I remember the first time I was introduced to the freshman 15 like it was yesterday. Health class during my junior and senior years of high school, my teachers cautioned us about the dreaded weight gain college students experience in their freshman year.
I couldn't believe it when I heard about it. Fifteen whole pounds?!
But, when I stepped foot into college, I realized how possible it truly was. The tempting aromas, the endless options in cafeteria buffets, the abundance of cool restaurants everywhere I turned and could not wait to dine at. The freshman 15 almost seemed inevitable. Also, just think about it. For many people, college is the first time that they are in complete control of their eating choices. Students are at liberty to eat whenever they want, wherever they want. With hours worth of free time between classes and an overload of tasks to stress about, snacking becomes the perfect distraction.
So, we all seem doomed, don't we? Actually, no, we aren't. There are several myths floating around about the freshman 15, making it seem more dangerous and unavoidable than it actually is.
1. People typically gain 10-15 pounds of weight gain
The truth is that the average weight gain is 2.5 to 6 pounds. Some studies show the average to be around 7.5 pounds. Of course, it is difficult to compute a mathematical average because every individual is unique, and different factors, including metabolism, family history, medical history and environment, influence one's chances of weight gain. Although 15 pounds is an exaggeration, it is not impossible. About 10% of students gain that much. Changes in eating habits and lifestyles are constant throughout adulthood. Metabolism slows down as people approach their 20s.
2. Weight gain only affects freshmen
While most weight gain is said to occur during a student's first year in college, it is possible in any year. During freshman year, most students are in the transition phase. They are prone to experience homesickness, elevated anxiety levels, sadness, and loneliness. All of these responses can trigger stress-eating. Studies also suggest that the weight gain is a slow accumulation during the four years of college and after.
3. Weight gain is due to partying and drinking
The truth is that the freshman 15 is the result of a combination of different factors. Large meal plans, excess snacking, lack of exercise, binge drinking, and increased stress can contribute. Although partying and drinking are unhealthy, it is a jump to conclude that they are the cause of the freshman 15. The overall changes in eating behaviors, such as irregular eating times and large portions are more likely to cause weight gain.
4. Weight loss is impossible
Actually, a study found that a quarter of college freshman actually lost weight. Sometimes, just the fear of the freshman 15 can put students at risk of body dissatisfaction and potential eating disorders. The paranoia can lead to unhealthy dieting and habits. Instead of skipping meals, the best way to avoid weight gain is to adopt healthy practices. Rather than making drastic changes to diet, it is far better to make small adjustments and set attainable goals. If you feel guilty or over conscious about your food intake, talk to your doctor or seek counseling at your college.
Putting on a couple of pounds is not something to fear. As our bodies continue to develop, changes in weight are expected and completely healthy. However, increased weight gain is problematic. Many health risks, including high cholesterol, blood pressure, and joint problems are likely. A poor lifestyle can pave the path for future problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Even if some students do not gain significant weight, they should not continue to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors. They most likely do not have a balanced nutrient intake. Their concentration, memory, and performance, in general, can lag behind.
Here are a few tips to avoid the freshman 15:
- Stick to an eating schedule to avoid unnecessary snacking
- Avoid eating late night
- Do not skip meals
- Keep a watch on your meal portions
- Avoid vending machines
- Replace soda with water/milk/juice
- Treat yourself occasionally
- Do not eat while doing other tasks, like watching TV, studying, etc
- Work out for a minimum of 30 minutes daily (gym, fitness group activities, dance, jogging)
- Sleep for 7-8 hours each night
- Avoid caffeine or watching TV before sleeping (I know it's hard!)
With a little bit of control and moderate efforts to maintain an active lifestyle, the freshman 15 is yet another challenge in college that can be conquered.