“Denial” may be the first stage of the infamous weight gain that inevitably happens after beginning college in the fall. Unfortunately, it’s an inconvenient truth that happens to a lot of us. Come Thanksgiving break, we won’t be able to fit into our favorite skinny jeans that we swear fit us in August.
While some people take a lighthearted approach to it, body image is a real concern that can stress people out. But have no fear, a firm explanation (okay, a well-supported theory) on why the Freshman 15 is a real thing is here.
The idea that college students enter a “honeymoon phase” when they begin their freshman fall is solid reasoning for why weight gain could happen. Think of newly married couples: Once they are done with dating and settle down, many newlyweds begin to live a looser lifestyle and care less about appearance or body image due to their newfound happiness. A recent study by the City University of New York supports this — the majority of married couples experienced an increase in BMI and weight gain within their first five years of marriage.
While very few college freshmen are married, we all do enter a similar period of “honeymooning.” Freshman year means new: new friends, new experiences and a whole new lifestyle. We’re excited to live in a new town and try new things, including food, and don’t want to miss out on savoring our time here – especially not with Andy’s right down on Chicago Avenue.
So, just like the married couples in the study, we’ve entered a euphoria of enjoying everything. We don’t worry about the consequences of splurging on a sundae or eating an extra slice of pizza in the dining hall because, to be honest, who cares? It’s college.
For many, it can be hard to adjust to life on your own. Independence means being in charge of your own schedule, your own choices and your own eating habits. But that’s obvious: “Oh, I’m gaining weight because I don’t have my mom around to tell me when I’ve eaten too many Doritos? Thanks.”
Well, yes. But not exactly.
Healthy habits of any sort require discipline. Our start to college is a time when we are fixated on other aspects of our lifesyles: our sleep schedules, our workloads, our clubs and activities. Food and drink aren’t even on our radar. We struggle with energy as is; why would we expel any more on counting calories or making healthier choices when we can just eat a burrito and be done with it?
Whether it’s late-night snacking while studying or skipping breakfast in exchange for sleeping in, a normal routine can be hard to get into, and this can lead to dangerous eating habits. A study by the National College Health Assessment (NCHA) showed that the three habits that contribute most to college weight gain are snack consumption, larger meal portions and decreased activity. Pulling an all-nighter? Definitely having some Oreos. Starving for dinner after a busy day? Definitely getting dessert. Too tired to work out? Definitely watching Girls instead. Our choices become habitual and pretty soon, our routine is not having a routine.
So, now that we’ve concluded that the Freshman 15 has a lot working for it rather than against it, it’s time to fight it. Here’s how:
Even if it’s just Monday yoga classes or a jog to North campus on Saturday mornings, anything helps. You’ll feel great afterwards and you’re bound to want to fit more fit into your weekly schedule.
It sounds cliché, but your choices are everything. Choose one healthy option each day, whether it’s the salad bar or skipping the shortcut to class. Choose to be in control of what you eat and how you feel about it — don’t let obsessive thoughts consume you. Choose one thing to splurge on (or skip), rather than a few (or none). If you’re meeting your friends later for ice cream, pass on the pizza. But if you just had a really hard midterm, have both.
Alcohol plays a huge role in college weight gain. Two cups of beer can have the same amount of calories as a small order of French fries. Limit your intake of “bad booze” and find creative ways to cut the calories: Remember, clear liquor is always lighter.
Munchies are real… and they rock, until the moment you realize just how deep into the bag of popcorn you’ve made it. Keep something in the fridge that’s acceptable to eat in abundance. Leave money at home so you’re not tempted to buy food post-partying. Or, indulge in late-night munchies, but make it a smaller portion, like sharing Cheesie’s with a friend.
Weight gain is bound to happen; it happens to everyone. And, it’s not the end of the world. In reality, the “15” in Freshman 15 is a bit of an exaggeration. Remember that five-pound fluctuations are normal. Once you get into the groove of things, a routine and good habits will fall into place. As long as you’re healthy and happy, the rest will work itself out.