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Expert Q&A: Avoiding the Freshman 15

An interview with Connie Diekman, MEd, RD
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

The dreaded freshman 15. You likely remember this phenomenon from your own coed years. You may even be living through it -- or trying to avoid it -- right now. So you know it is more than just an urban myth: College students do tend to pack on the pounds during their first year at school for a host of reasons from late-night eating fests, all-you-can-eat dining halls, lack of exercise, and alcohol use/abuse.

To find put more about this phenomenon as well as how to avoid the dreaded freshman 15, WebMD spoke with Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, LD, FADA, the director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis and a past president of the American Dietetic Association. Here's what she had to say.

 

What is the freshman 15? And is it really always 15 pounds?

The freshman 15 is a legend in college history. It refers to weight gain that college freshmen tend to gain during their first year at college. Most freshmen do not gain the dreaded 15 pounds. Fifteen pounds is more of an average, which means a lot of freshmen are gaining more and a lot are gaining less.

What makes first-year students so susceptible to weight gain?

Coming to college is a big change for young adults. They are confronted with food any hour of the day and there is no one telling them what or when to eat. They have to learn to choose both what and when to eat for themselves and they are also going to a schedule where no one tells them what to do, so they may forget to exercise. College is about the time where young women switch to an adult female metabolism, so they may not be able to eat as much as they used to and still keep their weight stable.

What happens sophomore, junior, and senior years?

As kids move through their college years, they learn how to schedule themselves so they understand when and what to eat even though food is available all the time and their weight levels off. By the time most females reach senior year, they have cycled to the weight they were when they entered college. Boys don’t physically mature until later, so they tend to weigh more when they graduate college than they did when they started as freshman.

Is there any way to avoid the freshman 15?

Eating snacks or mini-meals after every three or four hours can help avoid bingeing. The challenge is really learning how to incorporate healthy eating and exercise into a schedule that is very demanding. I remind students that this is not too different from the life they will graduate into, so they should learn now how to make it a part of what they do now.

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