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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Freshman 15 beatable

    Incoming freshman have to deal with significant challenges when entering college – leaving behind family and friends, navigating a new campus and city and the often unpredictable and demanding expectations of eccentric college professors.

    One aspect of life that undergoes a major change, but is all too often overlooked, is the quality of students’ health.

    The Freshman 15 is by now a cliché, and yet many freshmen succumb to the stereotype. While health officials such as Gale Welter, a dietician and coordinator of nutrition services at Campus Health, explain that freshmen more commonly add 4-8 pounds rather than the more catchy-sounding 15, the poor eating and exercise habits that are often adopted during the first year can lead to health problems down the road, and can indeed eventually lead to weight gains of up to 20 pounds.

    Welter said that these health changes often result from a new-found freedom that freshmen sometimes have difficulty coping with effectively.

    “”They are coming from a fairly structured environment with rules they are used to following. Then they get the freedom to do whatever they want,”” she said. “”There are more opportunities to eat without schedule. Part of the problem is not being aware of the consequences of weight gain, of not being aware that weight gain makes a difference.””

    “”It helped a lot to make a schedule for my days so I could have specific times that were for the Rec Center and eating,”” said Michelle Thomas, a pre-nursing sophomore. “”Eating at Core more definitely helps too.””

    Along with the more structured eating habits that they are leaving behind, freshmen also go from intensive physical activity in high school to little to no exercise in college.

    “”Freshman were often more active in high school. They were busy doing other things, so they go from a lot to nothing, and that contributes a lot to poor health,”” Welter said. “”Lots of times, I will talk to people and ask about what’s different. They’ll say that they’re not playing three sports, they are less active and are drinking. Often, it takes them a long time to get activated.””

    Health officials stressed the importance of acquiring healthy habits early. For the most part, adopting a disciplined routine allows a student to deal with the temptation to indulge in the less healthy aspects of campus life.

    “”There is opportunity for a struggle with weight gain to happen if students don’t make their health a priority. They need to adjust to a new lifestyle,”” said Mark Zakrzewski, director of fitness at the Campus Recreation Center. “”The ones that don’t struggle are the ones that, pretty early on, keep their nutrition in check and also exercise.””

    Zakrzewski explained that if students are not careful, their environment may contribute to declining health.

    “”Healthy options for students seem limited at night. Fast food joints are open later. There are unhealthy snacks in general in dorm situations,”” he said. “”Students tend to keep chips and candy bars, and if students are drinking, that will lead to weight gain.””

    Zakrzewski recommends that freshmen incorporate physical exercise into a part of their daily schedule.

    “”It’s important for them to make working out into a lifestyle habit. College life can be stressful. It’s well documented how exercise and good eating can help with stress and sleep,”” he said. “”Another tip is to make friends with folks who lead healthy lifestyles. If you have a buddy in the residence hall who works out, try going along with this person.””

    “”Go to the Rec Center every day,”” said Ben Lord, a pre-business junior. “”Also, limit the amount of fast food you eat and watch what you eat at the Union. Go grocery shopping and buy foods that you can control.””

    Both officials agreed, however, that while weight gain is cause for concern and should motivate a more active and disciplined lifestyle, it should not be exaggerated as a sign of a gravely unhealthy situation.

    “”There is no short-term health problem that I know of. A 15-pound weight gain in an 18 year old is not going to break their health””, Welter said. “”But what they’re doing is developing life habits that the student will find hard to break.””

    Zakrewski agreed, saying that students often assume that poor habits will not have significant consequences.

    “”When you’re so young, with a quick metabolism, you think you’re bullet proof,”” he said. “”But you will carry on the habits you form in freshman, sophomore and junior years. A lot of these lifestyle choices stay with a person, so the earlier you deal with these, the better off you’ll be.””

    -Michelle Monre contributed to this story.

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