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Smart ways to combat college weight gain by eating healthy

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Take a glance around the rows of food at the average university dining hall and you will see pizza, hamburgers, French fries, greasy burritos, wilted salad greens and vegetables cooked in too much oil. Or, peek inside almost any college student’s refrigerator and you might find a leftover box of pizza, an almost empty, spoiled gallon of milk, maybe some beer (not at Bethel of course), a collection of hot sauce packets from weekly—or daily—Taco Bell runs and a pack or two of Red Bull. Witness any of these things, and it is no secret why the typical college student gains, on average, 15 pounds during his or her freshman year.

According to freshman15.com this first-year weight gain can be attributed to lack of exercise, eating late at night, keeping unhealthy snacks on hand, eating unhealthy cafeteria food, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and, in general, adapting to a drastic lifestyle change. Ask any college student and they will tell you that staying healthy in college, by eating right and exercising, is a difficult task.

Campus food service does what it can to provide healthy alternatives, but who wants to eat tofu stir-fry when delicious pepperoni pizza is calling your name?

The real problem lies with the college lifestyle.

The college diet revolves around convenience, not practicality. You eat when you have a break between classes, what is readily available at the campus dining commons(DC), and what you can afford on a college budget. No doubt, the option of cooking your own meals would be the healthier, but it is expensive and time consuming to buy and cook your own food.

We are stuck between eating food that is bad for us, but cheap and convenient, or draining our pockets and sacrificing precious study time to cook a meal.

But, have no fear. By stocking college pantries (which may very well be a box under the bed) with a few healthy and cheap essentials and learning how to make positive food choices at the dining hall, we can conquer the freshman 15.

Here are some essential healthy food options that won’t empty the pockets, according to youngwomenshealth.org and about.com:

1. yogurt

2. oatmeal

3. eggs (high in protein)

4. nuts (such as almonds or pecans)

5. hummus (with whole wheat crackers or pita)

6. fresh and dried fruits

7. low-fat cheese (try string cheese or cottage cheese)

8. vegetables (slice them ahead of time, so when you need them on the go, they are ready. Avoid buying pre-sliced fruits or vegetables you will pay more for the cutting service)

9. natural fruit juices

10. whole wheat or 12-grain bread

If you decide to be adventurous and cook a meal, keeping foods such as frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts, whole wheat pasta, olive oil and canned tuna will help reduce cook time and are relatively cheap options.

Another way to stay healthy on a college diet? Drink lots of water. Buy some sort of reusable water filter, such as a Brita pitcher. It will save you from having to pay the steep price of bottled water every two weeks, and it saves the environment from all those plastic bottles. Buy a sturdy, reusable water bottle and take it with you wherever you go.

Obviously, we have to eat at the dining commons sometimes. Youngwomenshealth.org says to be creative at the dining hall. They suggest combining different types of foods. For example, add grilled chicken to a salad to make it a heartier meal option.

The Web site also stresses the importance of making good choices at the dining hall. For example, instead of French fries, they suggest choosing a baked or sweet potato.

According to Health.com, the average plate size today is one-third bigger than in the 1960s. It is no wonder we tend to over eat.

According to Yahoo Health, "diners given smaller dishes serve themselves smaller portions, researchers at Cornell University Food and Brand Lab in Ithaca, New York, found."

By switching from a 12-inch plate to a 10-inch plate, you’ll cut calories by 22 percent," according to Health.com.

Next time you are at the DC, choose the salad plate and fill it. Eating a full plate, will make you feel like you had a big meal, but you won’t be overeating.

Another way to control portions, according to theportionplate.com, is to know how to fill your plate. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-fourth should be whole-grains, and one-fourth or less should be lean meat or protein.

Obviously, there will be good days and not so good days. Don’t beat yourself up if you splurge on the occasional Taco Bell run. It really is all about moderation; know when you’re full, learn how to say no and get a little creative with your food.

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