Fight the freshman 15, can students stop the urge to chomp?

Freshman 15For almost as long as there have been freshman, there have been stories of the dreaded “Freshman 15,” that notorious addition of 15 pounds or more to a typical freshman’s weight between September and May. But all you freshmen out there don’t need panic. Just because you’re a first-year student doesn’t mean you have to gain weight.

The causes of the Freshman 15 aren’t difficult to spot.

Walk into any dining hall and the temptation is spread out before you: Slices of pepperoni pizza oozing with extra cheese, plates of golden-brown Tater Tots, plump chili-cheese dogs, chocolate chip cookies and — what the heck — some big brownies topped with ice cream for dessert. Add to these choices an increase in late-night snacking and/ or beer consumption, and weight gain is not surprising.

But controlling weight gain is up to you, and it begins with the choices you make at mealtimes. With so many tasty choices before them in the all-you-can-eat cafeterias, many students find themselves choosing their meals based on what they can fit on their trays. Don’t fall into that trap.

University of California at Los Angeles food manager Antoinette Rutledge says most UCLA students chow excessively at mealtimes because they take a serving of everything that appeals to them.

“I know it’s hard because of the variety available,” Rutledge says, “but if they just asked for a smaller portion it would probably help a lot.”

But tired and stressed students not only eat a lot — they also eat for instant gratification rather than long-term health.

“Kids don’t have their food monitored” in college, says Mary McKay, UCLA Medical Center chief clinical dietitian. “They can say, ‘Oh gee, I can have ice cream for breakfast,’ just because it’s there.”

Finding the willpower to refuse high calorie meals is not easy. Salad or cheeseburger, cheeseburger or salad? The burger is tempting, and often wins out over the healthier salad.

“When people are unsure of themselves, or are lonely and have other anxieties, there is a number of them who turn to food and eat,” McKay says. She adds that freshmen are more likely to be susceptible to such apprehension.

Eating is also a great procrastination activity — a perfect complement to late night studying. Midnight is synonymous with munchie time.

“It’s awful,” says UCLA freshman Lesley Gurkyn. “You know it’s going to happen, you’re warned. You just munch a lot and you eat more late night pizzas. You don’t take care of yourself. There’s no balance.”

“You come here, and all the food is fattening,” Gurkyn says. “Everything is loaded up with cheese and grease.”

Rutledge defends the UCLA menu, citing several healthy entrees offered regularly: chicken breasts, vegetables, turkey sandwiches, veggie burgers and sticky rice.

Still, students keep circulating a rumor that in the UCLA dining halls, even the lettuce isn’t fat free. According to legend, dining hall employees spray starch on the lettuce to counter potential eating disorders.

Rutledge, amused, denies such practices. She says students could easily stay fit while eating dining hall food if they just ate less of it. “Ask for half of a sandwich instead of a full one. Most of the meals, if you eat a little and not a lot, are not bad.”

But many students just don’t monitor their intakes — and without caution those Freshman 15 can turn into the Sophomore 30.

“I do think everybody should take a look at what they are eating,” McKay says. “People who gain weight may find it difficult to take off. There are life-long consequences.”

Beyond paying attention to the food you consume, a good deterrent to weight gain is jumping on the fitness bandwagon. “I have friends who are working out and never did before,” Gurkin says.

Nutrition counselors can also help by analyzing the food you typically eat and making suggestions for smarter food choices. You can also make an effort to de-emphasize the importance of food at social gatherings. “Instead of eating, look to each other for fun and entertainment,” McKay suggests.

Image courtesy: Columbia.edu’s article, dodge-ing the freshman 15