Avoiding the Freshmen 15

As a parent one of our key responsibilities is raising healthy children. We have several years to set good examples and provide nutritious meals, but what happens when your child goes off to college? The freedom that a student experiences when starting college can have both positive and negative outcomes. One of the most common negative outcomes of college freedom is the Freshmen 15. On average freshmen gain 15 pounds in their first year of college. Unfortunately, habits that are created during that first year have a tendency to stick throughout adulthood.

Dorm room living may contribute to unhealthy food choices. Given limited space, a small refrigerator and only a microwave some students choose convenience foods such as Ramen noodles, chips or cookies, cereal or instant oatmeal. Encourage them to keep healthier alternatives in their room instead such as hummus with prepackaged vegetables, yogurt and fresh fruit. These foods can decrease the amount of saturated fat, sugar and simple carbohydrates they consume.

The cafeteria buffet is also cited as one of the reasons for weight gain. The all-you-can-eat buffet leads to portion distortion and poor food choices. Overloading a plate is common as is skipping vegetables, especially without a parent reminding them that fresh fruit and vegetables are healthy, satisfying, filling choices.

Social life plays a major role in the Freshman 15. Eating out, meeting to study at a café or dive, going out on the town and drinking alcohol all contributes to calories that are dense and nutritionally limited or deplete of any nutrition. The consumption of alcohol also contributes to binging on junk food including highly processed, calorically dense snacks that cause weight gain.

Exercise is one tool that may curb the weight gain, but it’s very hard to exercise away extra weight. When students can choose their schedule of studying, social life and recreation, exercise can sometimes be at the bottom of the list.

Lastly, meal patterns are typically irregular especially during the freshman year when the novice student is figuring college life out. Do to the demands of class time, studying and socializing, many students find themselves eating a fourth meal of the day or making poor snack choices with sugary beverages and calories dense foods to help them stay awake to accomplish tasks or activities.

College is a transition period that unfortunately causes weight gain in many freshmen. Knowing the culprits and having a plan to deal with situations and reasons that usually contribute to the weight gain can help your student avoid the extra pounds and start their college path on the right foot.

By: Molly McBrayer, Clinical Manager Bariatric and Metabolic Services