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Informed eating can prevent 'freshman 15'

MSU Extension Service

MISSISSIPPI STATE – College freshmen who have prepared themselves for new experiences are often not ready for the so-called freshman 15, the dreaded weight gain associated with starting college.

Brent Fountain, associate Extension professor in the Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion at Mississippi State University, said weight gain is likely during the first few months of college life.

“Habits change for many of our students, whether it is dietary or physical activity. For most freshmen, it is the first time in their life when they are truly independent,” Fountain said. “Not everyone will gain 15 pounds. Some will gain just a few pounds or even lose weight, while others may gain 30 or more.”

Michael Davis, a 2008 MSU graduate, gained about 30 pounds during his first year at MSU.

“Healthy options were available, but unhealthy options were more plentiful and appetizing,” Davis said.

Portion control was difficult as a freshman, Davis said. “My dorm room was stocked with only a microwave and mini fridge, so naturally I kept soup, macaroni and cheese and chips in my room. My roommate had raw cookie dough by the foot and without an oven, we would eat it straight from the fridge.”

Other pitfalls included large pepperoni pizzas at midnight.

“My roommate and I would each get one, and we would demolish them before we went to bed,” Davis said.

As tempting as it is to eat anything at any time, Fountain said students should keep track of what they eat to help keep off those unwanted pounds.

“When you eat away from home, there is more temptation,” Fountain said. “You may choose to eat out more, which can lead to an intake of increased calories. Many students are also making other unhealthy choices, such as eating foods high in added fat and sugar or consuming alcohol that they previously did not consume.

“Combine these factors with lower levels of physical activity, and you have the perfect formula for unintended weight gain,” he said.

Fountain suggested eating complex carbohydrates, especially fruits and vegetables which are typically high in nutrients and low in calories.

“Instead of having French fries for a side, occasionally choose a side salad or a fruit cup,” he said. “Avoid high-fat meats; however, if you really want an occasional hamburger, choose a regular-sized burger and leave off the mayonnaise and cheese, or choose water or a diet drink over the sweet tea or soda. Sweetened beverages are loaded with extra calories in the form of sugar.”

Fountain also suggested students keep snacks such as nuts and fruits on hand instead of chips or crackers.

“Anything that can help you feel fuller longer will keep you from eating when you don’t really need to. The problem with chips and crackers is that we often consume too many in one serving and then feel hungry again a short time later,” he said.

Fountain added that carrying a bottle of water is another smart idea.

“Drinking water throughout the day helps you feel fuller longer. It keeps your body cells properly hydrated, which means you feel less hungry throughout the day,” Fountain said.

Smart phone apps or websites such as or can help track food intake.

“One day off will not cause weight gain. But over time, little by little, the weight creeps up on you,” Fountain said. “Look for ways to stay active to help avoid weight gain. Go to the gym, take your dog for a walk, or walk around campus. Find out what you like to do and be more active.”

Laura Walling, director of Recreational Sports Administration at MSU, said recreational sports offers a wide variety of opportunities for students to stay active and healthy. MSU’s Sanderson Center offers group exercises, such as aerobics, yoga, Zumba and spinning, and more than 120 pieces of weight and cardiovascular training equipment.

“Whether a student just wants help getting started on a regular routine or requires someone to hold him or her accountable, we have a program that will fit the need,” Walling said.

A swimming pool is available for lap swimming and water aerobics, and there is a wide variety of club sports, ranging from ballroom dancing to lacrosse. More than 30 different intramural sports are offered each semester, including flag football, softball, table tennis and racquetball.

“With all the options that are available through recreational sports, there is no reason not to stay active and involved, and by doing so, avoid that dreaded freshman 15,” Walling said.

Released: July 13, 2012
Contacts: Dr. Brent Fountain
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