The skinny on the ‘Freshman 15’

So many food choices can lead to weight gain—here are tips to avoid it

About the author
Ms. Harris is a fifth-year nutrition student at CSU Chico.

Three times a day Carla eats a buffet-style meal. Standing there with a plate in her hand, she piles on pasta, a hotdog, some fries and a side salad. What she’s doing is no different from what all of her peers are doing. Carla is a freshman living in the dorms, and her only option is to eat in the cafeteria every day.

It’s a commonly known fact that every freshman entering college struggles to avoid the dreaded “freshman 15”—gaining 15 pounds in the first year of college.

Kristina Hernandez, a psychology major heading into her sophomore year, said her friends have not experienced drastic weight changes since coming to college. “Everyone’s gained about the same amount of weight. We’ve all put on between two to five pounds,” she said.

So why do freshmen tend to gain more weight than the rest of us? No, it’s not those crazy adolescent hormones. But unlimited access to food, coupled with newfound freedom, might have something to do with it.

Jessie Hofius, student-food-service manager at UC Davis, is all too familiar with the reasons behind freshman food choices. “Freshmen tend to gain weight because the dining halls offer ‘all you can eat’ and mom is not there to tell them to eat the veggies over the pizza. Some people eat pizza every night,” Hofius said.

It’s not only solid food that’s packing on the pounds, either. Alcohol is prevalent around most college campuses, and many people are unaware of the effect it can have on the waistline. For example, a person can drink an entire day’s worth of calories and not even realize it. (A six-pack of beer can contain nearly 1,000 calories.)

Even students with the best intentions may still experience rising numbers on the scale. Food in the dorms is produced for a large number of people and includes extra fat and sodium for cooking and preservation. And it can be hard to turn down a 3 a.m. trip to Jack’s or Carl’s after a long night of studying (or partying).

There are things freshmen can do both inside and outside the cafeteria to fend off the pounds. Chico State foodservice professor and registered dietitian Stephanie Bianco-Simeral offers simple advice: “In the dorms, fill up on lower-calorie items,” she said. “Drink water or diet drinks, and eat soup or salad before eating the main course. Wait a while before going back for more food.”

Most people don’t realize they’re full until 20 minutes after they’ve finished eating. So take your time and savor each bite. Simple yet effective tips are often overlooked. “Eat only when you’re hungry, exercise, and get more sleep. The more sleep you get, the less caffeine you’ll need, and thus the less soda you’ll end up drinking,” Hernandez said.

Many college freshmen gain weight because they are no longer involved in the sports they played in high school. It might not be enough to simply focus on the food.

Junior biology major Courtney Silver encourages more students to get active and take advantage of all their school has to offer. “I actually lost weight my freshman year, because I walked everywhere and took free on-campus workout classes,” she said.

Make it a point to explore your surroundings—go for a hike, walk downtown, or simply utilize the brand-new, on-campus gym. In addition to looking great, you’ll feel better about yourself and your body. Just remember, don’t be too harsh on yourself.

Of course, moderation is key, so go out there, enjoy college and happy eating!