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The Weight Gain Myth of the Freshman 15

written by: Olivia Emisar•edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 12/9/2011

Going away to college? The last thing you are considering is weight gain, but there is a rumor that just won't die: "Freshmen gain 15 or more pounds in their first year of college." Is it true? For some students it might be, but for the majority, keeping unwanted weight off is rarely a problem.

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    The Myth

    Freshman 15 No one knows who started it, but the myth of college freshmen gaining 15 pounds or more has been throughly debunked through scientific studies. Aging plays an important factor in weight gain, as does muscle building, but student life is far too active to attribute such a massive increase in weight on being a student alone. It is true that the media has focused on the carefree lifestyle of students who indulge in massive beer drinking and pizza consumption, but the fact is that most students spend more time on academics than at the local pub.

    While it is true that beer packs in the pounds, so does a sedentary lifestyle in between classes. Incorporating exercise into a daily grind of academic work is not only a smart and easy way to keep in shape, but a great way to get college credits and reduce stress. Exercise releases the "feel good" chemicals in our brains known as endorphins and a positive outlook helps people manage life's stresses better. The first year of incorporating exercise as part of the curriculum will make it possible to continue incorporating exercise the following years as part of a healthy and comfortable routine.

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    Living On Campus

    As a young adult of 18 or 19 living on campus, the main requirements include knowing the basic layout of the dorm rooms, where the semester classes are located, and most importantly, where to get food on short notice. For those living on a budget, meal preparation and consumption is often relegated to vending machines, the dollar menu at fast food places, and the inevitable instant dry noodle soups known as Ramen. Can anyone gain weight on this diet? For a sedentary person, the answer is yes.

    Typically a student walks more while living on campus than they have in their past life, classes are spread far in between, and there are tons of activities around campus that require putting a foot in front of the other. College life is typically active and most students burn calories on excitement and stress alone. The food source may be unhealthy in fat contents and calories, but physical and mental work takes care of burning off the greasy fare. Unfortunately, there is not much by way of nutrition in the above mentioned menu and a healthy brain and body is in need of vitamins, minerals and lean protein to function properly and stave off illness and lethargy. What is a student to do?

    Nutrition Food Services

    If the tuition includes a menu plan, making the effort to select the best possible meals offered at the school should be a no-brainer and a lot easier in modern times than it was in the past. Many school cafeterias cater to health conscious individuals by offering fruits and vegetables in their daily line-up. Starting with a soup loaded with vegetables is not only nutritious but satisfying; choosing sandwiches made with whole grain breads is a healthy alternative that provides needed soluble fiber. Forgo the soft drinks and indulge in a glass of tomato or orange juice to boost your intake of vitamin C.

    It is a lie that pizza is a vegetable even if it contains tomato sauce and the occasional string of bell pepper. Stocking up on healthy snacks for the dorm room is essential to avoid rushing into poor decisions.

    Keep on hand the following:

    • Protein bars to keep the brain functioning properly during stressful study times and late night cravings.
    • Apples and bananas stay fresh for days and are easy to carry and consume on the way to class.
    • Dry fruits, nuts, beef or turkey jerky are portable and satisfying snacks.
    • Microwave popcorn is satisfying snack that provides fiber.
    • Bottled water and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice instead of soda or sports drinks.

    Campbell's makes microwavable soup bowls that include many of the favorite varieties found in their canned version. Keeping a few on hand will help prevent reaching for cold and greasy pizza during a study break and provide comfort associated with home life.

    *Note: Planning and sticking to a regular meal schedule allows the body to forgo storing unnecessary fat.

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    Living Off Campus

    Living off campus provides additional opportunities to stave off the pounds and eat healthier meals but it also provides ample opportunity to do just the opposite because a larger refrigerator means additional storage for empty calories. Take-out food is typically loaded with fat and lacking in nutrition but easy to have delivered or picked up on the way home. Learn to discipline yourself into home cooking with fresh vegetables and avoid the campus facilities and fast food places along the way by using some of the following methods:

    • Invest in an inexpensive slow cooker and have a meal waiting for you when you get home or a new electric pressure cooker that will have a savory beef stew ready in 20 minutes.
    • Budget accordingly and purchase foods that pack a nutritional punch and avoid prepared packages filled with more preservatives than there is actual food.
    • Buy canned goods that have the fewest ingredients on the label and strive for those labeled organic.
    • Cook whole grains and vegetables as part of the main meals that include breakfast. Cut steel oats are nutritious and will stave hunger for a few hours. They are also inexpensive.
    • The same staples of nuts, popcorn, beef jerky and protein bars apply in this situation for a quick snack or rushing out the door as breakfast on the go.

    Experiment making meals with whole grains such as buck wheat (Kasha) and amino-acid rich quinoa. The point is to plan what will go into your body before you are forced to satisfy hunger with instantly available choices that will pack in the pounds. Whole grain pasta delivers nutrition at the same price as enriched pasta. Seasoned tomato sauce over brown rice and steamed vegetables will help keep the fat away and make for a satisfying hot meal. Stock your pantry with healthy staples and you will always have something good to eat that in turn, is good for you.

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    Concerns

    It is a fact that most parents are concerned about their college students not eating enough or enough good food to stay healthy. This is a valid concern since school can be stressful and students now have to manage new information and routines while setting boundaries between freedom and responsibility. More often than not, eating is either a low priority on the list, or a source of instant comfort and obsession.

    Gaining or losing an excessive amount of weight indicates a life out of control — students need to know how and when to get help from school counselors and that they can call home at any time to receive the boost of support and practical advice they need to handle life on their own.

    Do you have some tips to share with our readers? We'd love to hear from you and learn from your experience.

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