The Truth About the Freshman 15 and How You Can Beat It

Before heading off to college, teens are pummeled with advice from well-meaning relatives and loved ones. They’re told to get enough sleep, not to party too hard and to keep their noses to the proverbial grindstone. Sadly, they’re often woefully unprepared to cope with the reality of being on their own for the first time. That, more than anything, all too often leads to the gaining of the dreaded “freshman 15.”

Weight Gain in College Freshmen is a Real Problem

As easy as it may be to scoff at the seemingly cliche idea of packing on 15 pounds during the first year of college, research has shown that it’s an actual phenomenon. Of course, it’s not always 15 pounds. A Cornell University study of students from two large freshmen introductory classes showed an average weight gain of about 5.5 ounces per week, which translated to more like five to seven extra pounds during the first year. However, another study by Auburn University showed that a whopping 70 percent of freshmen gained weight. The average weight gain was around 12 pounds, with some students gaining as much as 37 pounds.

Why Do College Freshman Gain Weight?

College freshmen gain weight for a number of reasons. Environmental and social factors play a large part. When everyone around you is eating poorly, being sedentary and drinking excessively, it’s all too easy to adopt those habits too. There’s more to it than that, though. Some of the biggest culprits behind the freshman 15 phenomenon include:

  • Late-night studying and snacking sessions
  • Easy access to fast food, especially via delivery
  • Subsisting off largely unhealthy cafeteria food
  • Sleep deprivation and counteracting it by guzzling sugary energy drinks
  • No longer being held accountable by parents
  • Lack of exercise
  • Little or no education about proper nutrition

Keep the Freshman 15 at Bay with These Clever Tricks

Most of the advice you’ll find about avoiding the freshman 15 is fairly obvious. Eat less. Exercise more. Get plenty of sleep. These things will all help keep you in better shape, but they’re too vague and generic for most college kids to put into action. A handful of better, more actionable ways to ward off freshman year weight gain include:

  • Take the Stairs – Research from Harvard Medical School has shown that climbing the stairs is an effective way to lose weight and keep it off. Even at a slow pace, climbing the stairs burns calories three times as quickly as walking on a flat surface. Simply devoting 15 minutes here and there to climbing up and down the stairs at the dorm can make a huge difference.
  • Load Up on Antioxidants – Free radicals bombard your body on a daily basis. They wreak havoc on overall health. Antioxidants counteract their effects, so adding more to your diet can help you become healthier and stronger overall. Focus on antioxidant-rich foods like artichokes, watermelon, beans and red grapefruit. If necessary, take a supplement too.
  • Strength in Numbers – Eat meals with the same group of friends. Challenge each other to stick with healthier fare and smaller portions. It’s easier to stick with the program when you have to stay accountable to others.
  • Walk 10,000 Steps Per Day – Ask for a Fitbit for your birthday or Christmas, and use it to walk at least 10,000 steps per day.
  • Focus on Feeling Good – Instead of worrying about the number on the scale or your overall image, dedicate yourself to a healthy lifestyle in order to feel strong, healthy and good. This, more than anything, will keep you on track and help you avoid those dreaded 15 extra pounds.

Starting college is exciting, but it’s stressful too. Don’t let it take a toll on your health. The freshman 15 isn’t a foregone conclusion. By being mindful about what you eat, how much you move and on simply leading a healthy lifestyle, you should be able to avoid this unpleasant pitfall without too much trouble.


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