The Freshman 15: Myth or Fact


Rather than take the approach of “how to avoid the freshman 15”, I’d like to address what actually happens during your first year away from home. Is the Freshman 15 a myth or fact? It’s, actually, a little of both. Did you know that the phrase “The Freshman 15” was coined by Seventeen magazine in 1989? I learned this fascinating fact while doing a research project in college. What’s even more incredible is that the research evidence available at the time suggested that weight gain experienced during the first year of college typically only ranged from 0-8 lbs. The iconic tagline took off and continues to instill fear in many college-bound students. Rather than take the approach of “how to avoid the freshman 15,” I’d like to address what actually happens during your first year away from home.

What are some of the causes of weight gain during freshman year?

  • Complete access to dining halls. Guess what? If you want to eat pizza every day, you can—because it’s always available! There is no one to tell you what to eat and what not to eat, and no one to control what is being served for dinner. Sometimes with this new freedom of dietary choices, we forget the importance of balanced meals.
  • No more PE. Your life changes a lot when going to college. Previously, you may have been involved in multiple sports or participated in physical education every year. PE is not a requirement for college curriculum, so it’s up to you to follow an active lifestyle! Many students overlook how important regular physical activity is for keeping a healthy weight.
  • Late-night habits. In high school, I would hit the hay routinely around 10pm. Once I went to college, that bedtime could be anywhere from midnight–2am. Drastic changes in one’s routine, lack of sleep and excessive late-night snacking can all alter your metabolism and cause weight gain.
  • Alcoholic intake. For those that choose to drink alcohol, remember it is a source of non-nutrient calories. Alcohol can also impair our good judgment skills. Suddenly, you find yourself justifying that an extra-large pepperoni pizza at 1am sounds like a perfectly good idea! Research suggests that students who gain the most weight are typically heavier drinkers.

Is weight gain in college really all that bad?

Absolutely not. For a lot of people, their bodies are nowhere near done maturing at the age of 18. Boys can continue to grow taller and develop more muscle mass. Girls’ bodies may mature more with continuous breast and hip development. Both of these growth examples are natural and have no correlation to being in college. Weight gain among college students is quite variable and some even lose weight their first year.

Should I be worried?

Nah. College was one of the best experiences of my life! Plus, you don’t have to follow a perfect diet to maintain health and wellness. Focus on all the new opportunities you will experience, such as a gym membership, culturally-diverse food choices and social gatherings. It was in college that I took my first group fitness class, fell in love with it and became an instructor. My taste buds exploded with all the new foods I was trying. And I met some pretty incredible people and made memories to last a lifetime.

It’s really simple. You’re going away to college.

Remember to:

-eat breakfast

-try to get at least 6-7 hours of sleep every night

-don’t forget your fruits and veggies

-have fun!

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