Freshmen fret over fateful 15

“I don’t think I’m going to eat any differently than I would otherwise,” he said.

Blankenheim’s attitude toward eating is what health educators stress time and again — consistent eating habits.

Freshman year poses a number of challenges to new college students, ranging from adjusting to life in a residence hall, to finding the time to complete classwork and to forming new friendships. According to health educators, the task of forming a healthy lifestyle is often lost in the shuffle, resulting in excess weight gain.

Educators cite a number of causes for weight gain among college students, but controversy exists over whether the Freshman 15 is real or a college myth.

According to Colleen Peck, a clinical health educator with the Center for Health Education and Promotion, “There is actually more research that suggests the Freshman 15 is really more of a myth than reality.”

Peck also says the idea of the Freshman 15 only gives new college students one more reason to become stressed, and can cause students to adopt a negative body image.

“I believe it sends more of a negative message to not only females, but males as well,” Peck said. “There’s such a change when students come here as freshmen. You’re on your own. You don’t have parents telling you when to get up, when to go to bed.

“Your lifestyle is different. One of the things that all freshman strive to figure out is how do I do this, how do I balance my life now that I am the one making the decisions for me. What tends to fall between the cracks is eating right and exercise.”

Nursing sophomore Rachele DeMaster said weight gain during freshman year can occur, but is not impossible to avoid.

“If you really don’t want to gain 15 pounds, you won’t,” she said. “Most of the time I don’t think you gain 15 pounds. Most of my friends (who gained weight) were back to their normal weight by second semester.”

Peck said weight gain during the college years is expected as a part of natural development, which is another reason she dislikes the idea of the Freshman 15.

“It really kind of sends the message that students just can’t enjoy their bodies the way they are becoming,” she said. “There are few students who gain 15 pounds.”

Some students feel the cafeteria’s food selection does not lend itself to healthy eating.

“I thought McCormick’s (cafeteria) was definitely not healthy,” DeMaster said.

She said the cafeteria in Schroeder Hall has much healthier selections.

“Schroeder’s probably the healthiest,” she said. “They have a bigger salad bar than most places, they have a deli bar and they make more things made-to-order than most places.”

Freshman Liz Kuplic does not anticipate eating larger portions now that she is at college.

Peck, however, said students should not feel like they have to avoid cafeteria food because the cafeterias offer a number of healthy selections for students.

Whether or not the Freshman 15 is real, health educators agree adopting unhealthy habits can quickly turn into weight gain.

According to Barbara Troy, adjunct professor of biomedical sciences, students can be tempted to eat larger food portions than they normally would since cafeterias are typically all-you-can-eat.

“It’s very easy to be picking up and eating food that Mom wouldn’t cook on a regular basis,” she said.

At the same time, Peck says, skipping meals can also cause weight gain because people then tend to eat more during other meals, “telling their bodies to hold on to and crave each and every morsel they get at dinner.”

“What we find here at Marquette is a lot of students tend to not eat breakfast,” she said. “Not eating breakfast actually causes people to gain weight. It sounds backward, but it’s true.”

Eating also consistently helps students excel in the classroom, Peck said.

“You can’t mentally strive for high achievement if your body is not fueled,” she said.

Peck said students will sometimes try to make up for skipped meals by eating what she calls “grab-and-go” foods, such as vending machine foods, which are loaded with calories and saturated fat.

While she urges students to eat sensibly, Peck never tells students to avoid certain foods.

“We never tell anybody that there’s a food that you have to completely avoid,” Peck said. “You need to balance and really think about moderation.”

She suggests students follow what is called the 80/20 rule — 80 percent of the time students should focus on eating the foods that will help sustain their immune system and energy throughout the day, and focus on foods high in calories, fat and sugar the other 20 percent of the time. Eating the suggested servings from each of the six food groups is also important, Peck said.

Inactivity is also a contributing factor to weight gain, Troy said. She said many college students who were active in high school athletics do not always continue their sports participation in college.

Troy said another factor in weight gain is alcohol intake, which contains empty calories.

To avoid unnecessary weight gain, associate professor of nursing Marilyn Frenn says students should keep exercise a daily part of their lives and get eight hours of sleep.

Not drinking soft drinks at every meal is another way to avoid extra calories, Troy said.