Adjusting to Campus Life May Contribute to Freshman Weight Gain

By Mara McGinnis

Release Date: August 4, 1998 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The "Freshman 15" -- the notorious excess pounds dreaded by first-year college students -- cannot be attributed to students' lack of nutritional knowledge, but rather to behavioral changes that come with a new, drastically different lifestyle, according to Janice Cochran, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at the University at Buffalo.

Major lifestyle changes come with living away at college and may contribute to a student taking part in behaviors, including drinking excessively, failing to exercise and eating poorly, that cause weight gain, explains Cochran.

Dormitory living can be a major contributor to weight gain, according to Cochran, who counsels students in the UB Living Well Center and the university's Student Health Center.

"Socializing revolves around food and people tend to eat more in a group setting. The all-you-can-eat setting in the dining hall and the number of choices can be overwhelming and invite seconds or extras, even if a student is already full," she adds.

"Students, now on their own, often feel a sense of rebellion and think they should be able to eat whatever they please, day after day," notes Cochran. "Hectic schedules also can lead to skipped meals, which leads to extreme hunger and overeating."

Cochran, who counsels students who overeat for reasons including boredom, stress and depression, says "most of the freshmen who come to see me for help with weight loss have gained about 10-20 pounds, but there are more extreme cases."

Students know that if they suddenly reduce their physical activity, as many college freshmen do, it is going to have an effect, according to Cochran. But when they come to college, class pressures intensify and they end up spending most of their time reading or in front of a computer.

Cochran strongly encourages students to stay active by including some level of physical activity or exercise in their schedules. "They shouldn't think of activity as an interruption, but as

increasing their effectiveness," she adds, noting that exercise also can relieve stress and help improve study skills.

• Concentrate on controlling portions. Tell servers "that's enough" if they are loading your plate. Taking only what you will eat also prevents waste.

• Eat slowly so you will have a better sense of when you're full. Try to enjoy the conversation during a meal and to savor the food.

• Avoid excessive drinking. Even if you watch what you eat, the calories will add up if you drink six alcoholic beverages a night, two to three nights a week. She notes that two beers and a shot total about 400 calories.

• Try to avoid eating late at night.

• Keep other beverages in check while drinking as much water as possible.

• Avoid overeating as a way of dealing with stress. If you find you are eating when you are not hungry, take time to identify the underlying cause and take steps to address it.

• Fat from naturally occurring sources, such as dairy products, nuts, seeds and avocado, is better for the body than fat from added butter, the oil in fried foods or the fat in such convenience foods as ramen noodles, frozen egg rolls and pot pies.

• Avoid processed foods, which typically are high in fat and calories and low in nutrients.

Everyday: cereal, toast, bagel, English muffin, pita, fruit or 100% fruit juice, milk, yogurt, and leaner meats (eg. Canadian bacon, turkey sausage)

Now and Then: creamed entrees or sauces, cheese-based entrees, fried entrees, fried patties, French fries, meats breaded and fried, meats with skin, or meats in big portions and rich desserts