Ways to Fight the 'Freshman 15'
Sept. 7, 2000 -- New living quarters, new courses, new friends,
new levels of stress, and plenty of food. Little wonder, the experts say, that
college freshmen often gain weight, or what's more commonly known as the
dreaded "freshman 15."
"Everything is so new that it makes perfect sense why it
happens," says Kathleen Zellman, RD, American Dietetic Association
spokeswoman in Atlanta. She adds: "These kids often get into a feeding
frenzy where they can have as much food as they want. They're in the cafeteria
all the time, with self-serve ice cream and desserts. Coupled with
experimentation with alcohol and not finding the time to exercise, they keep
falling prey to the 15 pounds."
"I think a lot of it is that it's stressful," says
Barbara Rolls, PhD, of the College of Health and Human Development at
Pennsylvania State University in University Park. "They're not familiar
with the food and situations." Mom might have cooked chicken using a
low-fat recipe, she says, while the school's cook could be drowning it in
But there are ways to fend off the freshman 15, says Rolls,
who's come up with 15 tips. College-bound students can pretty much guess what
some of them are: more fresh fruit, plenty of vegetables, low-fat eating, and
more fiber in the diet.
Rolls also says it might be a good time to kick -- or at least
lighten -- the soft-drink habit, noting that a serving of soda can contain 125
to 500 calories. And make sure a solid -- but relatively low-fat -- breakfast
is consumed. "We really are in the middle of an obesity epidemic. It's not
just freshmen, and it's related to all kinds of dire health consequences,"
But few groups have been so tied to weight gain as college
freshmen. Part of the problem, Rolls says, is that nutrition takes a backseat
to social commitments, classes, and other demands on time. "We all know.
We've just eaten dinner and friends say, 'Let's go out and get ice cream,' or,
'Let's get a beer.'" And alcohol, a calorie cow all on its own, is an
especially dangerous promoter of overeating, Rolls says, because it's often
accompanied by fatty, salty foods -- such as potato chips.
In truth, not even the cafeteria salad bar is completely safe
if students aren't careful. "A few years ago, a study found the biggest
percentage of fat calories in young women's diets came from salad dressings. So
the salad bar can undermine the desire to eat fewer calories," Rolls says.
"The salad bar can be a disaster."
Some other warnings and suggestions from Rolls:
- Bottom line: Calories count. If you eat more than your body needs, you'll
- Listen to your body, and don't eat when you're not hungry.
- Snacking can be OK because it controls hunger at meals, but watch what you
- Include lean protein in your diet, such as lean beef, turkey or chicken
breast without the skin, fish, and beans. Protein can help control hunger, and
your body needs it.
- Watch out for emotional overeating: Don't eat because you're stressed or
- Remember that eating with friends can sometimes lead to eating when you're
not hungry, or eating that dessert you might have avoided.
- You will encounter new, unfamiliar foods; learn about the calories and
nutrients in these foods.