Avoiding the Freshman "15"

Web Producer: Brad Maglinger

The freshman 15 is somewhat of a myth. Most students don't gain a full 15 pounds. Studies show it's usually somewhere between four and eight pounds. While that may not sound like a lot, it can be the start of some very unhealthy eating habits that follow them well into adulthood.

Studies show by the time the school year ends at USI, 60 percent of the students will be up to eight pounds heavier. Even though they're getting exercise by walking to class, it may not be enough to counteract their unhealthy eating habits.

USI registered dietitian Julie McCullough says low fat sandwiches and salads from the Sub Connection would be a better idea. If students insist on Burger King, she says they should check out the nutrition guide first.

"Small hamburger, small fries, not upsizing. You can compare and look at what the upsize calories are like compared to the smaller portions," McCullough says.

Portion size is key at the buffet, where it's easy to overeat. But the dietitian likes it because of the variety and of course, the salad bar.

"This is one area that I would stop and say OK, let's look at all of what's on the salad bar and if we're really hungry, this is where we need to go to load up on the vegetables," Mccullough explains.

A cup of raw vegetables is only 25 calories. Students who pick the banana over the brownie for dessert are cutting their calories by a third. Two percent milk may have about the same number of calories as soda, but it's a better choice because it's more nutritious.

Speaking of drinks, for many students, freshman year is all about beer and pizza. It's all those empty calories that make them gain weight. Drinking beer is almost as bad as eating fatty foods.

"Fat has nine calories for every gram that you eat and alcohol has seven, whereas carbohydrate and protein only have four calories per gram," says McCullough. "So you get double the amount of calories from alcohol and fat than you do carbohydrates and proteins."

Not the stuff most teens want to learn in college, and unfortunately, most learn it the hard way.

Parents can help too. Next time you send your freshman a care package, put healthy snacks in there instead of chips and sugary drink mixes.

McCullough recommends two books on healthy campus eating that include quick and easy recipes.

"Fighting the Freshman Fifteen: A College Woman's Guide to Getting Real about Food and Keeping the Pounds Off," by Robyn Flipse, R.D., Marchelle Bradanini & Marisa Bradanini

"The College Student's Guide to Eating Well on Campus" by Ann Selkowitz Litt