As many first year students fall victim to the infamous freshman 15 phenomenon, a key to fighting back excessive weight gain when you enter university is understanding the causes and planning ahead.
What is the Freshman 15
While it is unclear where exactly the term “freshman 15″ originated, it generally refers to the tendency of students in North American universities to put on weight during their first year of studies (sometimes around 15 pounds of fat!). Although this tendency varies from student to student, and is by no means unavoidable, it can largely be attributed to several lifestyle changes that most students tend to experience when entering university.
Top 7 Reasons for Weight Gain in First Year
1. Cafeteria Food
It is no great secret that the typical dorm cafeteria is replete with unhealthy food options. While you might find a small salad bar or assortment of veggies, the overwhelming majority of food you will be exposed to consists of processed carbs and greasily cooked meat. As well, since most cafeterias are all you can eat (allowing you to stuff as many items on your plate as you desire) it is quite easy to go overboard and consume more food than your body can properly process. If you were used to eating clean home cooked meals growing up, this change will likely lead to weight gain unless you are very strict about the cafeteria items you select.
2. Late Night Snack Bar/Vending Machines
Not only is cafeteria food often a bad substitute for your traditional meals, but many dorms also tend to feature a late night snack bar including delicious goodies like pizza, chicken nuggets, fries, and hamburgers. If you fall into the nasty habit of making regular use of your dorms snack bar, then you will be consuming countless empty calories and most likely packing on excess weight. As well you will likely have easy access to vending machines with various sweets and chips to further compound the problem.
All-nighters have a nasty habit of derailing your eating regimen and throwing your hormonal system out of wack. Basically as your body becomes sleep deprived, it tends to become increasingly hungry. Moreover, when you are staying up all night to finish of that term paper due the next morning, chances are you will trade in the time needed to prepare a healthy meal for something quick and greasy. The effects of sleep loss carry on through the rest of your week as your body seeks to recuperate by taking in more calories. Neglect your sleep long enough, or pull frequent all-nighters, and your will most certainly gain unwanted weight.
4. Changes in Exercise Regime
If you were physically active prior to entering university, then you might fall into the bad habit of making up excuses for not exercising due to your increasingly busy and stressful new life. Yet a decrease in exercising equals a reduction in the amount of calories that you burn. And if you burn less calories, while taking more in due to the other factors on this list, then you have a recipe for fat gain!
Often cited as the most common reason for weight gain in university, frequent nights of binge drinking are sure-fire ways to pack on the pounds. A drink of any alcoholic beverage usually contains upwards of 100 calories. Thus a night of hard drinking, usually followed by the munchies and some late night binging on greasy fast food, and you may very well come close to doubling your daily intake of calories. By doing this often for a couple of weeks, typically during the start of your semesters when the workload has not piled on yet, you could easily pack on five pounds of fat!
6. Peer Pressure/Surroundings
Sadly even if you go into university knowledgeable about the aforementioned pitfalls and health risks, you may be unwilling to resist the peer pressure you will encounter. When your surroundings are full of your new friends splurging on junk food and drinking, then it is quite understandable that you would like to join in on the fun while you are still young. That said it is up to you to decide where to draw the line, and to take responsibility for your own health.
7. Maturing Metabolism
For some of you, your eating habits might have been far from ideal before heading off to university. Yet what might have kept your body relatively lean during your adolescent years, was the fact that you were still experiencing growth spurts and the benefits of a high teenage metabolism. Yet as your body begins to settle down around the age you enter university, you will find that you might experience weight gain simply by carrying on the same as you had in the past.
Preventing the Freshman 15
By understanding the root causes of your likely weight gain in university you will be much better equipped to deal with issues of unwanted fat build up in your body. Granted you will still want to enjoy the occasional night out of drinking with friends or splurging on fatty food after a stressful week, you can work to minimize your weight gain by taking simple actions such as, exercising regularly, avoiding late night snacking, and planning ahead to prevent all-nighters. Even if you ultimately do fall victim to this trend (as did the author of this article) do not stress about it too much. With a bit of time, and a lot of work it is always reversible!