Caroline Shannon-Karasik’s AfterGlo

Say goodbye to college weight gain

 It might only be August, but it’s a sure thing that parents and kids are starting to think about back-to-school prep. For college students, the approaching first day of class also signifies the start of something else: Freedom.

While it is certainly liberating to be able to choose your own bedtime and explore new interests, adjusting to a college lifestyle can take an unhealthy toll on your diet. Fat-laden cafeteria food, late-night pizza orders and all-day snacking become the new normal, leading to weight gain and the all-too-common reference of the dreaded “Freshman 15.”

Still, college eats don’t have to turn your healthy eating ways into a distant memory. In fact, by swapping sugar- and calorie-loaded snacks for healthier options, your new food freedom can lead to the implementation of healthy habits that will last beyond your college years.

And, hey, I’ve got your back, kiddos: Check out these popular college-style foods and their healthy alternatives for snacking scenarios, in addition to diet tips that will keep your diet from spinning out of control.

The popular guy: Pizza

The healthier cool chick: DIY pizzas

Pizza, pizza, pizza. If there’s one snack that college students love to order up, it’s the warm, oven-baked, melted cheese flavors of this Italian favorite. But seeing as how the average slice of a 12-inch cheese pizza will cost you about 200 calories, it’s easy to see how regular orders of pizza pies might pack on the pounds. (And who really stops at one slice?) Squash pizza cravings by topping a whole grain English muffin or slice of flatbread with pasta sauce, shredded cheese and veggies, then warm it in a toaster oven or microwave.

The popular guy: Mac ‘n cheese

The healthier cool chick: A slimmed-down cheesy pasta

It might taste yummy, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that a food that could potentially glow in the dark is probably not a very healthy option. Swap your microwaveable packets of neon-colored macaroni and cheese for this more natural version of the dorm favorite. Score the ingredients by picking up macaroni pasta the next time you’re at the store, and then head to the cafeteria for shredded cheese from the salad bar and milk from the cereal station. Mix in a bowl, pop it in the microwave and you have dinner!

The popular guy: Ramen noodles

The healthier cool chick: Nutrition-packed ramen noodles

What college experience would be complete without a closet stash of ramen noodles? They’re not only tasty and easy to make, but ramen noodles are also simple to stash in a dorm room – no refrigeration required. However, pick up a pack of ramen noodles and you will also notice that it actually contains two 195-calorie servings, not to mention the popular dish is loaded with sodium. Whip up a healthier version of the college favorite by halving the contents of the package – noodles and flavor packet. Prepare the noodles, then hit up the cafeteria for mix-ins, like grilled chicken slices, vegetables, cooked fish and feta cheese. Stir in the additions and eat up.

Brandon Kolar, nutrition certified Equinox trainer at Boston-based Equinox Fitness Clubs said one trick he leaned on when he was in college was an extra turkey sandwich from the dining hall. Kolar would prepare the sandwich, then store it in his room for a snack between classes.

“I’d make it on whole grain bread and load it with lettuce and tomato to increase the nutrient value,” he said.

Having a healthy eating game plan is definitely crucial to keeping snack attacks at bay. Kolar said quick and easy food staples, like a jar of peanut or almond butter, apples, baby carrots, hummus, whole wheat pita, almonds, raisins, yogurt and plain popcorn are all healthful foods that can easily be stored in a mini refrigerator for healthy snack options.

“Those are all quick and simple, things I did, and healthful choices I would recommend today if counseling a college-age person,” Kolar said.

Registered Dietitian Lara Rondinelli-Hamilton said in addition to adapting to a new lifestyle, mindless snacking while studying can also lead to weight gain.

“Students might try to drink hot tea when studying if they need a beverage,” Rondinelli-Hamilton said. “Treating themselves after studying to a non-food item such as a long walk, a manicure or movie, might also be a nice incentive.

“Of course, students can also treat themselves in moderation. But it’s best to eat cookies and treats when they are not watching TV, studying or working on the computer, so that they actually enjoy the food and pay attention to what they are eating.”

The bottom line? Choose to make the Freshman 15 another one of those silly college urban legends by making healthier food options when snacking with friends or during an especially long lecture. And remember: It’s OK to indulge every now and then. Just learn to treat your freedom to a fresh salad or brisk walk on campus, too.

Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the upcoming author of a gluten-free healthy lifestyle book, set to be released in January 2014. She is the author of the popular gluten-free blog, and is currently training to become a certified health coach. Her writing and recipe development has been featured in several publications, including, VegNews, Kiwi and REDBOOK magazines. Caroline lives with her husband Dan and four adopted cats in Pittsburgh, Penn. Caroline can be reached at


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