The Best Freshman 15 Fat Loss Tips

Learn everything you need to know about the freshmen 15—from avoiding it to losing it fast.

Ben Greenfield,
September 12, 2016
Episode #302

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You know it exists and you fear it: The “freshman 15.” Interestingly, an Ohio State University study showed that the average college student doesn’t fatten up to the feared 15 but actually only gains two to three pounds in their first year. Whether it’s three pounds or fifteen pounds, you probably wonder how you can stop the “freshman 15” from even beginning to creep up on you, or how to get rid of it super quick in case it has actually become part of your waistline. Keep reading to find out more.

Why Does the Freshman 15 Occur?

1. You Flunk Your Food Options

College campuses are notorious for poor and inexpensive cafeteria foods, and college towns are often riddled with fast food restaurants, low quality grocery stores, and venues offering unhealthy eats like nachos and deep fried you-name-its. Cheap and processed foods, like hot dogs, peanut butter, fatty steak, energy drinks, frozen meals, and Top-Ramen, the common staples in a student’s dorm fridge or pantry, compound matters even further. For many students, because of hectic class schedules, late night study sessions, and the many opportunities to party, the diet becomes irregular, meals get skipped, and food preparation becomes the last thing thought about—if even thought about at all. Because of this, the majority of meals get eaten either A) from unhealthy cafeteria foods or B) from highly processed foods in packages and containers—usually passed through two windows. And since these are cheap and convenient foods, they are also cheaply and conveniently pumped full of copious amounts of calorie dense fats and blood sugar spiking low quality ingredients—plus, they are relatively nutrient-void. Pile that combination in your belly and you’re on the fast track to subsequent weight gain.

Dining halls and cafeterias are the biggest culprits here, as they provide a huge variety and endless options of colorful, appetizing foods that are very high in calories: such as pizza, French fries, ice cream, sweetened cakes, fruity yogurts, and much more. When exposed to these “fast food” sources on campus, your brain is hardwired to be far more likely to choose these options over healthier options. One study done at Cornell University showed that 20% of the weight gained by test subjects was due to the fact the students were eating at all-you-can-eat campus cafeterias and dining halls.

2. You're Under A Lot of Stress

Stressful situations trigger the body's sympathetic nervous system’s "fight or flight" reaction, which can cause surges of hormones such as insulin and cortisol – both of which can keep you from mobilizing fatty acids for fuel, and also mobilize sugar from your liver. This combo leads to energy fluctuations, weight gain, appetite surges, increased fat storage and resistance to fat loss. When you get thrown into a new living and learning environment with unfamiliar surroundings, an uncomfortable bed, different friends, late nights, and a high study workload, your body responds by churning out even more stress hormones.

One study showed a direct relationship between eating late at night and stress levels in college students, showing that students that had higher levels of stress were more likely to experience weight gain due to their inability to adapt. That study also showed that students who were not able to deal with stress were more likely to turn to late night eating to relieve their stress.

3. You Drink Too Much Alcohol

Alcohol, like cafeteria food and fast food, is high in calories and low in nutrients. Not only can a single night of partying easily lead to several thousand excess calories, but also the hormonal response to alcohol can cause a decrease in fat-burning hormones like testosterone and an increase in fat storage hormones like cortisol. In this situation, excess fats tend to accumulate around the waist, creating the unhealthy and undesirable “muffin-top” effect.

4. You're Not Sleeping Enough

In a sleep deprived body, appetite-stimulating hormones like ghrelin and can run rampant, while appetite-stabilizing hormones like leptin are far less active. In addition, dopamine and serotonin levels drop, and the body develops a lower reward response to food. As a result, you may be less full after eating, and and have more cravings to snack, especially on the wrong foods and especially if those foods are frequently available and in front of you. That’s the problem with cafeterias and dining halls – not only do they usually remain open 24 hours a day, but they are also lined with low quality, calorie dense, and processed foods—just calling out to beckon your sleep deprived attention.


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