What They Don't Tell You About the Freshman Fifteen


One piece of advice many people told me as I prepared to enter college was to keep an eye out for the dreaded Freshman Fifteen. I was warned that the dining halls would provide me with access to tons of irresistible food, and that these meals would accumulate until my weight was much, much higher. I had my doubts about how true this actually was, so I did a bit of research. Here’s what I found:


1. The name is wildly inaccurate.


The term “Freshman 15” first appeared in Seventeen Magazine in the late 1980's, and gained popularity in the common vernacular from there. However, studies have shown that such a high weight gain in the first year of college rarely happens. In fact, the average number is somewhere around three to five pounds, and even though weight gain continues throughout college, you likely won’t be dealing with such a fast, stark change.


2. Physical changes, including some weight gain, are natural throughout college.


Just because we’re not all wearing braces or dealing with our first zit doesn’t mean we’re in the clear with puberty just yet. Another study found in their analysis that the college freshmen they sampled only gained about a half pound more than non-college students of the same age, which means that not all of this is due to dining hall food. Weight gain is an extremely common sign of puberty, especially among girls, as our body shape changes. So even though a lot of our health is related to what we eat and how we exercise, keep in mind that you can’t always expect to stay the same weight you were at sixteen forever.


3. The paranoia around the Freshman Fifteen can have serious repercussions.


I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to eat healthy or exercise, but obsession about anything can cause a lot of harm, and weight gain is no exception. The rhetoric most people, including the media, tend to use when discussing the Freshman Fifteen can be dangerous for teenagers, who get a lot of their information from the media and can lead to eating disorders or other concerning behavior. Watching what you eat is a good way to stay healthy, but please make sure that your methods aren’t going to hurt you in another way.


4. Still worried about weight gain? Here are healthy strategies to help you out.


Always be aware that you shouldn’t change your eating or exercise habits to be “thin” or “pretty” or to fit any other controversial standard set by society, but rather to be healthy; and no, skinny and healthy don’t always go hand in hand. Hopefully this article has helped you think about your motivations a bit more, now that you know the truth about the so-called Freshman Fifteen.

If you’re planning on monitoring what you eat, make sure you’re getting enough nutrition; you can use the USDA’s MyPlate to help you out. You shouldn’t be eating six cookies with every meal, but don’t think that a tiny bowl of lettuce with no protein is going to do the trick, either. It’s also recommended that you get about thirty minutes of exercise a day, whatever that means to you: walking, running, yoga, cardio, etc. Make sure you know your limits, as pushing yourself too far can lead to injury. And don't be reluctant to reach out to Barnard's Nutritionist or Dining Services to assist you in your journey to health.

Overall, the Freshman Fifteen is a wildly controversial phenomenon that isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. Being vigilant and staying informed about who you listen to and how you respond can go a long way to helping you maintain a healthy lifestyle.