Demystifying the Freshman 15 Myth

Adam Norton
Published on
July 4, 2023

Starting college is a big transition for students. This significant milestone means being in a new environment, meeting new people, and adjusting to new rules. One new change upcoming students often get warned about is the Freshman 15. This phenomenon has become so widespread and ingrained into college culture that university health experts host panels to tackle it.

The popularity of this phenomenon has compelled many scholars to uncover the truth behind it. Although many students attest that they’ve experienced it for themselves, research shows there may be more to this perceived college rite of passage. In fact, several aspects of the myth have been debunked with scientific evidence. If you’re interested in seeing what these are, keep reading below.

Factors behind weight

Many students notice weight fluctuations during their first few months in college and simply credit it to the Freshman 15 at work. However, the truth is much more nuanced. College is the first time many students move away from home and experience lifestyle changes. Over 40% of students change states to go to university, which means adapting to a new place, culture, and even menu. These shifts can all contribute to weight gain, as explained by the set point weight. This theory states that your body is predisposed to a certain weight given various lifestyle factors. When a big change happens in your life that can affect said factors, the set point weight theory states that your brain will send appetite triggers to get it back to what it was. This is why when students start walking more to get to classes or eating different food, their body increases their appetite to cope, essentially promoting weight gain.

Age-related growth

Although it’s true that some universities report that freshmen gain an average of up to 10 pounds in their first two years of college, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s due to the Freshman 15. A lot of students overlook that they're still at a developmental stage. Most people begin college at the age of 17 or 18, which means they could still be going through the final stages of puberty. Studies have proven that even though puberty mostly happens at 15, many people experience it in their late teens or early 20s. Boys, especially, can continue growing until the age of 21. Instead of attributing this to Freshman 15, keep in mind that it’s perfectly normal to gain several pounds at this time.

Deprioritizing self-care

Many students assume that the Freshman 15 is only for those new to college, but a study found that 70% of students experience weight gain up until graduation. This is because college itself is an environment that promotes weight gain. Going through higher education is a big undertaking, as many students strive to achieve a good GPA. Unfortunately, many students only focus on their academics and end up neglecting to take care of themselves. 1 out of 4 undergraduate students reports getting sick annually. In reality, different aspects of self-care, such as getting enough rest and staying hydrated, are important factors in maintaining weight. With the right self-care routine, you are not only more aware of your weight management, but you also inhibit the release of craving-inducing hormones like cortisol.

Diet culture

It’s known that many students place great importance on how they look, which is why gaining the Freshman 15 may seem daunting to some. Some studies have even discovered that undergraduate students prioritize their appearances over their health, with more than 53% of college students admitting that they skip meals throughout the day. Unfortunately, this just ends up backfiring because it can lower your metabolism and increase your appetite at unnatural times of the day. Up to 70% of college students have the tendency to snack at night, which promotes severe excess weight gain as it messes with the body’s sleep cycle. It’s only through healthy eating habits and conscious efforts that students can maintain their weight throughout their time at college.

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