The Freshman 15

Heather Reese Health Guide
  • There is so much excitement surrounding college-bound teens. I remember getting ready to head off to college, there were so many things to think about: living away from home, a heavy academic load, making new friends and a new social life. It was such an exciting time yet stressful time filled with the prospects of so many new experiences. But I like many other recent high school grads was also aware of the possibility of gaining the dreaded “freshman 15”. You hear so much about this unwanted weight gain that it almost seems like as much a right of passage as pulling your first all nighter.
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    The hype surrounding this phenomenon makes it seem like a standard part of college life. Register for classes: Check. Buy books: Check. Gain 15 pounds: Check. But you don’t actually have to gain weight your first year in college – you don’t have to repeat freshman year if you don’t gain 15 pounds, I promise. In fact, I lost weight my first year in college.

    A lot of factors can contribute to the freshman 15 and eating habits can easily change when you’re no longer under the watchful eye of mom and dad. No one monitors your food intake in the school cafeteria and there are plenty of tasty and tempting options. Most college cafeterias offer greasy cheeseburgers, French fries and pizza everyday. Omelet bars and donuts for breakfast and an always stocked ice cream cooler can make it easy to pile on the pounds in that first year away from home. It doesn’t help that pizza parlors cater to the college clientele and will often deliver to campus until the wee hours of the morning.

    All of this coupled with the added stress of change and trying to acclimate to a new environment can lead to emotional eating. Many people turn to food to soothe negative emotions like fear, anxiety, loneliness and stress, which can all be part of adapting to the first year of college life. Often when you eat for these reasons you overeat, which can lead to weight gain and in this case the freshman 15.

    The key to avoiding the freshman 15 is simple. You have to continue to eat healthy foods and be physically active. Yes the college cafeteria offers lots of high fat, high calorie options but they also have a variety of healthy selections. Take advantage of the salad bar and the all-day cereal option. Choose low-fat varieties like skim milk instead of whole, low-fat salad dressing and frozen yogurt. Be aware of your portion sizes and fight the urge to go back for seconds. Avoid the vending machines, keep healthy snacks like fruit and yogurt in your dorm room, and replace high sugar beverages with calorie free drinks. And speaking of drinking, it’s important to remember that beer and alcohol are high in calories and can lead to weight gain. Over consumption of alcohol can also lead to unnecessary late night snacking, so be aware of your alcohol intake and it’s effects on your daily calories.

    Surprisingly most college students are less active then they were in high school despite spending less time in the classroom. Most college campus’ have a fitness facility that students can use for free along with a wide variety of intramural sports. If you aren’t interested in either of those options, you can keep active by taking a gym class and learning a new sport.

  • But it is important to remember that college is an exciting time that you should enjoy. Be realistic and don’t set yourself up for failure by refusing to allow yourself to indulge. You can enjoy a slice of pizza or a donut on occasion without gaining the freshman 15 by balancing your indulges with healthy eating and exercise.
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Published On: October 20, 2006