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freshman_15Those heading to college often worry about the possibility of weight gain in their first year. We’ve all heard the alarming phrase, the “Freshman 15” – everybody gains 15 pounds in their first year of college. Well, first of all, it’s actually more like the freshman three. Not quite as scary right? A 2011 Social Science Quarterly study actually showed that freshmen only gain between two and a half to three and a half pounds. That’s an average – some gain more, some gain less, but it’s not nearly fifteen.

So, technically, the Freshman 15 may be a college legend, but there’s truth to it: college brings change, freedom, excitement and, unfortunately, unforeseen stress to new students. Homesickness can find students comfort eating and weight gain can happen. How can you tackle it?

Eat healthy

Most freshmen (even many not residing in the dorms) pay for a meal plan; you usually have to intentionally opt out, or it will be automatically added to your fees. And that can be the downfall of many students. While it’s a nice thing not to have to worry about where your next meal is coming from, since it’s prepaid, it can also trick you into eating more: “I paid for this, I’m eating it all!” Plus, your school’s dining hall is usually going to be buffet style, so that can sabotage you too – a little bit of everything goes a long way.

The cafeteria will have health options, but you may have to look for them and think your meals through a little more. If it’s all french fries and processed meats, complain. They may not like it, but in this competitive environment, with so many schools looking for students, colleges listen to student demands.

Take control of your plate. Michael Pollan’s advice is always appropriate: eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

Get regular exercise

It’s a college – there are probably options for exercise that won’t cost you anything. Find your campus gym, or health and wellness center. You may even have a pool on campus! If you paid your student fees, it’s already paid for, so don’t waste it.

You don’t need to be a gym rat; you can find social clubs that emphasize moving or get involved in an intramural sport. Even fun games like bowling or frisbee golf, that you might not think of as sports, can help keep you active.

Better yet, ditch your car and get around by two wheels. Is your campus a League of American Bicyclists Bike Friendly University (BFU)? The BFU program recognizes colleges and universities for promoting and providing a more bikeable campus for its students and staff. Added points for bike share programs, bike co-ops, education classes and such puts colleges in a ranking with platinum, gold, silver or bronze status.

Some more helpful hints

There are a lot of typical mistakes that college students tend to make. Watch out for these:

  • don’t avoid eating just to drink more on a party day – it’ll make you eat more when you do eat and cancel out the fast.
  • stock up on smart snacks for between-class pick-me-ups (things like raw nuts, beef jerky, or bananas that give you energy and make you feel satisfied). Your schedule will have you all over campus; don’t fall prey to the vending machines.
  • don’t skip breakfast. This is the time to jump start your metabolism. People who eat breakfast eat less during the day.
  • if that freshman three and a half starts creeping in, don’t fixate on caloric intake. Eating disorders commonly begin from early adolescence to college-age, and they can plague you for the rest of your life. Instead, focus on healthy, active habits.

Final words

If you’re like most college freshmen, this will be the first time you’ve been totally responsible for yourself, and the freedom can be exciting, confusing, and overwhelming. And everyone responds to stress differently – some students will be too stressed to eat and lose weight. That’s not good either: food is fuel for your brain just like the rest of your body, and you need all the brain fuel you can get.