As students begin college, people often wonder if they will succumb to the “Freshman 15,” weight gain that occurs in their first year. A new study looked at the effect of college on weight. Over the four years of undergraduate education, students gained on average 11.7 pounds. Some actually lost weight (as much as 19 lbs., and the greatest gain was 37 lbs.). In essence, it’s not quite the freshman 15, but rather ‘The Freshman 5” or “The College 12.”
There are many reasons why college students gain weight. Some of the main ones are:
- Reduced sleep, since getting less than 7 hours of sleep leads to lower metabolism and higher fat building insulin and cortisol levels.
- Late night eating. We burn most of our fat while sleeping. Unless we eat before bedtime and therefore, we gain fat.
- Alcohol intake prevents fat burning, since the same enzymes are busy breaking down alcohol instead of burning fat. Alcohol also causes us to make unhealthy food choices, and reduces REM sleep, which also leads to weight gain.
- Higher processed foods, including carbs. High levels of processed sweets and starches lead to high levels of fat building insulin as well as excess calories.
- Decrease in physical activity – leads to less caloric burn as well as possibly less sleep
- Unlimited meal plans. Many college meal plans allow 2nd and 3rd helpings.
- Stress, which leads to cortisol production. Many people also self-medicate with food.
There are several steps to help prevent gaining weight in college. Most importantly, have a plan. At meals, fill up with water or calorie-free drinks and salads before each meal. Make sleep a priority, and try to limit eating right before bedtime. Have a scale and weigh daily. Keep a log so that you can catch weight gain early. If your pants are tight, don’t buy the next size up. Plan some physical activity. As little as 10 minutes daily will make a difference. If what you are doing is not working, get professional help from a physician with expertise in weight loss.