The Freshman 15: College Weight Gain

The Freshman 15: College Weight Gain

What is the Freshman 15?

The Freshman 15 is a term used to describe the average weight gain of a first year college student.  “15” is a bit overstated, as the average freshman gains between 5 and 10 pounds in their first year at school.

What causes the Freshman 15?

Beer, junk food and snacks (especially late night snacks) are among the biggest culprits. 

Also, university cafeteria food is notoriously fat-laden. High-cal fare like pizza, burgers, and burritos are cafeteria staples, and rarely will students chose a low calorie salad when bins of fried chicken and French fries are just a few feet away.

In addition to the cafeteria, students are likely to find coffee shops, convenience stores, vending machines, and of course fast food restaurants all within walking distance from their dorm. And because alcohol consumption is practically a social requirement (it’s not Friday night without a kegger), the calories from all those beers and shots quickly add up.

Why do more women seem to be affected by the Freshman 15 than men?

College women tend to eat a higher percentage of their daily calories as junk snacks than their male counterparts. Much of this may be due to a greater degree of emotional eating amongst college females, during this exciting but stressful transition year. Women are more likely than men to rely on their comfort foods to cope with feelings of social pressure and homesickness.

Combine this with the fact that a woman’s metabolism is slower than a man’s and it’s easy to see how the pounds can pile up.

How can I fight the Freshman 15?

Stash a copy of Eat This, Not That! in your backpack so that you’ll always be able to single out your healthiest options at nearby restaurants and chains.

If your budget allows, rent or buy a mini-fridge for your room so that you can keep low-cal foods on hand and depend less on the dorm meals. Some good options: Haier HMSEO3WAWW Refridgerator/Freezer ($115) or Danby Mini Fridge with Freezer ($150).

Use your degree’s elective requirements to take high intensity P.E. classes for extra insurance. Some colleges even offer courses specifically designed to result in weight loss.

And tell Mom not to send cookie care packages!

What are my lowest calorie cafeteria food options?

Non-creamy soups (vegetable, chicken noodle, etc.) are universally low-cal, and of course, salads (without high fat dressing).

But to really take control of calories, take the healthiest components of meals around the room to create your own low-cal meal. Example: Grab a tortilla from the sandwich or Mexican station and fill it with Caesar salad for a healthy wrap. Steal a grilled chicken breast from another station, chop it up, and add it to veggie soup for a filling meal.

If you do indulge in higher calorie fare, don’t treat the buffet like a trough. Consider using a salad plate as your dinner plate for automatic portion control.

Can I drink and still avoid the Freshman 15?

Well, do the math. The typical 12-ounce can of beer has 150 calories, and because rare is the college partygoer that stops after one beer, alcohol calories can quickly add up. Would you eat four large bags of Cheetos in one evening? No? Then sober up to these statistics:

5 12-ounce beers = 700-800 calories
5 shots of liquor = 550-1,000 calories
5 8-ounce margaritas = 2,000-2,600 calories

Avoiding drinking altogether is the best way to ward off unnecessary college weight gain, but if you’re going to indulge, have a Budweiser Select 55 (55 calories), a Beck’s Premiere Light (64 calories), or a Mike’s Hard Lemonade Light (98 calories).

What other resources are there to help me fight the Freshman 15?

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a kitchen or live in an apartment, pick up a copy of The Healthy College Cookbook or College Cooking: Feed Yourself and Your Friends and whip up your own low-calorie, inexpensive meals.

And consider taking a college course on healthy eating (hey, it counts as an elective and it beats “The History of Pottery”).

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