Many college students gain more than knowledge during freshman year.
A 2015 NBC story reported freshman gain weight at 5.5 times the rate of the general population.
Freshman 15 findings vary. Some studies report the average first-year weight gain is three pounds, while others say it is 10. Some simply credit weight gain to aging.
Regardless of findings, there are healthy habits students can begin and maintain to avoid the Freshman 15 or to lose weight if already gained.
Find the problem’s source
Many factors can contribute to the Freshman 15. Kari Mizgalski, a registered dietitian at Marshfield Clinic, suggests three:
- Drinking alcohol: Parents monitor activities less when students leave home. College students might binge drink or increase alcohol intake overall. “Alcohol adds a lot of calories to a person’s diet,” Mizgalski said, “especially if those drinks are fruity with more sugar, like wine coolers or margaritas.”
- Changing meal plans: Less homemade meals, more ramen and fast food. This can be particularly true for freshmen with unlimited meal plans. They might hit the cafeteria thinking “I already purchased this meal plan so I might as well eat whatever I want,” she said. This thinking can hurt eating habits.
- Busy schedules: Between work, classes and a social life, students might eat on the go. This can lead to poor decisions, like fast food or overeating.
Lose the Freshman 15
“I always tell people there are no weight loss miracle foods,” Mizgalski said, “but increasing fruit and vegetable intake can help.”
Try this plate portion rule: Half of your plate is fruits and veggies, a quarter is lean protein and the last quarter can be starch like pasta, rice or potatoes.
The more plants a person eats, the better, she said. Vegetables satisfy hunger and keep the stomach full longer.
Maintaining the loss
Students living on their own this fall should shop for fresh vegetables and fruits once a week, Mizgalski said.
“If once a week is too much, buy fresh fruits and veggies for the first week and frozen fruits and vegetables to hold you over for a second week,” she said.
Students returning to dorm living and unlimited cafeteria meal plans should practice mindful eating. Ask yourself: Am I actually hungry? Am I full yet? It takes 20 minutes for the brain to realize you’re full, so take your time eating.
It’s also important to get enough sleep; exercise 30-60 minutes each day; consistently practice the plate portion rule; and choose healthier options.
Though it may go without saying, decreasing alcohol consumption will also help students keep off the Freshman 15.
“College students are still young,” Mizgalski said. “It’s a good time to start healthy habits. Once you get a desk job and are sitting all day, it’s only going to be harder to lose weight.”