Many students gain weight when they go off to university for the first time. The combination of major lifestyle change and cafeteria eating can lead to some unhealthy habits.

Registered dietitian Emily Foster says the social atmosphere of cafeteria eating sometimes leads you astray.

“If you're eating in a cafeteria, your friend might grab a dessert and that might force you to grab one as well. They're not forcing you to take one, but you feel sort of, if they're having one, I can have one too,” says Foster.

Foster says it's important to set boundaries when it comes to eating on campus.

She advises following some basic healthy eating tips, such as filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables.

“Certainly, if there's a salad bar look for that. If there are dressings at that salad bar, maybe choosing some healthier, lower fat dressings such as olive oil and a balsamic vinegar,” says Foster.

Many students aren't used to doing their own grocery shopping and might not choose the healthiest options.

Foster suggests stocking up on fiber rich foods because they make you feel full for longer.

“Fruits and vegetables obviously really high in fiber as well, different whole grain breads, potatoes leaving the skin on can help with the fiber as well,” says Foster.

Foster says pairing your meals and snacks with a source of protein will also keep you feeling full.

When in doubt, Foster says to check the daily value percentage on food labels to make a healthy choice.

“So if you're looking for less of salt, less of saturated fat, you're looking for 5 per cent or under and if you're looking for more of an ingredient, like fiber as an example, you want to look for 15 per cent or more.”

Sandra Jamieson sees lot of new faces at the Saint Mary's University gym each fall. Her number one piece of advice for first-time students looking to stay fit is to get into a routine and stick with it.

“Even when you have midterms, even when you're stressed, when you're busy, at least stick with a little bit of a routine,” says Jamieson. “So if you're coming in three times a week and you can't make it three, maybe stick with the two.”

Having a workout buddy can also help.

“That way you're accountable with someone else and each of you can motivate the other to get here,” says Jamieson.

Jamieson also suggests taking advantage of orientation sessions and asking staff for help when navigating the on campus gym. Or, you can look elsewhere for a fitness fix.

“Get involved in intramurals, get involved in all the activities that go on in university, because there's so many societies and clubs and just being out of your room and running around and meeting people, that's going to burn calories, too,” says Jamieson. “Take the stairs, if you're on the 10th floor, once a day take the stairs instead of the elevator. All those little things add up.”

For many, socializing is also a big part of the student experience. Foster says it's important to note that alcohol adds to your caloric intake and often leads to late night eating and poor nutrition choices.