The Science Behind The “Freshman 15”

freshman 15

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  • As you head to college, you’ve probably already heard about the “Freshman 15” on more than one occasion.

    Some people think it’s a myth that you gain a lot of weight during your first year of college, but for some students, it’s a reality

    A study by Utah University found that 25% of college students gain about 10 pounds during their first semester of school.

    It’s a trend that unfortunately seems to plague the country as a whole, seeing as nearly 36% of adults in the U.S. are considered obese. Obesity can lead to a variety of health conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Juvenile obesity is becoming an issue, too, and it’s a trend that doesn’t show signs of slowing down.

    So, what really causes the “Freshman 15,” and what can you do to avoid gaining too much weight — not only during your first year of school, but throughout your collegiate career and beyond?

    What Causes Weight Gain in College?

    There are a variety of possible reasons why some college students tend to gain weight more than others. First off, it’s important to understand that when you’re thrust into a college environment, it’s something completely new and different.

    So, in order to determine why some people gain weight and others don’t, we have to look at both the physical and mental side of things. We’ll focus on how you can take care of your physical and mental health later in this article.

    Some of the more “easy to identify” reasons behind possible weight gain include eating meals at odd hours. Some experts believe that eating later at night, or even right before bed, can contribute to obesity.

    That said, if you’re staying up all night studying or working on a project and decide to get a pizza at midnight, it just might not be the best thing for your waistline.

    Another possible contributor is the fact that you might be on your own for the first time ever, and a lot of junk food is at your fingertips. There are plenty of stereotypes surrounding college kids and foods like ramen noodles, fast food, and energy drinks — and unfortunately, some of those stereotypes are in place for a reason.

    You’ll likely be busier in college than ever before. You might not have time to cook healthy meals or be as active as you want to be. So, grabbing convenience food or fast food on the go might feel like your only option.

    Taking Care of Your Physical Health

    Unfortunately, gaining too much weight — and especially gaining it quickly — is never a good thing, as rapid weight gain is often linked with Type II Diabetes. While it can often be treated with diet and exercise, sometimes certain medications, like Bydureon, are needed to fully manage it.

    So, what can you do to prevent the “Freshman 15?”

    Start by taking care of yourself, physically. Most college campuses have some kind of fitness or athletic center, and though your schedule might be busy, it’s important to find time to exercise a few days each week. It might mean having to get up early some days, or stay up late after class or after work to get it done, but by making your physical health a priority, you’ll have more energy, you’ll feel better, look better, and you’ll even be able to stay more focused.

    Practicing healthy eating habits will keep you from gaining too much weight, too. If you live in a dorm, you might think it’s impossible to prepare healthy meals, but that isn’t necessarily true. You don’t have to have a full kitchen in order to eat healthily, and you can even indulge in to-go meals if you’re strategic about it. Try some of these healthy meals that are easy to prepare in small spaces:

    1. Microwaved oatmeal topped with nut butter
    2. Nut butter and fruit wraps
    3. Fresh fruit smoothies
    4. Mason jar salads
    5. Tuna salad on avocado
    6. Low-sodium canned soup with added spinach
    7. Whole grain burritos
    8. Veggies with hummus

    Challenge yourself to get creative with your meals, or check out some healthy dining options on campus. Staying physically fit is all about the choices you make to take care of your body by fueling it properly and exercising regularly.

    Managing Your Mental Health

    Most people might not associate mental health with weight gain, but the two can go hand-in-hand. Again, college is a big change and it can put a lot of pressure on you that you’ve never had to deal with before.

    Nearly 15% of college students get diagnosed with some form of anxiety disorder every year. Some students get extremely homesick. Others feel overwhelmed with their workloads. It can lead to depression and fatigue, which can cause you to overeat, or choose “comfort foods” that are often laden with fat and sugar. These things combined can eventually cause weight gain, which can make depression even worse.

    Some people who gain too much weight and aren’t happy with their bodies might even turn to cosmetic surgery like liposuction to get rid of the weight and feel better about themselves — though it’s important to note that liposuction specifically for weight loss isn’t always recommended.

    other valuable tips:

    Taking care of your physical health is more black and white — eat right and exercise. Taking care of your mental health isn’t always as easy to do, but it should certainly be a priority.

    First, try to control your stress levels by figuring out what’s triggering you. Maybe you’ve taken on too many classes or signed up for too many activities. Prioritize your schedule and let go of the things you don’t need. Don’t feel pressured into saying “yes” to everything just because you’re new.

    Most colleges also have some kind of mental health center on campus. They can either help you right there, or refer you to someone you can talk to. Most of the services are typically free or very low cost. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you don’t have to deal with it alone.

    While the “Freshman 15” doesn’t impact everyone who goes to college, it’s important to be aware of some of the causes behind it. By managing your physical and mental health and making them both a priority throughout your collegiate career, you can stay healthy, happy, and focused on your future.

    Image Credit: freshman 15 by Pixabay

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