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Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS1243

Fending off the ''Freshman 15''

  • Rebecca Huber, FCHS Volunteer, Marywood University
  • LeeAnne Savoca, Family and Community Health Sciences Program Associate, Gloucester County
  • Luanne J. Hughes, MS, RDN, Family and Community Health Sciences Educator, Gloucester County

During the transition into college, there are many things to think about: what to buy for your dorm room or apartment, if you are going to get along with your roommate, and what college classes are going to be like. The last thing you should be thinking about is gaining the dreaded "Freshman 15." A recent study in the Journal of American College Health reported that approximately 15–29% of students are worried about gaining weight in their first year of college. When entering college, the focus should not be on trying to prevent weight gain, but more on academics and adjusting to college life.

Research shows there really is no reason to be worried about the "Freshman 15". The majority of college freshman do not gain 15 pounds. About 51–72% of college freshmen gain 2.4 to 4.6 pounds, according to the same study in the Journal of American College Health. Most of the time, college weight gain is attributed to late-night snacks while studying or socializing, all-you-can-eat dining halls, alcohol consumption, and food on the go. It seems so easy to just pick up the phone and order pizza or Chinese food but, in time, eating a lot of high calorie take-out food can contribute to weight gain. All-you-can-eat dining halls have many temptations including ice cream, desserts, and fried food. Avoiding these foods can be difficult, but eliminating or cutting back on them can prevent weight gain. Follow these simple tips about snacking, healthier options in the dining hall and physical activity to help prevent weight gain during your first year in college.

Zoom in Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Healthier Options in the Dining Hall

Choosing healthy foods in an all-you-can-eat dining hall can be difficult. The first thing you see when you walk in is the pizza station, then the sandwiches, salad bar, soda machine, hot food, desserts, and then lastly, the ice cream bar. Choosing healthier options is a challenge, but if you follow these tips for a balanced meal, it will be much easier.

  • Instead of stopping at the pizza station, head for the hot food, where you can find baked or grilled chicken or another type of meat that will provide protein and other essential nutrients with less fat than pizza.
  • If you decide to stop at the pizza station, avoid meat toppings and choose a slice with healthy toppings, such as broccoli or other vegetables, instead of plain cheese pizza. This will help you get some extra nutrients. Also, dab off the excess oil to eliminate extra fat.
  • Whether you eat pizza or a piece of chicken, add a side salad or vegetables to every meal to include a variety of food groups in your diet.
  • Have a grilled or baked chicken sandwich on whole grain bread or tortilla instead of a bun or put the chicken on some lettuce and add some veggies for a nutritious salad.
  • When you have a salad, use low-fat or fat-free dressing to limit calories and fat. Also, instead of pouring the dressing on the salad, put it on the side, dip your fork in the dressing then take a bite of the salad to limit the amount you use. Limit the amount of dressing to two tablespoons.
  • When choosing a beverage, water and low-fat or fat-free milk are the best options. If you want a sweet beverage, try mixing 100% fruit juice with carbonated water, rather than selecting soda, sweetened teas or other sugarsweetened beverages. Limit how many sugar-sweetened beverages you drink; have them only once a week and choose a smaller serving size.
  • For dessert, it's always better to stay away from highcalorie foods like cake, cookies, and pie. If you want something sweet, try fruit, 100% fruit juice bars, frozen yogurt, pudding, or a piece of dark chocolate.
  • If you choose to have dessert, select a small portion to lower the calories, fat and sugar.
  • If there is an ice cream bar, have it only once a week or save it for a special occasion. When you decide to eat ice cream, have one or two scoops without any toppings.
Zoom in Figure 2.

Figure 2.


Choosing the right snack in college is very important. You might find yourself unable to sit down to a meal because of a busy schedule, or having class during meal times. This can result in choosing a snack that you can eat on the go or during class to hold off hunger for a short time until you can sit down to eat a meal. Try these tips to help you pick out healthy snacks that will help curb hunger.

  • If you're looking for something salty or crunchy to eat instead of chips, choose pretzels (whole wheat for extra nutrients), plain or lightly buttered popcorn, or unsalted nuts. On the other hand, if you're looking for something sweet, choose an apple, orange or any kind of fruit rather than a baked treat.
  • Another good snack option is yogurt with granola. It provides a good source of protein but at the same time is sweet and the granola gives it some crunch.
  • Snack bars can be a good option between meals. Like any processed food, it's important to read snack bar labels and choose carefully. Choose a protein-rich bar made with wholesome ingredients like nuts, dried fruit and whole grains, with fewer additives. Select bars with shorter ingredient lists, 200 calories or less and aim for protein (g) to be at least half the amount of carbohydrates (g). Keep a bar in your bag to eat if you get hungry during class and it will keep you feeling full until your next meal. For examples of healthier bars, see the table below. A box of 5 or 6 bars costs between $2 to $4.

Alcohol Consumption

Extra calories from alcohol consumed at college parties can quickly add up and contribute to unwanted weight gain. When you reach the legal drinking age and want to indulge in your favorite drink, do so sparingly. Never over-indulge. Limit alcoholic drinks, and substitute water between drinks to keep hydrated, and reduce calorie and alcohol intake while still celebrating with friends.

Name Calories Fat Protein Carbohydrate Sugar
Nature Valley® Protein Chewy bars: Peanut, almond, and dark chocolate 190 12g 10g 14g 6g
Kellogg's Fiber Plus® antioxidants Protein bar, Mixed nut 170 8g 10g 18g 9g
Fiber One® Meal bar, Chocolate Peanut Butter 190 9g 10g 2 g 6g
Kashi® Chewy Granola Bar, Trail Mix 140 5g 6g 20g 6g
Nature Valley Roasted Nut Crunch Peanut Crunch 190 13g 6g 13g 6g

Physical Activity

Making healthier choices in the dining hall is a great start to preventing weight gain when starting college, but in addition to eating healthy, being physically activity is essential. The combination of healthy eating and physical activity is much more effective in preventing weight gain and staying healthy. Physical activity also helps relieve stress, so you don't get too overwhelmed with school work. Use these tips to help you get motivated to work out at least an hour a day:

  • Work out with friends. It's a great way to keep each other motivated to stay fit.
  • Create a schedule for yourself. Take time in the morning before classes or after you're finished for the day to set a time to go to the gym, even if it is only for a short amount of time.
  • If you don't have access to a gym, try doing push-ups or crunches in your apartment or dorm room to improve your strength. You can also jog, bike, or walk around campus with friends to build up endurance. Remember to stay safe. When outside, exercise with friends and in the daylight.
  • If you don't have time to go to the gym, work out to online yoga or Pilates videos. You can do these in your apartment or dorm room for a quick workout before or after class.
  • Apps can be helpful to keep track of physical activity. Some fitness Apps also allow you to keep track of what you eat, which can be helpful. MyFitnessPal, Argus, Moves, and Lose It! are great Apps for tracking fitness.
  • Instead of driving or taking a bus, walk during the day whenever you can, but be sure to stay safe by walking in groups. Walking is easy and there is no special equipment required.
  • Whether you are going to a class or going back to your dorm room, use the stairs instead of the elevator. If you don't have time to work out, walking up the stairs, especially with a backpack full of books, is a great work out.
  • Stop by the library at your school to browse for books or search for websites that provide ideas for workouts youcan do right in your dorm room. For example: or
  • With the proper choices, weight gain can be prevented during the transition to college life. Although there are many temptations and challenges, following these suggestions will help you stay on track and enjoy your freshman year.


For More Information

Family and Community Health Sciences (FCHS) works with families, schools, and communities to promote healthy eating and healthy lifestyles. Visit for more information.

Check out these other valuable sites:


Give these fast. easy recipe ideas a try.

Fast Flatbread Pizza

Make your own healthy, personal pizza with a toaster oven and microwave.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Servings: 1


  1. 1 whole wheat flatbread
  2. ½ cup pizza sauce
  3. 1½ cup broccoli, chopped into florets
  4. ¾ cup shredded cheese


  1. Microwave broccoli florets for 30 seconds so they are soft. Set aside.
  2. Spread pizza sauce evenly on flatbread, leaving 1-inch border for crust.
  3. Sprinkle broccoli and cheese evenly on the sauce area of the pizza.
  4. Heat in toaster oven at 375°F on the "toast" setting for 10 minutes.

Recipe from
Emily Hu

Microwave Sweet Potato Chips

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Servings: 1


  1. Parchment paper
  2. 1 medium-large sweet potato
  3. 1 teaspoon coconut oil or butter
  4. Salt & pepper to taste


  1. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the tray of your microwave.
  2. Slice the sweet potato as thinly as possible (preferably with a mandolin). Toss the slices in a bowl with the melted oil and salt and pepper.
  3. Lay the coated slices out evenly on your parchment-lined microwave tray. Cook on high for 4+ minutes (this number will depend on your microwave and how thick the slices are). Start at 4 minutes and then keep adding 30 seconds until the chips are just brown.
  4. Take them out of the microwave and let cool a few minutes for maximum crunch. Try other seasoning, like garlic powder or chile powder if desired.

Recipe from
Annalise Thomas

Super Green Smoothie

Zoom in Figure 3.

Figure 3.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Servings: 4


  1. 2 cups 1% milk
  2. 1 banana
  3. ½ Hass avocado
  4. 1 cup baby spinach, gently packed
  5. 1 cup chopped apples
  6. 3 tablespoons ground flax seed
  7. 2 tablespoons honey


Blend milk, banana, avocado, spinach, apple, flax seed and honey in blender until smooth.

June 2015