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Freshman 15: fact or fiction?

Luckily, the infamous Freshman 15 is more fiction than fact, says nutritiion prof. Joan Salge Blake.

Joan Salge Blake

The one thing freshmen may dread more than classes, exams, and research papers is the infamous Freshman 15 — a drastic weight gain that supposedly affects some students in their first year at college. But have no fear, says Joan Salge Blake, a Sargent College clinical assistant professor of nutrition, “research to support the Freshman 15 is pretty slim,” so to speak.

“A 15-pound weight gain is not inevitable for college freshman,” she says. “It’s not an unavoidable part of the curriculum.”

Salge Blake points to research suggesting that the Freshman 15 is more fiction than fact, research finding that in many cases weight gain did not occur at all or did not occur in the majority of students studied during their first year.

She cites the 2002 study “Freshman 15: valid theory or harmful myth?” in the Journal of American College Health, which found that “the majority did not change weight in the first six months of college.”

Other studies, such as one in the November 2004 issue of the International Journal of Obesity, found that some students do gain weight, but it is less than five pounds on average. “Even more importantly, the study showed that it appears that certain behaviors, such as snacking in the evening and the consumption of junk foods, are associated with weight gain,” says Salge Blake.

Eating in the all-you-can-eat dining halls, unhealthy eating habits, junk-food addictions, being away from mom’s home-cooked meals, and using food to relieve emotional stress will lead to weight gain in first year students, she says.

“This is a big change in their lives. A lot of emotions are flaring up, which causes some people to eat nervously,” according to Salge Blake. “Maybe at home you were given balanced meals and now you can eat potato chips for dinner. You have to be more conscious of the food choices you make.”

To stay fit and trim at BU, she suggests checking out the Sargent Choice items at the dining halls and other food vendors around campus and working out at the FitRec Center.

“If you start eating a lot of energy-dense foods, it will be easy to take in more calories than you need and there could be a little more of you in December than there was in September,” she says. “If you ate healthy and exercised at home and you move to a new environment and keep up your good habits, nothing should change. You won’t miraculously gain weight once you land on campus.”

Salge Blake also encourages freshman to make healthy food and behavior choices early on in the semester, offering the following advice:

Don’t skip breakfast. If you do, odds are that you will be hungry later in the morning and be more likely to impulsively snack on calorie-dense foods from a vending machine or college convenience store. Eating a bowl of high-fiber whole grain cereal, approximately 200 calories, will hold you over. 

Don’t snack and study. If studying at night causes you to nervously munch, don’t study in your dorm surrounded by chips and other snacks. Study at the library where eating is prohibited.

Make exercise a part of your day. A change in lifestyle can be stressful. Release some of the emotional stress of college on the walking path or treadmill and not at the dining hall. When you feel wound up, lace up those sneakers and walk it off.

Make sure fruits and vegetables are a part of all your meals. They are chockful of nutrition, water, and fiber and are low in calories. Fruits and vegetables will fill you up before they fill you out, unlike high-calorie sweets. Enjoy a satisfying salad with your lunchtime sandwich so that you’ll end up eating less dessert.

Don’t drink your calories. A 20-ounce bottle of soda packs over 250 calories. Drink low-fat or skim milk with your meals and water in between.
For more tips and healthy recipes, visit Salge Blake’s Web site.