The Freshman Fifteen



Matt Kelly

As September rolls in, summer is rolling out and that means saying goodbye to tiny bikinis and the bathing builds. (Somebody better tell those two girls left on Sheehan Beach!) Of course, with hectic schedules, homework and new classes, suddenly washboard stomachs don’t rank as high a priority as they did a few months ago.

But putting fitness on the back burner, while battling the stress of campus life — especially for the first time — could leave you battling the bulge known as the dreaded Freshman 15.

With a new roommate, new professors and a new environment to adapt to, most incoming freshman find it difficult to balance a healthy diet with getting good grades, let alone finding the time to exercise.

Elizabeth Somer a registered dietician said, “The stress of handling rigorous studies and being away from parents for the first time in an environment with unlimited access to food can quickly result in weight gain. And if freshmen use food to soothe emotional needs instead of hunger, putting on 15 pounds is quite possible.”

Still, some say that the notion of the Freshman 15 is simply a myth that has become folklore around dormitories and dining halls. Anecdotal data suggest that weight gain does often occur in the first year away from home. Still the data suggest it really depends on the indivdual person.

Other experts believe that weight gain during the first year of college is inevitable. In fact, it is estimated that up to 75 percent of college students will put on a few pounds. “I have counseled enough students over the last few years to know that the Freshman 15 is not a myth,” said Kate Cerulli, a dietician at Salisbury University. “Many students have told me that it really should be called the Freshman 25.

The great debate among researchers has caused some in the field to experiment. Researchers in Iowa tracked a group of female freshmen, monitoring their weight and attitudes about gaining weight at the beginning and end of their first year.

The results found that although more than half the students did put on weight, the gain was generally less than five pounds. And, more than a third actually lost weight.

The students who were most worried about the dreaded Freshman 15 were most likely to think they’d put on weight, even if they hadn’t.

Researchers say that the Freshman 15 myth is a potentially dangerous one. “Students may feel that weight gain is inevitable, turning the myth into the self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Pat Kendall, a nutrition specialist at Colorado State University.

One of the hardest things for new students to adjust to is the variety of choices for meal time – which often includes fast foods that are high in calories – and late night snacking hours.

Here at the University, students have access to six different dining halls. The Spit on South Campus offers variety, while the Pit and St. Mary’s serve up more traditional meal. The Italian Kitchen in Dougherty Hall dishes, you guessed it, Italian.

Also for convenience, the Belle-Air Terrace in Connelly accommodates students looking to grab a quick bite on the run. Careful though, meal plan is only accepted here during certain hours.

The freedom to decide for the first time “what’s for dinner” is what often leads to an expanded waistline. If you love hamburgers and cheese fries and these items are always on the menu, you may be tempted to eat them more often.

Timing is also imperative. Late night food orders to Campus Corner or junk food cravings while cramming in the early morning hours also affect weight gain.

But trips to the candy counter aren’t always a bad thing, especially after a stressful day.

And remember, gaining a few pounds never hurt anyone, so don’t get worked up if a couple pounds creep up on the scale. (Just keep telling yourself it’s broken.) Still, you don’t want to be the person no one recognizes at Christmas, or worse, the person they ask to play Santa. After all, nothing compares to natural padding.

The key to eating healthy and maintaining an active academic and social life is awareness, exercise and moderation.

You are what you eat: When watching your weight, it’s important to watch what you eat. Load your plate with fruits, whole grains, beans and lean meat. Pile on the vegetables at the salad bar, but go easy on the dressings or pasta.

Midnight Snacks: Late night food cravings are dangerous because the food is left to sit in your stomach rather than burn off through daily activities.

Hit the Gym: Many students stay in shape by working out in the gyms on campus (South and West). The facilities provide equipment such as treadmills and weights, and operate at hours that are convenient for student needs. St. Mary’s even has a pool.

Stay Active: Maybe you don’t want to sweat at the gym, but experts say the key to avoiding pounds is regular exercise. Students burn a lot of calories walking to class, especially when you have to get from Bartley to St. Mary’s in 10 minutes! Or stay in shape the fun way, by getting involved in an ultimate Frisbee game.

Forbidden Fruit: By saying you can never have a particular item, it becomes more desirable. Instead of forbidding yourself from eating your favorite fattening snacks, just limit your intake of these particular items. Moderation is the key.

Drinking: You can also gain weight from drinking too much alcohol, as it is packed with calories. Why else would they call them “beer bellies”?

Avoid Bad Solutions: Don’t try to lose weight through diet pills or smoking. Diet pills are dangerous drugs that can cause eating disorders or even death. And smoking to lose weight? While some believe it may result in a slimmer waste line (the nicotine preventing the urge to eat), research proves it also results in blacker lungs!