A fresh take on the freshman fifteen

One of the most terrifying things many college and university students fear is the common weight gain experienced mostly in the first year of leaving home. That’s where the dubbed “freshman 15” comes in, reflecting the belief that student will gain on average 2 to 15 pounds due to partying and their mac and cheese-reliant lifestyles.

You may be wondering whether the freshman 15 is just a myth or reality. When asking Wilfrid Laurier University educational nurse Marilyn Nieboer, she explained that this answer varies depending on factors relating to an individual’s body type, metabolism and eating habits.

“First year students experience a complete lifestyle change, there are many choices at the dining hall, some good and some bad, and it is now your responsibility to pick the healthy choice,” she explained.

She also mentioned how typically first years are drawn to comfort foods like chicken fingers and pizza. “The problem with comfort foods is the portion sizes are much higher and they are being consumed with little to no exercise.”

This is something that second year student Amber Trembley explained she related to in her first year at Laurier. “ I definitely didn’t go near the salad bar very often, I always picked things like pizza and pasta, things that were already made.”

However Trembley had a different experience than most people in terms of weight fluctuation. “A lot of my friends complained they were gaining weight and it was hard to get rid of and such, but I actually lost weight in first year. Even though I didn’t eat very healthy and I didn’t work out a lot either the stress worked in the opposite way to me than it did to most people,” she said.

Nieboer agreed with the common assumption that weight gain in first year is associated with eating habits and lack of exercise but she also attributes it to student’s lack of nutritional knowledge. “A major cause of weight gain is being unaware of nutritional values your body needs, snack foods are easy and convenient when you are hungry, but the salad bar can be just as easy.”

Nieboer believes it is important to be aware of caloric intake, especially when discussing the relevance the drinking factor plays in weight gain. “There is about 150 calories in one shot of vodka alone, which is often mixed with pop or a sugary mix and this is sometimes paired with McDonald’s afterwards — in one night that is quite the caloric intake,” she said.

Not getting enough sleep significantly contributes to over eating ⎯ something almost every student can relate to ⎯ due to the lack of leptin in your body.

Nieboer said that the main issue regarding lack of sleep is the lack of effort that it results in. “When you’re tired, you don’t want to make the extra effort to be healthy, so it’s easier to eat the junk food.”

This is why Nieboer believes exams and midterms are when students struggle the most to pick healthy choices.

First year student Sara Hicks agreed that these factors can impact weight gain. “With the girls in the residence I have noticed that our weight gain/loss fluctuates depending on time of the month and stuff, and what I mean by that is when there’s more stress, people are eating more and they’re gaining more weight,” she said.

On the roll stress plays in the overall health of students Nieboer said there is never ending circle between unhealthy living and stress. “It is never just one thing, it is the entire picture of a person’s lifestyle that contributes to their health overall. Stress can make you lose weight or gain weight, but it is unhealthy to be stressed out in the first place. It is very important to look for balance.”

– with files from Domenica Condie

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