5 Tips to Avoid the Freshman 15

September 17, 2015

Image Credit: Flickr

It’s nearing Halloween, which means that school is well underway for the freshman of the Class of 2019.  It’s an exciting time full of new experiences, and for many, the first time where they have had complete control over their diets.  For some people, this can lead to the fabled “Freshman 15”

For those who’ve forgotten, the Freshman 15 refers to a 15-pound weight gain experienced by college freshmen, many of who are feeding themselves for the first time.  No longer sitting down at their parents’ dinner table, these freshman are now free to gorge themselves on anything they want, and if the dorm food is buffet style, as much as they want.

Although the “Freshman 15” has a nice ring to it, 15 pounds in a year is a lot for anyone to put on.  But before feeling relieved and reaching for another slice of dorm pizza, know that freshman typically do gain weight – more than 9 pounds for men and over 4 pounds for women.  Studies have also shown that freshman gain weight at 5.5x the rate of the general population.

How to avoid it?  Here’s 5 things you can do to stave off that extra weight gain (and maybe learn a few things for Biology 101 along the way!)

1. Be Careful About Dorm Food

    Image Credit: Flickr

    Dorm food is plentiful at college, and many colleges have been working hard to make food that excites and satisfies their students.  Unfortunately, the food that excites and satisfies usually has one thing in common – they’re all very high in calories.

    On top of that, dorm food doesn’t come with nutritional fact labels, so it can be very hard know what’s in the food you’re being served, and very easy to overconsume calories.  For example:

    • 1 standard slice of pizza contains 285 calories. Eat three and you’re already almost halfway to 2,000 calories.
    • A can of cola contains 182 calories. But as tastes and demands change, cups get bigger.  A 32-ounce cup of cola - fairly common these days - contains 267 calories.
    • A single-patty, basic cheeseburger contains 303 calories. However, the burgers offered by many dorms and fast food vendors can be much bigger, and much higher in calories.  A Big Mac, for example, contains 563 calories.

    2. Beware the Calories in Alcohol

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      College is also a time for many freshmen where they first experience alcohol consumption at scale.  For many college students, the amount of calories in the alcohol they are consuming is the last thing they are thinking of when they drink.  However, alcoholic beverages are very high in calories.  So high in fact, that ale was actually a large source of calories among peasants the Middle Ages (remember this for your Intro to Western Civilization midterm!)

      You may not be a medieval day laborer, but just as it was back then, alcohol is very high in calories.  Beer, wine, or liquor: it doesn’t matter.  Here’s the facts:

      The only thing easier than drinking these calories is forgetting that you drank them; however, your body doesn’t forget.  It keeps track of everything, and according to the CDC, it’s the calories that you consume over a 24-period that contribute to weight gain or loss.  That means adding on 1,000 calories after dinner still counts; whether you remember them or not.

      3. Don’t quit being active!

        In high school, many people are involved with sports.  However, at the college level, it’s much more difficult to be involved in school athletics as college sports are fiercely competitive.  Priorities change as well; many people find new interests and devote more time to other activities, not the least of which is their schoolwork. 

        Although not everyone was a high school athlete, this point is just one part of a greater trend amongst college students: the average student steadily reduces their physical activity time by 6% from the first semester of college through their seventh semester.

        There are many ways that a student can be active and burn more calories throughout the day. It just takes a little creativity.  For example:

        • Always taking the stairs instead of the elevator
        • Taking exercise breaks to break up long study sessions
        • Doing pushups or situps in between watching TV shows

        4. Keep Healthy Snacks In The Dorm Room

        Image Credit: Flickr

        Staying up late and burning the midnight oil is a classic college stereotype that is all too true for many college students today.  Staying up later means eating later, but the later the night goes on, the less people feel inclined to cook healthy meals.  The easy solution? Grab a bag of chips or cookies from the campus store.

        These high calorie foods can contribute to your waistline, especially if you aren’t trying to limit your high calorie food intake throughout the day.  However, it’s fairly easy to replace these with healthy options.  Here’s a couple high-energy snacks that won’t add on the pounds:

        • Almonds and Walnuts
        • Fat-Free Yogurt
        • Fruit, like Apples and Bananas

        5. Stay Positive!

          College is a time of many changes.  For the first time, many young men and women are making many decisions for themselves they have not had to make before.  Many of them are also getting used to living with complete strangers, which can add another layer of unexpected stress.

          High levels of stress can lead to overeating to cope with anxiety, and although this stress-coping strategy affects both sexes, it is particularly prominent with among women.  For women who already have a history of eating to cope with stress, stressful situations that arise in college trigger binge-eating much more than with women who don’t have any history of binge eating.

          Stress management and coping with stress is an important lesson that many people learn in college (although it is a lifelong pursuit).   The transition from high school to college is also compounded with the transition from adolescence to adulthood, making the four years in college potentially a turbulent time in many people’s lives.

          Instead of snacking when you’re stressed, try healthy activities to help you cope with stress.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed by schoolwork or distracted by other personal problems, exercise has been shown to promote feelings of mastery and self-efficacy, which can help you cope with stressful situations.

          These tips aren’t just good for freshman in college; they’re good for anyone who wants to keep their weight down!