‘Freshman 15’ really closer to 7, study says

By Taimi Arvidson

As New Year’s resolutions fade into the past and students sink back into old eating and exercise habits, the Northeastern Eating and Weight Concerns Project (NEWCOPE) has been holding a series of lectures and activities to inform students about healthy eating practices. This includes topics like “Nutrition, Dieting and Exercise: Beyond Healthy” and “Media Awareness: Hollywood’s Big Fat Lies.”

“We are encouraging students to try a day where they reassess their diets and are comfortable in their own jeans,” said Dr. Emily Fox-Kales, founder of NEWCOPE and assistant academic specialist in the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies.

As NEWCOPE has been holding its non-diet campaign, a study done by Rutgers University’s Cook College in New Jersey recently found the average weight gain in freshmen is not the fabled “freshman 15” but actually about seven pounds, resulting from an excess of 112 calories a day. A set of 67 freshmen volunteered to undergo a series of measurements in the fall semester and again in the spring. The results showed that while many students did not gain 15 pounds, three-fourths did have a weight gain overall, and that if students maintain their freshman year eating habits, they can gain 27 pounds by graduation.

The study found freshmen typically gain weight as they transition from supervised home-cooked meals with Mom to the college lifestyle. The first year of college provides an environment where eating more than the body needs becomes a daily habit.

“For most students this is the first time they are completely in charge of their diet,” said Julianne Lemelin, a middler physical therapy major.

“They don’t have someone preparing meals for them. Students don’t always have the basic nutrition knowledge to make sound decisions for a well-balanced diet. The dining hall is filled with temptations like cookies, cake, ice cream and french fries, to name a few. There are more appealing unhealthy selections than there are healthy selections.”

Another factor can be a lack of activity prompted by the elimination of the organized sports of high school. The study also found the more sedentary lifestyle is also the result of having less time and interest in working out and keeping active.

“My students tell me that when they lived at home they had more regular meals,” Fox Kales said. “By the time they come to Northeastern they eat on the run or they don’t eat much during the day and pig out at night. Students eat because they have more access to food or are living a more stressed or sedentary lifestyle.”

Dina Ragab, a freshman international affairs and political science major, said students also have less control over what they eat, especially as freshmen eating solely at the dining halls.

“I think the reason everyone seems to be gaining so much weight is because there is absolutely no ingredient control,” Ragab said. “We eat what we are given. At home, we are much more used to some sort of say in what goes into our bodies.”

Additional factors mentioned in the study were buffet-style dining halls, like Stetson East or West, and increased alcohol consumption.

Fox-Kales said while alcohol consumption is a factor in the weight gain, it also leads to unhealthy dietary practices.

“People who drink a lot feel unconscious about their behavior,” Fox-Kales said. “Then they feel worse about themselves Monday morning, and that’s when they say, ‘Well, I’m not going to eat anything today.'”

Fox-Kales said students lose their restraint while drinking and take in an excessive amount of calories, only to try to lose them later by dieting or exercising in excess or simply not eating.

It is irrelevant whether students gain seven or 15 pounds, but more about lifestyle choices, she said.

Students who diet excessively develop binge-eating problems later in life, Fox-Kales said. Students constantly counting every calorie and gram of carbohydrate will most likely over-control their eating habits and over-indulge on a whim as a result.

“If you put the brakes on too tight you go in an opposite direction,” Fox-Kales said. She also said some students spend extreme amounts of time at the gym trying to lose the weight, a condition known as exercise bulimia.

One concern raised in the study is that freshman weight gain typically becomes permanent, or even increases.

“Despite most people’s best intentions,” Lemelin said, “I think that they keep their ‘freshman 15.’ As course work becomes more difficult, people find less time to fit the gym into their schedule.”

Developing unhealthy eating or exercise habits may not be the only negative aspect of this extra weight. If students keep up with these habits, they risk developing Type II diabetes, hypertension and low self-esteem, all of which could hinder academic performance, according to the study.

NEWCOPE is holding “Nutrition, Dieting and Exercise: Beyond Healthy?” today from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the lobby of the Marino Center. “Media Awareness: Hollywood’s Big Fat Lies” is tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m, on the ground floor of the Curry Student Center. See www.dac.neu.edu/newcope for more information.

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