I just started college this fall. I'm embarrassed to go home during the holidays because I know I've gained a lot of weight (I don't have a scale but my clothes are a lot tighter). Any advice?
Ah, the Freshman 15. It's not a myth -- college students do tend to put on weight during their first couple of years on campus. Speculation abounds about why, but suffice to say you're not alone.
But first things first: Get over your embarrassment, and turn it into a positive plan of action. Don't let your holidays be ruined either by feeling guilty every time you indulge in a holiday treat or by continuing on a destructive path of weight gain. Use your time off to learn a few things about the number of calories you typically consume (most people are blissfully unaware of that bit of information) and start on strategies to cut back -- strategies that will work for you in your day-to-day life.
The point is, don't let the Freshman 15 become the Sophomore 20. A Washington University study published in the May/June 2005 issue of the Journal of American College Health found that about 70 percent of students gained a significant amount of weight between the beginning of their freshman year and the end of their sophomore year.
Another study at Cornell University reported that college freshmen who participated in the study gained an average of 4.2 pounds just during their first 12 weeks on campus. The researchers reported at a 2003 conference that the freshmen, on average, gained about 0.3 pound per week, which is almost 11 times more than the weekly weight gain expected in 17- and 18-year-olds and almost 20 times more than the average weight gain of an American adult. So, although the Freshman 15 is a common phenomenon, it's not in any way a normal fluctuation in weight.
So what do you do? Successful long-term weight-loss strategies include weighing yourself regularly (once a day or once a week -- either way, get a scale!); getting plenty of physical activity; eating a healthful breakfast every day; limiting calories to about 1,800 a day; keeping your eating habits consistent; and quickly combating weight gains of even just a pound or two.
Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1044, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column was reviewed by Sharron Coplin, registered dietitian and nutrition associate for Ohio State University Extension in the College of Human Ecology.