Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Have you lost your freshman 15?


Thigh (not mine) post freshman year
Exciting news, we have a new Foodtrainer. Her name is Carolyn Brown. She’s a Tulane grad and has taught nutrition at the NYC Greenmarkets, she’s a blogger and a dodge ball player, smart and snarky. She’s running our 4-week “Summer School Course” for students and grads of all ages. I asked Carolyn to blog about that clichéd Freshman 15 and whether we tend to lose it or keep it as a collegiate souvenir. I’ll let her take it from here:

I’ve never liked talking about the freshman 15 – maybe because for me, it was more like 20. I’m seriously grateful it was in the pre-Facebook era. But as a freshman 15 alum I know that the freedom college offers (not unlike loosey goosey summer eating Lauren wrote about) may be great for your social life but the lack of structure can lead to a lasting “hangover” as in hanging over your pants. It isn’t always immediate; it can show up a little later as the sophomore surplus, the junior jiggle, or even the post-college pudge.  

All joking aside, the problem isn’t so much the weight gained (assuming you’re still around a healthy weight). Research shows that women tend to lose most of it with time. The real issues are why it was gained in the first place and the eating patterns that may be repeated for years to come.

Some reasons for the freshman weight gain aren’t surprising buffet style dining halls replace mom’s well-balanced meals, high school sports no longer provide built in activity and then there’s the drinking. And when you drink more, you eat more – and make less intelligent choices. Would you really need the cheese fries, onion rings and mozzarella stick trio sober? It’s not all a lack of self-control though, so give yourself  (or maybe your college-aged children) a break. In your late teens growth slows down—and so does ones metabolism. Add in inconsistent sleep and associated hormonal changes that affect hunger and fullness. And alcohol it’s is a depressant and in this way influences eating.

For many, college is the first time they gain a noticeable amount of weight and it’s also their first foray into dietland.  College girls resort to dangerous methods to lose weight. It’s now a far cry from Weight Watchers. Extra popular before Cabo-bound spring breaks are starving, binging/purging, obsessive exercise and the use of “appetite suppressants”: cigarettes, Adderall, laxatives and diet pills. Eek.

But there are healthy ways to lose that stubborn freshman 15 even if it’s stuck around long enough to make it to a few reunions. Exercise is crucial. Yawn, I know, but there are actually ways to make it less of a chore. Lazy friends rub off, so try seeking out active friends who will drag you to a spin or dance class. Peer pressure can be positive and works at all ages. Another great way to get moving is to join your city’s “social sports” leagues. Teams are based on skill level and age (and are usually co-ed, wink wink).You don’t want your exercise merely burning off the booze, your total drinks for the week needs to be a single digit and I suggest at least 3 “dry” days. Treats (pizza we’re talking to you) should be no more than once or twice a week.

My freshman 20 came off slowly. Leaving the dorms for a house with a kitchen helped. Also I took Intro to Nutrition class learned low calorie doesn’t necessarily mean healthy and completely changed my relationship with food. This led me to a Foodtrainers-bound career path sans post-college pudge.
Are you a freshman 15 alum? When did you lose the weight? Was college the first time you dieted? Any scary weight loss regimes to share? Do you feel friends affect your eating or exercise?

32 comments:

  1. I think I was more like a freshman 30! I joined the crew team, thinking that would keep my weight in check, but would eat entire pizzas post workouts. Obviously not the best idea! I'm happy to report I lost the weight once I began eating healthy again, but I've never actually "dieted"... I just went back to a normal meal plan.
    Friends definitely affect eating. I've recently begun dating a new guy and have been going out for meals & drinks almost ever night. I've gained 5 pounds since we've started dating! But I'm still in a healthy zone and once marathon training begins next week, I'll need to eat this much anyway.At least that's what I'm telling myself for now ;)

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  2. I gained almost 20 pounds freshman year, lost it over the summer and then gained 15 sophomore year again! luckily, I lost it again over that summer and have been able to maintain a healthy, consistent weight. I actually did weight watchers both times, which helped me figure out how to lose the weight. I stopped doing it almost right after.

    Friends definitly affect how I eat. I'm more lax when I go out with friends, but at the same time, that needs to be done every so often.

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  3. Erica- it's nice to hear people's stories as it's hard to imagine you weren't always super health Erica. I think any change in routine, relationship (go you, exciting news) or friendship can affect our eating and weight.

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  4. Nicole- just saw your comment. I always say to clients "don't want you to be thin and locked in your house". Socializing is important but it seems your amazing recipes when you're home balance out meals with friends.

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  5. I lost about 15 pounds before leaving for college. My first semester was a bit of an adjustment. I went a little crazy with the late night snack bar (think HUGE PB cup flurries), so I gained back maybe 2-5lbs. By my second semester though I started my first nutrition class. The more I learned, the healthier I ate! By the end of college I was the thinnest/fittest I've ever been. I guess I had an advantage with being a dietitian though. Great tips!

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  6. Erin- I think the word "adjustment" you used was perfect. As we're adjusting, even to things that are good our food can shift. Impressive that you got yourself so fit during college.

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  7. When I started college, I didn't want the freshman 15 to get to me. I started eating healthier and exercising (I never exercised in high school and ate out WAY too often) and actually lost 5 pounds, got toned, and stopped getting out of breath climbing up the hills on campus! That doesn't mean that I didn't have my late night pizzas or way-too-much-beer nights, but for 6 days a week I made sure to make healthy choices -- it was such a change of mind from how I was in high school, and I felt so much better!

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  8. I gained around 10lbs at that point in my life. It was mainly the result of eating out a lot at restaurants that did not have any healthy meal options at that time. I lost some of the weight while in college but the rest I lost afterwards, primarily from changing my eating patterns and exercising regularly.

    I also was not really conscious of gaining the 'freshmen 15' back then because it seemed to be happening to everyone around me too! So yes, I do think your friends affect your eating.

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  9. Lauren, I agree I was like you and discovered exercise in college (thank god). Sam, you raise a good point when everyone is eating pizza etc it seems normal, almost different from when we splurge on our own post college.

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  10. It's interesting, I didn't really gain much weight until my senior year, when I lived in a house with a kitchen. The reason was that I didn't care for the dining hall food - I'm a discerning eater so I just didn't eat that much while I was there, mostly just a sandwich or cereal or something. Not particularly nutritionally sound every day, but not highly caloric either. Once I got myself a kitchen and freedom to buy some real food, I gained a little weight. And then when I graduated and had a real job with actual money to spend on food and real restaurants, watch out. I probably gained 10lbs in the 2 years after college (going from 130-140lbs). Never really lost those 10lbs, but I'm still at 140 10 years later and after having a child (also after starting to exercise and putting on a fair amount of muscle I didn't have before), so I'll take it.

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  11. I definitely gained the 15...to 20. It was a combo of dorm life and BEER! I attribute most of my weight issues in college to beer and not understanding macronutrients. But I was in college when Heroine Chick / Grunge look was where it was AT and I was so far from looking anything akin to strung out. I would've done much better in the 50's and 60's figure wise. I starved myself, I binged and purged, I tried all the diet pills on the market. The thing that saved me was running. After I discovered running I started to feed myself better. Then I discovered atkins and dropped most the weight. Sadly, my college experience set me up for a lifetime of dieting. I will always feel like that fat little freshmen when I am in a bad place.

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  12. I gained the freshmen 10 in the first semester at school! In High School I had a stay at home Mom that made us breakfast, packed us lunch and made dinner every night (all healthy). I can still remember eating pop tarts for breakfast, ordering in papa john's late night (bread sticks and pizza) and of course too much drinking. And who could pass up the self serve ice cream after dinner every night in the cafeteria?! Ok, I am feeling sick. Luckily, after the first semester I went home and lost most of it over break. I think like everyone else, it is par for the course with adjusting to a new life, new friends and being surrounded by not so healthy food. I also played a lot of tennis pre-college and was pretty much sedentary that first semester at school. The lack of exercise certainly didn't help either.

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  13. All throughout college I would go up and down 5-10 pounds during the 4 years. I really gained most of my weight (10 pounds) during my first year of WORK. I would try to eat decent for breakfast but it was often cereal and I would be starving by lunch and those paninis/sandwiches in NYC probably have 1000 calories in them - coupled with happy hours and more bar food I really took a hit. Not until I got engaged and focused on exercise/joined WW online did I finally shed it.

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  14. Cameo- you bring up a good point. The self esteem hit that comes with the weight gain and a body you may not recognize can surface later on. Melissa the soft serve (or fro yo) got me in college as well as yogurt covered pretzels- is there a more nasty snack food? Einat, work life is hard for so many people as well as happy hour and dating. With so many obstacles it's amazing any of us find balance.

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  15. In high school, I could eat whatever I wanted because I played sports every day. The built in activity kept me thin. When I went to college, all of that activity stopped while the late night pizza and beer fests were almost a daily event. I went home for Christmas that first year 20 pounds heavier. I remember my mom giving me a hug and asking me if I had checked out the free gym RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET. I had to learn how to exercise on my own, without a soccer or basketball team. I also became a bit more mindful of my late night snacking and eventually took a nutrition class...and the rest is history :) The biggest lesson I learned was that being healthy takes work, it doesn't just happen.

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  16. I definitely gained weight in college, a result of trying to "diet" which turned into the restrict - binge cycle. It wasn't until I started eating a healthy diet that I lost the weight.

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  17. Carolyn, this is such a wonderful article! FoodTrainers is lucky to have you as part of their team!

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  18. Ugh! Not only did I gain in college, I kept it on! Finally, through diet and exercise, I lost it 14 years later! THEN, I went back to grad school and put 20 pounds on in 2 years!! Once again, through diet and exercise, I'm slowly taking it back off and am currently down 11-14 pounds!

    It's great to get that reinforcement that we need to change our relationship with food! I desperately needed to give up processed sugar and empty calories of all sorts. I'm about 7 weeks off sugar and have never felt better! My stress levels are down and my moods are more even. My own food blog and gym-buddies have been a HUGE part of my success.

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  19. Heather- I didn't even think grad school could be another weight snafu. 7 weeks off sugar, that's fantastic. I hope you're writing about this on your blog I will check it out.

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  20. I love this post. I keep coming back just to read everyone's comments because this resonates with so many of us. I alone in that, looking back, it seemed like all the other girls were doing exactly what I was doing (poor diet) but they were still skinny? Anyone? Remember those girls?

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  21. I think everyone has a skinny girl they envied.

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  22. welcome new foodtrainer good post I was lucky and didn't gain any weight at college

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  23. Welcome Carolyn! Excellent post. I picked up wonderful food habits (like becoming an adventurous eater and learning to cook) and terrible food habits (like cheese fries) in college. I went to college in New Orleans and I was far more into food than I was school. While I didn't gain a lot of weight in college, I did dumb things to atone for indulgent meals like go on a 5-day gin-and-nicotine diet. I didn't struggle with weight in college, but I can see how bad habits picked up then still linger.

    Because of my job, I visit about 30 colleges a year and usually eat at least one meal in a campus cafeteria. College are offering better choices than what we had in the early '90s, with nutritional info usually available and lots of fresh and interesting choices. But nothing compares to Bruff on a Saturday!

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  24. Carolyn, I will follow you wherever you blog. I love your writing, your honesty, your ideas and tips- and this blog seems to be awesome, a great fit! Excited to follow you here.

    In terms of the frosh fifteen - I gained it. But, what I realize most, more than even my friends (who influence my eating habits in a huge & positive way actually), is that my mood dictates my eating.

    When I'm really down, I end up losing weight (ie. right before I left college senior year and was anxious about the "real world"). When I'm really happy, I end up going out more, drinking good wine, eating good food, and I end up with the extra pounds - loved the food journey, but not the scale destination - i.e. Junior year study abroad in Florence, Italy.

    My biggest challenge was and is during the in-between times, when I'm middle-ground emotionally, I feel "fine" and can end up overeating, undereating or just thinking about my eating habits too much. Being emotionally neutral doesn't necessarily mean I'm eating neutral. I am excited for the day when I don't need to think about my diet so much, where it's just a part of my life, but not something I need to stress over. Like college essays - no need to stress over these anymore. Or the late night pizza that comes with them.

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  25. I didn't gain weight until later in life. In fact, in college I was somewhat restricting food (and especially any kinds of "treats"), which wasn't healthy either...

    My son just finished his freshman year in college, and he became really aware of food and food choices and what he chooses when he has the freedom to choose "whatever." He read The Omnivores Dilemma in one of his classes and really started to question what he eats (which wasn't very healthy the first semester.) Since he knows I get a kick out of it, he now sends me often pics of his meals. He recently moved into an apartment, and actually quite often cooks healthy meals with lots of veggies, salads, and fruits. Not sure about all his choices, but I like what I see... :)

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  26. There is a God because thankfully there was no facebook when I was in college. I lost weight before hand and actually was super obsessive freshman and the first part of soph year...all I ate was salad, saltines and frozen yogurt.

    Got a bit down sophomore year and it was downhill (and up the scale) from there..definitely horrible eating habits (which I thought were healthy) and beer. Actually most of my friends gained a bunch of weight at the end of our senior year. Two of my friends weighted more that year then the did 9 months pregnant.

    I lived in Australia for medical school and lost all that weight. Runs on the beach and tons of fresh food and moderate wine drinking did it. Gained weight during residency due to lack of sleep and bad eating and no exercise. Finally think I am on the right road thanks to food trainers and a commitment to my health.

    College is a huge adjustment, you need to learn to control yourself in so many ways. Wish I knew now what I did then!

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  27. I struggled with the freshman 15 during college. Like you mentioned, I think it had a lot to do with the buffet style of eating. Even if I overindulged in high school, my mom always cooked healthy.
    It's definitely an adjustment.

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  28. the freshman 15 can come on in any new situation like a new job too. i had to be real careful this year!

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  29. I actually LOST weight my Freshman year! I think it's because I was a) so concerned about gaining weight and b) no longer lived at home -- with two younger brothers who had metabolisms through the roof -- where tons of food was always so easily available. To this day, whenever I go home... I gain weight.

    However, I did notice that many, many friends/acquaintances had eating disorders that spiraled out of control Freshman year, largely due to the factors explained above in addition to the lack of any real private space that would otherwise allow these behaviors to continue. So sad :(

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  30. Interesting Sarah. It seems that any life change can lead to weight gain or loss depending on the variables at play. I think, for college students, having less supervision means freedom. Freedom to eat as much (or as little) as you decide. It's hard to strike a balance at first.

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  31. I had the freshmen 12, the sophomore 2, the junior 5, and the senior 10. OY! I blame it all on love and beer...both can do very bad thigns for the waistline! I guess the "good" news is that my gains freshmen, sophomore, and junior year got me to a healthy weight my senior year. I just didn't do a great job maintaining it! And that I blame on love, and too much school/work! Great post! Love the blog!

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