Avoiding the Freshman 15: The Weight Gain That Doesn't Have to Happen
Fast weight gain in the first year of college is frequent and hardly surprising. Hormonal and metabolic changes are continuing to occur at the end of the teenage years, and the final metamorphosis into an adult is usually accompanied by a decreased metabolism. In addition, habits change greatly as students move from high school to college. Exercise typically decreases during college, eating increases, and the type of food establishments that cater to colleges are not known for their health benefits (including, in large part, the cafeterias that serve universities). When translated, this can result in easy and rapid weight gain, and radically alter students' appearance and self-esteem in a year or sometimes even months. The change is obvious: about 18 percent adolescents from ages 12-19 are overweight, while nearly two-thirds of adults over twenty are overweight! If you don't want to join that category, or if you want to figure out how you got there and some simple steps for reversing the process, then read on. If you are one of the rapidly decreasing number of adults that are not overweight, then I recommend that you cease reading this article and immediately educate someone on your method of successfully keeping weight off.
Who is most at risk for college weight gain? The answer may not be what you expect: men. In one study, men gained about 5 pounds on average during their freshman year, while women gained around 3 or 4. Obviously, based upon the statistics of the previous paragraph, the weight gain continues and can even accelerate. Only a small number actually do gain fifteen pounds during the freshman year, but the implication appears to be that terrible eating habits are picked up during the freshman year and never lost.
The answer to the reason for the extra freshman pounds is one of simple mathematics. The calories consumed are above the amount of calories burned. When more calories are consumed than burned, weight is retained and increased. More specifically, if college students are exercising at all, then the average level of exercise is not sufficient to burn off the junk food and other calories taken in. While a rare few may be managing to keep the pounds off, the honest truth is that not enough are. Our habits must change.
Aside from the quantity of food intake and amount of calories burned is the quality of the food that is eaten. Another sad truth is that while the ice cream, cookie, and burger lines in the average cafeteria are probably chock full of students, the salad lines are most likely only patronized by those intending to slather a large quantity of fatty dressing on their lettuce. Bad foods like these are a sure source of sugars, fats, and oils, and are a sure way to turbocharge weight gain. Another issue is the quality of food available in the dorm room. Snack foods are notoriously unhealthy; the foods most likely to be kept in a dorm room are those that do not go bad as easily, and these include chips (which can contain about 1/3 of their weight as fat, much like many Americans are growing to be), cookies, sweets, beef snacks, and many other proven methods of shortening lifespan. Fruits and vegetables are more difficult to select, often more expensive to buy, and keep a shorter amount of time, and many students shy away from them altogether.
The biggest single issue contributing to weight gain in the United States today, however, is apathy. We obviously do not care that the value meal we just ordered from the local burger joint is only valuable if we want to become a race of Oompa Loompas, and that since we finished it all, we have already consumed that day's worth of calories. We do not care that staying up late to pump energy drinks, eat potato chips, and play video games or surf the internet will eventually catch up to us. We do not care that the habits we are ingraining into our mental patterns, such as eating until after we are full, not exercising at all, and eating a greater percentage of calories as fats and sugars, will eventually kill us prematurely.
The motive for this apathy is not apparent, but its results are. The health of our people is steadily declining with weight gain. If we want to provide a good example to our children and prevent them from attaining the fate of most Americans, then we should remind them on a daily basis that the American Dream is not about having a full belly. If you have already experienced weight gain and are actually concerned about it, then you can follow a few simple steps which are repeated millions of times a day:
Decrease your portion size. If you feel full, you've already eaten too much.
Eat more in the morning, less in the afternoon, and even less at night.
Avoid oily, fatty, and fried foods altogether. There is nothing freeing about french fries, or liberating about liberty fries.
Avoid eating late at night.
Exercise. Three to five times a week is not that hard.