The Myth of the Freshman 15

via Flickr, by wader

via Flickr, by wader

As a current or prospective university student, you’ve probably already heard of – and dreaded – the Freshman 15, those supposed 15 or so pounds of excess weight gained within the first year of post-secondary studies. Friends may have cautioned you to watch what you eat as you enter this new stage of your life, because the transition to campus life is commonly associated with unwanted weight gain.

The advice comes from good intentions, but it may be misplaced. Instead of motivating the young froshie to adopt a healthy lifestyle, the spectre of the Freshman 15 may push the vulnerable young-adult into the no man’s land of disordered eating. For this reason, an informed, balanced approach to eating and drinking should be your main concern, not the numbers on your scales.

To start with, here are a few questions for you: Have you ever heard of the Sophomore 15? How about the Senior 15? No on both counts? No wonder. If it is true that the first year of university turbo-charges weight gain among new students – and it’s actually a very big “If” – then it follows that succeeding years should also make you pack on the pounds at an unprecedented rate.

But that doesn’t happen. And any weight gain that does occur throughout one’s academic career can usually be attributed to the natural, normal and inevitable process of growing up and growing into an adult body. In fact, scientists at Ohio State University have found that freshmen are more likely to gain a mere two or three pounds in their first year of studies, and that a full 25 per cent of students actually lose weight. The Freshman 15 is not completely anomalous, however; the same researchers found that fewer than 10 per cent of students gained 15 pounds or more. Odds are very good you won’t fall into that narrow bracket.

Sure, school stress, excessive alcohol consumption, limited exercise and immoderate ingesting of cafeteria food can all play a part in the Freshman Anything. But that’s one of the risks you take when you become a young adult. Growing up means being exposed to all sorts of new experiences, some of which will have a direct impact on your physical health. Maturity means making smart choices when those situations arise, while not letting irrational fears stop you from indulging once in a while.

The only piece of advice the freshman really needs is this: Forge your own path, in life as in academia. Wisdom, including a grounded awareness of your body’s needs, can only come from experience. Make health and happiness your goals, not some pie-in-the-sky body ideal, and the Freshman 15 will never touch you.

Word Count: 445; The Lexicon

August 19, 2013: http://thelexicon.ca/2013/08/19/the-myth-of-the-freshman-15/

editor writer

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