Ever dream you missed an exam in a class you didn’t know you were taking? Or you walked through the dining commons in your underwear? When you woke up, you knew you didn’t really have to worry about those things happening. The Freshman 15 is another myth that causes undue stress. We’re here to debunk the Freshman 15 myth, discuss weight changes in college, and share tips on how to embrace wellness on campus.

The origin of the Freshman 15

The term Freshman 15 originated in the late 1980s in popular media, but was not based on any scientific studies establishing typical weight gain in college freshmen. As it became a more frequently referenced – and dreaded – rite of passage in the cultural lexicon, various scientific studies examined the validity of the term and found it coming up short with students having an average gain of about three pounds in the first year of college. In fact, a greater percentage of students lost weight during their first year than gained 15 or more pounds.

Does college cause weight gain? Or more accurately, is college associated with greater weight gain? Research has shown similar rates of weight gain for those who attend college versus those who don’t, suggesting that the college environment – Snellebrating and all – doesn’t contribute significantly to weight changes. It’s important to keep in mind that the World Health Organization defines adolescence as “the phase of life between childhood and adulthood, from ages 10 to 19.” As such, students entering college are continuing to grow and develop into emerging adulthood, and it’s reasonable to suspect that physiological development will result in some shifts in body composition and weight. And unfortunately, the idea that people should remain “high school skinny” well into adulthood (sometimes referred to as diet culture) contributes to an increased risk for eating disorders and disordered eating.

Knowing that the Freshman 15 is fiction

We also must acknowledge that weight is not the ultimate indicator of health that it was once believed to be. Using weight or BMI as the sole indicator of health can backfire because it doesn’t take into account lifestyle, body composition, or fitness. However, we find there are stronger ties between health outcomes and health promoting behaviors, like eating a nutritious diet, getting adequate sleep, and being physically active. These behaviors can promote health regardless of an individual’s weight.

Now that we’ve established that there’s no reason to fear the Freshman 15, here are a few wellness tips to help you actively engage on campus.

Build a routine

Adjusting to a new living situation, new campus, and new academic environment can feel chaotic. Establishing small routines, like consistent eating times (did you know carbs are the brain’s primary energy source?), will keep you feeling well fueled when you need it, whether it’s dashing for that ORBIT bus or sitting down to your first o-chem exam. Self care, including getting enough sleep and eating a nutritious diet, are the groundwork for your success; just like you set aside time to study, be sure to set aside time to meet your physical and emotional needs. Need help with managing time or stress? Wellness coaching is available to fees-paid UGA students at no charge.

Learn to listen to your body

Notice your physical hunger cues. These can vary from person to person, but may include the standard empty or rumbling stomach, feeling a bit scatter brained or anxious, headache, or general fatigue. Interoceptive awareness, or the awareness of ones own body cues, is part of an Intuitive Eating skillset which uses internal hunger cues to guide food choices. New to Intuitive Eating or want to learn more about nutrition? Check out the nutrition programs, including group workshops and individual nutrition counseling, offered in Health Promotion at the University Health Center.

Find an activity you love

From walking or biking on campus to intramural sports to everything under the roof at Ramsey (dance, swim, weights, rock climbing, cycling…we can keep going!), explore what movement feels enjoyable and fulfilling to you. Think about what activity you typically enjoy and why. Are you able to get in some social time with friends while walking or at a group fitness class? Or do you enjoy spending time outdoors on the trails at Lake Herrick? Physical activity has innumerable health benefits including improved cognitive function, reduced anxiety, improved sleep, and improved self-reported quality of life. Take home message: independent of weight changes, physical activity contributes to supporting brain health and overall sense of well being.

University Health Center provides a variety of services for students with eating and body image issues, including an evaluation, short-term individual therapy, nutritional counseling, medical assistance, and/or other services as appropriate. These services are provided by a multi-disciplinary eating disorders treatment team.

For information about individual therapy, please call 706-542-2273 or check the CAPS website. If you’d like to set up an appointment with the dietitian to discuss nutrition counseling for a possible eating disorder, please call 706-542-8690 or schedule online.

Written by: Beth Kindamo, Nutrition Education Coordinator, UHC Health Promotion