As an incoming freshman, Johanna Armstrong, tried her best to prepare for college. The anticipation of a new social life, large campus and hard classes left her anxious for what the next year would be like. But preparing for the notorious “Freshman 15” was even harder.
This feared statistic – the number of pounds a typical student supposedly gains during his or her first year at college – often creeps up on unsuspecting freshmen.
The smorgasbord of pizza, pasta, fried food and ice cream that congest the dining halls is hard for many freshmen to avoid.
“I’d heard a lot of stories about it,” recalls Armstrong, a junior human development and family studies major. “I didn’t think it would be as big of a deal as people made it.”
Armstrong fought the pounds by staying conscious of her habits and working out at the gym. She gained about five pounds but lost it over the summer.
Armstrong certainly wasn’t alone in her battle.
A study by Washington University found approximately 70 percent of students gain weight during their freshman year.
The so-called Freshman 15 seems to be an exaggerated estimate. Still, the gain is real.
Studies show students gain an average of five pounds, said Dawn Clifford, a registered dietician at Hartshorn Health Center.
“I think the number one reason freshman gain weight their first year is the all-you-can-eat dining atmosphere,” Clifford said. “Freshman are not used to that atmosphere for every meal, so it’s really exciting for them.”
Clifford also attributes freshman weight gain to alcohol consumption and late-night snacking. The general freedom of college life is new for most freshmen and they often don’t know how to handle it.
“I gained some weight freshman year,” said Kayce Wagner, a graduate student studying leadership in animal sciences. “The cafeteria had ice cream, hamburgers and hot dogs and they stayed open until midnight so we’d always just cruise over there for study breaks.”
But there are precautions students can take to protect themselves from packing on pounds.
For instance, Clifford suggests visualizing portions as if it were a meal at home.
“Remind yourself that you have all year to eat at the dining hall so don’t feel like you have to eat everything at once,” she said. “Eat, hang out and check in with your fullness.”
She also recommended taking advantage of the fitness opportunities on campus such as intramural sports, the Student Recreation Center and simply walking to class.
Of course, students have their own suggestions as well.
Lay off the suds, said T.J. Sheahen, a junior construction management major who didn’t gain any weight during his first year. Sheahen knows many people who gained weight during their freshmen year, mostly from drinking.
He said: “Beer kills you.”
Staff writer Megan Trusty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.