Don’t buy into the ‘Freshman 15’ hype

Peter Dewey

If you walk onto any college campus and poll freshman on their concerns, I guarantee many, if not all, would mention the ‘Freshman 15.’

The Freshman 15 is an expression that refers to the average amount of weight students gain their first year in college.

Mental Health America rates it as the number four concern among college freshman in the United States.

To understand how many students are concerned about putting on the Freshman 15, think about this: the same poll done by Mental Health America listed school work ninth among the top 10 concerns of incoming freshman.

Clearly, the Freshman 15 is a pretty big deal.

So, it must be real, right?

Everyone expects that coming to college means that there are unhealthy food options at every turn, and that gaining weight is already a forgone conclusion. Students are constantly eating burgers, pizza, wings and everything else that would make us put on 15 pounds before we step foot in a college classroom.

I feel the exact opposite at Quinnipiac.

Now don’t get me wrong, you can always satisfy your craving for a food you may feel isn’t that healthy. However, there are ways to have a good balance in your diet despite being at school.

With the dining halls always displaying the number of calories in each item, there is constantly an option to go healthy, should you choose that path.

[media-credit name=”Survey of Quinnipiac students based on their freshman year.” align=”alignright” width=”297″][/media-credit]I unfortunately bought into the Freshman 15 hype before arriving at Quinnipiac, maybe for a different reason than others, but I quickly learned I was flat out wrong.

Last year, I was a wiry freshman in desperate hope of putting on 15 pounds. I was trying out for the basketball team, so I needed every pound I could get into my 5-foot-10 frame.

And while I planned to train during this time, I thought being able to eat whenever I wanted would be an easy springboard towards my goal. But I soon realized if I wanted to have any of my meal plan left come December, I was going to have to do a lot more than eat on campus to put on that weight because my plan was so limited.

Now last year, my dining plan, like most freshman students, amounted to $1,450 to spend each semester. Being a numbers guy, I divided that by each day in the semester and came to roughly $13.95 a day, or about two full meals.

While Quinnipiac changed the default meal plan from $1,450 to $1,700 this year, it still comes to only $16.35 a day. With prices going up on many of the items in Café Q, the $2.40 a day change from last year is not as much as it seems.

In theory, you can eat whenever you want in college, but unless you’re willing to ditch your QCard for cash come mid-November, there is a limit on how often you can eat.

However, more than just financial restrictions make the Freshman 15 a myth.

Only one in 10 students gained the 15 pounds in their first two semesters at college, in a study conducted by BioMed Central from 1993 to 2014.

The study also found that not all students even gain weight. Rather, about two thirds of students will gain weight at all, and most of them will only gain in the range of three to seven pounds.

This semester, 2,221 freshmen are enrolled, according to Quinnipiac’s undergraduate admissions. If the BioMed study holds true, 645 students will find that they won’t gain any weight at all.

Another study done by Brown University’s Medical School found that weight gain during college occurs over a few years, not all at once.

Rather than a Freshman 15, doctors believe that weight gain happens all the way through sophomore year. The study did not report any trends in weight gain in the following years.

While these studies show that weight gain is common, they also shine the light on the fact the it is not as severe as everyone expects. An Ohio State study also found that college students do not gain any more weight than non-college students of the same age.

Essentially, all of these studies point to the fact that gaining weight during your college years is completely normal.

Which begs the question: Why stress about a myth that has been debunked by science so many times?

Because in a new environment, it’s hard to know what to expect.

Understandably, when you are used to eating a certain way your entire life, mixing it up for four years seems to be a guarantee for some change. But, if you make the right lifestyle choices, you won’t have to be concerned about putting on the Freshman 15.

Quinnipiac offers so many ways to get involved physically to make sure that you can feel like your best self. Whether its intramural sports, going to the gym to lift or hiking Sleeping Giant, there are plenty of ways to stay in shape.

Now I am not saying that everyone has to channel their inner athlete to avoid the Freshman 15. Clearly, as a washed-up athlete myself, it is my method of choice, but it is one of many.

Getting involved with clubs, student media, fraternities and sororities are all ways for students to stay active, which will help you live a healthy lifestyle. In fact, I’ve watched one of my close friends lose 70 pounds in a few months by simply making a few lifestyle changes.

He simply started by taking certain foods out of his diet, and exercising more than he had before. He then began participating in intramural sports and attending games at least once a week. As he got used to eating healthier and exercising more, it became routine and brought him to where he is today. At this point, he looks like a completely different person than when I met him a year ago.

So, what is the Freshman 15?

It is an exaggeration that has been built up over time.

In a 1980s article in the New York Times, writer Matthew Wald referred to what we now call the Freshman 15 as the “Freshman 10”. Ten has turned into 15, and soon it may be 20. As time has gone on, society has turned it into one of the biggest fears of students nationwide.

My point in telling you this, is that the mythical Freshman 15 is not something that is synonymous with coming to college.

There are always places to turn to help you live a healthy lifestyle at Quinnipiac.