It's a fairly accepted 'fact' among college age women that they will gain weight their first year away from home. It's so well accepted, in fact, that nearly anyone will know immediately what you mean when you refer to the 'Freshman 15'.
However, the research doesn't quite agree. One study conducted 15 years ago found that incoming freshman did gain weight at higher rates than their peers who did not attend college, but the average weight gain for the stressful freshman year was 7 pounds, less than half the mythical 15 pounds they'd been told to expect.
Even more encouraging is that a more recent study of college weight gain monitored the weight and body fat of freshman women. More than half the students put on weight, but for most it was less than five pounds. One third of the students actually lost weight. Interestingly, those students who most worried about gaining weight believed that they had gained weight even when the scales showed that they hadn't.
If you're concerned about gaining weight in that first year away from home, here are some concrete suggestions that can help you avoid the dreaded Freshman 15.
Adopt a Healthy Attitude Toward Food
Researchers place part of the blame for the Freshman 15 on the tendency to turn to food for comfort. In an unfamiliar setting, with new stresses and new worries, students may turn to the familiar foods that make them feel good to help them get through. Train yourself to eat when hungry - and deal with stress through other means.
The corollary to the statement above is that the less you allow changes and worries to affect you, the less stress you'll have to deal with. One of the best ways to stress-proof your body is by eating a healthy diet. Regular exercise and making sure you get enough sleep play a big part, too. When you're body is well-nourished and well-rested, you'll find it much easier to deal with stress without resorting to major snacking.
Watch out for the parties
Away from parental supervision for the first time, many college age students give in to the urge to party. Try to keep in mind that beer, even light beer, has 100 calories per every 12 ounces that you drink. You're also a whole lot more likely to snack on high fat junk food like chips when you're drinking. As for other drugs - there are all sorts of reasons not to smoke. Add the fact that it's fattening to the list.
Take advantage of the gym facilities and any student privileges you might have by getting regular workouts. Swimming, tennis, aerobics - any sport that you play, any activity that you do will both burn calories, and help reduce the stress of your first year at school.
Find a group of friends and be a part of it. The more you feel like you belong, the less you'll be missing home, and the less you'll be snacking to make up for it.
The Freshman 15 isn't inevitable. Just remember to eat healthy, exercise, sleep well and have fun. The weight loss will take care of itself.
By Adam Waxler
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