Have you gained a few pounds since the start of this academic year? Are we talking about the double digits? Learn more about how you can fight this weight gain and lead a healthier lifestyle. Sure, it's getting close to the end of the semester and you may just want to continue your habit of eating chocolate bars and wearing your comfy sweats to school everyday, just until the end of exams after which you plan to get back on the treadmill. But, be cautious! You don't want to make the weight loss process any harder than it needs to be. So start thinking about avoiding any additional weight gain and pulling through the end of this semester on a healthier note.
The horror story of a 15-pound weight gain upon the first year of university/college has plagued generations of incoming freshmen, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to stop any time soon. So, is the “Freshman 15” more than just a standard colloquialism? Sure, we may have heard one or two upper years lament about their sudden first year weight gain, but that isn’t necessarily indicative of the entire population of college/university freshmen. The inner cynic in me is not convinced. But before we question whether or not the “Freshman 15” is real, we need to fully understand what it is and causes for its occurrence.
As mentioned previously, the “Freshman 15” is known as the gain of approximately 15 pounds in the first year of undergraduate studies. But it is really exactly 15 pounds? According to many scientific studies, the number “15” is nothing but a colloquialism – one study in particular conducted by Mihalopoulos et al. in 2008 analyzing the changes in weight of unmarried freshmen at a northwestern American private university demonstrated through the collection of data from an online survey on social behaviours and weight that in fact, only 50% of the student population gained weight while 15% lost weight. Looking purely at those who gained weight, the average increase of body mass was in fact 2.7 lbs, [i] a far cry from the popularized “15lbs”. In the same year, Delinsky and colleagues studied specifically 336 female first-year college students and discovered that there was average increase in weight of 1.5kg (or 3lbs) in the population, and amongst those who actually gained weight, the average mass gained was 3.3kg (or 7.32lbs). [ii] A more recent 2015 study documenting the changes in body weight, heartbeat, body mass index (BMI), body fat percentages, and blood pressure values of 1095 first year Dutch students revealed that the students had a mean weight gain of 1.1kg and an average increase of 0.35 in BMI – once again dispelling the “15 pounds” notion. [iii]
So looking at the amalgamated statistical data, although the “Freshman 15” isn’t necessarily true, first year weight gain is indeed a reality. But why does this occur? The first general consensus is that the weight gain is linked to increased stress levels in college freshmen. The jump between high school and post-secondary is by no means a large one, especially with added responsibilities upon “leaving the coop” of parental guidance. With pressures from not only academics, but also from one’s social life, living expenses, health maintenance, taxes, and more, many students turn to food as a solace to cope with the responsibilities associated with their newfound independence. Emotional and disordered eating are manifestations of food as a coping mechanism, where the former describes the use of food to substitute for the perceived lack of social support from the newly distanced family and old friends, while the latter describes wildly fluctuating eating patterns as elicited by psychological disorders pertaining to body image. Disordered eating however, will not necessarily lead to a weight increase; as it includes the development of disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, the resulting condition may be a reversed Freshman 15 scenario. Regardless, it is still an extremely unhealthy relationship with food and will induce many unnecessary health complications. More information regarding emotional and disordered eating along with methods of treatment can be found in the related links section, under related link A.
Another potential reason for the unwanted weight gain could be attributed to an overall decrease in weekly exercise levels. As mentioned before, with the entrance into college comes the introduction to a plethora of new issues that young adults have to account for. Sometimes, these issues will preoccupy so much of an individual’s time that they are unwilling and unable to squeeze in even a simple 15-minute workout into their busy schedules. Unsurprisingly, the drop in exercise levels translates into less calories burned daily, and even if the level of food consumption has not changed, there will be an increase in weight due to a greater amount of calories left over unburned. Furthermore, the lack of sleep due to increased academic demands also induces an increase in weight gain attributed to a lowered metabolism. All in all, there are indeed many reasons why first years will experience the so-called “Freshman 15”.
With the knowledge of what “Freshman 15” is and what causes it, naturally, the next step would be to identify the ways to prevent and avoid experiencing it. So here’s what you have all been waiting for – 15 ways to beat that pesky first-year weight gain:
- Find any excuse to either walk or bike to your destination in lieu of driving or taking the bus. Even though it doesn’t seem like much, any little bit of walking you do will add up over days, weeks and months. It also doesn’t hurt to be able to catch a few Pokemon on the way!
- Try participating in some sports – even if you don’t play for the Varsity Blues, you can still join a variety of intramural sports running on campus. There will bound to be one that matches your taste!
- Did you know that you actually have “free” gym membership at the University of Toronto’s Athletic Centres? Well, not truly “free” since you had to pay for the membership through your ancillary fees – but I digress. Although you can try to muster up your motivation to go to the gym, a less committed option would be to check out any free workshops on fitness training or dance or martial arts and more and just drop in on a few sessions. Not only do you get to learn something new, it’s also a secret workout! How cool is that?
- Friends are always a great source of motivation for staying on track with your goals, especially if you’re looking to work-out long-term. Having workout buddies to keep you company as you work out keeps you obligated to meet them at the gym and makes exercising just that much more enjoyable.
- Although there is a huge stigma against growing muscles, especially for females, building lean muscle with chicken and other lean protein combined with a mild muscle building routine (ie. a high frequency of reps and low weight bicep curls) really aids in killing those calories! The more muscles you have, the higher metabolism you will have, and as a result, the more calories you will burn!
- You definitely need your beauty sleep if you want to keep off those pounds. A good night’s rest increases your metabolism and allows you to burn off more calories in the day without even lifting a finger. A “beauty sleep” indeed!
- Stress is a major factor in weight gain, as it may lead to not only less physical activity, apathy, and drive, but also increased eating as a potential coping mechanism. Investing in a time to yourself during the day, for example, 5 minutes for meditation and self-reflection, or finding stress-relieving hobbies, be it knitting, washing dishes, or doing laundry, will really help increase your ability to keep the weight off. Smart scheduling and getting your homework or any other work done early will do wonders for your peace of mind, so also look into buying a planner or agenda to organize your stuff!
- Ever heard of the saying that: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”? Turns out, it’s actually true! If you don’t eat breakfast within an hour of your waking up, you will significantly decrease your metabolism so as to make your body unable to maximize its calorie-burning power. Even if it is just a light toast or a fruit, make sure that you grab a healthy breakfast before you head to class!
- Thirsty? Instead of the nearest Coke, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, Canada Dry, or any sugary beverage, try water. 0 calories, $0.00 from your nearest filtered fountain, such a great deal that most people unfortunately overlook too easily. Furthermore, drinking a glass of cold water before a meal will help fill your stomach so that you eat a lot less. WATER!
- If you are on a meal plan, it might be difficult to control your own portions and understand exactly what you are consuming in your body. Try to incorporate some extra food and veggies into your diet on top of what they give you for cafeteria food – leafy foods high in cellulose and roughage can really help detox your digestive system and flush out unneeded residues in your intestinal tract that add to your weight.
- If you make your own food, try figuring out and researching portion sizes and what you need as portion sizes to suit your weight goals. The Canadian Food Guide is a great resource to start checking out portion sizes for your age group.
- It’s better to snack more frequently during the day than eating a lot at limited mealtimes. You will end up being more full and eat overall less food than if you gorge on your meal during breakfast, lunch and dinner exclusively.
- Savour your food. If you are a fast eater, try slowing down the pace you usually have and deliberately chew on and relish in the flavor of your nourishment. Overall, you will find that you will eat less as you become more conscious of exactly what you’re eating.
- Don’t multitask while eating. Even though you may be up to your neck in work to do, try your best to make your meal time just about your meal time. When you watch movies or stare at a screen and try to do work, you become unaware of how much you are actually consuming; oftentimes, you will consume more food than your body will actually need, which will result in weight gain over time. So shut that laptop cover when you have your dinner!
- Are you a coffee addict? Most of your peers are too. But there’s one secret that will let you escape the clutches of “Freshman 15”. Try drinking your coffee black, without cream or sugar. It’s brutal for sure, but it will definitely cut down on extra calories. If you really need caffeine from a less bitter source, think about trying tea – it contains enough caffeine to keep you up on a slow day and for the most part, not bitter at all!
If you want to see more tips and tricks to fight off the “Freshman 15”, see the related links B and C. Midterm season can get super hectic, but you're bound to procrastinate every now and then, so you might as well allot some time to exercise and your newfound way of procrastinating. Do something beneficial for your health, even if it doesn't necessarily align with your typical "productive" day.
[i] Mihalopoulos, Nicole L., Peggy Auinger, and Jonathan D. Klein. "The Freshman 15: Is It Real?" Journal of American College Health 56, no. 5 (2008): 531-34. doi:10.3200/jach.56.5.531-534.
[ii]Delinsky, Sherrie S., and G. Terence Wilson. "Weight Gain, Dietary Restraint, and Disordered Eating in the Freshman Year of College." Eating Behaviors 9, no. 1 (2008): 82-90. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2007.06.001.
[iii] Vos, Paul De, Christoph Hanck, Marjolein Neisingh, Dennis Prak, Henk Groen, and Marijke M. Faas. "Weight Gain in Freshman College Students and Perceived Health." Preventive Medicine Reports 2 (2015): 229-34. doi:10.1016/j.pmedr.2015.03.008.
"11 Facts About The Freshman 15." DoSomething.org. Accessed September 05, 2016. https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-freshman-15.
"Beating the Freshman 15." KidsHealth - the Web's Most Visited Site about Children's Health. Accessed September 05, 2016. http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/freshman-15.html.
Delinsky, Sherrie S., and G. Terence Wilson. "Weight Gain, Dietary Restraint, and Disordered Eating in the Freshman Year of College." Eating Behaviors 9, no. 1 (2008): 82-90. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2007.06.001.
"Google Search – Freshman 15." Google. Accessed September 01, 2016. https://www.google.ca/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant.
Kratsas, By Gabrielle. "30 Great Ways to Avoid the Freshman 15 and Stay in Shape." Great Value Colleges. Accessed September 05, 2016. http://www.greatvaluecolleges.net/30-great-ways-to-avoid-the-freshman-15....
Mihalopoulos, Nicole L., Peggy Auinger, and Jonathan D. Klein. "The Freshman 15: Is It Real?" Journal of American College Health 56, no. 5 (2008): 531-34. doi:10.3200/jach.56.5.531-534.
"Sleep and Weight Loss: How Lack of Sleep Can Cause You to Gain Weight." WebMD. Accessed September 05, 2016. http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/lack-of-sleep-weight-gain#1.
The Atlantic. Accessed September 05, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/the-freshman-15-is-a-m....
"Tips on Staying Healthy in College and Avoiding the "Freshman 15"" WXYZ. September 03, 2016. Accessed September 05, 2016. http://www.wxyz.com/about-us/as-seen-on/tips-on-staying-healthy-in-colle....
Vos, Paul De, Christoph Hanck, Marjolein Neisingh, Dennis Prak, Henk Groen, and Marijke M. Faas. "Weight Gain in Freshman College Students and Perceived Health." Preventive Medicine Reports 2 (2015): 229-34. doi:10.1016/j.pmedr.2015.03.008.