Welcome to college! For many of you, this is your first time away from home. You’re now on the road to adulthood and you’re starting to make decisions for yourself. What types of decisions will you make? Good or bad? This is a time of newfound freedom in your lives, but with freedom comes responsibility. Start making healthy decisions now so that they become habitual.
In this article we will be examining the concept of the “Freshman 15,” wherein many new college students add fifteen or more extra pounds during their first year of school. Read through this article and think about the factors that contribute to this sudden weight gain and then make healthy choices that will become habitual throughout your adulthood.
Freshman 15: Is it Real?
A Google search of “The Freshman 15” in November 2006 yielded 203,000 links, and many online articles described methods to avoid the sudden weight gain. The results of Scientific studies are divided, with some suggesting that freshmen gain as much as 15 extra pounds, whereas others report minimal weight gain. Researchers who confirmed this kind of weight gain attributed it to snack consumption, larger meal portions, and decreased activity. One study found that although both sexes gained weight, men appeared to gain more and experience a larger increase in body mass index (BMI). A 2008 study noted an increase in all measures of body composition between men and women but found no differences among sex or race. Many of these studies involved small sample sizes, which made determining the validity of the Freshman 15 construct a difficult task. Given the dramatic increase in obesity among the US population, determining the validity of this trend is important and developing methods to avoid the weight gain is critical.
What Can You Do?
Here are a few tips to help you avoid the weight gaining pitfalls that you’ll experience during your freshman year.
- Eating snacks or mini-meals after every three or four hours can help avoid bingeing. The challenge is learning how to incorporate healthy eating and exercise into a schedule that is very demanding. I remind students that this is not too different from the life they will graduate into, so they should make healthy periodic snacking habitual now.
- Mind your food choices in the Dining Hall. Don’t jump immediately into the salad bar line. There may be healthier options such as fresh vegetables or whole-grain pasta. Be conscious of how much cheese, meat, beans, nuts, or salad dressing you put on your plate. Choose more vegetables. A dinner plate should comprise two-thirds fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This is a good rule of thumb to build a healthy meal. Also, ask questions in the dining facility such as “How is that prepared?” or “Can I get it without butter?”
- If you order late-night pizza, get a salad too so that you can control the number of slices you eat. Eat with friends, not in isolation, as this leads to disordered eating. When you restrict what you eat during the day to allow yourself to drink at night, alcohol affects you more quickly, dropping your blood sugar and triggering the need to eat. Alcohol also lowers your inhibitions. You can end up eating as many calories — if not more — than you would have if you had eaten throughout the day and still had a drink at night.
- Schedule time for exercise several times per week. Walk or ride your bike to classes or park farther away if it’s safe. Look into your campus’s recreation facility and sign up for an orientation. Get involved with recreational sports on campus.
Follow these guidelines and share them with your friends. Challenge each other to eat better and make time to exercise. These tips and ideas should keep you on the road to good health throughout your college years and beyond.
Robyn Whitehead is the Director of the Department of Wellness and Health Promotion at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, AR, and on the Board of Directors of the National Association for Health and Fitness