Too many choices lead to Freshman 15

By Teresa Sewell

Rhonda Averhart has found it easier to control her weight over the last three years that she has lived an apartment – something that she didn’t find easy to do as a freshman living in the Florida Avenue Residence Halls.

The senior in LAS once found herself eating second servings of cheesecake slices in the cafeteria, eating burgers and fries every night at the campus’ snack center “Late Nite,” and having access to an unlimited amount of soda from the fountain machines.

By the second or third month of her freshman year, she had gained 20 pounds.

“I couldn’t fit in my pants,” Averhart said. “I had to buy bigger clothes.”

Averhart represents those students who believe they became victims of the “Freshman 15,” a belief on campuses across the country that students will gain at least 15 pounds entering their first year of college.

The American Dietetic Association says the average college student gains about seven pounds as a result of “stress, sudden lifestyle changes, new and unsupervised food choices and for many a decrease in their levels of physical activity.”

“I think it was because of the cafeteria food,” she said. “You just have a whole bunch of food in front of you that you can choose from. I would go for seconds just because I could.”

In 2003, researchers at Cornell University revealed in a study that freshmen gain about four pounds during their first 12 weeks on campus and that the regular increase of small calories is possibly a factor in the phenomenon of rising obesity among Americans.

“I knew what the problem was,” she said. “I wasn’t getting a well-balanced diet.”

She regularly ate greasy foods without any of the vegetables that her mother used to encourage her to eat back at home.

When she began living in an apartment, she became choosier because she was responsible for buying her own groceries and she stopped seeing the “never-ending food” at the buffet style dining halls.

“People think it is 15 pounds,” Nutrition Educator at McKinley Health Center Justine Karduck said. “But it’s so much less.”

She said the average freshman gains around six pounds the entire year, but many don’t even gain that.

But she said weight gain will probably happen to some because of lifestyle changes. Many students become less athletic when they come to college.

Freshman in Business Kevin Blaha said that this can be a challenge.

He was on the soccer and lacrosse teams in high school. He now exercises four times a week to stay active.

“I don’t know how you can gain so much weight,” Blaha said. “There is so much walking you do on this campus.”

He’s been warned of the freshman 15 for years, but he’s not too worried about it.

He is tempted to try everything in the cafeteria because there is such a variety, but frequently grabs a salad, instead of things like french fries.

He has gained four pounds since he’s been here, but he believes that it could be muscle. Even though he eats more now that he is away from home, he exercises more too.

David Mejia, freshman in Business, is worried that the 12 pounds his older brother gained his first year at the University is an indicator of what will happen to him.

“Late Nite is the greatest invention ever, but it’s also the worst,” he said. “They have everything.”

He can easily walk downstairs in the Illinois Street Residence Hall and grab snacks.

Blaha agreed.

“Yeah, you can always have that fourth meal,” he said.

But Mejia keeps a post-it note on his computer that has his weight written on it. It serves as a reminder of what his weight was when he got here. Karduck said that it is up to the student to prevent the weight gain.

“You have to try harder to maintain a healthy diet,” said Karduck. “Parents aren’t there to remind you to eat your vegetables.”

She said the dining halls offer healthy food choices also and that students should avoid an excess of fatty and microwavable foods.

Karduck is also a Sports Well Center coordinator. The center, which is in the Union, offers dietary advice on nutrition and controlling weight gain. Soon, the center will offer a free online class to help students manage their weight.

In the meantime, Averhart has some advice for freshmen.

“Don’t eat everything you see,” she said. “Choose wisely.”