The first year of college brings new friends, new classes – and the worry of upgrading to a larger pant size.
This dramatic increase in weight during freshman year, commonly referred to as the “Freshman 15,” has been proven to be an exaggeration, but the idea mirrors a real trend.
“There has been some research that was done at Cornell in their division of nutrition science,” said Charles Hess, head of the nutrition department. “They found that the average gain in the first semester … was about 4 pounds.”
“It’s nowhere near 15 pounds,” said Linda Adams, the registered dietician for the Sodexo-operated dining commons. “15 pounds adds to the drama.”
Changes in lifestyle are noted as the primary causes of this weight gain, as first-years are often living on their own for the first time.
“This is a very stressful time of life, when students are moving out of the house,” Adams said. “Now they’ve got to worry about eating on their own, they’ve got to worry about school that’s costing a lot of money [and] they’re living in a strange place.”
The quantity of food available in the dining commons as well as the ability to overindulge in unhealthy options are both believed to also contribute to weight gain.
“The weight gain is due to the ‘all you care to eat’ dining option,” said Nancy Hudson, assistant program director for dietetics in the nutrition department in an e-mail interview.
Students want to try everything and then consume more food than needed, she said.
Lack of exercise is another factor attributed to weight gain in first-years.
“If students have a heavy course load and so forth they aren’t participating in exercise as much as they may have prior to coming to college,” Hess said.
There are methods, however, to prevent weight fluctuation and develop a healthy lifestyle, including managing nutrition, physical activity and sleep.
“[Students] need to think about the whole wellness aspect – getting enough sleep, eating right [and] maintaining an active lifestyle,” Adams said.
UC Davis offers a variety of resources to assist students in developing healthy lifestyles within the college environment.
“I am available to do nutrition consulting with any student that is interested in learning how to eat healthy,” Adams said.
Healthy food choices are not limited to the types of food selected, but also the quantity of food consumed.
“The dining commons does a really good job of showing portion sizes with the foods that they do serve,” said Laura Rubin, a health educator from the Health Education and Promotion program. “There are mechanisms in place that could support you in eating an appropriate amount of food.”
In addition to providing the opportunity to make nutritious choices, UC Davis also has many ways for students to be physically active.
Taking advantage of the ARC, the bicycle-friendly campus and the intramural sports program are also ways to remain active, Hess said.
Adams suggests adding exercise into your daily activities, such as taking the stairs instead of elevators, and walking downtown to study.
Stress management is also a crucial component for weight and health management.
Recognizing how your eating habits and physical activity patterns are influenced by stress can help you alter your behavior to emulate a more healthy lifestyle, Rubin said.
While developing healthy habits is beneficial in the short-term, the habits developed during college can also influence future well-being.
“It’s good to monitor your weight because we’re really facing a health crisis in terms of obesity,” Hess said. “If a student begins to gain even 4 or 5 pounds a quarter and that continues, that could lead then to serious problems [later in life].”
SARA JOHNSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.