Freshman 15: What the f***?

By Sarah O’Brien

Studies show that students gain as many as 15 lbs during their first two years of uni, with most of that weight going on in the first semester. Excessive alcohol consumption, emotional-eating and the accessibility of junk food on campus are all thought to contribute to the dreaded Freshman 15…

The Freshman 15, also affectionately known as the Fresher’s Spread in Australia and New Zealand, is an arbitrary term used to describe college students’ weight fluctuations during the first few years of their degree, and, although it doesn’t affect every student, it’s certainly common enough for it to be a cause for concern.

The three major factors shown to affect student weight gain include: emotional-eating, excessive alcohol consumption and the ready availability of unhealthy food on campuses.
Emotional eating typically occurs when students, who are missing the comforts of home life and their old support networks, turn to food to help them self-soothe.

Often these foods are calorically-dense and have a high fat, salt or sugar content. This in turn can cause a spike in blood sugar levels and interferes with the body’s natural ability to regulate appetite.

Fast foods have a particularly detrimental effect on the body as they’re designed to light up the brain’s pleasure centre and release a chemical known as dopamine. The unnaturally high levels of the ‘reward chemical’ released cause the brain to continue to crave unhealthy and addictive foods. Basically it’s a vicious merry-go-round of cravings, fast food and more cravings.

There are several things students can do to ward off emotional or stress-eating tendencies. Among them include: not eating in isolation, waiting up to 20 minutes before succumbing to a food craving, taking up a new hobby, and learning to identify their stress triggers.

Another area directly linked to weight gain amongst students is excessive alcohol consumption. A lot of recreational college activities seem to revolve around alcohol, particularly as far as first years are concerned. Binge drinking, that is to say consuming 6 or more standard drinks in one sitting, typically happens at all of them.

This is corroborated by who state that 75% of all the alcohol consumed in Ireland is done so in binge drinking context. This excessive alcohol consumption can cause alcohol dependency, sexual health problems, infertility, liver disease and dementia later in life.

Students often think nothing of downing an entire bottle of wine or several beers on a night out, but did you know that just one 200ml glass of wine is the equivalent of eating a doughnut, while a pint of beer would be on par with eating a slice of pizza?

The general unawareness of the public concerning the link between alcohol and obesity has actually prompted some MEPs to call for the mandatory introduction of alcohol calorie labelling. That’s certainly food for thought this fresher’s week *pun most certainly intended!*

Tips for helping students cut down on excessive alcohol consumption include: swapping out a pint of beer for a half-pint or bottle, alternating each drink with a glass of water and switching to a lower strength drink. Spirits should also always be measured and never free-poured.

The ready availability of unhealthy foods and vending machines full of sweets and soft drinks on campus is often the final nail in the coffin for students. Early rises for 9am starts, tiredness from pulling an all-nighter studying and hangovers leave willpower a little wanting when faced with a jambon or the infamous chicken roll.

Steer clear of the all that beige-coloured canteen hot food and instead choose a wholesome, satiating breakfast like porridge and banana. The slow-releasing complex carbohydrates found in oats will sustain energy levels throughout the morning and stabilize blood sugar. Bringing snacks like almonds and dates (which are a great source of iron incidentally), to college is another great way of keeping blood sugar levels steady until lunchtime.

Dinner choices are also a big Freshman 15 factor. Many freshers often make the costly mistake of ordering takeaway every night or every second night. Do your wallet and your waistline a favour and make a home cooked meal for yourself instead. Load up on things like veggies, grains and legumes for protein. If cooking every night sounds like too much work for you, try making a week’s worth of veggie curries and spaghetti bolognese in advance and pop them in the freezer.

Let us know in the comments have you or any of your friends been affected by the Freshman 15 and if so how did you combat it?

*This article first appeared on


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