The Freshman 15 wasn’t always a source of anxiety for entering students. What was once known as the “freshman 10” has its origins in letters 19th-century college women sent home to their families to express their successful adjustment to college life. Food, as history professor Margaret Lowe found, was the center of social life for college women until the 1920s, when dieting became the new ethos on college campuses. Fast-forward 90 years and the term itself has gained five pounds, maybe from the weight of its negative connotation. But don’t put down your CoHo pizza slice just yet -there’s mixed evidence for the existence of this phenomenon.
Two professors from Carleton University analyzed 24 studies on the Freshman 15, collecting 3,401 cases to determine whether college freshmen do indeed gain weight. They concluded that there is both fact and fiction to the Freshman 15. While entering students do not, on average, gain the full 15 pounds, they do tend to put on 8.5 pounds through their first year of college.
So how does this happen, and what do we do about it?
“When students enter college and their environment changes, they change,” said Judith Stern, UC Davis nutrition professor and founder of the American Obesity Association.
College introduces change rapidly. We go from living with family to living in a dorm. We eat differently in our buffet-style dining commons. We make new friends, eventually forming a new social circle. We can have breaks between classes for hours. We stay up late, sleep in, and sometimes get no sleep at all.
Some of those changes, of course, are the usual suspects in the world of weight gain. Stress, which gets even the best of us, can cause overeating and even changes in our hormonal balance, leading to shifts in our metabolism and blood flow. Lack of sleep can change our appetite (not to mention, the longer you stay up, the more you eat – think late night runs to AMPM). But there are changes specific to college, too. The DC, which allows you to get however many refills of soda and seconds of food you want, doesn’t help. College students tend to drink more alcohol once they enter college, which leads to extra liquid calories, and arguably poor decision-making for the rest of the night. And then there are the munchies.
Though the changes are big, the fixes are small.
Drink at least 8 cups of water daily. Doing so cuts down on the extra calories, and drinking water helps to promote flexibility, detoxification and metabolism.
Eat a good breakfast. Starting your day hungry, while it seems to cut calories, actually serves to promote weight gain. This is because missing breakfast shifts your body into starvation mode, leading you to eat more later on.
Plan before eating. Every DC at UC Davis showcases their foods near the entrance. The next time you walk up to survey your options, take a second to plan your meal to the plate. Then stick to that one serving of Santa Fe Chicken Salad, two cups of water, and cookie to top things off.
Don’t get obsessed. It’s okay to eat sweets and indulge. Once in a while. As long as you don’t reward healthy eating with junk food, you’ll be building a sustainable habit. Everything in moderation.
Snack more, eat less. Instead of eating three large meals, or two uber-meals in a day (which often come out to more calories than 3 meals), eat 6 smaller-portioned foods throughout the day. Try a small breakfast in your dorm, a quick snack in lecture, a small lunch at the DC, a couple fruits in the library, a light dinner and a final snack to end the day’s eating two hours before you call it a night. The idea is to get neither hungry nor full.
Move. Unlike lots of students, most Aggies spend a fair amount of time biking or walking to class. In addition to this, hit the ARC for an hour. Studies show that physically active students are happier, healthier and do better in school.
A final piece of advice. Once every two weeks, hop on a scale to monitor your weight. If you can, try to separate your self-image from the number that displays. Tracking your weight is probably one of the best ways to keep it down. As Stern puts it, “Before you gain 15 pounds, you gain five.”
RAJIV NARAYAN gained the Freshman Negative 80, but he’s no purist. If you dig Yoloberry as much as he does, let him know when Irish Mint is the day’s flavor at firstname.lastname@example.org.