What Is The Freshman 15?
In prehistoric times when I went to college, the weight gain characterized by freshman year was called the freshmen ton; meaning that if you added up all the weight the freshman gained by throughout the school year, it would equal a ton. The Freshman 15 is close enough and is defined as the amount of weight an average freshman will gain by the end of freshman year. Some folks are spared but unfortunately many freshmen end up with the extra pounds. This type of weight gain is likely to follow us throughout life, as we encounter similar life stresses. The gain is blamed on a variety of issues, including:
- A decrease in regular physical activity or sports involvement.
- Dining halls (or cupboards) with unlimited food choices (both healthy and not-so-healthy).
- Increased snacking.
- Drinking more caloric beverages such as high-fat, sugary coffee drinks, soda, energy drinks and alcohol.
How can young, vibrant 18 year olds be gaining that much weight? Is it a myth or urban legend? Aren’t they walking to class, meeting with friends, dancing, and partying? They’re too busy to gain weight right? Unfortunately, researchers followed 131 students over four years of college and found that a whopping 70% of them packed on pounds by graduation (average of 12 pounds). The overall percentage of students found to be overweight increased from 18% to 31%. The researchers noted gains in body fat composition and waist circumference as well.
A new study, published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, flies in the face of previous studies, which found that the average student gains merely 2.5 to 3.5 pounds and accused the media of fomenting the Freshman 15 myth.
But the researchers in the Auburn study observed that the “growth” they found in the college students consisted primarily of fat mass (meaning natural growth patterns could not account for it). And all the above factors were significant contributors to the gain.
Carol Holland, D.Ph., an associate professor and a psychologist in the counseling center at Slippery Rock State College in Pennsylvania, says that the stress of adapting to a new situation and academic and social challenges can be a problem. Students may miss the support system of friends, family, and activities that they had in high school, so they use what’s available. Food becomes a pacifier, and this coping skill can follow after college leading to adulthood obesity, if it’s not recognized early.
How To Avoid Fall Weight Gain Whether Your In College Or Not
The best solution for avoiding college (and later in life) weight gain is being aware of your daily caloric intake. Since both food and activity play a role in weight management, writing down daily meals, snacks, beverages, and physical activity can help keep weight in check. A food and activity log allows you to see the calories you take in and the calories you burn. MyFitnessPal.comis a great app for keeping track of this information. Below are tried and true tips for keeping the freshmen 15 weight off, being mindful of disassociating snacking and eating with study and stress. These tips will bode well for college and beyond.
Calories In: Healthy Food Choices
- Eat breakfast. Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. As the first meal of the day breakfast keeps your metabolism humming and decreases overeating throughout the day. Skipping meals can lead to overeating and weight gain.
- Watch portions. Pay attention to food choices and portion sizes in the dining hall.
- Make smart choices. Emphasize nutrient-rich foods and beverages, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free/low-fat milk and dairy products, seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds. Keep healthy snacks handy. Stock your dorm room (or snack) refrigerators with healthy, satisfying snacks such as fruit, string cheese, Greek yogurt, hummus, and baby carrots. And watch the late night snacking especially the pizza intake. Slices are inexpensive and delicious, but limit yourself to one or two slices, 2 or 3 times a week.
- Drink low-calorie beverages. Skip the regular soda and opt for low-calorie choices like water, low-fat/fat-free milk, fresh brewed teas, and coffee.
- Consume alcohol in moderation. This means up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. And obviously only for students of legal drinking age.
- Get enough sleep. Sleeping less than six hours each night can affect hormone levels that control appetite, cravings, and metabolism. People who do not get enough sleep often crave high-calorie junk food the body can quickly break down for energy.
Calories Out: Physical Activity
Freshmen should be chasing Frisbees, walking the campus, getting into impromptu wrestling matches, taking Zumba, tennis, kickbox or other active classes in that beautiful sports center, and in general enjoying the outdoor freedom of campus life. Unless you’re running late, take the long way to class.
Freshmen year is a big test in focus, confidence and self-control that will transcend into adulthood and with some forethought and a heads up from family and friends, students can pass the Freshman 15 test and keep the weight off.