Fitness Flash: The Freshman 15

There’s always a lot of talk about health around campus. Recognizing that fact, “Fitness Flash” is a new column in Features that will seek to provide a fresh look at issues of health and exercise.

The “Freshman 15” is a source of anxiety on almost all college campuses – one nearly as terrifying to some incoming students as trying to make new friends, showing up for the wrong class or being away from home for the first time.

Described as a 15-pound body mass increase over the first, and often second, years at college, the Freshman 15 has been studied by various universities and organizations seeking to understand its causes and search for potential solutions. A study from a research team at Washington University in St. Louis found that roughly 70 percent of students gained weight (an average of 6.5 pounds) from the start of college to the end of sophomore year. Another study published online on WebMD found that close to 25 percent of freshman gain 10 pounds during the first semester alone. Possible explanations for the weight gain vary, most relating to the obvious: dietary choices and exercise habits. After all, few first-years can resist the temptations of all-you-can-eat buffet-style dining halls, scrumptious Snack Bar selections and late-night pizza runs. But weight gain is not inevitable. Here are a few tips for first-years (and upperclassmen, too) to stave off excess pounds.

1. Eat smart – Obvious, but crucial. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends a balanced diet with the majority of food intake c from healthy fruits and vegetables, lean meats, nuts/seeds, dairy products and grains. Loading up on protein and limiting refined carbs will keep you fuller longer. “Fried food should be avoided (yes, even fried green beans!), and be sure to always include fruits and vegetables,” said the College’s dietician, Maria Cruz. “But you can still indulge occasionally.” Celebrate special occasions with a delectable, buttery knock-you-naked! Just hold off on seconds.

2. Fatten up your roommate – A study from the University of Michigan shows that females with overweight roommates gained less weight that females with average-weight roommates. But don’t be bonding over Ben and Jerry’s just yet; researchers attribute this decreased weight gain to the fact that heavier girls often adopt strict diet and supplement regimens, and these habits rub off on roommates. Instead, work with your roomie to establish a healthy-lifestyle zone.

3. Turn your dorm into a fruitopia! – Everyone can use a pick-me-up throughout the day, before a workout or sports practice or to fuel a long night of studying in the library. Try to keep healthy snacks in your room to help make better choices such as an apple with peanut butter, low-fat cheese with whole grain crackers, trail mix, energy bar or whole fruit. Kathleen Elkins ’14 was allotted a $35 a week “fruit allowance” by her parents to enable her to buy healthy snacks in place of trips to Snack Bar.

The "Estrogym"
The “Estrogym,” as it is popularly known, is a prime location for students to work up a sweat. Sevonna Brwon/Contributing Photographer

4. Sweat it out – Another tried-and-true tip. The Center for Disease Control recommends that adults get 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week, or 150 total minutes of exercise a week. Exercise is crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and can involve the gym,  a walk or run, one of the College’s PE classes (hello, Farm Fun!) or on any sports team. Don’t rely on cardio alone to keep your weight in check. You’ll burn more calories for hours after lifting weights, and each pound of muscle you build will torch up to an additional 50 calories per day. But it’s no excuse to gorge on junk food – it takes an hour of running to burn off one slice of cheesecake.

5. Limit the boozing One can of Keystone Light contains 104 calories, and Blue Moon has 171 calories. Downing 10 Blue Moons per week packs 1710 calories – more than a pint and a half of chocolate fudge brownie ice cream.

6. Chill, bro! – Studies show that stress increases cortisol, which promotes abdominal fat storage. But according to Cruz, a healthy lifestyle can stave off stress. “A lot of students don’t think they have time to exercise or just want to eat and get it over with so they can get back to work,” Cruz said. “But eating healthy and exercising will actually decrease stress.” So take a study break to hit the gym – or at least run up and down the stairs of Sawyer between problem sets.

7. When in doubt, write it down – Keep a diet and exercise journal. Online versions, like one from everydayhealth.com, calculate how many calories you consume and burn each day. Easy as pie (which, by the way, is a no-no!)

Finally, take advantage of resources on campus. Dining Services offer options that cater to students looking to make healthier meal choices. The student-run sustainable garden supplies kitchens with fresh, local produce that makes getting the recommended servings per day of fruits and vegetables easy. The Health Services website has a host of information and articles on nutrition, dieting, snack ideas and more to help students make healthy choices. Lastly, a full-time dietician is on staff, willing to answer any questions you may have. Check out the site at health.williams.edu/nutrition. Take advantage of these resources, and you’ll be well on your way to sculpting a year-round beach body in the Berkshires!