Here are the facts of the alarming – although slightly questionable – “Freshman 15.”
For those unfamiliar with the term, it is the common name for gaining weight during the first year of college; a phenomenon dreaded by many incoming students. This is what experts had to say.
It’s a natural progression for males and females 18-22 years old to gain weight, according to Kimberly Dowdell, a certified group fitness instructor who has been teaching Pilates, Zumba, Body Strength & Tone, as well as Bootcamp for the last 10 years. She has also been an adjunct at Salt Lake Community College since 2013.
The “Freshman 15” is not an issue that should be cause for much concern. It should be treated as something normal, not some kind of anomaly or problem that should be escaped at all costs. What students need to do is not shift too much from their original schedules, especially concerning meal times and exercise. If one is still concerned about weight gain, Dowdell has some reassurance.
“… exercise and eating a balanced diet (which includes ice cream from time to time) allows you to feel emotionally and physically fit,” Dowdell says. “These tools help you to tackle and release stress, increase confidence and happiness.”
Expert Devrie Pettit discusses some misconceptions related to this phenomenon. She is a registered Dietitian/Nutritionist with a BS in Nutrition and Food Science from Utah State University, and a master’s degree from Stony Brook University.
“It is normal for the human body to experience weight change. College students are also at the age of ending teenage years and becoming an adult. Weight gain is normal,” Pettit says. “College students also tend to feel free from potential food restrictions at home, food restriction can be related to weight gain.”
Those new patterns might contribute to weight gain, or loss, according to Dowdell.
“Some students actually lose weight during their freshman year due to stress, a peak in disordered eating behaviors, or strict dieting and unhealthy relationships with food. And, on the flip side, they could gain weight for the same reasons as well,” Dowdell says.
For those wondering what kind of healthy habits to practice (even with a busy college schedule), Dowdell recommends running, yoga, dance, walking and other activities.
“Make plans to exercise with a friend … whatever it takes to make it a part of your schedule,” Dowdell says. “The Lifelong Health and Wellness department offers a variety of classes to encourage physical fitness as well as nutrition. There are also facilities on campus where students can participate in open gym times, no membership or registration required.”
The take-home message from both experts is to keep (or start) a balanced, healthy lifestyle. If one is dead set on weight loss, Pettit has some suggestions.
“Don’t try to lose weight. The greatest predictor of future weight gain is trying to lose weight and focusing your attention on that,” Pettit says. “Take weight loss out of health. […] health-promoting behaviors like movement, balanced eating, regular meal patterns, stress reduction, taking care of your mental health, and connection with friends and family are all vital to your health.”
Students are encouraged to promote body positivity and understand that diets do not work for everyone. A healthy balanced lifestyle will have the most impact on how well one feels physically – and the results last longer.