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You’ve heard the warnings from family, friends and even some advertisements—watch out or you’ll gain 15 pounds during your first year of college. It’s the dreaded Freshman 15 weight gain horror story. You might have even heard that you won’t notice it initially. Then one day you’ll find that your belt is a little tighter … and you’re checking out prices for jeans the next size up … or you just keep wearing the same baggy tops. These are warning signs of potential Freshman 15 weight gain. 

Not sure what I’m talking about? It’s the myth (or is it truth) that, as a Freshman in college, away from good wholesome home cooking and dietary restrictions, out and on your own, you’ll gain weight. Ask around, there are any number of Freshman 15 stories to consider. 

Maybe you hope this particular article proves it to be merely an urban legend. I mean, is it really likely that you’ll gain weight when you move away to college? 

The truth is … maybe.

Science Backs Up This Claim … Sort Of!

In one study, published by several documents at the National Institutes of Health, there is some evidence that can be shocking … some Freshman 15 statistics to consider. The study looked at unmarried students living on campus at private universities in the northeastern portion of the country. It collected data through an online survey about the social behaviors and weight of students. The study found that freshmen college students were more likely to gain weight at a rate of 5.5 times of the general population. In other words, the Freshman 15 might have a kernel of truth. 

Before you start binge-eating from worry, however, consider this tidbit from the abstract: “The authors observed an average weight gain of 2.7 lbs. About half of the students gained weight, and 15% lost weight. Men gained more weight than did women.” Read on to find out how you can avoid this unwanted weight gain and stay fit.

What Can You Do to Avoid the Freshman 15?

Trying to figure out how to avoid the Freshman 15? While studies indicate that some weight gain is common in college students, that doesn’t mean you have to fall victim to it. Healthy eating habits can help you reduce the risk that you’ll gain weight and improve your ability to maintain wellness. No matter if you want to lose weight or avoid college weight gain, the right lifestyle choices can make all of the difference.

Eating Meaningfully and Purposefully

Eating shouldn’t be a social activity or what you do while you are studying. One of the best ways to keep the weight off is simply to make meals a priority and a focus. Don’t eat while you’re stressed or while you’re watching TV. Instead, plan to eat a real meal three times a day (no, French fries don’t count as a real meal). Take your time eating. In between bites, put your fork down and allow yourself time to chew. The reality is that it takes your brain a bit of time to recognize the signal that you are full. So, slowing down and planning your meals can help you avoid emotionally triggered eating as well as eating too much since you aren’t paying attention to what you’re consuming.

Snack Wisely

Snacks—is it a friend or a foe? If consumed wisely, snacks can become something that fuels your body and boosts your metabolism. Eating three normal to smaller sized meals coupled with a few healthy snacks throughout the day can help you avoid weight gain. But, to do that, you need to plan what you are going to snack on and when. However, as you know planning anything but time to study is almost impossible. The key here for your how to lose the Freshman 15 fitness journey is the word “almost.” Planning doesn’t have to be difficult. Just done. At a minimum you can follow these few thoughts:

  • Choose fruit over bagged foods
  • Skip the vending machines and fast food—actually run away as fast as you can
  • Snack on nuts instead of salty chips

Portion Control Matters

A big problem with many college freshmen is portion control. How much are you eating at one serving? Unfortunately, it’s common to skip breakfast—also a big problem when it comes to gaining weight—and instead, eat a big meal at the end of the day. “If I eat all of my calories in one sitting isn’t that the same as spreading it throughout the day?” 

Sadly, the short answer is no. Think of it this way—if you put on sunscreen at 10am, but forget to reapply throughout your pool party, do you think the sunscreen will keep you from getting burned by the end of the day? That same theory can be applied to skipping meals and portion control. Even when eating healthy foods, eating too much of it can be a problem. So, pay special attention to portion sizes.

More Tips for Keeping the Weight Off (Or Losing a Few Pounds)

Here are seven additional tips to help you lose weight or keep it off:

  1. Keep healthy snacks that you like on hand at all times
  2. It’s ok to treat yourself, but choose something that’s low in fat (low fat doesn’t have to mean low flavor)
  3. Avoid skipping meals—let me repeat: AVOID SKIPPING MEALS!
  4. Pay attention to your attitude towards food (why are you eating if you’re not hungry?)
  5. Focus on a balanced diet full of nutrition whenever possible (food=fuel mentality)
  6. Take full advantage of all of the opportunities on campus to help you with mental and emotional support! Freshman Fifteen is about more than just food—enjoy everything your campus has to offer from clubs and activities to mission opportunities and support groups
  7. Get regular exercise in—any type of sport will help your body and mind

There you have it. The Freshman 15 is real. But if you make smart choices it is possible to avoid it. Trust me when I say, there’s nothing more exciting than that first year of college. You’re on your own, enjoying life the way you want to, and creating a new path for your future. 

If you’re looking for more information, we invite you to find out how University of the Cumberlands supports its students.