Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Freshman 15: Is it a myth?

By: Meghan Murphy Van Camp, Registered Dietitian, Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist

The dreaded “Freshman 15” does seem to be an over exaggeration. Now, before you get too excited there is more to the story you need to know. Most studies performed on this subject do confirm that weight gain is a trend that is common among college students. A recent study performed at Brown University found that the average weight gain amongst men and women was six pounds during their freshman year. The study also found that weight gain continued into the sophomore year with an additional three pounds. Another study performed at Cornell University had similar findings, noting that freshman averaged a four pound weight gain in the first semester alone.

Gaining a few pounds during the transition from adolescents to adulthood is not a health issue in and of itself. However, continuing to gain weight at this rate for many years could be. If you have gained some weight after starting your college career there is no need to panic and take drastic measures such as restrictive dieting, skipping meals, or starting a fad diet. It is recommended that you assess your eating, learn more about healthy nutrition, and add more activity to your lifestyle.

There are many causes that may be responsible for the weight gain. They may include:
All-u-can-eat meal plans. Just because it is all-you-can-eat and you paid $9 for entry does not mean it is a good idea to load up your tray and go back for seconds or thirds. An example of a healthy tray would include ½ a plate of vegetables, ¼ a plate of meat, and the other ¼ a plate of starch with an additional side of fruit and a dairy product. Do not get dessert every time and limit high calorie drinks to 0-1 glass per visit.

Skipping meals: Skipping meals will negatively affect your metabolism. There are only 2 ways to naturally increase your metabolism, which is to eat every 3-5 hours, including breakfast, and to build muscle mass.

Late Nights: Whether your late night consists of studying or partying, this may be a major factor in your weight gain. Study nights are usually accompanied by high caffeine, high calorie drinks and big portions of high calorie snack foods that provide little nutrition. Instead, try flavored waters or coffee made with skim milk and artificial sweeteners and eat light microwavable popcorn.

Alcohol is another major source of “empty” calories. The average 12 ounce light beer contains 100-150 calories. A shot of any liquor (regardless of brand or type) contains 100-150 calories and that doesn’t even account for calories that a mixer may contribute. An average margarita that you get at a restaurant is 600-800 calories. These calories can really add up and keep in mind that the average student should not exceed 2000 calories daily.

The bottom line is that some weight gain may be fine, but continued weight gain should be avoided. Remember to eat regularly, watch portion sizes, include more activity, and cut down on high calorie beverages. With a little vigilance you can avoid the pitfalls that lead to unwanted weight gain early in your college career.

If you are interested in learning the healthy ways to lose weight, maintain weight or just how to lead a healthy lifestyle, check out all the services offered by the UCF Wellness Center.

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