College Guide: Beating the 'freshman 15'

Dietary tips on easing into college epicurean life

We’ve heard that college freshmen tend to put on a lot of weight soon after starting school. So we talked to Betsy Dietsch, a very nice dietician with the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, about that phenomenon and what can be done about it.

Don’t worry — she doesn’t just talk about milk the whole time!

So the Freshman 15 is the amount of pounds a freshman puts on that first year?

Actually that phrase originally referred to the usual number of credit hours that full–time students would take each semester. But over the years it’s sort of turned into a reference to weight gain. A study has shown that the average weight gain among college freshmen is nearly 8 pounds during the first 12 weeks on campus.

Yeah, but that’s mostly the beer, right?

Well, alcohol can certainly contribute to that weight gain, but more often it’s all the late night meals. The average student consumes 500 extra calories, or about 20 percent of their daily energy needs, between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.

So midnight pizza is the culprit, then.

That, and another culprit seems to be campus meal plans. You have so much more access to food at one time. Another problem is ‘empty calorie’ food and beverage, which accounts for an average of 174 extra calories a day for freshmen.

If you’re on a meal plan, how would you control your calorie intake?

I always tell people to make sure there’s lots of color on your plate. That means you’ve got lots of good vitamins and minerals there. Fill half your plate with brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Make sure there’s something green on there, and something orange as well, like carrots or sweet potatoes. Add whole grain pasta or bread to fill one fourth and the remaining quarter of the plate with lean meat, eggs, beans or nuts for protein.That’s an easy way to make sure you’re getting a balanced, healthy meal.

What would you say is a good healthy snack?

I recommend getting those little ZipLoc snack bags, filling them with nuts, and taking them with you in your backpack or purse when you go to class. While nuts themselves are high in fat, just carrying with you what will fit in one of those little plastic bags will give you the right serving size. Other great portable snacks are string cheese, trail mix, whole grain crackers, or fresh or dried fruit. Whatever you do, avoid chips and sodas. Instead of a soda, try lowfat chocolate milk. It’s refreshing and has lots of protein and calcium. It’s not empty calories. A lot of people worry about the sugar content of chocolate milk, but lowfat chocolate milk actually has very few empty calories.

Well, of course — everybody loves dairy products! Give us another pitch.

OK! A study of college freshmen has shown us that on average, students consume less than 1.5 servings of dairy each day. That’s well below the usual dietary guideline of three daily servings of low–fat or fat-free milk, cheese or yogurt.