Avoiding the Freshman Fifteen
by Dr. Ann L. Engelland
Sara H. is back in Larchmont for the summer, having gained
twelve pounds at Connecticut College. She is determined
to hit the Hommocks pool daily and lose the weight before
John P. shows his Mamaroneck buddies the beginning
of a “beer belly” he grew while at the University
of Miami. Really not proud of it, he’s determined
to work it off at the MHS track this summer and get his
Rachel E. is secretly glad to be home from college
because her Mom still makes her eat breakfast and vegetables.
she played varsity soccer and lacrosse at MHS, she dropped
her sports in college and is sure this contributed to her
fifteen-pound weight gain. Mom’s rules might help
her get back in shape.
Jean R. is getting her last checkup and shots before
college and is wondering what to do to avoid the “Freshman
Fifteen” she heard about at the Senior Seminar day
at MHS this spring.
What is the Freshman Fifteen anyway? Didn’t it used
to be Freshman Five? Then it was Freshman Ten? Now we are
warning students about gaining fifteen pounds during their
freshman year of college. What happened?
Why do freshmen gain weight anyway? The simple answer
is that it’s simple math: more calories and/or less
exercise. But it’s not that simple. And why has the
amount of weight gain increased over the past ten years?
What is going on?
Experts believe there are multiple factors involved. Many
of these factors contributing to weight gain are operating
in the general population as well. College students are
not alone in becoming overweight and out of shape. Factors
that contribute are:
Changes in routine: late night pizzas ordered in when
the best idea would be a piece of fruit or a good night’s
More snacking on unhealthy foods: disruption in routine
means grabbing food in between meals, usually not the most
More convenience foods: vending machines are ubiquitous
as are high fat, high sugar foods and drinks available
at franchises and kiosks on many campuses
More stress: food is one good antidote to homesickness,
blues, and stress over work and relationships. When this
becomes a habit, the pounds add up.
Supersizing: Huge portions of foods and especially sweetened
drinks can mean gigantic intakes of straight sugar.
Mindless eating: eating while sitting around talking,
eating while studying, eating in unusual venues all contribute
to eating that is not savored or “counted.”
More impulse foods: again, the ubiquity of machines, coffee
stalls, and a variety of dining options make it easy to
eat on impulse.
Increased alcohol intake: legal or not, the majority of
students will experiment with alcohol often completely
unaware that alcoholic beverages are high in calories,
especially when prepared with sweet mixes.
Less exercise: even those who played on teams in high
school often opt for club sports or exercising on their
own. It sometimes takes a semester or two to figure out
a new routine.
Poor choices in the dining halls: many college cafeterias
are operated by big food franchises and the food is canned
or frozen, often sweetened or high in saturated fats.
What can you do???
Eating breakfast jumpstarts metabolism. If it seems too
far to the dining hall, try getting creative in your room.
Many students have a small refrigerator and a microwave
in their rooms. Keep fruit, granola and granola bars. Keep
fresh milk and yoghurt (a long shelf life) and try making
eggs in the microwave. Seriously. But I would recommend
trying this at home first before inflicting exploded or
burnt eggs on your roommates. Instant oatmeal also makes
a great microwavable breakfast or snack.
Exercise Often and Learn to Relax without Alcohol!
Try to get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day. This
acts as a magical anti-depressant during the winter months,
keeps you in shape and keeps you healthy to fend off the
inevitable flu, mononucleosis, strep throat and viruses
that hit freshmen in college.
Join a club sport; run with dorm mates, bike around campus,
try a new kind of exercise—often free of charge on
campuses. Pilates, yoga, aerobics, water polo, volleyball,
Frisbee are a few of the options.
Also, learn to breathe and meditate for stress reduction.
It burns calories.
Balance High and Low Fat Foods
Pay attention to what is fried and greasy—fries,
chips, tacos, chicken wings, pizza. Fat is all over the
place. Have fruit often. Not juice. FRUIT.
Stick to Eating Routines
Three meals a day. Healthy snacks. Easy. But hard to do.
Avoid food after 9pm. Breakfast, breakfast, breakfast.
Lay off the Alcohol and Substances
Consider the calories in alcohol and what happens when
you get the munchies. A six-ounce pina colada has 350 calories
on average. Beware of the “mixes” for mixed
drinks. They are heavy on sugar. Drink water, not power
Go Veggie, but Go Wisely
Weight management is very difficult without protein in
your diet. Two palm-size servings per day will help control
Following is a list of snack items that are worth having
in the dorm room:
Instant sugar free hot chocolate
Cold cereal with milk
Oranges, apples, grapes, melon
Parents should remember that there is nothing like receiving
a care package from home with cookies or a fruit and nut
bread (banana, carrot, zucchini). These keep for a long
time in the refrigerator and one slice provides a dense
and nutritious breakfast.
Finally, it’s not a bad idea to take along a copy
of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Total Nutrition by Joy Bauer (third edition, New York: Alpha Books). It’s
friendly and fun and chock full of information that students
can share and learn.
Dr. Engelland has a practice in Mamaroneck devoted
to Adolescent Primary Care. She can be reached at
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