Sep 21, 2015 2:00 AM

Author: Julie Metos PhD, RD, CD


It comes up in every “going to college” conversation: the freshman fifteen. The fifteen pounds every college freshman is expected to gain during the first year of studies and then struggle to drop for the rest of his life. Is it really this way? Does it have to be?

Well, 1) maybe and 2) no, definitely not.

College can be a time of life where good eating and exercise habits can come together to enhance academic success and solidify lifestyle habits for adulthood. Here are some thoughts about the freshman fifteen and how to make it a myth for U students.

1. It turns out the freshman fifteen is really the freshman five.

On average, most freshman gain 3-5 pounds during the first year of college. Still, on average means that some freshman likely gain 15 or more pounds. Both men and women experience weight gain during this time period.

2. Alcohol is a common culprit.

The extra calories from partying can add up. Even two beers every Friday night can add up to one pound of weight gain per month. This is a quick 9-10 pound weight gain over the school year.  

3. Too many choices = too much to eat.

Freshman often live in the dorms and have access to a variety of cafeterias across campus. When faced with many food choices, people eat more. Sure there are a lot of healthful choices available, but it is easy to drift towards pizza and burgers every because they are familiar comfort foods. Additionally, many food outlets have unlimited access to soda fountains, soft ice-cream or yogurt and sugared cereals. It is easy to indulge in foods and beverages that were not in the fridge at home while you were in high school. Speaking of fridges, maybe you don’t need one in your dorm room.  

4. Freedom.

There are no parents around to mention that you may want a vegetable or salad with your meal or family members to eat with for scheduled meals. That sounds good, but structure is a key to good nutrition. Freshman often have a year of hedonistic, free-for-all behaviors or get into bad sleep and eating patterns due to all night studying.  

5. Stress and socializing.

Food can be a comforting way to stuff one’s feelings. Eating is a common way to cope with stress, boredom or insecurity.  Eating is also something to do when hanging out with new friends and enjoying Salt Lake City. Be sure to develop a lot of ways to cope with stress and social which don’t involve food.

6. Social normalization theory.

Research suggests that the freshman fifteen is now a “social norm” meaning it is socially expected and accepted by students and their families. While it is not the end of the world to gain weight as a freshman, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Let’s put an end to this social norm.

The U campus is a great place to develop a healthful lifestyle.

There are beautiful walking and running trails in the foothills, exercise facilities in the field house, a swimming pool in the HPER building, intramural sports activities and inexpensive outdoor equipment rentals at Outdoor Recreation. Students can take exercise classes for credit or walk and bike to class.

The Student Counseling Center has many services and classes for students who are experiencing both big and small stresses. The Heritage Center has one of the most beautiful salad bars and many healthful options. Start looking for healthful food options, stop eating when you are full and set an eating schedule for yourself.  Have fun being active and healthy.  

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