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Weight loss: Chick-Fil-A ain't the way

Mmmm. Chik Fil-A. Mocha-Java Shakes. Taco Bell. All-you-can-eat dining halls with soft-serve frozen yogurt. And no one watching over your shoulder to make you feel guilty for indulging yourself.

Add in classes, parties, extra curriculars and weekly get-togethers complete with drink and snack, and you have a one-in-a-kind recipe for the dreaded "freshman 15".

The typically hectic schedules of college students, especially first years, makes it easy to abandon a healthy diet. Everyone is on the go, and unless you make it a priority to watch what you eat and how you live, you may find yourself steadily gaining weight.

The freshman 15 is a phenomenon common enough to have earned itself a special place in the hearts of many college students. It has become a part of our vernacular: A reality most of us had (or will have) to face up to at some point during our first years.

"I went from doing crew six days a week in high school to doing nothing," second-year College student Jenny Kennedy said. There must be a better way.

Chooose treadmill over the tube

It is easy to justify forgoing trips to the AFC in favor of trips to Arch's. Just as easily, academics can be another excuse for skipping a good workout.

"Yeah, my first semester I worked out like crazy, but then once my full work load kicked in [and I worked out] once every three weeks," said third-year Engineering student Kevin Francis, who admits to replacing his well-intentioned AFC visits with academic efforts.

But the AFC isn't the only option.

The four recreational facilities-- Memorial Gym, the AFC, Slaughter, and North Grounds -- together attract about 5,000 students each day during the academic year, said Erika Perkins, director of fitness for Intramural-Recreational Sports. Aside from the standard weightlifting and cardiovascular equipment, the facilities also offer a variety of group and personalized fitness programs. Classes currently offered include everything from aerobics, to Women on Weights, to Eating for Energy and Well-being.

"Aerobics classes appeal to students because they can go with friends and be in a group atmosphere," Perkins said. Aerobics is the most popular program offered, and both students and faculty participate in classes.

Eating smart: read labels, skip the late-night snacks

Although going to the gym is important, it is not enough to maintain body weight after the transition to college, said Paula Caravati, registered dietitian and nutritionist for Dining Services.

Caravati stressed that students need a healthy diet in addition to exercise. For first-year students in particular, a well-balanced meal begins in the dining halls.

"Make sure that you read the menu. Make sure that you do some preplanning," she explained Caravati, who said students often are not conscious of all the choices they have at University dining facilities.

Caravati also cautioned against misreading nutrition labels. "Students may get caught up in counting fat grams. Something may have only one fat gram but it may have 600 calories," she said.

Eating snacks late at night is another bad habit students in college often succumb to.

"Doing homework was impossible unless accompanied by a massive amount of junk food," recalled second-year college student Raymond Liu who, like many students, often studied long after mid-night.

Caravati recommends eating a lot of fiber, fruits and vegetables at dinner to stave off late-night snack attacks. She included pretzels, popcorn, and low-fat frozen yogurt as examples of healthy alternatives for when the cravings kick in.

Bust the beer habit, lessen the belly

Partying and drinking beer are also important contributors to the freshman 15. According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, a 12 ounce light beer contains as many as 110 calories.

This explains why many people -- especially men -- develop their lifelong "beer bellies" while in college.

Partying itself also can be dangerous.

"If you're going out and partying and not sleeping a lot, some people confuse being tired with being hungry," added Caravati. Alcohol consumption also increases the appetite, encouraging unnecessary eating.

Don't skip meals

Although it may seem impossible to maintain healthy eating habits, students should not give up hope and stop trying altogether. Simple habits like not skipping breakfast, eating three meals a day and choosing balanced meals can easily make the difference.

"It's not inevitable that you will gain weight," said Caravati. "If you plan, you have a better chance at a healthy intake."

Exercising, proper eating habits and a little common sense can help students successfully avoid the dreaded freshman 15.