Science Scene: Bad Habits | Fear of the Freshman Fifteen

Ellen Airhart

There’s nothing fresh about the dread of weight gain that haunts students during their first year of college.

The infamous term “Freshman Fifteen” is misleading, but not completely inaccurate. College students do usually gain weight freshman year, but only about 2.5 to 3.5 pounds, according to a large study at Ohio State University. They only gained about half a pound more than their peers who didn’t go to college. This weight gain had minimal impact over time — adults who graduated from college are about 12 percent less likely to be obese than their peers who didn’t graduate from college, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Students worry about gaining more weight than they actually do. According to a study in the journal Eating Behaviors, 87 percent of female undergraduates with a normal weight wanted to shed pounds. This body dissatisfaction is a risk factor for dangerous behaviors such as disordered eating and restrictive dieting.

“Students that focus on healthy behaviors, regardless of whether they want to gain weight or lose weight, put themselves in the best position for mental and physical health, as well as academic success,”said William Mupo, health promotions coordinator at University Health Services.

Rather than focus on risky weight loss strategies, students can pursue healthy habits at UT through activities such as intramural sports, TeXercise classes and personal training. They can also take advantage of the Whitaker Fields and Tennis Courts and the Bellmont Hall weight room, which was renovated recently. Exercise helps students relieve stress and boost mental performance, as well as control weight gain.

Both University Health Services and the Division of Food and Housing Services have dietitians who can meet with students to discuss nutrition and meal planning. DFHS has also placed hydration stations where students can fill up empty water bottles throughout campus. UHS have many counselors who focus on talking to students about mindful eating.

Katherine Yates, UHS therapist and coordinator of the Mindful Eating Program, urges students to concentrate on developing these healthy habits, rather than on maintaining a certain weight.
“We all have a healthy weight range,” Yates said. “Focusing on the weight and calorie numbers can cause people to become obsessive."

Follow these links to read the science behind avoiding other bad habits such as not sleeping, test anxiety and procrastination.