Weighing in: is the “Freshman 15” just a myth?

By: Meghan Hudson, Staff Writer
Featured image courtesy of NBC News

“Freshman 15.”

It’s a term most, if not all, people hear in relation to coming to college. For some, it serves as a far away possibility, something that only holds a home in college-based films and angsty television shows.

For others, gaining 15 pounds is added to the list of fears that comes along with moving onto college grounds. Some share stories of their weight gain in college; others share that they’ve stayed exactly the same, or that they have even lost weight since beginning university level schooling. With the constant sway between stories shared by undergraduates, it leaves one to question: is the “freshman 15” a real thing?

According to Jaime Kaplan, staff psychologist and coordinator of eating disorder services, the “freshman 15” is “more of a myth than a factual occurrence.”

“For many, this is the first time they are on their own, away from their parents,” Kaplan said. “Because they get to choose when to eat, how much to eat, and what to eat, they may not always make healthy choices. What I mean by healthy, is eating balanced meals.”

Kaplan emphasized the importance of developing or maintaining healthy choices that are sustainable, in order to avoid any new unhealthy habits from forming.

Kerry Ballek, a registered dietitian and advisor to the Towson University Nutrition Club, offered some advice on making healthy decisions in Towson’s dining halls.

“When eating in our ‘all-you-care-to-eat’ dining halls, survey all the options in the dining hall before going straight for burgers and fries,” Ballek advised. “Eat with your stomach, not with your eyes. Stop eating when you are just starting to feel full and not when you are ‘Thanksgiving stuffed.’”

Ballek also provided specifics on what types of foods would be best for college students to indulge in.

“Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits, ¼ grains – whole grains if available, and ¼ lean protein sources [such as] baked chicken, turkey, beans, eggs,” Ballek added. “Choose fat-free milk, and drink water throughout the day as your main beverage. Limit your intake of sugar sweetened drinks. Choose healthy snacks [and] eat a healthy breakfast.”

It is important to note that eating more often is not the same thing as “over-eating,” according to Kaplan. She highlighted the fact that first time students may find themselves forgetting to eat as they rush between classes. Waiting long intervals of time for the next meal can actually lower one’s metabolism, thus leading to weight gain.

“The whole idea around a healthy lifestyle is balance and consistency,” Kaplan said. “Good habits have to be formed consistently over a period of time, otherwise, we are destined to fall back into old, unhealthy habits.”

While the term “unhealthy” is largely associated with eating too much or being inactive, excessive dieting and exercising can become unhealthy as well. According to Kaplan, because dieting often requires eliminating foods and/or an entire food group, it is not considered to be a healthy method for weight loss.

“The best thing to do for a healthy lifestyle is to change your diet, not go on a diet,” Kaplan said.  “Changing your diet might mean incorporating more fruits and vegetables throughout the day or ensuring that you are eating at least three, balanced meals. These changes are sustainable and can be lifelong.”

Additionally, study and sleep habits play an important part in staying healthy, according to Kaplan.

Kaplan said that first-year students overall will stay awake later, and rush to classes in the morning time, all while still transitioning into their new school and new life. These factors, as well as making new friends and being away from family members, can cause stress and it takes time for students to find their niche, Kaplan noted. She added that not knowing how to properly manage stress can have a serious impact on one’s physical and mental well-being.

Kaplan offered some advice for first year students. First, she said to plan ahead for food, and to make sure to eat three meals a day, having necessary snacks in between. She also advised not to go more than four hours without eating.

Secondly, she warned students on taking nutrition advice from non-professionals.

“There are a lot of tips and tricks out there that are usually not true,” she said.

Third, Kaplan said to create a steady sleep schedule and stick to it. She also recommended carving out time for both relaxation and fun.

“Meet people and make plans together, whether it’s sharing a meal, going for a walk, or just talking outside,” Kaplan said. ” Get out of your dorm and ensure your time at TU is well-rounded.”

Kaplan’s fourth point: exercise. While there is a “bigger, better Burdick,” with Towson’s newly renovated gym, students may find exercising to be more sustainable through activities such as yoga, or by joining an intramural sports team, according to Kaplan.

Lastly, she recommended joining a club.

“This is another stress reliever that will put you in the same room as people with similar interests as you,” Kaplan said. “There are hundreds of organizations on campus, ranging from academic honor societies, Greek Life, service organizations, and the arts. Find what excites you,” she said.

Kaplan advises any student seeking professional help to reach out to Towson University’s counseling center.

“The Towson University Counseling Center is a great resource and a good place to start if you are feeling homesick, stressed, anxious, depressed, or having difficulties with body image or eating.”

Additionally, Ballek offers free nutrition counseling for students, and encourages students to reach out to her via email for an appointment.

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