09/12/2013 05:12 EDT | Updated 11/12/2013 05:12 EST

Fighting the "Freshman 15"

Heading to university for the first time can bring up a lot of mixed emotions. For many, it's a step into freedom -- whether it's living away from home for the first time or choosing the right courses that will help you pursue your dreams.

Along with this new-found freedom comes managing eating on your own, less organized physical activity and increased alcohol consumption as many enter the legal drinking age. All of these factors can contribute to the infamous "Freshman 15" -- that extra weight that can creep on as students adjust to these lifestyle changes.

But fear not. Here is my 5-step plan to combine a bit of forethought with prioritizing balance and moderation into your life to make sure that the "Freshman 15" will be a mere university myth for you.

1. Scope it out. Depending on where you're living, you may or may not have cooking facilities. For many first-year students, the cafeteria is the only option. Believe it or not, there are still ways to navigate the caf to make sure you're fuelling yourself properly. Check out all of your options so you know what you're working with. Try to choose a combination of some lean protein, whole grains, and load half of your plate with veggies. Think turkey sub on whole grain bread, loaded with veggies or a salad on the side. Don't be afraid to ask for modifications. Some establishments will accommodate requests such as extra veggies and smaller portions of starches.

2. Size does matter. Studies show that the bigger our plates, the more we eat. Choose a smaller plate if you're working with a buffet-style meal. Don't feel as though you cannot splurge on favorites in moderation, so consider choosing the kids size and a small cup if you're going for a fountain drink.

3. Always be Prepared. One of the keys to keeping off those extra pounds and fuelling your brain for those long study sessions is to make sure you don't go long periods without eating. Keep easy portable snacks on hand that can be thrown in your school bag for long days away from home. Go for a combination of proteins and high fiber snacks:

• hard boiled eggs or single portion cheeses

• high fiber granola bars

• nuts and seeds

• a piece of fruit or cut up veggies

Don't forget to keep hydrated. We often forget about this one, but dehydration can have a major impact on concentration and energy levels.

4. Keep Moving. As the school year gets rolling, the library tends to become a second home. Although it often feels like you don't have the time, you'll be more efficient if you take breaks and give your brain a chance to rest.

• Use the workout facilities. Most campuses have a gym so make the most of your breaks and pop in for a spin class or take a break to pump some iron.

• Join an intramural team. This can be a great way to get to know new people, and you'll get to spend time with friends while you get some exercise!

• Choose to walk or bike to classes or activities that are close to your place rather than driving or taking the bus. Remember: Energy balance is vital for an overall healthy lifestyle.

5. Everything Counts. Let's be honest here, not every spare moment is spent in the library. For some, free time may include the odd visit to the campus pub. Don't forget that alcoholic beverages also contribute to overall caloric intake. On average, one ounce of hard alcohol contains about 60 calories and the average beer about 140 calories. These can add up quickly. To limit the next day effects and keep that waistline from expanding, alternate drinks with a glass of water.

With these tips in mind, go enjoy the university experience and find some balance between studying. Eating well and exercising will not only help keep off extra pounds, but will also likely improve energy and concentration so you`ll even be able to find some time for fun!