By Lauren Winters, RD, LD, and Kasi Wolfe, RD, LD
“Freshman 15” is a scary phrase that most college students have heard before. The good news is that studies have found the Freshman 15 to be more of a myth than inevitable fact. According to a long-term study, students actually gain about 1 (that’s one) pound during their freshman year (1). Other research suggests freshman may gain about 3.5 pounds (2). Over the course of 4 years of college, there may be some weight gain (14.1 pounds for men and 8.3 pounds for women), but this was actually less weight gain than for those who did not attend college (14.8 pounds for men and 14.6 pounds for women) (3).
Nonetheless, college is an important time of transition and it’s important to develop healthy habits while heading into adulthood.
· Listen to your body. When you feel hungry, eat a healthy meal or snack. When you feel full take a minute to notice the feeling of fullness and go do another activity.
· Pay attention to why you are eating. Is it stress or boredom? If you find you are eating for these reasons try meeting up with a friend or go for a walk.
· Don’t try to get “your money’s worth” from an all you can eat cafeteria. On average college students pay $6.25 per meal on a college meal plan. Eating more than your body needs isn’t a good deal and can cause weight gain (3).
· Be mindful of liquid calories. Reduce your intake of regular consumption of energy drinks, sodas, and other beverages with added sugars. Opt for fewer calorie beverages such as water, sparkling waters, low-fat or fat-free milk, coffee.
· Plan healthy meals for yourself. Make vegetables and fruits fill up half of your plate. Add lean protein at each meal. Mix in dairy and whole grains to fill in when you feel hungry.
o Breakfast: Omelet with peppers, mushrooms, spinach, and cheese
o Snack: String cheese
o Lunch: Stir-fried broccoli, peppers, 6oz chicken, over ½ cup brown rice
o Snack: Apple with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
o Dinner: 2 cups of mixed greens topped with onion and tomatoes, 5 oz beef
· Plan social events around activities other than food. An occasional pizza night is fine but try to plan more activities that aren’t food focused. Get a group together to play board games, go cheer on a sports game, or explore a nearby park.
· Stock your fridge or shelf with healthy snacks. Bring veggies like cucumbers, mini peppers, carrots, and cherry tomatoes to share at late-night study sessions. Keep string cheese or tuna pouches on hand for a quick protein. Take an apple or banana for the road when you walk out of the cafeteria. Your brain needs food, so you’ll want to be prepared with healthy snacks.
The Freshman 15 is not as big of a threat as it is made out to be. With good nutrition and proper planning students can focus on growing into healthy, brilliant adults.
References 1. Baum, C.L. Demography (2017) 54: 311. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-016-0530-6
2. Fedewa, M.V., Bhibaha, M. D., Evans, E.M., Dishman, R. K. (2014) 47(5), 641-652. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2014.07.035
3. Ordway, D. M. (2017). The Freshman 15: Does College Cause Students to Gain Weight? Journalist’s Resource: Research on today’s news topics. https://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/public-health/freshman-15-college-student-weight-gain/