Exorcizing the myth behind Freshman 15

Before coming to college, most students probably hear horror stories about gaining weight – 15 pounds worth – during their freshman year. But whether it has been true for students or not, a recent study

Before coming to college, most students probably hear horror stories about gaining weight – 15 pounds worth – during their freshman year.

But whether it has been true for students or not, a recent study showed most students will not gain the “Freshman 15” during their first year of college, but rather 5 to 7 pounds followed by an additional 2 to 3 pounds sophomore year.

The research was presented at a meeting of the Obesity Society in Boston Oct. 22.

Though the debunking of the urban myth may be refreshing, college students should not let their guard down, said Julie Rhule, registered dietitian for Temple Dining Services.

“There have been a lot of studies looking into the “Freshman 15,” Rhule said. “A lot of incoming freshmen are fearful of it. They’ve heard the rumors and they want to know why it’s happening.”

Rhule said a lot of studies in the past have shown students do not necessarily gain 15 pounds, but do experience a gradual weight gain over time, which may be more detrimental in the long-run.

Researchers have yet to nail down a definite explanation for weight gain among college students, but suspect attribution to a number of obvious aspects such as high-fat cafeteria foods, more socialization that involves eating, a lack of physical activity and binge drinking.

Upon attending college, students are likely to partake in such activities – activities that are drastically different from their previous high school lifestyles.

According to associate professor of kinesiology Dr. Melissa Napolitano, changes in lifestyle are associated with changes in physical activity and probable changes in diet.

“It’s a big life change going from high school to college,” Napolitano said. “Any big life change is going to affect health habit and health behavior.”

However, it’s all a matter of adaptation.
Some students have criticized Dining Services for serving foods potentially prone to stimulate weight gain along with a lack of foods required to maintain a well-balanced diet. But Rhule stands by the selection made available in the cafeteria and said the university is very comparable to other campuses.

Rhule, whose position of dietitian was created in September, mentioned fresh fruits, cold and steamed vegetables, whole grain breads and healthier cereals as a few options to students searching the stations for some nutritional value.

“I think they do a wonderful job here. There are definite healthy options,” Rhule said.

As dietitian, Rhule holds multiple programs
on campus, such as floor programs for resident life, one-on-one counseling and ‘Rate Your Plate,’ where she observes students’ trays in Johnson and Hardwick Cafeteria to measure the balance of food groups.

A lack of fruits and vegetables on trays is one of Rhule’s biggest concerns. These two key food groups not only provide vitamins and minerals, but also contribute to weight management.

“Those two things are high in fiber. Studies have shown that if you have a diet that is high in fiber, you’re going to be able to maintain weight and help you lose weight if you want,” she said.

Merely eating healthy just isn’t enough. Exercise is also essential for both weight management and a healthy physiological makeup. With changes in environment, schedules and eating habits, comes a change in physical activity and a change in college students’ bodies.

“When you’re an adolescent and your body is growing, a lot of energy you take in goes to growth,” Dr. Joseph R. Libonati, associate professor of kinesiology, said.

“Now those extra calories you’re used to from your lifestyle for the last 22 years are not going toward that. Coupled with lifestyle changes, it goes to storage. You want to catch this early because it doesn’t get any better.”

Libonati urges students to make exercise
a natural part of daily routines rather than something viewed as a chore or additional work.

“I don’t like the pressure approach. As soon as you start thinking about that, it becomes a turnoff. Activity is any movement. You walk to school or you take the steps,” Libonati said.

“If you can just say ‘today I’m going to start living a little bit more healthfully, maybe I’m going to go for a 30-minute walk, I’m going to eat a little more healthfully, I’m going to consume a little less alcohol, I’m going to put a little bit of structure into my life.'” Libonati said. “And it’s OK if you go out to a party on Saturday and have too much to drink and eat too much pizza and not exercise that day.

“That doesn’t mean the whole healthful lifestyle thing went into the garbage, that just means it was one day that wasn’t a part of my life,” he said.

Libonati said that people should view a healthy lifestyle as having a whole life of winding roads and changes that will affect your body and health.

“You just got to know you’re going to have setbacks throughout your life and you just want to have as much of this incorporated
into those roads as possible,” he said.

Napolitano said there’s going to be a smorgasbord of opportunity and foods available throughout life, and managing them is a matter of control.

“It’s figuring out ways to make those right choices,” Napolitano said. “Then in terms of physical activity, it’s scheduling it in or making it fun so that there’s enjoyment around the activity. If people don’t enjoy something, they’re not going to do it.”

Leigh Zaleski can be reached at leigh.zaleski@temple.edu.

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