The Freshman 15: Is it Real? Busting the Myth


By Veronica Maniak

“The Freshman 15” is a term that is commonly used when referring to the weight gained during a student’s first year at college or university. Although similar versions of the popular phrase are used world-wide, many have begun questioning the truth behind a 15-pound weight gain during one’s freshman year of college. Studies show that while it is common to gain weight during one’s first year at school, a weight gain of 3 to 6 pounds is more realistic. What is the cause behind this weight gain you ask? It is most likely due to the fact that a student’s first year away from home is the first time they are in charge of their own diet, and independently make their own food choices. Or, as my roommate once put it earlier this semester, “we just get bored and start snacking.”

A study performed at Marquette University in 2010 revealed that the proximity of a freshman’s dorm to dining facilities may play a part in first-year weight gain. It was discovered that female students in dorms with dining halls weighed almost two pounds more than those living in dorms without dining halls. The study also found that students who lived in dorms with dining halls also exercised nearly one and a half fewer times per week than those who did not have a dining hall in their dorm.

Many also believe that heavy drinking is to blame for college weight-gain. However, a 2011 study found that having six or more drinks on at least four days per month was the only thing that made a significant difference in one’s weight. Even then, the drinkers gained just a pound more than non-drinkers did.

So where did the myth of the Freshman 15 originate? In 1989, Seventeen Magazine was the first to publish the phrase “Freshman 15” in an issue of their popular young adult magazine. Prior to this article, the influx of weight experienced by first-year college students had been referred to as the “Freshman 5” or “Freshman 10,” and the only medical research to mention first-year weight-gain was a 1985 Addictive Behavior study in which subjects gained an average of just 8.8 pounds. In reality, less than 10% of students experience a weight gain that even comes close to the Freshman 15, yet somehow it still remains a prevalent term in the lives of college students around the United States today.

So, what can be done to avoid this first-year weight gain? Here are 5 tips to help you avoid the extra pounds:

Don’t overdo it at the all-you-can-eat buffet in the dining hall.

Although not all college dining halls have an “all-you-can-eat” option, it’s tough to resist the urge of piling the pizza, burgers, or fried foods on your plate. Try to fill at least half your plate with fruits or vegetables and create a balanced meal for yourself. Better yet, try starting out with a salad or vegetable soup when you first step into the dining hall before going back for a second course — as long as you’re still hungry.

Don’t replace meals with snacks.

If you’re skipping meals, you may find yourself filling up with unhealthy snack foods like chips or crackers, which can easily be replaced with low-calorie popcorn or fruit. Keep a granola bar in your bag for those late-night study sessions, especially if you’re easily tempted by unhealthy vending machine options.

Get enough sleep.

A 2013 study from the Journal of Nature Communication found that when a person experiences sleep loss, their appetite for high-caloric foods increases, which contributes to weight gain. So, no more all-nighters and Netflix binge-watching sessions!

Weigh yourself often.

Don’t let weight gain take you by surprise! Research shows that successful losers weigh themselves at least once a week or keep food journals. Some universities even offer opportunities for students to meet with dieticians on campus, so check out your school’s website for more info and opportunities!

Work out regularly.

Try your best to squeeze in some exercise in your day by signing up for group classes at the gym or getting involved with intramural sports like volleyball or inner tube water polo (yes, it’s a thing). My personal favorite is going to yoga classes twice a week!

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