It’s almost time for the college co-eds to head back to campus and for the wee freshman to move dorm-side. Inevitably, they’re hearing warnings of the weight gain known as the freshman fifteen…or thirty. What they really want to know is: ‘Does the freshman fifteen happen to everyone?’ and ‘How can I avoid it’? I’ve been reminiscing about my college experience (The good parts…not the organic chemistry part). When I harken back, the college weight gain never happened to me. In fact, the only thing I gained were calf muscles from our hilly campus and the loss of a pound or two being away from Dad’s constant cooking. But it definitely did not work that way for everyone. Reason one? James Madison University is consistently rated in the top 5 best college dining programs in the nation.

Within my alma mater, many students seemed to gain significant weight over the first year. However, many others developed disordered eating habits including anorexia, drunkorexia (avoiding eating to ‘save’ calories for drinking), and exercise addiction. I think the development of such extremes within a population shows college students are culturally not prepared to make knowledgeable food decisions on their own.

Extremes cause extremes. If parents are keeping severely diet restrictive homes, students will binge when they find the forbidden readily available in college. If parents consistently rely on produce minimal, fast food for dinner every night, they may have students who turn to extremes of dieting to ‘fit in’ with the stringent society designated ‘look’ of a college female. All of this is starting before they ever set foot on the Quad. Geeze.

For as much as can be advised by this point in the game, there are some things to keep in mind to avoid the freshman 15. Here’s how I continued to keep healthy and normal eating patterns when I was a college freshman:

  • Keep breakfast food in your dorm: If you don’t eat breakfast you’ll over eat later. I loved to keep Kashi Roll! bars as well as yogurt and fruit in my room.
  • Seek out veggies: I made a serious attempt to order a side salad with every meal or find steamed veggies at another dining station to match my main dish. The school won't do it for you...you need to balance your meal.
  • Savor the treats: There will be cake, pie, cookies, ice cream and they will be available to you everywhere. The novelty will wear off eventually if you are conscious of your decision-making. If you truly savor the times you purchase dessert treats, it’s not a habit to purchase them with each meal.
  • The alcohol issue:  It is illegal to drink under the age of 21 as a freshman. That being said, realistically you will probably drink your first year on campus. If you attend a southern university, hospitality and school character dictates that all parties provide free drinks. Which is why many students from other colleges would drive hours to spend the weekend at my U. Alcohol and mixers are tons of empty calories and can induce group Chinese food ordering at 3 AM. Chinese food at 3 AM also still has calories.

How did you avoid the Freshman 15? Why do you think it happens?

Dietitian Nutritionist. My husband Chris and I create food and beverage photos, videos, stopmotions and recipes. And they're really cool.