Facebook and Twitter.