Words by Hallie Saculla
Photo Illustration by Mark Tabar

While freshman year of college can symbolize a longing sense of independence, the transition can also lead to the dreaded freshman 15, a widespread belief that students frequently gain 15 pounds during their first semester of university.

A 2015 study revealed that 60.9 percent of students gained an average of 7.5 pounds during their freshman year. A similar study followed students throughout their entire undergraduate education and found that 70 percent of students gained between 12-37 pounds by graduation.

“Many of us at one time or another fall victim to laziness or feel our schedules are too busy to be healthy,” says Michelle Borovitcky, a clinical dietitian at Akron Children’s Hospital. “College students are no exception. Juggling classes, homework, friends, work and other added activities is a lot to take on. This can cause us to put our health to the back burner.”

A majority of incoming freshmen start college after their high school graduation, which allows for a new independent style of living. These particular students, who may have relied on family members to supply groceries all of their lives, are now making food decisions of their own.

“Eating in dining halls on campus or venturing out to fast food places doesn’t always offer the healthiest options, and food kept in dorm rooms typically isn’t much better.” Borovitcky says. “While the notorious ramen noodles are a staple for college students, most pre-packaged food options are filled with sodium and provide us with minimal nutrients.”

Borovitcky encourages students to keep nutrient-dense foods in their rooms that can work on-the-go, like peanut butter with an apple, almonds with unsweetened whole grain cereal, low-fat string cheese and veggies with hummus.

Chelsey Ludwiczak, a local registered and licensed dietitian, suggests to plan meals ahead of time. She feels that taking the time to prepare healthy meals will give the consumer control – something students have a limited amount of when purchasing food from outside sources.

“The five to 10 minutes of preparing your meals in advance will offer you a notable benefit of knowing what is in your dish and how it was prepared,” Ludwiczak says.

Borovitcky also recommends water as a student’s beverage of choice. The calories from energy drinks, soda and alcohol can add up quickly and contribute to weight gain.

Another factor that can lead to the freshman 15 is the lack of exercise in a student’s life. Not only can maintaining a regular exercise routine burn calories and boost your metabolism to keep a healthy weight, it can also increase focus, improve memory retention, relieve stress and boost moods.

Borovitcky advises the incorporation 60 minutes of physical activity, either all at once or broken up into more manageable increments, into a student’s day.

If exercising daily in a gym doesn’t sounds appealing, walking briskly across campus instead of taking the bus, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or cycling to class are simple alternatives to increase heart rate.

In addition to maintaining a healthy diet and consistent workout routine, getting enough sleep is also instrumental in managing a healthy weight. Partying until the early hours of the morning and pulling all-nighters to study for exams can lead to low energy and unnecessary snacking.

“While students can experience weight gain, signing your acceptance letter to college doesn’t mean you are destined to increase your waistline,” Borovitcky says. “Like any healthy lifestyle, it takes planning, hard work and dedication.”

The habits and behaviors students cultivate during college years are critical. By adapting to different situations and schedules, students can learn how to be healthy throughout their college years and beyond.

Hallie Saculla is the fitness and recreation reporter for The Burr.