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Health & Wellness

Nine Tips for Avoiding the Freshman 15

Healthy choices to help avoid weight gain


The fabled Freshman 15—the number of pounds a typical first-year student allegedly gains—may be a myth, some research suggests. But getting heavier over the course of your four years at college is a probability. A 2011 study found the average woman student gained about 9 pounds during that time, and the average man 13 pounds. “While this amount of weight isn’t earth-shattering, obese adolescents are unfortunately more likely to become obese adults,” says Joan Salge Blake (Sargent’84, Wheelock’16), a Sargent College clinical associate professor of nutrition and health sciences. She offers nine dos and don’ts for making sure weight gain isn’t “part of your college curriculum.”

Do get enough sleep.

“It’s not surprising that studies show that college students often fall short in the sleep department. Insufficient sleep can cause an increase in the hunger-promoting hormone ghrelin and a decrease in the hunger-suppressing hormone leptin. Naps are an excellent way to catch up on lost sleep.”

Don’t skip breakfast.

Research suggests that adolescents who don’t eat breakfast have an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese. If you skip this important meal, odds are you will be hungry later on in the morning and more likely to find yourself impulsively snacking on high-calorie food from a vending machine or college convenience store. Rise and dine on a bowl of high-fiber, whole-grain cereal with skim milk. Add some protein, such as string cheese or a handful of nuts, to help you through the morning.”

Do walk off your stress.

“A major lifestyle change, such as going off to college, can be stressful initially. When you feel wound up, lace up your sneakers and release some of the emotional stresses of college life on the walking path around campus or on the treadmill rather than in the dining hall. Even better, join one of BU’s intramural sports programs. You’ll not only be physically moving, but will also be connecting with your peers who are in the same boat as you. Take comfort in knowing that you are not the only one feeling stressed.”

Don’t study with the microfridge.

“If studying at night causes you to munch, don’t study in your room surrounded by your roommate’s chips and other snacks piled high in the dorm refrigerator. Study at the campus library, where eating is prohibited.”
Healthy breakfast containing a fruits, porridge and nuts full of nutrients, guy is eating in the background

Do include fruits and veggies in all meals.

“Eating a salad or vegetable soup before your lunch or dinner has been shown to help cut back on the calories consumed at the meal. How? Fruits and vegetables will fill you up before they fill you out, so they are kind to your waist.”

Don’t drink your calories.

“A 20-ounce bottle of soda, sports drink, energy drink, or sweetened coffee and teas can pack over 250 calories. Drink low-fat or skim milk with your meals and water (zero calories) in between.”

Do keep healthy snacks and beverages in your dorm room.

Rather than going out for late-night fast food, “stockpile pouches of 100-calorie microwave popcorn on top of your microfridge, which is a perfect whole grain snack. Keep yogurt and string cheese inside the fridge for a healthy, protein-pack, calcium-rich snack. However, if you are stress-eating while studying, see the above tip.”

Don’t look to the internet for nutritional guidance.

“Rather, set up an appointment with one of our registered dietitian nutritionists at the Sargent College Nutrition Center to help you manage your diet and dining plan at BU.”

Do educate yourself about BU’s Sargent Choice Healthy Dining Program with its tons of menu options. 

“These food choices are ridiculously delicious, and healthy to boot.”

Rich Barlow, Senior Writer, BU Today, Bostonia, Boston University
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

4 Comments on Nine Tips for Avoiding the Freshman 15

  • Joie on 10.11.2017 at 7:35 am

    As a person who was formerly 160 lbs and cut down to 145 over the summer, here’s some friendly advice adopted from the bodybuilding community and does go against some things in the article.

    First things first, freshman 15 isn’t actually that bad at all! If you’re relatively average weight and untrained, as long as you lift weights at least 3x a week and get adequate protein, most of those 15 pounds will be lean muscle mass!

    That being said, if you are trying to lose weight, here’s my 2 cents.

    #1 Count calories. Use a tracking app like mynetdiary or myfitnesspal. Almost everything is labelled these days and calories never lie.

    #2 Intermittent fasting. Eat between 12pm and 8pm, then no meals before or after. Your meals will be more satisfying and you’ll be less likely to binge on snacks. Trying to do 8am, noon, the night will leave you unsatisfied.

    #3 Protein. Above all, protein makes you the most full. Fruits, while being filling, can also be high carb, so be careful.

    #4 At least 7 hours of sleep.

  • Ben Pearre on 10.11.2017 at 12:54 pm

    Good. But a couple of problems:

    * Low-fat milk? Evidence is mounting that the war on fat was a mistake, and some suggest that it was even a red herring pushed by the evil sugar industry… But conspiracy theories aside, it seems that people who drink whole milk end up healthier than people who drink low-fat–including weight gain. I don’t think there’s a consensus on all the mechanisms yet, but we think that whole milk contains fat-soluble vitamins that get removed from the low-fat stuff, that reducing fat intake makes you eat more harmful things like sugar and simple carbs, and possibly that fat in your regular diet makes you better at burning fat. Whatever the mechanisms, people who drink skim milk seem to end up fatter than people who drink whole.

    * Walking path around campus? Wouldn’t that be nice! But I still haven’t found anywhere on campus that isn’t within easy earshot of a major high-speed high-traffic road. Forget the eternal stench of exhaust and the particulates that are so terrible for a moment, since you already knew that. Even noise pollution has been shown to contribute to obesity (and a bunch of other ailments and cognitive problems) even when we’re awake and active. I’m afraid BU desperately urgently needs to work on this, but I’m not sure how. Bury Commonwealth Ave or Storrow? A marginally useful stopgap could be reducing Comm Ave to one lane each way and a 20-MPH speed limit, adding a proper separated bike lane, and enforcing vehicle noise regulations. Meanwhile, it seems we’re a bit screwed.

    My read on recent health advice that this article doesn’t seem to cover very explicitly:

    – AVOID SUGAR! Sugar is really really bad. This does not seem to include the sugar in milk for some reason, or the sugar in _intact_ fruits, but does seem to include honey, maple syrup, the sugar from chopped fruits–e.g. smoothies! Yup, smoothies are bad for you. Boo.

    – Avoid processed grains. Stick with whole grains. White flour is not good. Whole flour is great.

    – Chairs are lethal. Get up and move around a lot. No matter how much you work out, sitting in a chair for more than ten minutes at a time already seems to be pretty bad for you.

  • Andrea on 10.11.2017 at 4:40 pm

    Both of the comments above violate the most important suggestion from this list: DON’T consult the Internet regarding healthy-eating or weight-loss tips. SEE A DOCTOR. We all have good intentions, but for some, it can turn into an extremely dangerous slippery slope that can lead to life-altering choices.

    Aside from that, perhaps the most important thing is to be kind to yourself. So what if you gain weight? Doesn’t mean you’re any less wonderful. Take care of yourself and know your worth isn’t rooted in weight, whether it’s weight loss or weight gain.

  • gcollins on 09.19.2018 at 2:09 pm

    Portions are out of control. Students take too much food that often is waisted
    Suggest limit choices to meat and vegetarian

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