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In truth, not even the cafeteria salad bar is completely safe if students aren't careful. "A few years ago, a study found the biggest percentage of fat calories in young women's diets came from salad dressings. So the salad bar can undermine the desire to eat fewer calories," Rolls says. "The salad bar can be a disaster."

Some other warnings and suggestions from Rolls:

  • Bottom line: Calories count. If you eat more than your body needs, you'll gain weight.
  • Listen to your body, and don't eat when you're not hungry.
  • Snacking can be OK because it controls hunger at meals, but watch what you snack on!
  • Include lean protein in your diet, such as lean beef, turkey or chicken breast without the skin, fish, and beans. Protein can help control hunger, and your body needs it.
  • Watch out for emotional overeating: Don't eat because you're stressed or lonely.
  • Remember that eating with friends can sometimes lead to eating when you're not hungry, or eating that dessert you might have avoided.
  • You will encounter new, unfamiliar foods; learn about the calories and nutrients in these foods.

Food, of course, is just part of the equation. "It underscores the fact that it doesn't matter where you are -- you have to find an outlet for physical activity," Zellman says, because 15 pounds can be tremendously difficult to shed.

Still, all this talk about the freshman 15 troubles one college counselor, who says students concentrate too much on appearance alone. "I'm realistic. It's a legitimate concern," says Gary Glass, PhD, of the Boston University Counseling Center. At the same time, though, he offers some thoughts on other things freshmen gain by going to college: a sense of independence, a deeper understanding of friendship, romance, and spirituality.

As he puts it in a list of "A New Freshman 15": "Gaining a growing recognition of my strength as a human being -- as the natural course of growth makes me larger in physical size, and larger in life's experiences."

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