Cal Poly faculty share tips to help incoming freshmen avoid the infamous Freshman 15. Stock Photo.

You’ve heard rumors about the Freshman 15: the dreaded extra baggage that people claim will magically gather around your waistline during freshman year of college.

For the first time in their lives, most college students are faced with new responsibilities in a new environment. For many students, this new lifestyle will result in weight gain, aka: the Freshman 15.

“Although people use that phrase, there is no actual data that shows there is a Freshman 15,” said Ann McDermott, director of the Cal Poly college health study FLASH. “That’s exactly why we have created the FLASH study. The college health study is one of the largest in the nation and is designed to look at health and health knowledge among the Cal Poly population.”

There is some weight gain associated with freshman year, according to the data from the FLASH study. The average weight gain for Cal Poly students is four to eight pounds during their freshman year.

“There is very little data on college students,” McDermott said. “During those four years, you leave your home environment, and your food environment. It can all potentially change.”

Most data suggests that Cal Poly students are coming to the campus already unhealthy. According to a 2008 study conducted at the University of Maryland, 37 percent of American teenagers are overweight or obese.

“If knowledge was the answer, all nutrition students would have perfect diets, all kinesiology majors would have perfect bodies,” McDermott said. “That’s simply not the case.”

From the experts:
Here are some suggestions for avoiding weight gain in college, direct from Cal Poly faculty.

Susan Swadener (nutrition professor): “I think the number one suggestion to students is to exercise more while they are adjusting to school life. Many students overeat due to the higher calorie foods sold on campus, which may be unhealthy when compared to what they ate at home.  Also stress may be a factor for overeating.”

Ann McDermott (STRIDE Director): “Be aware of when you’re eating, where you’re eating and how much you’re eating. The average American snack is 550 calories, and nearly all Americans snack every day. We’ve added a forth meal of the day, and that’s trouble with a capital ‘T’. If you want to snack, make it 150 calories or less, and make it a REAL food like whole wheat bread, fruit, nuts, etc.”

Tom Neuhaus (food science professor): “Having struggled with weight gain all my life, I have to say that there is no magic bullet. (The) best thing is to get lots of exercise. Bicycle to school rather than taking the bus, and avoid simple carbs, especially those dastardly french fries!  But do enjoy a Cal Poly chocolate once a week as I run the course. Chocolate has a lower glycemic index than fries (22 instead of 70), and bittersweet is a good source of iron. I do not recommend dipping french fries in chocolate.”

Camille O’Bryant (kinesiology department chair): “Balance is so important. Students need to make sure they’re maintaining a healthy balance between eating, sleeping and exercise. It’s tough in a university because people are captive to the foods we offer them. Try to exercise 35 to 45 minutes a day. We study 25 to 35 hours a week, why not exercise 35 to 45 minutes a day?”

Arlene Grant-Holcomb (nutrition professor): Make water your primary beverage. “Avoid energy drinks and sport drinks as a beverage (only necessary during or after athletics and workouts with profuse perspiration like football, soccer, basketball, distance running). Avoid alcohol. All of these beverages add calories from carbohydrate and alcohol without the benefit of necessary nutrients like protein, vitamins, minerals and/or fiber (and are expensive). Enjoy food, include fruit and/or vegetables every meal, drink water and fat free or reduced-fat dairy products.”

Stats on the Cal Poly campus (information provided by Ann McDermott, STRIDE director):
1. One-fifth of students has high cholesterol (above 200)
2. One-third of men on the Cal Poly campus have a normal blood pressure (normal=90-120)
3. Six percent of Cal Poly students are eating five or more fruits and/or vegetables every day.
4. Over 50 percent of Cal Poly students are binge drinkers (less than five drinks in one sitting)
5. If a non-drinking female Comes to Cal Poly in the fall, she is five times more likely than her peers to become a binge drinker by the Spring. Binge drinking can cause weight gain.

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