Students making it through those first few weeks of freshman year of college are warned of many things, but one has been common for decades –- avoid the Freshman 15. This fearsome thought that even those with the most athletic physiques will balloon within a year, has been haunting incoming freshmen for years. There is more to this, however. It can be more about health than it is about weight. And where did this purported 15 come from, and why does it still haunt us? More importantly, how do we beat it?
Tips and Tricks to Avoid the Freshman 15
What concerns most incoming college students when they look at the weight gain that comes with the new course load purely comes from image. They are worried that they will no longer look like that slender person in their high school yearbook and want to do anything to avoid the freshman 15. The reality is that the pounds you are putting on are symptoms of underlying problems all first-time college students face.
First comes the disorder that comes from a new lifestyle, and with it comes considerable amounts of stress. Now that these students are away from the routines of home, freshmen now have a lack a supervision that lead to poor dietary choices. The weight gain is a result of a coping mechanism to deal with all these new changes –- with one of most dangerous ones being heavy alcohol drinking. This can all add up in the future –- people who are overweight when they are younger have a higher likelihood of staying that way when they are adults.
Academically, the freshmen 15 is a threat as well. The unhealthy food choices made by stress affect concentration, energy and memory. The lack of brain power will increase stress, which means more comfort food, creating a feedback loop that may never end. Psychologically, the fear of weight gain is enough to incite serious eating disorders making people desperate to avoid the freshman 15.
So where did the myth of the freshman 15 begin? The first mention of an explosive weight gain entering college in the US was mentioned in the New York Times in 1981, but it was truly known as the “Freshman 15” in an issue of Seventeen Magazine eight years later. This is only from media perspectives — scientifically, it was in 1985 when a sudden weight gain was explored by experts. It is not much of a surprise that it showed up on magazine steered towards teenage girls –- statistics show that female students stress eat more than male students, and their metabolic change occurs during that time frame as well.
The real truth, however, is that it is, in fact, a myth. Numerous studies have shown that, while college students do gain some weight when they begin their first year, it is nowhere near double digits. In reality, those dreaded 15 pounds may pile on throughout the years as a student attends school. Many universities are actually trying to stop the use of the phrase to bring down undue fears in first-year students, but its prevalence is very strong.
What freshmen should remember is that the Freshman 15 is a myth -– statistically there’s barely five to shed -– and to not let the fear get to them. Everyone on campus does not just magically gain weight. However, just thinking about it brings on more undue stress that will lead to very poor dietary choices making it near impossible to avoid the freshman 15.
While all that available cafeteria food can be tempting, consider having a few healthy snacks on hand whenever hunger strikes. Freshmen who were active back in high school should continue their daily routine, perhaps make it a part of their trip from campus to your dorm. Pick a time that works best for you –- even if that means going to your school’s gym in the middle of the night for twenty minutes. Most importantly, be very careful when it comes to excessive drinking. It is a massive source of calories doing absolutely nothing for the body and leading to very dangerous choices ahead.
There is a lot of help available regarding stress eating that can be found at the college’s counseling center. The faster freshman reach out to a counselor regarding this, the better their diet will be. Better yet, parents should look at how their kids are doing –- severe changes in weight should be a sign that things might not be going well.
Knowing some tactics to help freshman “ avoid the freshman 15” might not be enough. Just so that parents know what they can get for their kids for care packages, we’ve listed some useful choices below:
- Yoga Mat – if there is no time to go to the gym, then at least take the opportunity to pull out the mat and do a few push-ups, crunches or actual yoga positions if time allows it. Make sure to not forget it exists once the college days are over, however, and keep using it for all it’s got.
- Dumbbells – there is no need to get an entire set, one is enough. It is safe to use compared to other equipment that can be brought into a dorm room. Better yet, they are very useful if a student lives in a very limited space. There are styles for both men and women available.
- Easy Recipe Books – in a world where people look for recipes online daily, it can be super-useful to have a paper one just in case. It can also serve as a reminder that there is more to life than chips and soda for breakfast.
College life puts many students through a series of tests outside of the class that will make anyone stress eat, drink too much or just stop taking care of themselves altogether. There are too many health and mental risks hidden in the myth of the freshman 15. But there are many ways to shed that silly idea from your body and mind with the right tools and ideas. Hopefully by exams it will be a fleeting idea.
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