I remember waking up in my dorm room for the first time and feeling this tremendous sense of freedom. I could virtually do anything I wanted and my parents, a comfortable four hours away, wouldn’t know nor could they really do anything about it. Not that I was up to any naughty shenanigans, but the thrill of not having them watch over me was almost too much to wrap my head around.

I took full advantage of my new-found freedom on my second night in the dorms. I wandered to the campus grocery store, picked up a bag of Oreos and and a pint of milk, and then curled up in the middle of my bed and ate until I had no milk left for dunking. I was only ever allowed to have two, maybe three, cookies at a time. I grew up hearing that one day I’d live under my own roof with my own rules.

What I thought I was doing was exercising freedom that I’d been craving for 18 years. What I unknowingly did that night was set myself up for almost a decade of really terrible eating habits.

I was not the first college freshman to do such a thing and I’m certainly far from the last. The Freshman 15 is an urban legend of college weight gain that actually carries a bit of truth. Many college students move in to the dorms and English 101 in the same size pants they graduated high school in, and by spring break they’re wondering how they’ll ever fit in their bikinis. Not every student gains 15 pounds their freshman year (I didn’t), but many do add a couple of pounds (I did). Some put on more.

Where you fall on that spectrum is entirely up to you. So how do you bypass the freshman gain? You don’t order entire large pepperoni pizzas for midnight study sessions like someone I know.

You don’t skip meals. It’s rather tempting with your jam-packed class and social schedule to score a few extra minutes of sleep instead of microwaving a bowl of oatmeal. But the idea of revving up your metabolism at each healthy meal should be tempting, too! Pack healthy snacks in your bag and make time for at least a sandwich on the run.

You don’t drink anything the same color as nail polish. Whether it’s Mountain Dew or some cocktail made of Blue Curacao, those neon beverage shades are full of sugar and empty calories. Stick to water, light beer, or wine if you’re a freshman old enough to imbibe.

You save your meal points for the cafeteria. Most college cafeterias these days are pretty impressive and nothing like the slop served on an elementary tray. Salad bars, build-your-own sandwich stations, and a variety of ethnic-inspired meals don the menu three times a day. Eat the fresh meals served there instead of the deep-fried fare at the student union.

You actually use the gym you’re paying for. Most colleges add a fee for these services in your tuition. Most students pay every semester and can’t even tell you where the gym is located. Hit the gym to burn off late-night-snack calories, to destress before a final, to keep your metabolism running high, and to possibly achieve the best fitness of your life.

You get sweet, sweet dreams. New research suggests that 7-8 hours of sleep each night is key for optimum health and mental agility. Anything less or more than that can actually be damaging to your health. Talk with your roomie to work out a sleep-conducive environment and catch ZZZs to ensure you score As.

By Brandi Koskie for

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(Image via Shutterstock).