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August 21-27, 2008
• Back to Student Guide ’08 A-Z
Debunking the myth
of Freshman 15
by Erica Grossman and Morgan Warren
We’ve all heard of the “Freshman 15” — that pervasive phrase that gets thrown at incoming college freshman to inevitably warp images of self-perception. Meant to prepare one for the inevitable, the phrase suggests that the average 18-year-old student will gain 15 pounds during his or her freshman year. People talk about it and think about it. They write articles and books about it as a truth that can be avoided if only you take the right steps. But what are the right steps to better nutrition?
Ditching the myth of the Freshman 15, for starters.
“[The Freshman 15] has been researched and disproven, but it still lives on,” says Ann Schuster, coodinator for CU’s Community Health program. “When [freshman] gain anything, it is more in the realm of about four pounds. It’s not 15, and to average out that four you have people on either end of the spectrum gaining and losing.”
But not only is the Freshman 15 an exaggeration, it can stand between you and a healthy lifestyle
“My experience with this is that it is a generalization,” says Natalie Murphy, a registered dietician with the CU-affiliated Wardenburg Health Center. “One of the negative consequences of generalizing is that you’re encouraging people to believe in something outside of themselves, and it pulls them away from using their own internal wisdom or critical-thinking skills.”
In other words, believing in the Freshman 15 can harm the relationship you have with food and with others. It increases competition not only with others, but with yourself. This is especially true when you’re on a campus that has eating-disorder rates double the national average, as CU does.
But simply learning to ignore myths isn’t enough to make sure you’re maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
There are a number of factors that contribute to plummeting nutrition habits for college freshmen. Changes in sleeping habits, erratic schedules, lack of access to kitchens and too much access to cheap, fast food can leave your body begging for vitamins and sustenance (and no, an Emergen-C packet and a V-8 don’t count as an adequate substitute for fruits and vegetables).
But staying healthy is vital during your freshman year, especially to help you deal with the stress of college life. Your ability to study, keep a positive self-image and feel great when going out will depend on how well you treat your body. The right combination of diet and exercise can make all the difference during this critical time, but there is no one right way to approach the issue. What is most important is for each individual to figure out the best personal route to good nutrition.
“Nutrition is a very personal thing,” says Murphy. “There’s not a one size that fits all. What I know to be true is that people come in all different shapes and sizes, and regular, balanced meals and snacks that include all types of food and food groups can provide the optimal energy that’s going to allow a student to perform well throughout the day.”
There are several on- and off-campus resources to help you figure out your own nutritional needs. But in the meantime, here’s a list of general tips for college freshman, as suggested by Natalie Murphy and Community Health:
—Unless you enjoy it, battling numbers at the gym isn’t always necessary. Find an activity that is easy and brings you happiness. This could be going on walks, regardless of how much you think you walk during your daily pedestrian commute. A stroll without a backpack or destination feels much better than rushing through a crowded campus to make it to class on time — and it’s great exercise. Other activities that can also provide personal fulfillment are bicycling, yoga and hiking.
—Make and keep stocked a variety of healthy snacks. If a snack is pre-made and easily accessible, you can reach for it instead of fast food when you’re on the go.
—It may seem like something that should be intuitive, but healthy grocery shopping is a skill that takes practice and planning. Community Health offers resources to help teach students how to shop effectively and avoid unhealthy impulse buys.
—Learn to listen to yourself. There is a lot you can learn about being hungry, full or satisfied if you take the time to think about your meal as you eat it. In order to do this, it’s important to not do other things (study, check your MySpace page, talk on the phone) while you eat.
Begin Integrative Nutrition Counseling. Services include general nutrition counseling, weight management using"health at every size" approach, diabetes, high cholesterol and eating disorders. Located in Boulder County, 303-304-0472, www.beginnutrition.com.
Community Health Resource Center: Teaches CU students about nutritional, sexual and mental health. Topics are peer educated and taught through presentations, but one-on-one services are offered, as well. Open and free to all students enrolled at CU. Located in the University Memorial Center, Room 411, CU campus, 303-492-2937.
Natalie Murphy, RD: Registered dietician at CU’s Wardenburg Health Center. To make an appointment, please get a referral from your primary care physician at Wardenburg and call 303-492-5432.
Nutrition Connections: Personalized nutrition counseling with registered dieticians. Services such as personalized nutrition plans and computerized assessments of your eating patterns can help put you on the right track to nutrition. Located at 1135 Pearl St. # 9, Boulder, 303-440-8946.
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