Weighing in on the freshmen 15: legitimate concern or college legend?

By on October 26, 2011
Freshmen 15

Your parents aren’t here to cook for you every night, pizza delivery is an all too tempting and all too available option, and the foods most accessible and dorm-friendly are Easy Mac and Ramen noodles. What’s a freshman to do other than succumb to the temptations of newfound freedom and consequently gain 15 pounds?

“Weight gain in college is largely about beer, fast food, fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Phillip Brewer, Quinnipiac University’s medical director for student health services. “Students who are most likely to put on fat during their college years are students who regularly binge drink, as well as students whose diets consist of a disproportionately high percentage of fast food.”

The “freshman 15” is a pattern of changed behaviors that, provided the right situation, results in an average 15-pound weight gain for some college freshmen.

The first year of college leads to big changes for students, especially for those living on campus. Free from their mother’s weekly vegetable casserole and the daily exercise during high school gym class, it can be difficult for some students to develop a healthy eating and exercise pattern. Living alone grants students the freedom to make healthy — or unhealthy decisions.

“Some students do gain the freshman 15 because they let themselves go and don’t take care of their bodies as much as they should,” said Nicole La Pietra, a freshman who is staying healthy.

Adjusting to university life can be a huge change. Freshmen are out of their element, and some deal with cultural shock. To compensate, they often make poor health decisions.

According to the American Dietetic Association website, one out of four college freshmen gains about 10 pounds.

The ADA associates this weight gain with “a decrease in regular physical activity or sports involvement, dining halls, increased snacking, [and] drinking more caloric beverages like high-fat, sugary coffee drinks, soda and alcohol.”

Late-night food binges during all-nighters make it hard to avoid falling into the freshman 15 trap, La Pietra said.

“Domino’s at 3 a.m. definitely won’t help keep the freshman 15 away,” La Pietra said.

Brewer encourages students to keep a daily food diary, and then compare the list with the Food and Drug Administration’s serving recommendations at the end of each week.

“[Students] will almost certainly find major adjustments that need to be made in that type of food they eat,” Brewer said. “If they succeed at this, then in all likelihood they will maintain a healthy weight and feel better.”

Junior Gerard Mistretta says that putting on weight is a conscious choice, one that comes with college-bound independence.

“You get to the cafeteria, you see all the options … you want the pie, you get the pie,” Mistretta said. “No one’s going to stop you. It’s a big self-control thing.”

The freshman 15 seems to have a specific target audience, both statistically and stereotypically. Out of 44 college freshmen surveyed, 59 percent gained weight while 36 percent lost weight, according to a study published in the Journal of American College Health.

“Every girl friend of mine from home gained weight when we reunited, whereas almost every guy I knew actually lost weight,” junior Jenn Szilagy said. “I think it’s probably because girls are more emotional eaters and when they’re missing home, their friends, boyfriends, etc., they eat to make themselves feel better.”

Exercise is arguably the most important factor for freshmen to avoid gaining weight. Many students go from playing varsity level sports in high school to an inactive physical regimen at college.

According to the NCAA, the percentage of high school athletes that continue their sport at the collegiate level is sparse.

For men’s basketball, a mere 3.1 percent of high school senior boys go on to play in college. Comparatively, 3.5 percent of high school senior girls will continue to play women’s basketball in college. Men’s ice hockey has the highest percentage at 10.8 percent of high school seniors playing in college.

Odds like these demonstrate what most college students go through freshman year. From playing varsity to suddenly going stagnant, the average college student’s metabolism slows down drastically.

Still, some dispute the freshman 15, calling it a myth.

“I personally don’t see a change in my lifestyle,” freshman Danielle Quintero said. “If anything, being in college has kept me on a schedule.”

Effects of the freshman 15 plague some and not others. A health-conscious attitude and positive daily decisions are needed in order to overcome these extra pounds.

The ADA website advises, “the best solution for avoiding college weight gain is to be aware of your daily calorie intake.”

“At college you have the freedom to do what you want, when you want,” Mistretta said. “So if you’re lazy and just want to hang out and don’t think it’s worth going to the gym and exercising, it’s going to show.”

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