New Students Prepare to Battle Dreaded ‘Freshman 15'

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Many students starting college are confounded by the amount of worries they acquire over their first year, such as those relating to grades, friends and relationships.

But one worry seems inescapable - the Freshman 15.

According to Michelle Vivas, a clinical nutritionist at the Tang Center, many freshmen come into her office to discuss their weight and the threat of the myth that all says students gain 15 pounds in their first year of college.

Indeed, weight gain during freshman year is a common - but not necessarily unhealthy - phenomenon.

Simon Wong, a UC Berkeley sophomore, believes that he gained a few pounds during freshman year, but that it was the result of his body's natural maturation process.

"Guys are still going through puberty during freshman year," he says. "So they're still developing."

The bodies of female freshman are still changing as well, Vivas says.

"It is unrealistic (for a college freshman) to try to have the body of a 16 or 17-year-old," she says.

The runway models who have become icons for many young women have bodies that are far from representative of the typical college student - a disparity that can lead to serious body image problems or even eating disorders.

While models like Kate Moss have bodies that resemble those of pre-teen girls, some students said they do not let that influence their own self image.

"(A woman) trying to achieve a 12-year-old body form is, number one, unrealistic, and, number two, anti-woman," says Jessica Gan, a UC Berkeley senior.

But while acceptance of new changes in one's body is important, it should not prevent students from maintaining a healthy diet, and, more importantly, exercising during their freshman year, Vivas says.

Although high-fat and high-calorie diets are often viewed as the main culprit of the unwelcome pounds, weight gain during freshman year stems more from an increase in sitting and a decrease in physical activity, she says.

"Many people don't realize that the Freshman 15 is not related so much to diet, but a sharp increase in sedentary habits," Vivas says.

During their high school years, teenagers are often involved in team sports or pursue other activities involving physical movement.

But college freshmen often feel too overloaded with lectures, studying, and other time constraints to allow for an active lifestyle.

Vivas adds that even such minor exercise as shopping and regular walking constitute healthy activities.

One UC Berkeley freshman did not appear to have a problem staying active - at least, not in her first few weeks on campus.

"I'm in love with the RSF," confesses Erin Klibanow. She was all set to go to the Recreational Sports Facility again after her last lecture the first Monday of classes.

"I'm planning on taking my backpack and going to the gym right after my art class," she says.

In terms of nutrition, Vivas warns against fad diets, which not only fail regularly, but can actually lead to weight gain rather than weight loss.

She says 95 percent of people on a low-calorie diet fail to lose the desired weight and also run the risk of an eating disorder.

And while a low-fat diet is key to healthy eating habits, many people erroneously believe that a no-fat diet will help them lose weight.

"In reality, a no-fat diet will lead to binge eating, because you will always feel hungry," Vivas says.

But when many upperclassmen think of reasons for weight gain during freshman year, many cite an increase in alcohol consumption as the biggest culprit.

"The Freshman 15 is just because you drink a lot," says Allison Pollak, a UC Berkeley senior. "That's all."

After the freshman year, when the novelty of drinking wears off - for some at least - the body may tend to rebalance the extra weight gain.

"It's not a big deal," says UC Berkeley senior Nicole Vanderlaan. "So you gain a little freshman year, you lose it later."

The changes in one's body that accompany freshman year may indeed be manifested in the body's appearance. But feeling good within one's own body is the key, rather than trying to conform to an ideal shape.

"What's healthy for a woman," says Gan, "is a woman's body."


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