Ah yes, the infamous freshman 15. While the number 15 is rather arbitrary and exaggerated (perhaps a product of alliteration), it has been scientifically observed that roughly 2/3 college students gain weight during their freshman year. 

But why? What causes young healthy adults to suddenly and rapidly gain the freshman 15 when they go off to college?  And exactly how much weight do people gain?

The Facts:

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

First, let's get a few things straight. Not everyone gains weight upon starting college. Most studies estimate about 66% of students gain weight, averaging 2-3 pounds over the first year

More often than not, a majority of the weight is gained in the fall semester, and gaining tappers off in the spring.

Females are more likely to gain than males, and being involved in student activities and having a higher levels of scholastic aptitude are seen as protective factors against the Freshman 15. 

1. Food

gravy, chicken, sauce, cream
Katherine Baker

There isn't one clear reason why students gain the freshman 15 in college, it's usually a combination of many factors. 

First, obviously most students have a diet change. All-you-can-eat dining halls often replace home-cooked meals, and access to unlimited junk food and soda can lead many to start eating a less-than-ideal diet. 

Even outside the dining hall, a lot of college-students eat way more junk food than they formerly did or should. Hello, stretchy pants.

And it's important to note that you can still be malnourished even if you're over-consuming calories. If your body doesn't get the nutrients it needs, it's going to still be desperate for food, which can lead to overeating

2. Dranks

tea, juice, coffee, sweet
Sarah Bundra

Blame it on the alcohol, but seriously. Alcohol yields more calories per gram than carbs and protein, but with none of the nutrients.

It's super easy to drink the calories away, without providing your body any nourishment, meaning your body still needs food and even more calories, which can contribute to the Freshman 15.

Then there's the whole drunkie element: most people don't reach for kale salads when they're drunk (but if you do, hey, more power to ya). More often than not, drunk eating means binging on high-calorie foods like fries and pizza

A lot of students also suddenly drink more soda and sweetened coffee beverages, adding hundreds of calories to their daily intake without even noticing. Yikes.

3. Exercise

beer, coffee, cake, tea
Sam Dilling

Aside from dining halls and partying, a lot of students suddenly stop exercising. Sure, the walk to class is probably a bit further than in high school, but the sudden cessation of daily sports practices takes working out out of your daily routine. 

Going to the gym requires motivation, time, and may not always be convenient.

4. Sleep

coffee, espresso, mocha, cappuccino, cereal
Katherine Baker

Then, there's sleep: between partying and all-nighters at the library, many students develop poor sleep hygiene habits. 

A lack of sleep can mess with hunger and fullness hormones, and lead people to start gaining the freshman 15.

5. Stress

chocolate, cake, sweet, pastry, cream, candy, goody, muffin, sprinkles, cookie, sweetmeat
Jisoo Kim

And of course, there's stress. Between classes, work schedules, adjusting to a whole new routine, and suddenly having to function as a semi-adult, stress builds.

Stress can also flux with hormones, and once again, leave you reaching for comfort in the form of cookies. #StressEating

What Can You Do?

salad, vegetable, kale, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, parsley
Katherine Baker

Just because you're going to college doesn't mean you're destined to gain the freshman 15. There are many habits you can bring with you to stay healthy.

When you hit the dining hall, fill your plate with fresh fruits, vegetables and beans for your first round, all of which are inherently filling and nutrient-dense.

Then go back for your pizza, cookies, and fries, and enjoy them in smaller portions.  

tacos, vegetable, beans, salsa
Katherine Baker

Pump the breaks on the soda, sweetened coffee drinks (major key), and even juices, and stick to water and regular coffee or tea instead. Moderating your alcohol intake (sorry) can also help. 

Oh, and get moving. You don't have to go to the gym every day, but try incorporating activity into your life on a regular basis. Try a yoga class at your student center, or watch your favorite show on the elliptical at the gym instead of in your bed.

vegetable, chili, pepper
Katherine Baker

When you're stressed, talk a walk instead of bingeing on The Mindy Project and Cheetos, and if your body needs sleep, take a nap and don't feel guilty about it (trust me, you won't regret it).

And cook! The more meals you DIY, in general, the better. Buying pre-chopped veggies and pre-cooked frozen brown rice/quinoa are great shortcuts to healthy, yummy meals.

Plus, Spoon has a whole archive of easy and good-for-you recipes for your delight. We gotchu. The freshman 15 doesn't stand a chance.