The rumors are true: The Freshman 15 is
real. Yes, it exists. Formerly made into a derogatory joke by such
novelties as T-shirts reading “Freshmen: Get ‘Em While
They’re Skinny,” the infamous weight gain has proved
itself to be a reality. But fear not, it is one that can definitely
be avoided.

Janna Hutz
Dorm cafeterias often contain calorie traps. (LAUREN SHLECTER/Daily)

Then why are new students still gaining weight? The phenomenon
becomes known to most while still in high school. Many students,
especially girls, come to campus with a seemingly inevitable black
cloud of extra pounds hanging over their heads. However, the real
culprit proves to be ignorance about good nutrition, among other
bad habits, striking freshmen as soon as they set foot on campus,
and often is unrelenting throughout one’s undergraduate
existence. These often-unapparent causes are the actual enemy when
it comes to fighting weight gain. It’s time the phantom
Freshman 15 came into the open.

In a recent study conducted by experts at Cornell University,
incoming freshmen were examined with the purpose of finally
uncovering the facts about campus weight gain. According to the
study, “The freshmen, on average, gained about 0.3 pounds per
week, which is almost 11 times more than the weekly weight gain
expected in 17 and 18-year-olds and almost 20 times more than the
average weight gain of an American adult.” What could
possibly be causing these mysterious pounds? The answers are more
obvious than we would like to think.

Ruth Blackburn, a residential dining hall nutrition specialist,
sees many of the same unhealthy habits in many of the students who
come to her with concerns about weight gain. For instance,
something as simple as skipping breakfast (a favorite bad habit of
freshmen) can generate a “feast or famine” reaction in
the body, causing all those late-night snacks later on to
metabolize slower.

Late-night snacks: a major habit that can put on the pounds
quicker that you can say, “I’d like to order a large
pizza.” The body burns fuel during the day, not at night,
when many college freshmen are consuming the majority of their

And what’s a college student’s ultimate favorite
snack? You guessed it — alcohol.

“Alcoholic beverages contribute a tremendous amount of
calories that people aren’t even aware of,” Blackburn

With nutrition habits like these, it’s not all that hard
to see why the average freshman has a hard time staying svelte at

Simple changes in other behaviors that all freshman face, simply
as part of becoming acquainted with college life, can also lead to
weight gain over time. The dining halls themselves, with their
all-you-can-eat buffet setups, entice freshmen to pile their plates
high and then lick them clean. Instead of asking, “What am I
really hungry for?” Residence hall diners tend to become
hungry for whatever they see in front of them, no matter the
nutrition contents. Dining halls contain calorie booby traps
lurking at every corner, even in something supposedly harmless,
such as a salad bar, where nuts, cheese and dressings abound with
no apparent limit. And since nobody’s watching over what you
eat, the amount of freedom when it comes to food is enough to make
most freshmen get lost in buffet euphoria and stuff themselves.

Other less obvious habits that automatically change once on
campus include the “eat-and-run” syndrome, causing
students to choose higher-fat (and easier to grab) foods over
healthier ones. Also, the high-stress atmosphere, Blackburn says,
causes the body to release stress hormones, making us crave sugar
and fat.

With all the odds bearing down on students, it seems as though
it would be impossible to avoid the Freshman 15 without completely
changing everything about a typical college freshman’s
lifestyle. This can be extremely stressful to the incoming freshman
psyche, especially in females.

“Body image is just something you are aware of in a new
setting,” explained LSA freshman Christy MacGillivray.

Many female freshmen may feel a new competitive aspect to social
life, leading to the desire to “stand out” in the huge
crowd, especially when it comes to impressing the opposite sex.
Problems like this often arise at big schools like the University,
because it’s “such a big school, so how are you gonna
stand out?” explained MacGillivray. The trouble starts when
girls mistake “standing out” with being exceptionally

When the new body awareness is coupled with an intense fear of
gaining weight, the result can be overwhelming and many girls lack
the nutritional information to sufficiently calm themselves
regarding the “great weight debate.” Even girls who
claim not to have cared in high school admit to having been a
little nervous when they first got to campus.

“At the end of senior year, I pretty much psyched myself
out,” said LSA freshman Maggie Fink.

Girls claim that the new setting adds a new spin on one’s
own body image. What used to be a genuine concern for good health
has become an attempt at self-improvement, simply for the sake of
“looking my best,” blurring the line between
“feeling healthy” and “being pretty.” These
feelings can lead to equally bad eating habits and disorders; given
all these incoming anxieties, it’s not surprising that many
freshman girls are simply scared to eat the food provided to them
by the University.

Since the Freshman 15 is more fact than fiction, it is important
to know how to avoid it in healthy ways. There is hope. There are
many simple behaviors that freshman can adopt to stay healthy
without starving.

Easy tactics, such as planning your intake before hitting the
cafeteria and thinking about what you really want to eat, can
immediately change food habits for the better. Other tips include
avoiding the hidden calorie traps in seemingly harmless foods, and
eating foods with naturally bright colors that can make a
healthier, happier student. Drinking lots of water and getting the
right amount of exercise also play a part in the fight against the
Freshman 15. Still craving late-night candy bars and ice cream?
“Grab an apple or a handful of carrots, instead,”
Blackburn suggested.

With all this information to think about while under oppressive
amounts of stress, the University’s role in student nutrition
is important. Programs held in residence halls, such as one
organized by a Markley resident adviser this year, attempt to quell
the crash-diet mania by teaching students about nutrition. The
program focused on elements such as portion size. Using cardboard
cutouts of food to give students an idea of, for example, what a
cup of rice might look like, residents were instructed in how to
choose reasonable portions.

Other helpful resources include MFit and MSmart plans which can
be found online, not to mention the nutrition facts posted above
each dish in the dining hall, giving students guidelines to follow
in order to make healthy choices.

Nobody expects anyone to be perfect; however, the Freshman 15 is
a menace that can be taken care of more easily than previously
thought. Small amounts of effort are all it takes to nip unneeded
weight gain in the bud, and nutritional resources and good habits
are all freshmen need in order to be healthier and happier people
all around. After all, there is school to think about.




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