How to Maintain Mental and Physical Health in College

How to Maintain Mental and Physical Health in College

  • The freshman 15 is the amount of weight commonly gained during the first year of college.
  • Weight changes in college often happen as a result of new eating and lifestyle habits.
  • Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle during college is all about moderation and balance.

As an incoming college student, you’ll likely hear the dreaded phrase “freshman 15.” While it’s often true that first-year students experience weight fluctuations, rest assured that the freshman 15 is not inevitable. In fact, it’s a bit of an exaggeration, not to mention misleading.

To better understand the freshman 15 and some of the factors that cause first-year students to gain weight, we spoke with Dr. Christen Cupples Cooper, an expert in nutrition education and the founding chair of Pace University’s nutrition and dietetics program.

What Causes Weight Gain in College?

Different factors can lead to changes in weight during college, many of which are a result of new habits or lifestyle shifts. For example, many first-year students have never shopped or cooked food for themselves before, and have little understanding of what their bodies need nutritionally to be healthy.

“If students are used to eating certain foods on a fairly regular schedule and this changes, their senses of hunger and fullness may be thrown off,” said Cooper. “They may eat more than usual or eat out of stress or boredom.”

Added Cooper, “Many students also begin snacking more frequently and eating at night or while studying, adding in yet more calories.” Whatever the case, it can be difficult to recognize a new bad habit — and even more difficult to correct it. Below is a list of some of the most common reasons for weight changes in first-year students:

How to Avoid the Freshman 15

The Key to Maintaining Your Health in College

It’s completely normal to gain or lose a few pounds in college. A study by the National Institutes of Health found that first-year students living on campus gain 2.7 pounds on average. And while nearly half of them gained weight, 15% lost weight. As you can see, this gain is far from the 15 pounds the phrase “freshman 15” suggests.

With this in mind, try not to get caught up in the mental aspect of the freshman 15. While it’s important to be aware of your eating habits and overall health, the last thing you want to do is worry about calories and have that stress potentially lead to something more serious.

“If students eat nutritiously and simply stay mindful of what and how much they are eating and drinking, they can avoid gaining weight,” explained Cooper. “Stress alone can throw a wrench in our health. Students should not worry about gaining the freshman 15, but rather channel that energy into doing well in their classes and staying healthy.

“Eating healthy and getting exercise is all about moderation. No food is really off limits, nor do you need to go to the gym seven days a week. As with most things in life, the goal is to achieve a healthy balance.

Mental Health Resources for College Students

Editor’s Note: This article contains general information and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a professional advisor before making decisions about health-related issues.

Feature Image: Peter Dazeley / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Best Road to College StaffStart your search for the best online college for you here! We have the resources you need to meet your education and career goals.