The Infamous Freshman 15: How Not To Get Fat During College

As a freshman, there are many benefits to living on-campus. Classes are just a short walk/bike away, your new friends live right across the hall, and clubs are just dying to persuade you to join (free t-shirts anyone?)

But the one benefit that first-year students come to appreciate the most, and fellow upperclassmen tend to envy the most, is the dining commons. You will never go hungry with the unlimited amount of food available to you every day at the dining hall.

With three, sometimes four complete meals a day, you can guarantee that all of your nutritional needs and culinary cravings will be satisfied. From pizza to rice bowls, salad bars to soft-serve ice cream, the “DC” always serves what you’re salivating for.

So with all this easily accessible food, how does one control himself when he chows down at dinnertime?

That’s the question you must ask when analyzing the concept nearly every first-year dreads: the Freshman 15.

What the theorists are saying…

According to modern theory, because of vast food consumption and little formal guidance regarding nutritional requirements, freshmen tend to inevitably gain about 15 pounds after their first year in college. After just a few months of being exposed to the array of meal options, one may start to see a few extra pounds settling around their mid-section.

There have been studies conducted that debunk the “myth” of the Freshman 15, as some researchers claim that freshmen never actually gain the full 15 pounds, rather just a few or even none at all. However, it is a dietary concern for the majority of on-campus residents, and it should be addressed before one becomes overwhelmed with a daily limitless food selection. Unfortunately, the Freshman 15 “theory” can become a reality for numerous new college students.

Studies of the Freshman 15 provide statistical evidence showing the amount of students who actually gain 15 pounds by the end of their first year. Typically, only a small amount of males and females attending a university gain that significant weight.

According to a study conducted by Jay Zagorsky at Ohio State University that began in 1997, on average, students only gain between 2 and 4 pounds during their freshmen year. The extra weight is typically gained in the following years at a more gradual pace.

The study showed that no more than 10 percent of student gained 15 pounds or more within their first year, and some even claimed to have lost weight after one year at the university. In fact, not all students have issues with the large portions of food available, and they are able to control what and how they eat.

However, there is confirmation that students do gain weight as a result of living in close proximity to dining halls and on-campus fast food restaurants. It may not be 15 whole pounds, but the late-night pizza deliveries and burger runs will leave a little extra hanging around the waistline.

Why you should enhance your nutritional knowledge…

Even though factual evidence conveys a small percentage of students who add on a few extra pounds after their first year, it illustrates no proof of increased nutritional knowledge obtained by new undergrads. So you may not fall victim to the Freshman 15, but do you know if your daily nutritional needs are being met?

Clearly there are certain foods that are better for you physiologically than others (like whole wheat pasta versus fried chicken). Vitamins and minerals are also essential for your overall health and can cleanse your system after a not-so-healthy meal. There are even foods that can help you stay focused on coursework and during exams.

Knowing what these particular food items are will not only help you thrive in academics and extracurricular activities, but you can avoid gaining unnecessary pounds by eating healthy foods, and get a head start on living a healthy, balanced life.

What I learned about the “Freshman 15″…

As an athlete, I never paid much attention to what I ate before college. I loved cheeseburgers and fries, and I was so excited to discover that the dining commons served them every single day. “Late night” was also a frequent trip for me. This was a fourth meal held 4 days a week at the DC where they served fresh chocolate chip cookies, rice bowls, cheeseburgers, and Belgian waffles. Talk about a foodies dream right?

It took me a few months to actually analyze what I was eating. After noticing that some of my clothes didn’t fit right I decided to take action and make a conscious effort to watch my diet. I ate more fruits and vegetables, and I even took a nutrition course that opened my eyes to what we as humans need in order to nourish our bodies and function properly.

It took dedication and focus to change my habits that I lived with for so long, but it was worth it. Knowing that you are getting proper nutrients while satisfying our hunger is a great feeling, and it is something I strongly recommend incoming freshmen to think about.

Here are just a few tips I will leave you with that will put your mind at ease when worrying about the Freshman 15:

  • First, eat breakfast. No matter how early your first lecture is, take a few minutes to eat something that will satisfy your morning hunger, like maybe a whole wheat bagel or a granola bar and a banana.
  • Second, find friends to eat with. Not only is it fun to talk and laugh with other people at lunch, but it can help you slow down your food consumption and allow you to realize when you are satisfied.
  • Third, and finally, schedule a quick appointment with your school nutritionist. It is always beneficial to get advice on your nutritional needs, and you can even come up with a sample diet plan to guide you through meal times.

The more you know, the likelier you are to be happy and healthy, and avoid the notorious Freshman 15.

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Megan Heneghan

Megan Heneghan

Megan Heneghan is a junior at the University of California, Davis pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Communication, as well as a Spanish minor. She is originally from Orange County, where she grew up playing tennis. She is currently a member of the UC Davis Women’s Tennis Team. When she is not studying, she enjoys singing, reading, and cooking all different kinds of food. She also loves spending time with friends and family.
Megan Heneghan

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