The “Freshman Fifteen” is a prevalent fear among all college freshmen the moment they step foot on campus, especially among those who live in residence dorms with dining halls. At first mention, the name sounds almost hyperbolical – a pure exaggeration among college students who have sidetracked their eating habits and ended up gaining a few extra pounds. However, with each mention of the dreaded Freshman Fifteen experience from upperclassmen and the sympathetic nod given by knowing sophomores, to many freshmen, this myth has grown to be larger than life.
In reality, the “Freshman Fifteen” myth is one that has been and is currently being researched by health professionals nationwide. Researchers hope to find substantial evidence and data to help improve college nutrition and tackle issues of obesity that arise from students when they reach adulthood. The state of Alabama has conducted a 2012 research on a select pool of students at Auburn University, tracking their weight gain and body composition throughout the four years of their college experience. From this study, data reveals that the students from Auburn undergo similar weight gain patterns represented in over 60% of college freshmen nationwide. The study tracks not only weight gain, but also increases in body fat to ensure that there is no misrepresentation in students who gain muscle mass.
The Alabama analysis stated that the average weight gain among those students was 6 pounds, but only a slim 5% of the study actually gained the Freshman Fifteen. In addition, a recent analysis published in May 2015 by BMC Obesity states that “the first term is the most critical period” of weight gain in college students.
In conclusion, the Freshman Fifteen can be either fact or fiction, depending on a variety of choices that you make living on campus. For many, the early months of college are the first experience living away from home and could result in unhealthy choices of diet. Popular among college students are packaged or frozen foods, notably ramen, Hot Pockets and microwavable dinners which are easy to make, but lack proper nutritional value. In addition, stress-eating binges are also very common during midterms, finals or just in-between weeks of heavy workload.
You may be asking yourself, in a mindset of desperation: well, what can I do?
As a freshman, you have a lot of liberties which result into a lot of choices, especially living on-campus. There are many ways for you to stay active, and even small changes, such as walking to that one really far class instead of biking or skateboarding, could lead you on the path to improvement. Many campuses have an open track or a gym students are encouraged to take advantage of, and if the idea of running miles on an open track or treadmill doesn’t seem appealing to you, yoga and Zumba classes are always available in the facilities.
The health mindset is contagious among individuals – many are subconsciously compelled to make healthier choices around peers encourage fitness or eating clean. A good idea is inviting your roommate or even your fellow floormates to go work out with you, whether it be attending that hip-hop workshop or simply taking a jog around campus. With a creative and motivated approach on health, the Freshman Fifteen will be easier to avoid than the common cold. After all, an hour of working out is only 6% of your day, and this hour could be coupled with other activities to make it more efficient (doing that required reading on an exercise bike).
Finally, the health choices in your dining hall are also critical to maintaining fitness. There is a saying in the fitness community that “abs are made in the kitchen,” and if aiming for abs is a bit too radical for your health agenda, the saying speaks volumes about the importance of what you place in your body. Instead of getting that soft serve after your meal (we’ve all been guilty of that), opt for a banana. Instead of drinking sodas or artificially flavored drinks, get a refreshing smoothie. Also, remember that food triangle you were taught in the second grade? Make sure your plate is divided proportionally between fruits, veggies, carbs and protein for a balanced meal.
Let’s be real: no one wants the Freshman Fifteen. But, if you end up gaining a few extra pounds along the way until the end of the semester, don’t hold it against yourself. You can offer yourself a cheat day, or maybe even a cheat weekend! Life, especially during college, can get in the way, and often times, making the healthiest choice can be hard.
But when times get hard - remember: GPA is temporary, health is forever.