College is stress. It’s a world of, “do your work”, “study for that test”, “earn some cash” and to top it all off, “don’t fail.” With the constant pressures of school and classes, exercising tends to take a back seat. While many older students have found balance between class, work, exercise and socializing, freshmen going into college have a world of responsibility thrown onto their shoulders. As a result, the dreaded freshman fifteen comes into view. This concept, the idea of freshman gaining fifteen pounds their first year of college, results from the freshman tendency to minimize exercise and maximize meal plan possibilities.
As any freshman will find (or will have already discovered), college gives you far more free time than high school. It’s a whole new world. No longer are you trapped in the rigorous cycle of school, academic clubs, sports activities, work, eat, sleep, wake-up and do it again. The classes are a fraction of the time and even using hours upon hours to study still allows time to meet up for dinner or hangout with friends. The issue most freshman face is then reaching a healthy balance. Exercise, an action proven to reduce stress and increase focus, is forgone and replaced by an excess of studying or an excess of partying. Its not an intentional, “Oh, I don’t need to exercise,” but an, “I’m too tired,” or, “I’ve already done so much today.” For all the new free time in a freshman’s schedule, college is busy. It’s stressful. By falling prey to the “I’ve done so much” or “I don’t have the energy” mentality, students fail to realize the lack of physical exertion present in their schedules. Walking to class doesn’t make up for a weekend of drinking or Netflix binge watching. Classes are mentally exhausting, but don’t mistake mental exhaustion for exercise. Yet, exercise accounts for only a portion of blame regarding the “freshman fifteen.”
The eating habits of many college freshman resemble those of a toddler trapped in a candy aisle. The four basic food groups of carbs, sugar, grease and fat can be found littered among the plates of the dining hall. Freshman claiming to “eat healthy” make the mistake of getting a bowl of pasta, three cookies and a banana. The biggest cause of the freshman fifteen and the most difficult problem to fix is the freshman diet. Dining halls offer massive amounts of food from all food groups and after being set loose from the leash, freshman can’t seem to avoid the sweets station or the late night pizza bar. Need snacks for the dorm? Freshman stock up on cookies, chips and soda, but continue to claim they “eat healthy.” Rare is the freshman who eats apples and peanut butter instead of a snickers bar. Freshman mistake eating a treat every now and again for eating sweets every day and, when combined with the lack of exercise, find themselves gaining pound after pound with no idea as to how or why.
Exercising doesn’t require hitting the gym for two hours a day every day and eating healthy doesn’t require the total elimination of sweets from your life. The key is balance and the sooner a rising freshman, freshman or any college student can reach that balance, the less worry they should harbor for weight gain. Putting them on a path ahead of time (or after their first year wake-up call!) on how to properly fit in weekly exercise and diet choices may be one of the best gifts you can give to your soon-to-be (or already existing) college age student.